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  • Le Puy-en-Velay

    Le Puy-en-Velay

    © Only France

  • Espalion

    Espalion

    © Only France

  • Saint Privat d'Allier

    Saint Privat d'Allier

    © Only France

  • Conques

    Conques

    © Only France

  • Conques

    Conques

    © Only France

In order to reach Spain, pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela can choose from one of four routes that run through France. Many monuments have been built along these historical roads to welcome the pilgrims: the many paths and structures constitute one of the first European cultural routes to be recognised by the European Council in 1987 and have been listed as Unesco World Heritage since 1998.

In the Middle Ages, a large number of catholic pilgrims from all over Europe met at the famous Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, situated in the far west of the Iberian peninsula, in Galicia, to worship the relics of the apostle Saint James.

The four routes

Many pilgrims travel through France to reach the famous cathedral. According to the Unesco website, “the spiritual and physical requirements of the pilgrims are satisfied thanks to the creation of a large number of special structures, many of which have now been created in the French section of the journey”.

Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy and Arles

The French pilgrimage routes, described in the “pilgrimage guide” written by Aimery Picaud, a monk from Poitou, in the 12th Century, are those starting from Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy and Arles. These go by the names of: the Via Tolosana (the Arles Way, leaving from Arles), the Via Podiensis (leaving from Puy and crossing through Cahors), the Via Lemovicensis (or the Vézelay route, which runs through Vézelay, Perigueux, etc.) and the Via Turonensis, also known as the “Grand Chemin” in France (leaving from Paris and continuing via Tours, Bordeaux, etc.).

The Paris route, the Vézelay route and the Le Puy route meet in the Northern Basque Country, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, and, after crossing the border, form the Navarre Way. In Spain, in Puente la Reina, the Arles Way joins onto the Aragonese Way to form the French Way.

Breath-taking landscapes

The signposting along the French and Spanish Ways is carried out with the support of the European Institute of Cultural Routes.

These Ways allow for the discovery of magnificent regions and wonderful landscapes that are grandiose and little known in France, dotted with incredibly charming villages. Of the four historical routes, the oldest and richest in Romanesque monuments is that passing through Puy-en-Velay, an important place of pilgrimage.

The monuments, from Conques to Saint-Jean-d'Angély

A large number of establishments for accommodating the pilgrims (hospices, chaplain's lodges, hostels, etc.) and monuments showing their devotion (basilicas, chapels, statues, frescoes, etc.) have been constructed along the routes; 71 of them are listed as World Heritage.

Among other remarkable sites along the way are the Notre-Dame du Port cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand, the Sainte-Foy abbey-church in Conques, the bridge over the Lot and the Saint-Fleuret church in Estaing, the Moissaic Church and Abbey, the Puy-en-Velay cathedral, the Saint-Front cathedral in Périgueux, Saint-Sauveur church and the Saint-Amadour crypt in Rocamadour, the Saint-Sernin basilica in Toulouse, the former Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges Cathedral, the royal Saint-Jean- d'Angély abbey, etc.

To find out more