Way of Le Puy, or the Way of St James (Via Podiensis)

Walking in France: Traditional start of the pilgrimage, Notre Dame du Puy-en-Velay

Traditional start of the pilgrimage, Notre Dame du Puy-en-Velay

This is easily the most popular of the four traditional pilgrim routes and is the one commonly referred to in English as the Way of Saint James (who translates as Saint Jacques in French and as Santiago in Spanish).

In terms of scenery it is also probably the most interesting, as it starts in the high plateau of the Massif Central, with its treeless grasslands and drystone walls, then drops suddenly to follow the valley of the river Lot, where there is a succession of fairy-tale villages.

Crossing the Tarn and the Adour, the track enters the rich rolling expanses of Gascony and arrives at the Basque village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the end of the French half of the pilgrimage.

The traditional route has been approximately replicated by a marked pathway or Grande Randonnée (GR). The Way of Le Puy is the GR65, and there are three accompanying guide books put out by the French Walking Club, the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre, commonly known as the FFRP (see Maps and Guides).

Walking in France: Statue of Saint Jacques, patron of pilgrims, Notre Dame du Puy-en-Velay

Statue of Saint Jacques, patron of pilgrims, Notre Dame du Puy-en-Velay

There is also an alternative marked track, very similar to the GR65 but not identical, managed by the Amis de Saint Jacques, a religious organisation.

To get the maps and guides for these, it is necessary to acquire a créanciale (or crédentiale), a sort of religious passport, either from your local bishop or from a cathedral or Office of Tourism in France. The créanciale also entitles you to stay in special refuges.

These pilgrim refuges, called “gîtes d’étape” provide basic overnight accommodation and often a communal dinner as well. The food is plain but plentiful and the atmosphere around the table is usually very congenial.

Pilgrims can have their créanciale stamped with the name of the gîte, and leave comments in the “Livre d’Or” (the book of gold).

A good accommodation guide is the strangely named “Miam-miam Dodo” (French baby talk for Eat-Sleep), which lists all the eating and sleeping possibilities along this pilgrimage.

It took us 31 days to do this walk.

Our route for this walk

All section maps show accommodation icons for each night. By zooming in on a particular icon you can see the precise location of the place where we stayed.

You can also get a full screen view of the map below in Google Earth and take a virtual flight along our route.

The diary has been broken up in to the following sections:

Le Puy-en-Velay to Aumont-Aubrac

Aumont-Aubrac to Espalion

Espalion to Montredon

Montredon to Cahors

Cahors to Moissac

Moissac to Condom

Condom to Aire-sur-l’Adour

Aire-sur-l’Adour to Navarrenx

Navarrenx to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

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