Home: From Puy-en-Velay to St Jean-Pied-de-Port (english)

It is in this part of the site that the main track pilgrims follow when coming from northern Europe, France, Germany or Switzerland is described. For other countries, it is less obvious. Americans and Canadians, and some Italians also often leave here, which the Koreans do not do for the moment, who often start their journey only in Roncesvalles.

The stages are therefore described in chronological order, starting from Puy-en-Velay in France to St Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Have a nice trip.

Via Podiensis


First, you have to reach Le Puy-en-Velay. A large number of pilgrims arrive here by plane via Lyon, then by train or car to Le Puy. Brave pilgrims from the East, the Germans or Switss often take the Via Gebennensis, from Geneva to Le Puy, or other tracks passing through Lyon, Franche Comté or Burgundy. Some Italians follow the Via Francigena, in Italy, then the Via Tolosana through Arles. Others leave from Dijon and arrive in Le Puy via Burgundy and Cluny.

The Via podiensis leaves from Le Puy. Here you are in the middle of puys, small wooded hills which are former small volcanoes. Beyond Velay, the route runs through the wooded Margeride and Gévaudan, known above all for the misfortunes caused several centuries ago by the beast of Gévaudan. The fascinating Aubrac follows, with its stone walls, its immense treeless meadows where young cows and oxen graze in summer. Beyond Aubrac, the landscape changes fundamentally. The route plunges into the deep gorges of the Lot, slopes up and down, to dive into Conques, the medieval jewel of the Camino de Santiago. Then, it crosses the Quercy and its countless oaks, crosses several causses, with rough vegetation, to reach Cahors. Beyond Cahors, the landscape becomes more monotonous, in the Tarn et Garonne. The route crosses Garonne River at Moissac into the Gers, in the middle of the country houses perched on the hills and fields of cereals and sunflowers. Beyond Aire-sur-Adour, it is the Landes and the Atlantic Pyrenees, with corn and ducks. Fortunately, the hills return in Béarn and the Basque Country, on the border of the Pyrenees.

The 730 kilometers of Via Podiensis can easily be covered in just over a month. It is recommended that the inexperienced walker do not strain at the beginning and increase the duration of the routes with experience. You have to know how to stop from time to time. Places like Conques, Figeac, Cahors, Moissac, Aire-sur-Adour, Navarrenx deserve a stop.


GR65 markings

It is not necessary to carry detailed topographic maps with you. Just follow the markup. From Geneva to St Jean Pied-de-Port, the track is signposted as a long-distance hiking trail, although there are a few variations. As the Chemin de Compostelle merges with the Grande Randonnée track, the direction is also very often indicated by the red and white marks of the GR. Here, it’s easy, you follow GR65 path up to the French border.


You have to follow the red and white bands, not the yellow lines (some tourist trails are marked in yellow!). But it sometimes happens too. A smart kid who for fun would have changed the signage or removed a sign. And off you go for a good detour or to ask for directions to a neighboring farm. And then, depending on the region, there are still plenty of other signs with the names of hamlets, with approximate walking times, intended to inform tourists of local routes.

There is also sometimes a markup using the famous Compostela shell, yellow on a blue background. Just know that the closed base of the shell points to the correct direction. In Galicia, it is the other way around! But on Via Podiensis, the shell has an unfortunate tendency to disappear in favor of the GR signs.



Important note on mileage

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the slopes of the routes, no matter what system you are using, GPS watches or mapped profiles. There are few sites on the Internet that can be used to estimate slopes (three at most). Since these programs are based on an approximation and averaging around the desired point, there can be large variations from software to software, due to the variation between two points (e.g. depression followed by a very close bump). An example? On GR36 pah, along the Breton coast, the altitude is rarely higher than 50 meters above sea level, but the route continues to climb and descend all day. For a course of about twenty kilometers, a software will give 800 meters of slope variations, another 300 meters. Who is telling the truth? For having done the course several times, the legs say that the difference in altitude is closer to 800 meters! So how do we do it? We can rely on the software, but we have to be careful, take averages, ignore the slopes given, but only consider the elevations. From there, it is only elementary mathematics to deduce the slopes, considering the altitude and the distance traveled between two points whose altitude is known. This is the way of doing things that has been used on this site. Moreover, in retrospect, when you “estimate” the route calculated on the basis of the cartography, you notice that this way of doing things is quite close to the truth on the ground. When you walk often, you quite quickly have the degree of tilt in the eyes, and especially in the legs.

But there is more to this. The programs that allow you to calculate height differences lack precision for relatively flat routes, often not considering small variations of less than 2 meters. Therefore, and especially for sections with less than 5% gradient, you will have the feeling that it is almost flat, but this is not always correct. It can slope up and down often imperceptibly. But your legs are registering all of these movements. So, to be closer to reality, add 100 to 200 meters of elevation gain and loss for most of these stages. Some GPS watches that continuously record the path will also tell you the same. But here, too, GPS is not the precision of a Swiss watch.

We understand the difficulty of the exercise. Having made the experiment several times with two different GPS, also giving the altimetry, we can sometimes find a great variation in the level of the indicated altitude. The only true figure is that given by the contour lines of the official maps of the states. But, this should not spoil your pleasure in any way, even if you are given figures that will be said to be approximate, but no doubt quite close to the reality on the ground. In the graphics, it is enough to consider the color to understand what it means. Light colors (blue and green) indicate modest slopes of less than 10%. Bright colors (red and dark brown) show steep slopes, with brown exceeding 15%. The most severe slopes, greater than 20-25%, very rarely more, are marked in black.

What you will find in this site

To aid in route planning, the route has been divided into arbitrary units. Everyone walks in their own way. For each stage, you will also have accommodation options available. We cannot ignore the existence of Miam Miam Dodo, whom many consider to be the bible of the Camino de Santiago. Our site is very complete in addresses, but does not give accommodation outside the track, which Miam Miam Dodo does, which also has the undeniable advantage of being updated every year.


To start the route in Puy-en-Velay