Way of St. James’

Driven by the rhythm of walking and shrouded in the beauty of nature, emotions and questions well up... Everything seems so simple and nothing is a product of chance.

The Way of St. James’ is a“network of routes” across Europe that all lead to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain. In the high Middle Ages up to 500,000 pilgrims a year were attracted to the grave of St. James the Apostle. In Europe pilgrimage started to be rediscovered at the end of the 1980s on the Spanish route Camino Français and has now spread across the whole of Europe. The tolerance and solidarity that you encounter, the spirituality and personal experiences, are reasons that make this Camino so unique. We call it the spirit of the Camino.

In 2003 a number of hostels in France joined forces and founded the association “Les Haltes vers Compostelle” with the aim of maintaining this “spirit of the Camino” and offer suitable accommodation for pilgrims.

The leg of the Way of St. James between Arles in southern France and the Somport pass on the Spanish border is known as the Arles route, Via Tolosana, Chemin d'Arles or GR 653. It is thus a key element of the old link between Rome and Santiago de Compostella. After the Somport pass on the Spain border, the adjoining leg is known as the Aragonese Way, which meets the Camino Francés shortly before Puente la Reina. From Arles there are two options in the direction of Rome: Via Aurelia or Via Domitia.

On its way westwards the Via Tolosana starts by crossing the Rhône flood plain of Camargue and climbs behind Montpellier to the southernmost foothills of the Massif Central, where two passes of over 800m above sea level need to be overcome. Towards Castres the landscape drops off again and after Revel the Camino follows the Rigole (feeder channel for the Canal du Midi) until this flows into the Canal du Midi. The route then continues along the canal to Toulouse. The fertile hilly landscape of Gascony opens up behind Toulouse until finally, after Oloron-Sainte-Marie, the Camino climbs into the Pyrenees to the Somport pass (1,632m above sea level).

Do you want to walk the Way of St. James but you have a lot of questions? How can YOUR questions be answered?

  • You know about someone who has done “the Way”. Invite them around for a coffee, a beer, a glass of wine.
  • In recent years St. James clubs or regular meetings have been set up in many places. Have a look, there’s bound to be one close to you.
  • There are also many pages about the Way of St. James on the Internet. Here I would like to refer to the Site of the Confraternity of Saint James
  • If you have general questions, or would like to know more about the Arles route (Chemin d'Arles, GR 653), you can of course contact us. We will do our best to help you.

Here we attempt to answer frequently asked questions about the ARLES ROUTE. This may be completely different for other routes.

  • Travel time: pilgrimages are possible around the year. However, many gîtessimple hostels are closed between November and March. In the mountains (between Lodève and Castres) there may be snow at this time. The Somport pass can be blocked until May. In the summer, on the other hand, it can get very hot. For that reason most pilgrims travel from the start/middle of April to the middle of June and again from the middle of August to the start of October.
  • French language skills are of course very helpful but not essential. The hospitaleros are used to dealing with non-native speakers and often speak English or even German. Otherwise the French in this part of France are very eager to help and explain things in any way they can. Finally, there are also your fellow pilgrims who are happy to lend a hand...
  • Yes, there are other pilgrims apart from you here. You can spend a day alone and, depending on the season, could meet between four and eight fellow pilgrims in the hostels at night, or you could spend the night alone.
  • Do I need to make a reservation? The bed capacity in the gîtes here is between four and 15 beds. In May and September especially it can get crowded in the smaller gîtes. We generally recommend making a reservation one to two days in advance. This enables you to tailor your daily stages to your physical ability, the weather and level of difficulty.
  • On the Arles route there are naturally fewer gîtes than on the more heavily travelled stages. This can mean that you may have to decide between a large stage of around 30km or one under 20km.
  • Bed bugs – an unpleasant subject. 2012 they partially arrived on the Arles route. The hostels on the way do in a coordinated action there maximum to keep them away. But we are not able to protect our Gite if you Pilgrim dont help us. Please play your part in keeping it that way. Inform your self what a Bed bug is and how they streed out. We recommend strongly to use repeling insecticide for Bed bugs. Also, please don’t lay your rucksack on the bed or bring your shoes into the dormitory etc. If you are bitten, tell the hospitalero so immediate action can be taken.
  • The only Englisch-language tour guide for the Arles route is the Guidebook from Michael Gaches “Arles to Punte la Reina” published by the Confraternity of Saint James in 2011. Available in 2 parts in there bookshop. These guides are very comprehensive (though without maps) but you can download maps on the superb site of Géoportail. Alternatively we recommend the Miam Miam Dodo for NON-French speakers. This consists largely of map sketches and an excellent directory of where to stay and eat, and is updated every two years.

Everyone does their own Camino, which is why it’s important not to be bound by the predefined stages in tour guides etc. Also, it is not always possible to stick to stages you planned at home due to weather, terrain and personal condition. Because of the density of hostels on the Via Tolosana you also sometimes need to decide whether you want to do a big stage of maybe 30km or just a small one under 20km.

The following options are also available between Toulouse and Auch:

  • Small stages of 18/20km
  • or very large stages of 33/36km

It also depends on you, how you are feeling physically, what the external conditions are like and in what type of accommodation you want to spend the night.

Below are the stage lengths between the pilgrim hostels:

  • Toulouse/Léguevin: 22.5km (runs almost exclusively through suburban areas, alternatively rail link from Toulouse to Brax or Isle-Jourdain)
  • Léguevin/Isle-Jourdain: 18km
  • Isle-Jourdain/Le Grangé: 17km
  • Le Grangé/Isle-Arné: 19km
  • Isle-Arné/Saint-Cricq: 18km
  • Isle-Arné/Auch: 23.5km
  • Saint-Cricq/Isle-de-Noé: 29km