- Walking the whole route to St Jean Pied de Port, the cross roads of the "Grand Chemin de Saint Jacques"
- Enjoying the camaraderie of fellow hikers and pilgrims
- Experiencing the culinary delights of the region and the hospitality of your accommodation hosts
- Viewing the contrasting landscapes and architecture between the regions passed
The Full way of James Walk
Traverse the centuries of time and the borders of Europe on the medieval pilgrim trail of Compostela. In the 9th century, the tomb of the apostle St James was unearthed in Compostela. The site became the focus of a pilgrim trail beginning in France, and crossing northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. This journey, along the Via Podensis, the French Way of St James, takes pilgrims from Le Puy en Velay to the Pyrenees at St Jean Pied de Port. The route passes a multitude of churches and monasteries, resembling a travelling museum of Romanesque art.
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Day 1 Arrive Le Puy-en-Velay
Arrive in Le Puy-en-Velay. This is an ancient town surrounded by a volcanic landscape which is dominated by rocky peaks rising from the valley floor. We recommend that you allow at least half a day to explore. Take a stroll through town and warm up your walking legs climbing the 267 steps to the Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe, built by Godescalc after his pilgrimage to Santiago in AD951, for views over the town and surrounding area.You can also visit some of the many museums and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame.
Day 2 Walk to St-Privat-d'Allier (5-6hrs, 23km/14.3mi)
The Le Puy-en-Velay cathedral is the starting point for your walk and you will ascend rapidly from the Puy Basin. Crossing the Velay Mountains and passing fields of lentils, you enter the heart of the volcanic chain of the Deves before arriving in the small village of St Privat d’Allier.
Day 3 Descend the gorges of Allier to Saugues (4-5hrs, 19km/11.8mi)
Most of the day is spent crossing the valley. You will pass through the village of Rochegude, famous for its St Jacques Chapel, where a descent to the river at Monistrol will follow. Whilst the trail is easy to follow, the following ascent is quite sustained (500m/1640ft over 11km/6.8mi) just beyond Rognac from where the route leads you to the historic village of Saugues, famous for its mushrooms, wooden shoes and a meeting point for all pilgrims coming from the Auvergne.
Day 4 Walk across the Margeride plateau to St Alban (7 or 8hrs, 26 or 29km/16.1 or 18mi)
Today is very picturesque as you cross the Margeride Plateau. With vast grassy plains and moors of broom and heather, this part of the trail is relatively easy going - although gently ascending most of the day. Amongst the most interesting sights are St Roch Chapel or L’Hospitalet du Dauvage Chapel, founded in 1198 as a hospital for pilgrims and travellers. Overnight in St Alban/Les Faux (26km/16.1mi) or St Alban/Le Rouget (29km/18mi), dependent on availability.
Day 5 Descend into the Truyère valley and on to Aumont-Aubrac (6 or 5hrs, 20km/12.4mi or 17km/10.5mi)
From St Alban the trail descends into the Truyere valley. You then traverse the vast plain of the Margeride to reach Aumont-Aubrac. On the way, admire the Roman church of the Estrets, re-worked several times and surmounted by a bell tower wall with three openings supporting a small steeple.
Day 6 Walk to Recoules-d'Aubrac or Nasbinals (7.5hrs, 26.5km/16.5mi)
From Aumont-Aubrac in “Terre de Peyre” (land of Peyre which means land of stone), the Way of St James crosses some beautiful pine forests before joining the Aubrac plateau, a vast expanse of pastures punctuated by “burons” (in the Auvergne region this is a shelter where the cowherd lives and makes cheese during the summer). This is the country of the famous Laguiole knife, an indispensable tool to cut the cheese of the same name. Arrive at your hotel/guest house in Nasbinals or Recoules d'Aubrac.
Day 7 To St-Chely-d'Aubrac (5 or 4hrs, 20km/12.4mi or 17km/10.5mi)
This stage takes you through the heart of the Aubrac plateau, where the ancestral rite of transhumance is still practiced (the annual transhumance fair is on the Sunday nearest 25th of May). At lunch time, try the regional specialties at a buron or country inn, where local dishes are available such as the “aligot” (mashed potato with cheese and garlic), assorted cooked meats from the mountain or a good crepe omelette. In Aubrac you can see remnants of an ancient “Domerie” (name given to the hospital in Aubrac in medieval times). Overnight hotel in Chely d'Aubrac.
Day 8 To St-Come d'Olt or Espalion (4 or 5hrs, 16km/9.9mi or 22km/13.6mi)
We leave the country of the “Boraldes” (name given to the brooks descending from the Aubrac) to reach the Lot valley. Here you are near St-Côme d’Olt, listed among the “most beautiful villages of France”. There are remnants of numerous bridges constructed over the Lot river which made the pilgrims' crossings easier. Overnight hotel in St-Come d'Olt or Espalion, dependent on availability.
Day 9 To Estaing (5 or 3hrs, 20.5km/12.7mi or 11km/6.8mi)
The walk continues on the Way of St James following the stream of the Lot river to the lovely village of Estaing, with its Gothic bridge and imposing chateau. The annual St Fleuret fair has been held here since the 14th century (on the first Sunday of July). On this occasion, a great procession travels through the village in period costume. Every other weekend in September, Estaing hosts a market with local produce and artisans' works, and groups of Troubadours entertain with juggling and traditional music. Overnight hotel in Estaing.
Day 10 To Golinhac (4hrs, 16km/10mi)
We leave the Lot valley at the village of Golinhac, remarkable for its church. The church preserves the Roman foundations of a Benedictine priory which was dependent on Conques abbey. Of interest at the entrance to the village is a stone cross dating from the fifteenth century, with a decorative carving of a pilgrim wearing a hat and holding a bumblebee. Overnight hotel in Golinhac.
Day 11 To Conques (5-6hrs, 21km/13mi)
The walk to Conques is very often one of the favourite stages for pilgrims as the view over the village is breathtaking if you come from the east. While descending into the deep valley of the Ouche, you will arrive near the Dourdou river (which flows into the Lot river, to the north) at Conques. Relax this evening in one of the many bars to experience the atmosphere of this lovely town.
Day 12 Rest day in Conques
Today is free to discover the village and its pointed roofs from which the three towers of the Romanesque Abbey-Church Sainte Foy dominate. You can also admire the village's portal, a real treasure from the Roman times.
Day 13 To Livinhac or Decazeville (6 or 5hrs, 24km/14.9mi or 20km/12.4mi)
The trail this morning heads to the surrounding hills, where the view over Conques is striking. Along the way, visit a small chapel dedicated to Saint Roch, pilgrim saint of Montpellier. Here he is depicted as a pilgrim with a scallop shell. This evening your accommodation will be at either Livinhac or Decazeville, depending on availability.
Day 14 To Figeac (7 or 8hrs, 25.5km/15.8mi or 29.5km/18.3mi)
Leaving from either Livinhac or Decazeville, you reach the hilltop village of Montredon, dominated by its church Saint Michel and Romanesque Chapel of St Mary. The route then crosses the countryside to arrive in Figeac. The birthplace of Champollion (decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs), you can visit the excellent museum dedicated to his work. There is also a Benedictine abbey from the ninth century.
Day 15 Walk to Gréalou (5hrs, 20.5km/12.7mi)
The trail crosses the river Célé and ascends the limestone plateau where you can admire the magnificent "Cazels" or "Bories" - little drystone shepherd huts. Arrive in Gréalou, with its twelfth century Romanesque church Our Lady of the Assumption.
Day 16 Continue to the pretty medieval town of Cajarc (4hrs, 11km/6.9mi)
The trail today descends along the Lot valley to the village of Cajarc, where you can visit the ruins of a castle from the thirteenth century and the chapel of St Margaret, listed as historical monument since 1941.
Day 17 To Limogne (5hrs, 18km/11.2mi)
The trail continues along the arid plateau of Limogne en Quercy. The rainwater seeps inside the rocks to form a network of underground rivers and the region is also rich in caves, some of which contain cave paintings. The Causse de Limogne also contains many dolmens. Limogne-en-Quercy, your destination today, is famous for its truffle fair, usually held on Sunday mornings from December to March and in summer.
Day 18 Walk to the truffle town of Lalbenque (7hrs, 23km/14.2mi)
A great walk today as you see the dolmens (megalithic tombs built of stone) and other historic monuments and sights of interest : old windmills, wells, dry stone walls and a pretty monolithic cross (carved from a single block) along the route. The apparent isolation of the plateau has created a quiet life for the villages, its farms and houses.
Day 19 Walk to Cahors (5hrs, 18km/11.2mi)
The trail takes you along the Cami Ferrat, an ancient trade route between Cahors and Caylus. The town of Cahors is nestled in a U-shaped bend of the Lot River. Arriving at the town you first cross the famous bridge Valentré, an emblem of the city classified as World Heritage by UNESCO and a well-known pilgrim milestone.
Day 20 Walk to Lascabanes (6.5hrs, 25km/15.5mi)
Leaving Cahors, there is a final view of its famous Valentré Bridge. From the Magne Cross there is another beautiful view of the city of Cahors. The trail then continues through the Quercy Blanc, and leads you to the village of Lascabanes.
Day 21 Continue pilgrimage to Lauzerte (5.5hrs, 23km/14.3mi)
The trail today leads you into the Tarn and Garonne region. In spring you can enjoy the rich flora particularly its many orchids. Later you reach the medieval town of Lauzerte, situated above the valleys and hills of the area known as the Quercy Blanc and founded in the 12th Century by the Count of Toulouse. It is one of only 155 villages in France listed as one of the 'Most Beautiful Villages of France'. Overnight Lauzerte.
Day 22 Walk to Moissac (7hrs, 24.5km/15.2mi)
This morning we pass by the village of Durfort, which is one of few in the region not to have a church. The vegetation after this is lush with forests. Near the Tarn valley, orchards (apples, plums, pears, peaches, cherries, kiwis and melons) replace the vineyards. Moissac was formerly a major stop on the road to Santiago. Here you can visit the Abbey of Saint-Pierre with its UNESCO World Heritage cloister. Take a walk along the pont Canal de Cacor, a 356m canal bridge which allows the Garonne lateral canal to cross the Tarn river.
Day 23 To Auvillar with its interesting medieval circular market (6hrs, 21km/13mi)
On leaving Moissac, pass by its abbey and continue along the Tarn before returning to the Garonne and its lateral canal. You soon enter the Lomagne or "hunchback Gascogne", an area of natural beauty. Straddling the Tarn et Garonne and the Gers, this former dependency of the Duchy of Gascony is the land of white garlic, interesting houses and churches. The destination today is the village of Auvillar, which was built on a promontory and is another classified as a "Most beautiful villages in France". With its circular market built in 1824, its clock tower and old stone houses, there is much to see here.
Day 24 To Miradoux (5hrs, 17.5km/10.9mi)
The walk today takes you through the Gers Lomagne commune to the small town of Miradoux. With only 550 inhabitants and built on a small promontory, the town has character-filled stone houses, evidence of the rich history of the area.
Day 25 Walk to Lectoure (4hrs, 15km/9.3mi)
Walk to the lovely town of Lectoure, built on a rocky outcrop and high above the hills of Lomagne. With its imposing Cathedral and Chateau, once home to the Counts of Armagnac, the town has a colourful history such as the seige of Louis XI in 1473. If you are here on a Friday, there is a fabulous market in the morning that showcases the regions gastronomical delights.
Day 26 Walk to La Romieu (5hrs, 19km/11.8mi)
Leaving Lectoure and the Ger River behind, the trail takes you to Marsolan where on the terrace of the remains of the old hospital Saint Jacques at the entrance to the village, you can take in the impressive view of the Auchie Gascon Valley. Continuing through fields and woods, the trail descends gently to La Romieu. Here you can visit the 14th century church whose towers resemble a castle and whose cloisters are a 'must-see'.
Day 27 Continue to the Armagnac town of Condom (4hrs, 16km/10mi)
Leaving La Romieu the expansive views of the open countryside of the Gers are inspiring. It's an ideal walking environment, best before the midday sun sets in. The area represents the transition between the 'haute' Armagnac around Lectoure (also called White Armagnac due to the limestone found throughout the area) and the 'bas' Armagnac around Eauze, where thick black oak woods are found and 57% of the wine crops of Armagnac are located. Condom is one of the principal Armagnac towns and is located at a spur of the rivers Gele and Baise. The key attraction is the Gothic styled Cathedral of St Peter's, the last built in the Languedoc style.
En route to Montréal-du-Gers we recommend a 15 minute detour to visit the tiny fortified town of Larresingle which was the fortress of the Bishops of Condom in the Middle Ages and another of the' most beautiful villages' in France. Further along the route you pass the Pont d'Artigues, a Romanesque bridge crossing the Osse located 1000km from Santiago. It was also the site of a pilgrim hospital and a church but there are no remains of these buildings today. A little further you will come across the Eglise de Routges, the oldest church in the region, before arriving at Montréal-du-Gers. This interesting bastide town has a central square surrounded by arcades, the 13th century Church of Sainte-Marie and historic houses.
Day 29 To the Roman town of Eauze (5hrs, 16km/10mi)
The route this morning takes you along quiet trails lined with the vines of the Armagnac region and past farm houses. Passing by the village of Lamothe, with its 13th century guard tower, the route continues along a flat path to the former Roman town of Eauze (Elusa). The Gothic cathedral is worth a visit, while other attractions include the museum with its Roman coin collection, an Andalucian style bullring and numerous historic houses.
Pass walnut groves to Nogaro or Arblade-le-Haut (6hrs, 20km or 23.5/12.4 or 14.6mi)
The route continues today on a fairly flat trail through vines, walnut groves and open countryside. In Manciet, about half way along the days walk, there is a bullring used for cattle races which are held on the 2nd Sunday in September to coincide with the village fete. Passing the church of St Jean Baptiste de la Commanderie de Saint Christie de l'Armagnac, there are a some small descents and ascents before arriving into Nogaro. The town has a bullring and a Romanesque church. Or continue to Arblade-le-Haut, dependent on availability.
Day 31 Walk to Aire sur l'Adour (7.5 or 8hrs, 24 or 28km/14.9 or 17.3mi)
Continue on a trail through forest of Maritime pine, oak and chestnut, with much of the day along roads (with low traffic). Along the route you pass by some interesting bridges and hamlets before reaching Aire sur l'Adour. Aire sur l'Adour is separated into two parts: the lower section which is by the river and dominated by the cathedral of St Jean Baptiste, and the high town or Mas d'Aire which is dominated by the Eglise de Sainte Quitterie, where a Benedictine monastery once stood.
Day 32 Walk to Arzacq (9.5hrs, 34km/21mi)
A long day on the trail today, although the terrain is fairly flat. You make your way past Lac du Broussau and through small settlements to Miramont, just over half way. Soon after you reach the Eglise de Sensacq, a church formerly dedicated to St James. The route continues along the GR65 to reach Arzaq-Arraziguet, passing by Pimbos en route, which is one of the oldest villages in the Landes. When Arzaq was founded by "les Anglais" in the 13-14th centuries it was not in Béarn (an independent country) but in France. The town was the border between the two then independent countries. Nowadays this is the border area of Les Landes and Pyrenees-Atlantiques departments. Overnight and dinner in Arzaq-Arraziquet. Note: If you are unsure about walking 34km, it is possible to break this day into two days, staying in the town of Miramont (18km). If you wish to do this please advise us at the time of booking - supplement applies for additional night.
Day 33 Continue past a pilgrims hospital to Casteide Candau (6hrs, 21km/13mi)
The trail continues through the beautiful Béarn region, with many historic relics to visit including the abbey church of the XII Century St Pierre Larreule, the Romanesque church of St Quitterie and the church of St Jacques and chateau in Pomps. Overnight accommodation will be near Pomps and Morlanne in the village of Casteide-Candau.
Day 34 To Maslacq (6.5hrs, 19km/11.8mi)
The trail continues past a pilgrims hospital and a Romanesque chapel to reach Arthez-de-Béarn where a transition is noticeable towards Basque style architecture. The route passes through woods and the Church of Argagnon, the Chapelle of Caubin and the Chapelle of Cagnez before reaching the small village of Maslacq situated on the Gave de Pau.
Day 35 Continue walk to Navarrenx (6hrs, 22km/13.7mi)
Starting the day through fields and woods following the Gave de Pau, the route passes a sanctuary and later a former monastery (La Sauvelade). The undulating trail takes you through quiet rural scenes to reach the town of Navarrenx, the first in France to be fortified with Italian style ramparts.
Day 36 Through fields and past small villages to Lichos (4hrs, 15km/9.3mi)
Another great day's walk through the last of the Béarnais countyside on this route, crossing small streams and ascending fields and wooded trails. En route you pass a pâté producer (Jean Haget) and the Mongaston Castle, before you reach the small village of Lichos, birthplace of Saint-Grat, Bishop of Oloron. You have now crossed over into the Basque region of France.
Day 37 Walk to St Palais (6hrs, 23km/14.3mi)
The walk today takes you via the Eglise d'Olhaiby along rural trails to St Palais, a cultural town which plays host to colourful festivals and markets. Here the street signs are in the Basque language which is typical of the region. This is also the entry point into the Lower Navarre, formerly the Kingdom of Navarre. There are a number of sights to visit including a museum containing historic pilgrim relics and a statue of St James the pilgrim.
Day 38 To Larceveau or Ostabat (3 or 4.5hrs, 11km/6.8mi or 15km/9.3mi)
Continue on a trail past pilgrims hospitals, small chapels and historic villages to Ostabat-Asme where you may spend the night, or alternatively continue to Larceveau (this will depend on availability at time of booking). Ostabat was a large centre for pilgrims in the Middle Ages.
Day 39 To St Jean Pied de Port (6 or 5hrs, 19km/11.8mi or 23km/14.3mi)
The trail takes you along the D933 through the valley and usually along old lanes either side of the main road. En route you pass the sights of pilgrims hospitals and the Croix de Galzetaburia which is a cross placed on the crossing of Roman roads to mark the entry of secondary routes onto the Via Pondensis. Passing the villages of Mongelos and Bussanarits you reach Donazaharre with its church of St Pierre. Not long after, the pretty pilgrimage town of St Jean Pied de Port is entered via the Porte Saint-Jacques. With its ornate Basque style houses and wealth of sights to visit (Citadelle, Prison des Eveques, museums and churches, the various Portes (doors) and bridges over the river Nive), take time to walk around this evening.
Day 40 Trip concludes
Trip concludes after breakfast.
The trip is graded moderate to challenging. Daily walks are between 11 and 34km on well marked trails over diverse terrain – from relatively flat to mountainous. This is a well worn path where route finding is straight forward (refer below for further details on self guided walking). The main areas to concentrate on route finding are arriving and leaving towns. The accent is on keeping a steady pace to take in all of the attractions, with time to stop and take photos. In the summer months an early start is recommended to avoid sun exposure during the hottest period of the day as sections of the trail are unshaded. You will need a good level of fitness and walking endurance to participate fully in this holiday.
- 39 breakfasts, 34 dinners: Breakfasts are usually continental inclusive of breads, cheese, ham, tea, coffee & juices. Dinner will consist of 3 courses, usually starting with a salad, followed by a chicken, red meat, fish or pasta dish & finishing with a dessert of fruit or cakes.
- 39 nights guesthouses or hotel on a twin share basis, generally with ensuite facilities
- Information pack including route notes, maps and walking guide (per room booked)
- Baggage transportation (max 1 bag of 15kgs per person - additional bags can be transported if supplement paid in advance, max 15kgs per bag)
- Visitor tax
- Emergency hotline