The Le Puy trail changes day by day. It will take you over mountains, under thick forest canopies, through wide open fields and to the heart of some of the most beautiful cities in France. Just follow the red and white stripes.
There are four main types of accommodations along Le Puy:
1. Gîte d’Etapes: municipal hostels with large bunk-bed dorms, a kitchen and shared bathrooms. Minimal decor and staff with some communal meal options. Usually no WIFI.
2. Gîte Privées: privately owned hostels with smaller bunk-bed dorms, a kitchen and shared bathroom. Possibility of a private room and some communal meal options. Usually has WIFI.
3. Chambre-d’hôtes: Bed & Breakfasts (privately owned), with a choice of a shared or single room with private bathroom access. Dinner is usually cooked by the proprietor and eaten together with other guests.
4. Donativos: Donation-based hostels run by religious/charitable organizations or individuals. Meals are usually included and you should help clean up after dinner. Pilgrims are often invited to join in religious activities in Catholic donativos, but it is not a requirement. (There isn’t one unifying name for the by-donation hostels in France. Donativo is the Spanish term.)
Camping: I didn’t camp, and would only recommend it to people who genuinely love it. The savings aren’t huge when you consider the initial investment required and the significant increase to your carrying weight. Camping grounds can vary from free to the price of a cheap hostel.
These are the suggested daily steps according to most guides. I highly recommend breaking up the 30km+ days into more manageable portions of 15-25km. I had much more authentic and memorable experiences when I stayed in the smaller towns in between the main stages.
- Le Puy-en-Velay -> Saint Privat-d’Allier (24.3km)
- Saint Privat-d’Allier -> Saugues (19km)
- Saugues -> Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole (32.8km)
- Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole -> Aumont-Aubrac (15.1km)
- Aumont-Aubrac -> Nasbinals (26.4km)
- Nasbinals -> Saint-Chély d’Aubrac (17km)
- Saint-Chély d’Aubrac -> Espalion (22km)
- Espalion -> Golinhac (27km)
- Golinhac -> Conques (21km)
- Conques -> Decazville (20km)
- Decazville -> Figeac (33km)
- Figeac -> Cajarc (31km)
- Cajarc -> Limogne-en-Quercy (19km)
- Limogne-en-Quercy -> Le Pech (27km)
- Le Pech -> Labastide-Marnhac (23.5km)
- Labastide-Marnhac -> Montcuq (22km)
- Montcuq -> Lauzerte (14km)
- Lauzerte -> Moissac (27km)
- Moissac -> Auvillar (21km)
- Auvillar -> Lectoure (32.5km)
- Lectoure -> La Romieu (19km)
- La Romieu -> Condom (14km)
- Condom -> Eauze (33km)
- Eauze -> Nogaro (20.5km)
- Nogaro -> Aire-sur-l’Adour (28km)
- Aire-sur-l’Adour -> Arzacq-Arraziguet (34km)
- Arzacq-Arraziguet -> Arthez-de-Béarn (30km)
- Arthez-de-Béarn -> Navarrenx (32km)
- Navarrenx -> Aroue-Ithorots-Olhaïby (19.5km)
- Aroue-Ithorots-Olhaïby -> Ostabat-Asme (24km)
- Ostabat-Asme -> Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (25km)
Stopping in Conques (10-day adventure)
Many pilgrims wanting a shorter adventure will stop in Conques. The first 10 days are the most scenic and spectacular. If you plan on returning to Paris from Conques, you can book a bus ticket online with Compostel’Bus back to Le Puy, then a train to Paris. I strongly suggest talking to someone at the Conques tourism office (right as you enter Conques along the Camino route) for help planning your transit. The bus does not always come unless the office calls them.
The Le Puy route goes through several different regional French departments, and each is responsible for maintaining their portion of the path. As a result, the quality of the signage will vary from florescent metal signs to paint on rocks, but the red and white stripes are consistent throughout. I found the trail got more confusing between Conques and Limogne-en-Quency, but I was never lost for more than a half hour.
The Camino trails are part of a much larger hiking network in France, and the Le Puy route often referred to by its technical name: GR65.
The climate conditions along the Le Puy route depend heavily on what month you begin walking. The first 10 stages vary quite a bit due to the constant elevation changes.
When I started my first Camino in late May (2016) I encountered some snow and cold rain in the Aubrac. When I started my second Camino in June (2019), the same area got a serious heat wave.
A lot of locals suggested walking in late August, early September. There are fewer pilgrims along the route and the weather is mild.
There’s no way to guarantee a particular experience!
Shops are not always open
Managing your food requirements can be a bit complicated. Most stores are closed all day Sunday and Monday, and at midday for a couple of hours from Tuesday to Saturday. There are two solutions on these days: pack ingredients to cook your own food, or stay in hostels/BnBs where meals are included.
Pack some groceries
Pasta, cheese, apples, granola bars, baguettes and dried fruits are all good to keep on hand. Don’t pack for more than a day or two! Most hostels have a kitchen and some cooking supplies (don’t be surprised if you find some delicious leftovers).
…Or stay where meals are included
If you stay in Chambres-d’Hôtes (Bed and Breakfasts), they may offer demi-pension. This includes two meals and the room for about €33. The dinner is usually home-cooked and eaten communally with the hosts and other guests.
Breakfast is not worth the extra fee unless you really need coffee in the morning. Some places will offer a packed lunch for the following day (about €5-€7). I highly recommend booking demi-pension for your first couple of days while you’re still figuring things out. Authentic french cuisine is well worth the cost.
Restaurants should be reserved
Dinner time in restaurants is around 7pm, but don’t be surprised to find everything closed in some towns. Dinner reservations are necessary in some places, as they buy food for just so many diners and close once those reservations are done. Hosts do not sit around waiting for pilgrims and they will spontaneously close if they are not expecting anyone. I never planned ahead for restaurant dining, only eating out on the suggestion of my companions.
Relying on your fellow pilgrims to feed you isn’t a good idea, but don’t panic if you forget to buy something. Locals and pilgrims alike are more than willing to help. Ask around at your hostel for anyone interested in sharing their groceries for a communal meal. It’s very likely you’ll end up with everyone joining in.
Every hostel will either have a basin and dry line for doing your own washing and/or paid washer-dryer machines.
I suggest buying a tube of hand-wash detergent from a local Casino store. Look for the ones marked “sans frottement” (no scrubbing). Just fill a basin with water and a bit of detergent, throw your clothes in for 30 minutes and rinse!