Via Podiensis is one of the four main pilgrimage routes through France and considered the most beautiful.
Le Puy to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port is in France while Camino Frances is in Spain all but one day which is the main differentiator. Here are 10 more differences from one pilgrim’s admittedly biased perspective:
There are significantly less walkers. I did the 750K walk in 28 days in late July and August and some days only saw 2 or 3 others on trail. Rarely more than 10 or 15.
2. Mostly French Walkers:
At least 80% of walkers you meet are French and perhaps 10% German. The rest are a mix of mostly Europeans. I met only 2 other Americans and 1 Canadian until the last 2 days when I crossed paths with a tour group of 9 Americans and Canadians. While I rarely see donkeys on the Camino in Spain. I must have seen around 10 on DuPuy. There were also quite a few pilgrim dogs.
3. More Mountains and Nature:
Less road walking and hillier especially in the Le Puy to Conques stage making it a bit tougher than Frances. The mountains gave way to rolling hills filled with brilliantly blooming sunflower fields. Then a shorter stretch through a relatively flat region with corn fields reminiscent of Iowa and last the rolling green foothills of the Pyrenees with the mountains in the background. The Chemin follows the GR65 route and for mountain lovers you can take longer more rugged but more beautiful alternate trails if you prefer. Or take the easier route.
4. French Language:
As most of the walkers are French and you are staying in French Gites and homes it is good to know a little French. However it is the Camino and people could not be friendlier. Several young French pilgrims and a German couple were compassionate and kind patiently translating for me and helping with reservations. That said I know just a few French words and travel phrases. Do not let your lack of French stop you.
5. French Food vs Spanish:
The food is good on Frances but it is a highlight of the Chemin DuPuy. Many of the Gites include 3, 4, or 5 course meals. Upon arrival typically a tasty thirst quenching welcome drink of a fruit syrup(ie. strawberry, mango, citrus ) mixed with water is offered. The food is almost always fresh and local with regional specialties. Lentil soup was popular at the beginning, then cantaloupe melons with ham. Getting closer to SJPP duck was often served. Grew accustomed to the delicious local cheeses served before dessert. Of course almost always there would be carafes of local red wine but only with the food. Before the meal an Aperitif ( welcome drink to break the ice and facilitate socializing ) of usually white wine would be served. The desserts ranged from flavored yogurt and ice cream sundaes to Omelet from Norway as the French call it. ( in America we call it Baked Alaska; a mound of meringue with ice cream and cake in some kind of alcohol based sauce.) The wine of course is fabulous on both routes. At the risk of insulting the French, I find Rioja and Navarra reds to be the equal of Bordeaux and Bourgogne. That said, I give the edge to the French for complementing with their incredible and diverse cheeses. The French are proud to say that you can easily eat a different French cheese every day of the year.
6. French Culture:
A history rich with Catholic churches and saints is prevalent on the walk. But the French have style like no other culture. With clothing, food, and even in the language. Looking good and eating well is an art form in France. They make statements that have style. “As you wish” is one of my favorites and I never get tired of hearing “Viola” and “ooh-la-la”. I have also found them to be a balanced people. They seem adverse to extremes and value freedoms in every way. The ‘Immortals’ are 40 guardians of the French language in existence for 5 centuries. As soon as non French word starts pervading, the Immortals job is to create a French equivalent. On one of my walks my host came out after the 4th dinner course wearing a maroon sport jacket with a goose emblazoned above the pocket. He proceeded to proudly explain he was the regions official protector of the art of preparing and enjoying foie gras.
7. Less Infrastructure:
This walk is more challenging from an infrastructure perspective as you are more likely to be forced to walk a bit longer than you like. Carrying a picnic lunch sometimes is a good idea. You may have to walk a little further for a cafe or tea. Less of an issue if you can do 30k a day occasionally. That said the infrastructure on Frances is great and Chemin DuPuy is good and easily managed with a bit of planning. Like the Camino you have accommodation options including; gites, chambre d’hotes(B&B’s), monastaries, convents, family homes.
8. More Intimate:
While I loved Frances there are many people walking. The Le Puy Camino was more intimate because of the significantly reduced numbers making it easier to get to know just about everybody walking in a similar time frame. As we got closer to SJPP it was typical to be on a first name basis with most if not all of the people in your Gite.
9. Family Stays:
This is the most popular of the 4 major Camino routes in France so family stays are not as common as on other routes I have walked such as the Camino Tours from Paris or Via Francigena or Cherbourg to Mt. St. Michel to St. Jean de Angely routes. But they are a truly wonderful part of any Camino through France. You get the chance to converse and spend time with kind generous hosts usually on a donativatio basis providing great conversation, incredible dinners and breakfasts along with a private room. If they do charge it is usually a very reasonable €30.
DuPuy is definitely more expensive but not unreasonably so. On the Frances I spent €25-30 per day. On Via Podiensis €35-40.
In conclusion, the best thing about starting in Le Puy though is it extends your Camino by 90% or more. Perfect for Camino junkies. And it provides a complement to the Frances. The main complaint you hear of Frances is the number of peregrinos and amount of road walking. Camino Le Puy has probably 10% or less walkers and more nature especially in the beginning. All I can say is I love them both.
Bon Chemin! Buen Camino!
This post is one of five companion pieces:
1. How The Via Francigena Pilgrimage Is Different from The Camino Frances.
2. How Camino Del Norte Is Different from Camino Frances.
3. How Camino Via de la Plata (VdlP) Is Different From Camino Frances.
4. How The Japan 88 Temple and Kumano Kodo Pilgrimages Are Different From The Camino de Santiago.
5. How the France Chemin duPuy is Different From Camino Frances
These write ups are all available on the Camino Forum. www.caminodesantiago.me/community/resources/how-the-chemin-du-puy-is-different-from-the-camino-de-santiago.777/