The Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, is a UNESCO World Heritage route which developed in importance as a religious pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. It was during the 10th century that the first pilgrims travelled along what is now known as the Northern Way following the coast of Cantabria. The Reconquest of modern day Navarra, Castile and Leon allowed a new route called the French Way to be designated through this land and further routes became recognised over the centuries such that nine different itineraries are now listed.
The French and Northern Ways are the most popular if you’re planning on a 4 to 5 week walk on foot beginning in France. Below are summaries of the main recognised routes to Santiago de Compostela on the Route of St James. Back in 1976 only 7 pilgrims completed the Camino and received their Compostela certificate from the pilgrim’s office in Santiago. In 2011 this number had rocketed to 180,000.
Camino de Santiago French Way
This is the best route to select if you’re planning an itinerary simply because the whole infrastructure of the route is set up for pilgrims including a fine selection of accommodation along the way. The route originates in France then crosses the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles before covering some 774 kilometres in Spain. The journey passes through the provinces of Navarra, La Rioja, Burgos, Palencia, Leon, Lugo and A Coruña. At an average of 20-25 kilometres daily, it usually takes about 30 days to reach Santiago. The route is well signposted with yellow arrows along its route so it’s difficult to lose your way.
Roncesvalles – Pamplona – Puente La Reina – Estella – Logroño – Nájera – Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Burgos – CastroJeriz – Carrión de los Condes – Frómista – Sahagún – León – Astorga – Ponferrada and then they enter Galicia via O Cebreiro – Samos – Sarria – Portomarín – Palas de Reis – Melide – Arzúa – Santiago de Compostela.
Camino de Santiago Northern Way
Almost immediately after the discovery of St. James’ tomb in the 9th century, pilgrims began following the Asturian-Galician ways in order to reach Santiago, since the Castilian plateau, which would be subsequently crossed by the French Way, was still occupied by the Moors. This route enabled the pilgrims, who had come overland from France or disembarked in Basque, Cantabrian or Galician ports, to combine the traditional visit to the Saviour in the Cathedral of Oviedo or continue along the Asturian coast as far as the Ria del Eo.
Hendaya – Donosti – Zarautz – Geurnika – Bilbao – Laredo – Santander – Santillana de Mar – Comillas – Llanes – Ribadesella; there are two branches from here on: inland, via Oviedo (where it joins the Original Way), or coastal, via Avilés and Luarca, entering Galicia via Ribadeo – Mondoñedo – Vilalba – Lugo – Sobrado – Santiago.