More and more inspired pilgrims and motivated hikers take to the trails leading to the tomb of Saint James, or Santiago de Compostela, in Spain.
Established as early as the 11th-century, this pilgrimage quickly became one of the most important. Although the final sanctuary is located in Spain, the four historical circuits take place mostly on French soil.
Today, several tens of thousands of hardened hikers embark on this journey each year. Even more people walk the circuit in stages, moving forward more slowly and savouring, year after year, a special state of mind, preserved landscapes, and numerous historical sites and monuments.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage and a European Cultural Itinerary, these pilgrimage routes represent spiritual symbolism and exceptional heritage. Here is a quick overview.
Via Podiensis (GR 65)
The route from Puy-en-Velay is probably the most popular with hikers. Its notoriety is marked by the list of remarkable buildings and sites along the way, traversing notably the Cantal, Aveyron, Périgord, Gers and the Basque Country areas.
Milestones: Notre-Dame de France the Conques Abbey, Figeac, Cahors, the Rocamadour Sanctuary...
More north, the Tours circuit departs from the Saint-Jacques Tower in Paris and heads through Tours, Poitiers and Bordeaux via Orléans or Chartres, depending on the variation.
Milestones: the Saint-Martin Basilica, Notre-Dame de Chartres, Saint-Hilaire Church...
The Limousin circuit begins in Burgundy, in Vézelay. The main itinerary crosses Bourges and Châteauroux, though it is possible to head further south towards Nevers.
Milestones: the Madeleine of Vézelay Abbey, the Saint-Etienne Cathedral in Limoges...
Via Tolosona (GR 653)
Tolosana is the southernmost circuit, departing in Arles and passing by Montpellier and Toulouse.
Milestones: Sainte Trophime Church in Arles, Saint-Sernin Basilica in Toulouse...