The world famous Camino Frances hiking route along the greater Camino de Santiago is located in the very northwest corner of Spain and is an iconic pilgrimage route dating back millennia.
The Camino Frances section is one of the numerous routes making up the overall Camino de Santiago. This is a series of routes that spread like a spider’s web across the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and France. All of them finish at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. “The Way of St. James” in English, the Camino de Santiago routes bring pilgrims to the shrine of the apostle St. James. This is located in the cathedral at the end of the routes.
Alongside Rome and Jerusalem, it is one of the original great three medieval pilgrimages of the Christian faith. Pilgrims follow the belief that St. James’s remains were transported by sea from Jerusalem to the northwest of Spain. His burial site is what has now become the city of Santiago de Compostela. The city is now also the capital of northwestern Spain’s Galicia region.
The Camino Frances
Of all the possible pilgrimage routes for reaching the cathedral, the Camino Frances is the most popular by far. Walkers young and old, novice and experienced, can all likewise tackle the journey at various paces. There are plenty of rest stops along the way. This ensures that it certainly doesn’t need to be an overly arduous pilgrimage experience. Instead, the physical challenge, time for mental reflection and camaraderie along the way all come together. They combine to form what many past walkers have described as a truly life changing experience to cherish forever.
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Although there are a number of sights and highlights along the Camino Frances, it’s perhaps the overall experience that best sums up why walkers love undertaking this pilgrimage. In recent years it’s become so popular that it’s even a staple of the good, old ‘bucket list’ of world travellers and hikers. The only way to truly understand this once in a lifetime experience is to physically walk the route yourself.
And while it’s difficult to sum up this experience in writing, as we’ve hiked the route ourselves here at Hillwalk Tours we definitely feel we’re able to impart to you precisely what makes the Camino Frances such an amazing route. We’ve highlighted a number of sights and individual experiences you’ll see, feel, taste, hear and touch along your journey, all coming together to generate a superbly unique and astounding experience to remember for a lifetime.
The top 7 Sights and Experiences along the Camino Frances route in Spain are:
Our longest camino walking tour (160 kms / 100 miles) commences in the hamlet of O Cebreiro. This is also one of the highest points along the greater Camino Frances and Camino de Santiago routes. As such you’ll be treated to exceptional mountain views and scenery, plus rambling sheep and babbling brooks. Our walkers can choose between two rather different routes when journeying between the villages of Triacastela and Sarria.
The northern route is the more scenic of the two, taking in forests with picturesque woodland paths tracing their way through the trees. Alternately the southern route takes our walkers right past the intricately adorned Samos Monastery, a unique piece of historical monastic architecture. You’ll eventually descend from the mountains and cross the river Miño, with the great change in elevation levels taking your through multiple climatic and geological landscapes.
There’s no shortage of quaint Spanish towns and villages to delight our walkers along the Camino Frances hiking route. Starting off in remote O Cebreiro, walkers soon begin to descend the mountains and traverse a heavily rural and agricultural area steeped in Galician culture and traditions. You’ll pass through and spend the night in a number of idyllic locations, such as Sarria, Portomarin, Palas de Rei, and the market town of Melide. And if you end up missing civilisation a little bit too much after a few days spent on the trails and in the small villages, don’t forget that there’s the bustling Santiago de Compostela to greet you at the end.
Unlike the sections of the Camino de Santiago route in southern Spain, the final 160 kms of the Camino Frances route in northwestern Spain are blessed with a milder climate. While July and August are the most popular months for walking this section, it can still become fairly hot. There’s also the chance of muggy and rainy weather during these more humid summer months.
As such, more and more walkers are opting to undertake their pilgrimage in Spring (April – June) and Autumn (September – October). During these times the weather is not only a very reasonable and pleasant temperature, but the skies are often quite clear with a greatly reduced chance of precipitation or stormy and windy weather coming in off the Atlantic or up from the Mediterranean. This milder climate than the sweltering south of Spain make it more accessible to walkers of all experience levels.
The cuisine you’ll experience on your walk is only a small part of the overall journey, but more than enough purely on its own to entice walkers! As you approach the coast, seafood will become more and more prevalent (and delicious). Walkers will be treated to delicacies such as empanadas, various cheeses, a variety of shellfish, and polbo á feira (a local octopus dish). And there’s no room for guilt in your mind when there’s plenty of room in your stomach after a full day of walking!
… and of course Galician drink
Not only is the food in the autonomous community of Galicia world famous, but so too are its wines and liquors. The region’s ribeiro and albariño wines are a delightful treat after a day on the trails. Meanwhile the local orujo liquor can provide you with ample relaxation at night, or a quick boost for those packing a small hip flask during the day! Just make sure to not overdo it or you’ll need a bit of a siesta during the afternoon before you reach your accommodation for the evening.
Perhaps it’s the shared religious faith, the shared objective at the end of the trail, or simply the shared joyful and tipsy feeling brought on by the wines we just mentioned above, but there’s something special about the community spirit felt along your journey. Unlike other trails, it’s not just your direct hiking companions you’ll feel a close connection to. Such a popular route throughout the warmer months, you’ll inevitably cross paths with the same people each day and evening, eventually building up a rapport with your hiking colleagues and compatriots along the way, sharing notes as to what enticed you to make the pilgrimage. Many hikers have even fostered and established lifelong friendships with others they’ve met along the way.
Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela
After spending days in rural Spain, the city and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela are a sight for sore eyes. You’ve finally made it and can celebrate one of the great achievements of a lifetime. Whether it’s religion, nature, food, culture or camaraderie that brought you here, all paths lead towards this fabled burial site of St. James and the history in which the region is steeped.
We hope that you enjoyed this guide to hiking the Camino de Santiago. There’s plenty more to see, do and experience along our Camino Frances hiking tours in Spain.