Taking the Way of St James (Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route)

Tourism, Holiday & Travel Guide in France

Tourism > Practical advice sheets > Taking the Way of St James (Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route)
Taking the Way of St James (Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route)

Every year the Way of St James welcomes thousands of people who come to reconnect with themselves along this long pilgrimage route. But preparation is essential before embarking on this beautiful spiritual and cultural adventure. Here is some practical advice:

YOUR PREPARATION

  • One of the first questions to ask yourself is if you want to go on your own or with one or more friends. Of course, even if you go by yourself, you will not always be alone on the Way of St James as it offers numerous opportunities to meet other people. Deciding to go with friends requires that you get on well and wish to share an intense experience with them.
  • You then have to plan your route depending on the time you have available. Allow an average walking speed of 3 to 4 km per hour, and 4 to 5 hours per day. Some people will walk more or less depending on their physical ability. Taking the whole route to Compostela in one go requires approximately 3 months, but it is also possible to split the pilgrimage into small sections, picking up the walk again where you stopped off the time before. When planning your route, don’t forget to take accommodation establishments and places of interest into account.
  • Remember to plan the return journey, which can be done by plane, public transport, or even on foot along the Cantabrian coast for the most energetic!
  • The budget needed for the pilgrimage varies greatly depending on the accommodation and eating options chosen. Establishments catering only to walkers charge very low prices. Camping and gas cooking also reduce expenditure.
  • The choice of season is important. Although the route is practicable all year long, the conditions change: days are shorter in winter, and some accommodation is closed during this period. Mist, fog, and even snow can make life difficult. On the other hand, mid-summer is very hot and stormy, and the number of tourists at its highest. So the mid-seasons (spring/autumn) would seem the most appropriate time to go.
  • To prove that you are indeed a pilgrim on your way to Compostela, get hold of a credencial or “pilgrim’s passport” before you depart from your national St. James organisation. This passport is stamped at every place you stop and is often asked for at accommodation establishments. It also facilitates potential assistance from the civil and religious authorities.
  • Physical preparation is essential. Ideally, you should walk regularly during the weeks before departure with a weight similar to that of your backpack. Remember to wear the shoes you’re taking on the pilgrimage if they’re new in order to wear them in.

EQUIPMENT

  • Choose your equipment very carefully to make the total weight as light as possible. The lighter the load, the easier the walking, especially after several hours. Generally speaking, bags should not exceed 10 kg for women and 12 kg for men. Don’t forget to take a full bottle of water and provisions into consideration when calculating weight.
  • Almost everything can be found along the way (clothes, medicine etc). Avoid taking just-in-case items.
  • Choosing a good backpack is important. The backpack is the only valid item you should invest weight in if it means better comfort. It is best to try it out when packed.
  • Walking shoes must be of good quality, lightweight, support the ankles well and be waterproof.
  • Wearing good socks avoids blisters. You can also find lined socks and boucle (wool) socks which are more comfortable for walking.
  • A telescopic walking stick can be useful to reduce effort on hills, to help cross streams and walk with slight sprains. It can also help defend you against errant animals.
  • If you’re going as far as Spain, ask your local healthcare authority for the European health insurance card so you can be reimbursed more easily if necessary.
  • The other must-haves for pilgrims’ bags:
  • Light clothes, perhaps made of Gore-Tex or fleece.
  • Flip-flops, slippers or ankle socks for relaxing your feet in the evening.
  • Sunscreen lotion, glasses and a hat.
  • A drinking flask.
  • A small first aid kit.
  • Sufficiently detailed maps for the whole route.

ACCOMMODATION

  • Numerous accommodation options exist along the route: hotels, stopover lodges for hikers (gîtes d’étape), bed and breakfasts, and campsites. Pilgrim establishments are indicated in guidebooks.
  • In the high season, remember to book pilgrim establishments in advance.
  • If all establishments are full, you can ask at the local church, mayor’s office or police station and they will always find a place for you to stay, although it could sometimes be quite rough and ready.

WALKING

  • To walk well, you need to eat well. A good breakfast is essential. Taking a few snacks (chocolate, dried fruit, energy bars) with you on the road helps to provide the necessary calories and avoid low blood sugar. For the evening meal, eat pasta or rice to ensure you get your daily amount of slow-release sugar.
  • In the summer, set off very early in the morning to avoid the hottest hours. Arriving early also means you can take a nap, visit the town/city or calmly prepare the next stage.
  • Protect yourself well against the sun with a hat, glasses and sunscreen applied every two hours.
  • Drink a lot and regularly to avoid dehydration, cramps, tendonitis, or just feeling tired. You should drink before being thirsty. You can always fill your drinking flask by asking the inhabitants of the villages you go through. You can also sometimes find drinking water taps in parks or cemeteries. Do not drink river or stream water as it can contain bacteria.
  • To reduce friction and avoid blisters, wear two pairs of thin socks together.
  • Every evening, take care of your feet. Relax them, massage them, soak them in water. Pop and treat any blisters you may have.
  • In order to maintain the good atmosphere of the pilgrimage, always respect the other pilgrims, the inhabitants of the regions you go through, and the shopkeepers and volunteers you meet along the way.

Hotel Eterlou
Located in the French Alps Tarentaise Valley, Eterlou & Tremplin is in the Meribel ski resort. It offers free access to the fitness room, hot tub, hammam...
France
Restaurants in France
Great restaurants in France
Great Rentals
Find the ideal rental for your next trip
Reduced-price flights
Compare airline prices to France
Rentals in France
Ads with photos and direct contact with owners