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The Way of St. James through Europe
The Way in France

The Way of St. James extends from all corners of Europe, and even North Africa, on its way to Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre. The local authorities try to restore many of the ancient routes, even those used in a limited period, in the interest of tourism. Here follows an overview of the main routes of the modern-day pilgrimage.


In Spain and Portugal

The following routes to Santiago can be traced on the Iberian peninsula.


The French Way

The French Way (Spanish: Camino Francés) is the most popular of the routes. It runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles on the Spanish side before making its way through to Santiago de Compostela through the major cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León.

The Aragonese Way

The Aragonese Way (Spanish: Camino Aragonés) comes down from the Somport pass in the Pyrenees and makes its way down through the old kingdom of Aragon. It follows the River Aragón passing through towns such as Jaca. It then crosses into the province of Navarre to Puente La Reina where it joins the Camino Francés.

The Northern Way

A route marker on the Cantabrian coast.

The Northern Way (Spanish: Camino del Norte) runs from France at Irún and follows the northern coastline of Spain to Galicia where it heads inland towards Santiago joining the Camino Francés at Arzúa. This route follows the old Roman road, the Via Agrippa, for some of its way and is part of the Coastal Route (Spanish: Ruta de la Costa).

The route passes through San Sebastian, Guernika, Bilbao, and Oviedo. It is less populated, lesser known and generally more difficult hiking. Shelters are 20 to 35 kilometers apart, rather than there being albuergues or monasteries every four to ten kilometers as on the Camino Frances.

The Tunnel Way

The Tunnel Way is also known as the Tunnel Route, the Basque Inland Route and the San Adrian Route. In the Early Middle Ages, when the Northern (Coastal) Way was subject to the Vikings' skirmishes and Muslim presence and forays threatened pilgrims and trade routes in the borderlands, the Tunnel Way provided a safe road north of the frontier area, i.e. Gipuzkoa and Alava. This may be the oldest and most important stretch of the Way of St. James up to its heyday in the 13th century. From the starting point in Irun, the road heads south-west up the Oria valley (Villabona, Ordizia, Zegama), reaches its highest point at the San Adrian tunnel and runs through the Alavan plains (Zalduondo, Salvatierra/Agurain, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Miranda de Ebro). Yet previous to the latter, nowadays pilgrims usually take a detour south towards Haro and on to Santo Domingo de la Calzada on account of its better provision.

The English Way

The English Way (Spanish: Camino Inglés) is traditionally for pilgrims who travelled to Spain by sea and disembarked in Ferrol or A Coruña. These pilgrims then made their way to Santiago overland. It is so called because most of these pilgrims were English though some come from all points in northern Europe.

The Portuguese Way

The Portuguese Way (Spanish: Camino Portugués) begins at Porto in north-west Portugal.[1] Pilgrims travel north crossing the Lima and Minho rivers before entering Spain and then on to Padron before arriving at Santiago. It is the second most important way, after the French one, and is 227 km long. A popular start point for a 108 km walk to Santiago is at Valença, Portugal, by the Spanish border, through Tui, Galicia.

The Camino Mozárabe and the Via de La Plata

Known in English as the Silver Route (sometimes as 'Way').

The Via de La Plata (once a Roman causeway joining Italica and Asturica Augusta) starts in Seville from where it goes north to Zamora via Cáceres and Salamanca. It is much less frequented than the French Way or even the Northern Way. After Zamora there are two options. The first route heads west and reaches Santiago via Ourense. The other route continues north to Astorga from where pilgrims can continue west along the Camino Francés to Santiago.

The Camino Mozárabe route from Granada passes through Córdoba and later joins up with the Via de La Plata in Mérida.

In France

The Way of St. James is said to have originated in France, where it is called Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. This is the reason that the Spanish themselves refer to the Way of St. James as 'the French road', since most of the pilgrims they saw were French. The origin of the pilgrimage is most often cited as the Codex Calixtinus, which is decidedly a French document. Though in the Codex everyone was called upon to join the pilgrimage, there were four main starting points in the Cathedral cities of Tours, Vézelay, Le Puy-en-Velay and Arles. They are today all routes of the Grande Randonnée network.

The Tours route

The Tours route (Latin: Via Turonensis) used to be the pilgrimage of choice for inhabitants of the Low Countries and those of western France. Due to industrialization in the area, the more easterly ways are preferred nowadays.

The official start is Tours, although the paths Paris-Orléans-Tours or Paris-Chartres-Tours are sometimes considered integrated part of this route. From Tours, the route passes through Poitiers and Bordeaux, the forest at Les Landes before connecting to the Camino Francés GR 65 near Ostabat,[2] shortly before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or to the Camino de la Costa in Irun.

The Vézelay route

The Vézelay route passes through Limoges and joins the GR 65 near Ostabat.[2]

The Le Puy route

The Le Puy route (Latin: Via Podiensis, French: route du Puy) is travelled by pilgrims starting in or passing through Le Puy-en-Velay. It passes through towns such as Espalion and Cahors before coming to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It is part of GR 65.

Also from Le Puy is GR 70 which Robert Louis Stevenson travelled along for 12 days with his donkey Modestine, as described in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

The Arles Way

The route from Italy, the Via Tolosana, becomes the Arles Way (French: La voie d'Arles or Chemin d'Arles) in southern France, named after that principal cathedral city. It goes through Montpellier, Toulouse and Oloron-Sainte-Marie before reaching the Spanish border at Col du Somport in the high Pyrenees. There it connects to the Aragonese Way, and as such is the only French route not to connect to the Camino Francés at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

In Belgium and the Netherlands

The Way of St. James in the Netherlands is said to have started after St. Boniface brought Christendom to Friesland and the worship of his reliquaries near Dokkum gained popularity from 800 onwards. The route did not become popular however until the 15th century, well after the Santiago Matamoros legend. There are several Cathedral towns considered official starting routes by the Dutch confraternity of St. James. Haarlem, a centuries old starting point, has been the starting point of a modern cycling route to Santiago de Compostela since 1983, when an international workgroup of scholars researched the old route and one of them developed a set of maps. Since that time there have been other cycling routes to Santiago de Compostela published from other Dutch cities, most notably Maastricht. The Dutch and northern (Flemish) Belgians call the route the Jacobsroute. In Wallonia (southern Belgium) it is called Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle.

Another Dutch long distance path, the Pelgrimspad (Pilgrims' Path), leads from Amsterdam to Visé in Belgium (about 100 km from Namur), and was probably a route for St. James pilgrims departing from Amsterdam. Other ancient routes can be traced through Ghent and Amiens to connect to one of the four main French routes.

It is a mistake to assume that medieval pilgrims were only focussed on one goal. Most St. James pilgrims through the centuries stopped to visit other famous reliquaries, and many of the most popular ones in France and northern Spain are listed in the Codex. Many had both a scallop shell and a palm frond in their possession, indicating that they had been or were on their way to both Rome and Santiago de Compostela.

In Switzerland

Pilgrim's bridge to Einsiedeln Abbey between Rapperswil (SG) and Hurden (SZ), Heilig Hüsli and Seedamm to the right (December 2009)

The Way of St. James is known as Jakobsweg in Switzerland and the route in Switzerland is the ViaJacobi. Many routes originating in Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe and even Italy/Southtirol led to Switzerland and from there to France. Beginning in the early Middle Ages (9-10th century), pilgrims coming from northern and eastern Europe crossed into Switzerland at the Lake of Constance and journeyed across the country to Geneva at the French border. As they wandered through the beautiful countryside, the pilgrims passed by three traditional pilgrimage places, Einsiedeln Abbey, Flüeli Ranft and the Caves of Saint Beatus. They also traveled through historic cities and villages, including St. Gall, Lucerne, Schwyz, Interlaken, Thun, Fribourg, and Lausanne. Today the original paths have been restored and the ViaJacobi is an integral part of the European Way of St. James.

See also


  1. ^ Caminho Português de Santiago
  2. ^ a b "Overview: The Vézelay Route". The Confraternity of Saint James.

External links


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