When I hiked 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 border with Spain.
It takes on average 4 to 5 weeks to walk le Chemin du Puy. The 750km-long route is part of the GR65 French hiking-trail network and is marked with white-and-red stripes throughout.
Similar to the Camino Frances, le Chemin du Puy is a “classic” and much frequented pilgrimage route to Santiago. Pilgrims gather at the Le Puy Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to be blessed each morning before starting their pilgrimage.
Why the Le Puy route?
Le Chemin du Puy and The French Way both helped me find an amazing (and unique!) sense of inner-peace and happiness. I came home the fittest I’ve ever been, 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.
Here are a few of the top reasons I would suggest walking your Camino from Le Puy:
Le Chemin du Puy 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 do a couple of 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 Le Chemin du Puy. Most hostels (called gîtes in France) are run by local families. 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 stories.
The month I spent along The French Way had a lot less of this; 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 pushed out of rural areas and into big urban centers. It’s about 60% (by my estimation) hard terrain: gravel, service roads, highways(!) and sidewalks.
Le Chemin du Puy route, by contrast, still retains a lot of its proximity to nature. 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 lackluster and dangerous paths when I crossed the border onto 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 limited unless you choose to camp and gîte prices are very stable. My baseline cost for food and accommodation was around €33 a day in 2016, and a little bit less in 2019.
(See the Costs page for a more detailed breakdown.)
This wasn’t always the case along The French Way, where it’s ‘first come first serve’ at the cheapest Albergues (hostels). This led to a lot more unpredictable spending, and a persistent feeling that I had to rush those last few kilometers every day.
A more meaningful Camino
Le Chemin du Puy 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 pilgrims.
You’ll witness first-hand both the slow abandonment of these ancient rural areas and their steady revival; the generational exodus of 50 years ago left an almost apocalyptic sight behind, but younger families are moving in to revitalize the countryside.
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.