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Camino de Santiago – an inside look on the French Way from León

The French Way is the oldest and most traveled route of the Camino de Santiago. In this post we’ll share our knowledge from operating our bike tour in the French Way from Léon, sharing everything there is to know about the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago, with information on each stage and practical tips for doing the French Way.

Remember that to do the Camino de Santiago you don't have to cycle the entire route. You can make your choice and start from any point on the French Way: divide the distance you are going to cycle in as many stages or kilometres as you wish, bearing in mind that 200 km on bike are required to be entitled the Compostela upon your arrival at the Cathedral of Santiago.


Camino de Santiago French Way from León

History of the French Way

The French Way is one of the routes to Santiago with more history. In fact, it is considered the oldest route, as there are documents dating back to 1135 where information about this Jacobean route appears. The Way of Saint James appeared in the 9th century with the discovery of the remains of the Apostle Saint James the Greater. Thanks to the support of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain and the influence of the Benedictines of the Order of Cluny, the French Way was born, which was traveled both by the devotees of the peninsula and by those who lived in other regions of Europe.

The French Way to Santiago began to develop in the 10th century, but the definitive route was fixed by King Sancho III the Great in the 11th century, to free the area from Muslim incursions and taking advantage of an ancient Roman road. From this route, the number of pilgrims increased considerably after beginning a series of contacts and exchanges which, in the religious field, led to making pilgrimage the most widespread form of devotion.


bike tour french way ponferrada church

Why choose the French Way

The French Way is not only the longest-lasting of its kind, but also the most popular among pilgrims. The French Way's antiquity is an important reason to venture cycling it, following the same route that people from all over Europe have traveled for centuries, passing by beautiful places and many points of religious, cultural and natural interest.

Being such a popular Way, it has many advantages for the pilgrim: the atmosphere on the Way is unequalled, due to the companionship between pilgrims and, besides the numerous establishments dedicated to the pilgrim, there are also many hostels, restaurants, churches and other support infrastructures.

The Stages

León to Astorga - 53km and 550m of total climbing

Departing from the ancient capital of León to immerse ourselves both in the cereal fields of Castilla y León and on the asphalt. An opportunity to enjoy the scenery and nature. However, it is not necessary to make much effort, as it is a medium stage, flat and serene. However, as we leave the cities, we will cross some industrial parks: it is recommended to cycle carefully through these industrial areas. After passing through the paved roads of the Leon outskirts, we will reach a more natural landscape, crowned by the historic town of Astorga, a place not to be missed. Enjoy its Roman remains and its unparalleled architecture. By the way, try the delicious puff pastries and mantecados of this area, because what better way to regain strength after a ride than with sweets?

Camino de Santiago French Way from León


Astorga to Ponferrada - 59km and 941m of total climbing

This stage has a very slight climb. Although it is not complex, our legs will certainly be tired after the long stages through this region. We will ascend until we reach the Bierzo, a region very close to Galicia. Don't miss the maragato stew and the fruits and vegetables of this area. The cherries from the Bierzo can help prevent muscle pain. Be careful on the downhill stretches - the highest point of the Camino Frances is found in this stage, between kilometers 26 and 31. From there you’ll ride downhill all the way to the town of Ponferrada. As for points of interest, don't miss the Castillo de los Templarios, the Clock Tower or the Basilica de la Encina in Ponferrada.

Ponferrada to Las Herrerias - 43km and 816m of total climbing

On this stage there is only a very slight slope from kilometer 16. We will begin to notice the abundance of vegetation as we leave Castilla y León and enter the green and beautiful Galicia. In this stage we will pass through charming towns like Columbrianos, Componaraya, Cacabelos, Valtuille de Arriba, Villafranca del Bierzo, until we reach the small village of Las Herrerias, just before the French Way’s toughest climb to Cebreiro.


bike tour french way molinaseca


Las Herrerias to Sarria - 49km and 1480m of total climbing

In this stage we will reach Cebreiro, a charming mountain site, well known on the Camino de Santiago. But we are going to climb from 630 to 1300 m above sea level, a considerable climb which, by the way, is in a fairly long stage. Upon reaching Cebreiro, visit the Church of Santa María a Real and the famous palhoças, traditional buildings of the Ancares Mountains, before tackling the remainder of the stage. You’ll now enter a flatter section, before reaching a steep descent towards Triacastela, followed by 2.5 km climb – the last of today’s stage. Going on a firm and flat ground, the route now goes through the magical Ancares region, and although the Way does not pass directly through the Natural Park, you will be able to delight yourself with some of its delicacies: chestnuts, homemade sweets, mushrooms, cheese, and much more. On the way, stop to admire its monuments: the Church of San Cristovo do Real and the Benedictine Monastery of Samos; and the Church of San Salvador already in Sarria.

When we arrive in Sarria we will be only 100 km from Santiago, which is why we will find crowds of pilgrims, because this is the minimum distance to cycle to obtain the Compostela, the certification of having done the Way of St. James. This is a good time to exchange experiences and to enjoy the last stages to the fullest.

Sarria to Arzúa - 75km and 1795m of total climbing

The road to Portomarín has several climbs and descents that make the journey a bit difficult, but in general it is a pleasant stage. On the way from Portomarín to Hospital da Cruz we will climb about 400 mts, with an average incline between 2% to 4,5%, but the stretches of the route will be flatter and with more stretches of asphalt. Then, from Palas de Rei to Arzúa on a flat route fairly close to sea level. In fact, it will give us the opportunity to get to know places like Leboreiro, Melide or Boente. Its monuments include the Santa María Church in Leboreiro; the Medieval Furelos River Bridge, the San Roque Chapel and the Santa María Church in Melide; and the Ribadiso Bridge and the Santiago Church in Arzúa. In this area we can taste the best of Galician gastronomy, don't miss out on some good Galician bread, octopus à la feira (cooked and seasoned with olive oil and paprika), lacón (pork shank) cooked with greens, the melindres of Melide, and cheese with Protected Designation of Origin Arzúa-Ulloa are some of the most typical foods.

bike tour french way ponferrada 3

Arzúa to Santiago de Compostela - 39km and 893m of total climbing

We are finishing our route along the Camino Frances de Santiago, and the final stage smooths out. With only 39 km, this is a simple stage, mostly flat, punctuated by short easy to medium difficulty climbs. Approximately halfway into the stage, make a stop to visit the church and hermitage of Pedrouzo, in Arca. The will to reach Santiago always invades the pilgrim's soul in this last stage. Once you have arrived in Santiago, don't just visit the Cathedral. The Galician capital offers an endless number of alleys full of history, charm and beauty. Among the must-sees are the Monastery of San Martiño Pinario, San Domingos de Bonaval, the Mercado de Abastos, the Hostal of the Catholic Kings - a former hospital for pilgrims - and many other touristic, cultural and religious attractions. It is also worth wandering around the streets aimlessly, enjoying our arrival at our destination.

Click here for more info on our self-guided or guided bike tours in the French Camino, from Léon.


If you are looking for other alternatives to complete the Camino, check out these alternatives starting from Portugal:

Bike Tour in the Portuguese Camino de Santiago - the Coastal path, from Porto

Bike Tour in the Portuguese Camino de Santiago - the Central path, from Porto


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