Saint James of Compostela : the Pyrenean foothills route

April 14, 2017

We always know which is the best road to follow, but we follow only the road that we have become accustomed to. Paulo Coelho - The Pilgrimage
Summer 2016 was something. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go on a hiking trip. Before she suggested me this three weeks hike I didn't know what really Saint James of Compostella route was.

So when we took the plane to Carcassone in South France, we didn't know at all what was waiting for us. I think we just needed a break and took the first opportunity to spend time in nature.

Actually Saint James of Compostella route is a pilgrimage. In the Middle Ages this pilgrimage route to the village of Sant James of Compostella in Spain was traveled by prisoners and people considered as "sinners" by the Catholic Church which was basically at that time the most powerful institution in Europe.

At the end of the journey, only a few pilgrimages would attain the village because of the number of people who had die drowning, attacked by bears or wild animals. Not quite a vacation I would say! But after it's original role, the route became more of a spiritual journey for people.

The two official and most known routes of Saint James of Compostella are the "Camino del Norte" (the North way) and the "Camino Francies" (the French way).

It's because people descovered those routes that we are able to walk on the footsteps of people who lived since the Middle Ages to nowadays. Kind of awesome. And a lot of new ways are descovered as years are passing. And that's how we went on the Pyrenean Foothills route that was descovered recently starting at the well known little city of Carcassonne ending in Ronceveaux right before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

So we bought this little hiking book who had all the informations and instructions about the way. And there we were in the plane off to Carcassonne. Not having a clue what was this journey about.

Trying to take a selfie of our tired faces

Of course, even though we didn't know what to expect and because I'm kind of a control maniac like everyone, I booked all of our nights in advance for the three weeks! TIPS ALERT : YOU DON'T NEED TO DO THAT AT ALL. We just ended up cancelling a lot of our nights because of a delay in our hike our because we arrived early than expected.

But the incredible thing with this route is that a lot of the french communities helps pilgrimages of Saint Jacques (that's what we get called, it's kind of great). So people would often help us with directions, invite us for a drink, or fill our bottle of water. (although when it comes to help, water or food you don't care you ask anyway but it's great to know that people are open).

Our first night in Carcassonne in an Abbey (Notre Dame de l'Abbaye)

So after meeting our first hosts, we got our pilgrimage passeport called a 'Credential' where basically every host in every stop you spend the night at, puts a stamp on it, as a trace of your passage. So when you come home you have all those stamps marking all those places you've been to.

How a credential looks like

We also got a little adress book with all the adresses of Saint James de Compostela route hosts. And that's where we had the chance to meet great people who gave us advices and shared a bit of themselves with us. It was really great to share meals with people we just met the same day.

I would recommend this trip because not only get to see beautiful landscapes that evolve and change as you walk through typical little french towns, you also learn a lot about yourself and grow a great relationship with your patner if you travel with a friend or life patner. This trip was my first long hike and it changed me in a way. It really get yourself to reconnect back with nature and your environnement.

You realize how much as humans we adapt really quickly and how our survival instincts are still in our genes. But also you learn how to locate yourself and trust yourself.

And finally we got to measure how little our day-to-day problems were and how much we take things for granted. A warm shower brought me tears of joy and arriving at the top of a hill that we had to clime first thing in the morning gave us so much happiness. As having homemade meals offered by our host. We couldn't be more grateful.

Of course because it's a rough hiking trip you have to learn about your bounderies and also learn to push them a bit further and like any challenge some days are rough but you grow out of it so much. It's really worth it. And also you can organise your trip as you feel between the lenght of you walk and your number of stays That's what I love about it!
I hope next time you consider this beautiful hike full of surprises. Turning it to a big adventure or just a little vacation. There's room for a lot of creativity!

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