When I walked this route for the first time in the summer of 2016, I was surprised by how little information there was available in English online. This website is meant to help English pilgrims prepare for this incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. Bon chemin!
What Is The Camino?
El Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route to the tomb of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain. It is broken up into seven major routes through Europe with many variants still taking shape. The most popular route is The French Way (Camino Frances), which begins at the Pyrenees Mountains on the French border with Spain and takes about a month to complete (750km). Calling it The ‘French’ Way is a bit misleading, as it’s only in France for the first day.
What Is The Le Puy Route?
Le Chemin du Puy, or Le Puy Route, is the most popular of the Camino de Santiago routes in France. You might also see it referred to as the Via Podiensis.
Starting from the monumental pilgrim town of Le-Puy-en-Velay in Auvergne, southern France, the route runs through the volcanic hills of the Velay region and the foothills of the Pyrenees before joining the Camino Frances in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees mountains.
It takes on average 4 to 5 weeks to walk Le Chemin du Puy. The 750km-long route is marked with white-and-red stripes throughout, as part of the GR65 French hiking-trail network.
Similarly to the Camino Frances, the Chemin du Puy is a “classic” and much frequented pilgrimage route to Santiago. Pilgrims gather at the Puy Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to be blessed each morning before starting their pilgrimage. The whole route is filled with pilgrim churches, historic monuments, abbeys and cathedrals. The route will lead you through endlessly beautiful scenery and fascinatingly untouched historical cities and towns.
Why The Le Puy Route?
The Le Puy route and The French Way both helped me find an amazing (and unique!) sense of inner-peace and happiness. Coming home I was the fittest I’ve ever been, I had more friends in more places all over the world, my French was vastly improved, and I’d rediscovered a sense of purpose I hadn’t felt in years. But it took me 3 months to walk both the Le Puy route and The French Way (1515km). If you don’t have that long, you should investigate the differences between the routes and figure out the type of trip you want.
Le Puy gave me a sense of peace and purpose, while the French Way gave me friendships and fitness. I finished my Camino a different, better person.
The Le Puy route is little known, even in France, outside of hiking communities and the towns it affects. Most of the pilgrims along this way are French nationals on holiday and retirees who are only able to do a couple weeks on the route every year. Some of the French pilgrims I met along the way had been at it for over a decade! There are no massive pilgrim hostels like those notorious along The French Way, with hundreds of people in one room. You’ll have days along this route with only three or four other people in sight.
(See the Speaking French page if the language barrier worries you.)
You won’t feel like a tourist along the Le Puy route. Most hostels (called gîtes in France) are run by local families taking advantage of the extremely low cost of rural property. The deep sense of community that accompanies the Camino is shared by most hosts, many of whom are veteran pilgrims in their own right and who are happy to share their experiences. The month I spent along The French Way was not like this at all; Spain was just a backdrop to an experience I shared with other foreigners, as I was shuffled across the periphery of major cities and only meeting locals during business transactions.
Less Concrete, More Nature
Because of its massive and growing popularity, The French Way in Spain has been slowly moved out of rural areas and into big urban centres. It’s about 60% (by my estimation) hard terrain: gravel, service roads, highways(!) and sidewalks. The Le Puy route, by contrast, still retains a lot of its proximity to nature and I would estimate it’s only 15-20% hard terrain. It was obvious to me that the Le Puy route is maintained by hikers for hikers, and I felt oddly disrespected by the lacklustre and dangerous paths along The French Way.
(See the Trail Basics page for more information on route conditions.)
Your Daily Costs Are Predictable
Because this route is less traveled, your options for where to stay and eat are more limited unless you choose to camp. My baseline cost for food and accommodation was around €33 a day.
(See the Costs page for a more detailed breakdown.)
A More Meaningful Camino
The Le Puy route offers total immersion. You’ll be walking through French history, eating local French foods, hopefully speaking a little French, and spending a lot of time meeting French cows and sheep. You’ll witness first-hand the slow abandonment of rural areas, the generational exodus leaving an almost apocalyptic sight behind. This route retains a lot of it’s original path, and you’ll see some spectacularly old towns and communities. You’ll be moving through dozens of different cultures and dialects, and if you’re a history nerd like me, this route is really a dream come true.