Transcript for Episode 390: A Brief History of the Chemin de Compostelle

Table of Contents for this Episode

Categories: French Culture, French History

[00:00:00] Intro

[00:00:00] This is Join Us in France, episode 390, trois cent quatre-vingt-dix. Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture history, gastronomy and news related to travel to France.

[00:00:36] Annie: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks, about the Compostelle pilgrimage, how it came about, the routes you can take through France to get to Saint Jacques the Compostelle, or as you call it in English, Santiago de Compostela.

[00:00:54] If you’re planning to walk the Camino, you definitely want to listen, and if you just want to hear about wonderful rural places in France, you’ll love this episode as well.

[00:01:05] Annie: For the French tip, after my conversation with Elyse, I’ll tell you how to order your meat in France. You’ll see, it’s pretty easy, and I also have an exciting personal update.

[00:01:17] Annie: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my itinerary consult service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris, on the VoiceMap app.

[00:01:30] Annie: And you can browse all of that at my boutique,

[00:01:37] Annie: There is a newsletter to go along with this podcast. Right now, I only email once a month or less, but when I email, it’s always something that will help you next time you visit France.

[00:01:48] Annie: You can sign up for the at


[00:02:04] The Pilgrimage

[00:02:04] Annie: Bonjour Elyse.

[00:02:05] Elyse: Bonjour Annie.

[00:02:06] Annie: We have a fun topic today about the pilgrimage.

[00:02:09] Elyse: The pilgrimage.

[00:02:11] Annie: Of Compostelle, the different routes that it takes through France, how it started,all sorts of very fun, kind of, and it’s all over France, obviously, because there are four different routes to Compostelle. It will be very interesting.

[00:02:27] This is not something I know a lot about, so I’m going to let you do most of the talking, my friend.

[00:02:32] Elyse: Okay.We live in Toulouse, and Toulouse is famous for, among other things, being one of the stops on one of the most important routes that go to Compostelle. So we have a little bit of that coming through our territory as well.

[00:02:49] Pilgrimage routes in different religions

[00:02:49] Elyse: I’m sure that most people have heard of it, pilgrimage routes are really interesting. There are pilgrimages uh for different religions everywhere in the world. There’s the going to Mecca for people who are Muslim, going to Jerusalem. In the Christian religion, and of course, I would say in the Catholic religion, but you can correct me if I’m wrong, I’m not sure if it’s in all the Christian religions, but there are three places that are considered to be the most important for going on a pilgrimage. And of course the very first one is Rome.

[00:03:21] Elyse: Sure. The second one is Jerusalem, which is the reason why there were all those crusades in the Middle Ages. The third one has become over time, this route to Compostelle, which is in Galicia, which is the most north-western part of Spain.

[00:03:41] What matters most in this pilgrimage?

[00:03:41] Annie: Right. So is doing the pilgrimage or getting to Compostelle what matters most?

[00:03:47] Elyse: Getting to Compostelle. Well, that’s an interesting question because, and I just found out something yesterday, I was doing a little bit more reading, it is extremely popular and has been for about the last 30 years.

[00:04:01] Elyse: That is, there are lots of people who will do a section of the route, because the idea is to do this by foot. In the old days, that is when pilgrimages like this began, there were a lot of people, those who had the means who actually did part of it by horse. But that’s kind of cheating, you know?

[00:04:22] Elyse: I mean, you have to wear your feet out and have lots of blisters, otherwise you really can’t consider that you’ve done this right. But it is a fact, that there’s been a renewal of the idea of doing part of the pilgrimage route. And a lot of people, I actually know a few people who have done a few sections. Every summer they will do a section or two and then they will just add it to their list. It turns out that if you eventually do make it to Compostelle, because it’s pretty far. I mean, you really have to walk a good distance to get there. You can get one of two stamps in your book, because one of the things that is very important, is in the end you have this paper, that’s a certificate that proves that you’ve actually gotten to Compostelle.

[00:05:05] Kinds of pilgrimages

[00:05:05] Elyse: What is nice, as far as I’m concerned, is that there are two different kinds. One is if you are religious and you want to prove for the sake of the religion that you’ve done it. The other one is if you’re just doing it as a tourist. You can get a tourist certificate of pilgrimage, which I kind of like. You don’t have to be religious to do this.

[00:05:26] Elyse: Yeah. A friend of the podcast, Lachlan, he’s just finished a section of the St. Jacques, and we also did an episode about that with someone. She did a section?

[00:05:40] She did it. I think she did all of it by now, but she did it in several sections.

[00:05:44] Elyse: In several sections.

[00:05:45] Elyse: Yeah, because it’s a long route.

[00:05:47] Why Compostelle?

[00:05:47] Elyse: So maybe what we should do is talk a little bit about how this all began. I think everyone pretty much understands why Rome for Catholics and for Christians is very important, and certainly why Jerusalem is, but why Compostelle?

[00:06:03] Elyse: This is a small town, right on the coast, in the most extreme north-western part of Spain. It’s not a part of Spain that’s particularly touristy. It’s not the part of Spain that most people visit when they go to Spain. So why is this considered to be the third most important pilgrimage for Christians?

[00:06:26] Annie: It’s a good question, elyse.

[00:06:27] Elyse: It’s a good question, n’est-ce pas? Okay. Well, it turns out, here’s the story, and again, we’re talking about stories that are partly probably true and partly myth or, myth may not be the correct word, I don’t know what the correct word is. We’ve talked a few times about things where there’s been a saint who’s had their head cut off and walked around with it under their arm. When we about Saint Antonin Noble Val, you know, and St. Denis. I mean, it’s kind of a cool thing if you can have your head cut off and walk around with it under your arm for about three days, but in this case, the story’s a little bit different.

[00:07:04] James the Apostle

[00:07:04] Elyse: So there was an apostle. It turns out that he was the brother of John the Evangelist, so he was one of the 12 apostles, and his name was James, which translates actually in French and in Spanish to Jacques. in English we say St. James the Major. So, he was one of the apostles and when he converted himself, this is of course, it’s just at about the time of the life of Christ, they sent him off to evangelize in what is now Spain.

[00:07:36] Annie: Okay.

[00:07:36] Elyse: Which is pretty far when you’re living in Jerusalem and it’s 2000 years ago, you know. What happened was he went to some part of Spain, I don’t know if anybody knows exactly where, but he did not have very good results.

[00:07:49] Spain didn’t work

[00:07:49] Elyse: So, he went back to Jerusalem. He went back feeling a bit depressed and deflated by this experience because nobody was listening to him and they couldn’t have cared less about becoming Christian.

[00:08:00] Elyse: And however, whatever he did that didn’t work in Spain, it turns out that it worked very, very well in the region around Jerusalem. This is really just about the time of Christ and right after His death. Okay.

[00:08:15] Herod killed him

[00:08:15] Elyse: And so what happened was, it turns out he started converting people en masse, so much so that the ruler, was Herod Agrippas, decided that this was not good and that they had to stop him, because he was converting to many people.

[00:08:37] Elyse: And so, whereas he failed in his mission in Spain, he was too successful in Jerusalem and he was killed.

[00:08:47] Annie: Oh.

[00:08:48] Elyse: He had his poor head cut off. Yeah, in 44 AD. That’s what they say, okay. So he had his head cut off and he had two accolytes, two assistants in his work.

[00:09:01] Took him out of Jerusalem

[00:09:01] Elyse: And what they did was, they took his body, they got into a boat and they left the shores of Jerusalem. And somehow, now remember, this is the story. With the currents, it went through the entire Mediterranean, around the Rock of Gibraltar and up the coast till you get to the Northern tip of what is now Spain, in the area of Galicia.

[00:09:30] Elyse: Which is above Portugal.

[00:09:31] Washed out in Spain

[00:09:31] Elyse: And at this spot, the boat washed up on the shore.

[00:09:35] Annie: Oh, okay. Well.

[00:09:36] Elyse: Well, and they obviously, as they do in these cases, very close to the shore, they buried his body. So this is taking us back 2000 years.

[00:09:48] Elyse: Nothing much happened for a few hundred years.

[00:09:51] Annie: Except that St. Jacques, he was there.

[00:09:53] Renewed interest in this spot in northern Spain

[00:09:53] He was there, he was there, but nothing really of any particular interest happened. And then, in the 600 or 700, when Christianity started really becoming an official religion pretty much everywhere, there was a local king who wanted to build a church in this area. And there was this story that had been used, and I guess they had told the story over and over again all these centuries, it happens that it was in the exact time period that the Muslims had started to come up from North Africa and take over much of what is now Spain.

[00:10:33] Elyse: So, there’s a reason that it coincides, the massive invasion of the Moors coming up from North Africa, and the revival of the interest in this particular Saint making this place a holy Christian spot.

[00:10:49] Annie: I see. Okay. It makes sense. I mean, they were under pressure from the Muslim religion, so they turn to something.

[00:10:57] Elyse: To make it special, to make it a special place. So it turns out that the very first person to really make the spot an important spot was a king of the local Asturias, which is that part of Spain, because at the time, like in France, there were little kings everywhere. And that was in the 700s.

[00:11:14] Discovery of Saint James’s remains

[00:11:14] Elyse: So we’ve skipped a bunch of centuries in all of this. And they built a first small church there, where they thought maybe his body was. And lo and behold at just about the same time, his remains were discovered. It’s interesting that it just sort of coincided.

[00:11:35] Annie: It’s good. It works. Yeah, it works. They took his body or what was left of it, and from what I can understand, the relics of St. James that are in the massive cathedral that is now at Compostelle have never been verified one way or the other.

[00:11:53] Annie: Well, I don’t know how you would verify them, presumably we don’t have lineage.

[00:11:57] Elyse: No, but I don’t know if they’ve even managed to date it, to know if it’s exactly the right time period. So I’m being a bit skeptical about this.

[00:12:04] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, they found old bones.

[00:12:07] Elyse: They found old bones.

[00:12:07] People started coming to the place

[00:12:07] Elyse: They decided that this was St James the Major. And so what happened was, basically, this king Alfonse, who had the word spread, that they had discovered the remains of St. James, who was indeed one of the apostles.

[00:12:23] Elyse: And so people started coming to pray there, and of course it is very common and certainly was typical in the early, early Christian Church, that people wanted to be buried next to the relics of a Saint.

[00:12:37] Elyse: And this was part of the reason why there are so many places that people go on pilgrimages, because they have the relics of saints in various places.

[00:12:45] Elyse: So it started in Spain. At this point, it had nothing really to do with France whatsoever.

[00:12:50] French monk

[00:12:50] Elyse: But a couple of hundred years later, it’s very interesting, there was a monk that was from a monastery in France and he was from Puy en Velay which is one of the most important stops on one of the routes now going to Compostelle.

[00:13:06] Annie: Yes. One of the starting points, isn’t it?

[00:13:08] Elyse: One the starting points. Yes. It’s very beautiful it’s very interesting, it’s in the Auvergne area.And this particular monk decided that he wanted to do the pilgrimage to visit the tomb of St. James the Major.

[00:13:22] Elyse: And what he did was he did the entire thing by foot. I don’t know exactly how long it took him, but it certainly took him months to do.

[00:13:31] He wrote a detailed guidebook

[00:13:31] Elyse: And when he came back, he wrote a very, very, very detailed book. If you want to call it a book, it was in the 900s, that explained every stop along the way, he described every village, he described where you could stay, where you could eat, what was good to do, what was dangerous to do.

[00:13:52] Annie: He wrote a guidebook.

[00:13:53] Elyse: He wrote a guidebook, and he was the very first person to write a guidebook about the pilgrimage to St. Jacques de Compostelle.

[00:14:02] Annie: Well, there you go! Well done, Sir!

[00:14:04] Elyse: Right, very well done! And it was, the Pope was so impressed that he made it The Official Guidebook.

[00:14:13] Elyse: So that was in the 900s, and the period that was really the most important period for the pilgrimages really came a couple of hundred years later.

[00:14:23] Pushback

[00:14:23] Elyse: And that was because as the Moors were pushing further North, the Christian kings and queens finally uniting to give a pushback and trying to reconquer. And of course this, the term is the Reconquista uh, which is of course the official term for this.

[00:14:43] Elyse: And so starting just about in the year 1000, you have enough of an army on the Spanish side that the Muslim population and the Muslim rulers are getting pushed back further South.

[00:14:56] Elyse: And as they get pushed back further South, in celebration of this, there are more and more people that want to go on this pilgrimage to Compostelle. So it’s really interesting because it really has to do with all of this kind of movement of peoples back and forth.

[00:15:11] Elyse: And then of course, you get to the periodafter the 1200s, when the Moors have really been pushed all the way back to the southern tip of what is now Spain. And then eventually, you have all of them pushed out completely.

[00:15:24] Promoted by Ferdinand and Isabella

[00:15:24] Elyse: And under Ferdinand and Isabella, who of course, everybody in the United States has heard of because they’re the ones that paid for Christopher Columbus to go across, right? They made this pilgrimage a very important event.

[00:15:40] Elyse: So, basically between the 1100s and the 1400s, which is really when they were in power, this is the height of the time when they say that there were hundreds of thousands of pilgrims going on the road to Compostelle.

[00:15:56] Popularity wanes

[00:15:56] Elyse: And then, like with lots of things like this, it basically stopped being important or popular, and really was not revived in a sense until the 1800s.

[00:16:09] Elyse: I mean, it always existed and obviously, very religious people, I’m sure were always going on it, but as a popular event, something that people did and wanted to do and talk about, it was revived, strangely enough, in the second half of the 1800s of the 19th century.

[00:16:26] And the reason why is because they found, again, some of the places where bones had been buried, even though they don’t know exactly who is buried.

[00:16:37] Annie: Right.

[00:16:38] And of course, what had happened in the meantime, was that in the 1200s, you have this enormous, enormous, enormous church, the Cathedral of St Jacques de Compostelle, which was built on the model of the church of Saint Sernin in Toulouse. Which was the very first pilgrimage church, really to be built as a pilgrimage church, except for the one in St Jacques de Compostelle, which I’ve never seen in person, apparently is three times as big.

[00:17:01] Elyse: I mean, it’s humongous. It’s just some kind of enormous, enormous structure.

[00:17:05] Elyse: And what had happened of course, was that had also fallen more or less into not really ruined, but it was not in very good shape. And that was revived and renovated again, also in the 19th century.

[00:17:17] Revival of pilgrimages

[00:17:17] Elyse: So starting at the end of the 19th century, there is this revival of the idea of pilgrimages, which is interesting because it isn’t necessarily connected to the religion as much as it was before.

[00:17:29] Elyse: So, the symbols of going to St Jacques de Compostelle, which you and I both know, one of them is the seashell.

[00:17:36] Annie: Yes.

[00:17:37] The pilgrimage routes

[00:17:37] Elyse: And any church that is in a town or village that is on the route, one of the routes going to Compostelle, will always have a decoration with seashells on it.

[00:17:49] Elyse: And here we have of course, Toulouse itself, and then a couple of towns nearby, one of which is a small town called Moissac, which was also very important as a stop on the road.

[00:18:00] Elyse: And in Spain there are two or three routes, but we’ll talk about the ones that are actually in France. So there are four main routes that are, or were, we can say used and still are used, as a way of getting to Compostelle.

[00:18:15] Elyse: And if you take a look at a map, and I guess we can post one afterwards, you will see that one starts in Paris, one starts in Burgundy in a very beautiful, small fortified town called Vézelay. One starts in the Auverne area, which is in the Massif Central, and that is Puy en Velay. And one starts all the way down in the South and that is in Arles. And you can see it, so one is really coming directly from the East, one is kind of slightly North by East, and then another one is more North by North-east, and then one is straight North. And they converge, all of them in and around Toulouse, in the South-western part of France. And then you can skip Toulouse, but it is one of the major stops, but you can see on the map, you can trace them down. And then they go a little bit further West and then across the Pyrenees, and they continue almost due West going to Compostelle.

[00:19:14] The seashell symbol

[00:19:14] Elyse: And so, the churches and the places that are important on the route always have a seashell.

[00:19:20] Elyse: And it turns out that from the get-go, from the very beginning, the very first pilgrims, this is going back maybe 1300 years, they would pick up a seashell and they would sew it onto their hats once they got to Compostelle.

[00:19:37] Elyse: And you were not allowed to do it unless you got to Compostelle, but it was a way of proving that you’d actually made it there. It’s kind of like your foot touches the sea and you can turn around and go back.

[00:19:46] Elyse: And so

[00:19:47] Elyse: I was really curious about why, and it turns out I always figured well, it’s because it’s by the sea. Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It turns out, I don’t know if this is scientifically verifiable or if it has to do with the past, but the reason why from the very beginning, the seashell became an emblem of going to Compostelle, is because it is only along this stretch of the coast in Galicia that at the time that his body washed up there, that there were actually seashells there.

[00:20:18] Elyse: Now this is what I read. Why wouldn’t there be seashells somewhere else? I really don’t know. If somebody out there listening to this is a marine biologist, maybe they can explain.

[00:20:29] Annie: Maybe it’s one specific kind of seashell?

[00:20:32] Elyse: Maybe. It may be,that might be what it is. It’s this very pretty, kind of round, it’s kind of like the scallop. It’s just like what we would call in English, a scallop shell. But in any event, the way they explain it is that it was rare to have these seashells. And so from the very beginning, they took this shell and made it the emblem of where his body washed up.

[00:20:52] So this has become the first emblem and a sign of the pilgrimage.

[00:20:58] Souvenirs

[00:20:58] Elyse: Souvenirs. I love this story. They have been doing a lot ofarcheological digging that has to do with what we could call the Early Middle Ages.

[00:21:06] Elyse: This has been going on for about the last 50, 60 years, both in France and in Spain. And of course, now we have pins and things in plastic and all kinds of stuff like that, but it turns out that from the beginning, when you did the pilgrimage route, you brought back a souvenir, which makes perfect sense to me.

[00:21:26] Annie: Of course.

[00:21:27] Elyse: It would be a little carving, probably made out of wood or stone, because one of the things that really is interesting to know also, is that the major stops along the routes were very happy because economically, it was very good when you have all these pilgrims coming through.

[00:21:45] Elyse: The concept of the pilgrimage was that everybody should basically be equal, so you were offered a place to stay for one night for free. But you still had to eat and you still had to have certain accommodations, you know? And so the local people of course offered maybe a haystack if you were poor, and maybe a nice room, if you were rich. And of course they offered food and eventually, it became an interesting source of commerce for local people, including carving up little souvenirs to give to people.

[00:22:20] Annie: Interesting.

[00:22:21] Elyse: So you have the seashell.

[00:22:23] Other symbols

[00:22:23] Elyse: The other symbols are his hat, this big wide-brimmed hat, which of course is to keep you from getting sunstroke, as you do this route. I’m sure that there are places where you don’t really need it, but especially since most of the time it was done in the summertime and in the spring, it’s a good thing to have the hat, no matter what.

[00:22:44] The staff

[00:22:44] Elyse: And the staff, the wooden stick. And, if you look at statues, and there were a couple here in Toulouse, of Saint James the Major, he’s got this beautiful wide-brimmed hat, and he’s got this beautiful stick that is basically a thin sapling tree that’s been carved and it’s got two bulbs on it. One is to hold onto on top, and one is halfway down in the middle, and I always wondered why.

[00:23:10] Elyse: And it turns out that of course, the staff is to help you when you get so exhausted from walking, but it also was defensive. It was, you were supposed to walk with a stick like that, in case there were wild animals, dogs, wolves, whatever, so you could whack them.

[00:23:26] Elyse: And the reason why the bulb is in the middle, halfway down, is because that way you could give them a good, you know, make them go away. So, so there you are. So you have your hat, you have your staff and you have a sack on your back.

[00:23:43] Annie: Well, yes.

[00:23:44] Elyse: And the sack on your back is of course to have your provisions, because you do have to have some provisions with you.

[00:23:51] Annie: Some water, or at least.

[00:23:52] Elyse: At least a gourde with water in it and theoretically, you carried provisions not just for yourself, but to share with other pilgrims you meet along the way.

[00:24:02] Elyse: Because one of the things about the pilgrimage is that you’re supposed to be sharing things, sharing your story with somebody else, sharing your goods. If you have more than somebody else has, it’s supposed to sort of be this nice comradery and equalizer.

[00:24:17] Elyse: And what happens is, when you get to the end, you get a document called The Credencial. That’s probably the Spanish word, but whatever. And this is your official document, that is your diploma and you either get it stamped as the religious one, or you can get it simply stamped as the non-religious tourist one.

[00:24:43] Elyse: And it turns out that the reason why St Jacques de Compostelle is called Compostelle, because I always thought it was because that was the name of the town. But that’s not because it’s the name of the town, it’s because the word in Latin for burial place was compostelia.

[00:25:03] Annie: For what? For what place?

[00:25:05] Elyse: A burial place.

[00:25:07] Elyse: So from the very beginning, when the Pope in Rome officially made this the place where they discovered his relics, they called it the compostelia. And somehow that came to be St Jacques of Compostelle. Unless it’s purely coincidence that the two are the same name. I really don’t know, but it was interesting to hear about that.

[00:25:30] The four routes

[00:25:30] So the four routes.

[00:25:32] The first route from Paris: la Tour de Saint Jacques

[00:25:32] Elyse: You have the first route which leaves from Paris.

[00:25:35] Annie: And it’s funny because it starts from the La Tour de St Jacques, which is in the Marais. And so this tower is very interesting because a lot of things happen there. It used to be attached to the church of St Jacques de la Boucherie, which was just the parish church in Paris.

[00:25:54] Nicholas Flamel, that Harry Potter made famous, he was a real person who lived in the Middle Ages in Paris. he had donated so much to this church that it was considered to be part of his inheritance. And so, it became a place where alchemists would meet.

[00:26:13] Annie: Okay. It was a place where they made their kind of,

[00:26:16] Elyse: Magic

[00:26:18] Annie: well magic or experiments.

[00:26:20] Annie: It’s also a place where they experimented on uh barometric pressure much later. And because it was a place of gathering, they made this tower the first spot on the route to from Paris.

[00:26:38] I’ve been close to it, but I never really looked to see the shell. There’s got to be shells on it.

[00:26:43] Elyse: I guess so.

[00:26:44] So all of you listening, when you go to the St Jacques tower in Paris, take a look, find the shells because they have to be there.

[00:26:52] Elyse: Because it’s a tower I’ve never climbed

[00:26:55] Annie: Me neither, because it’s not open very much.

[00:26:57] Elyse: So it started there. So that of course I imagine was in France, a very important route for a long time, because it was from Paris.

[00:27:06] Elyse: Interestingly enough, the four routes that are in France, all have Latin names that their traditional or official old names, if you want. But then of course, you have the route from Paris which goes from Paris, it goes to the next step is Orleans.

[00:27:20] Elyse: Because that’s where the cathedral, is with who is in the Cathedral of Orleans, the remains of Joan of Arc.

[00:27:27] Elyse: And the thing about these stops on the routes, all these different routes is that every major stop is a place that is a church that has the relics of some important saint.

[00:27:38] Annie: Of course, of course.

[00:27:39] And then you go from Orleans, not very far, you go to Tours. And Tours is where we have the very famous St Martin du Tours, who was the very important Roman officer who eventually converted masses of people.

[00:27:54] Elyse: We’ve talked about him when we talked about Tours. and so his remains are in the Cathedral in Tours, and the route goes down and you can join up to one of the other routes, or you can sort of go off on a kind of side, South, Southwest, and then eventually to Moissac and continue. So that’s route number one. That’s the Via Turonnensis.

[00:28:17] The second route from Vézelay

[00:28:17] Elyse: Then you have the one that starts in Vézelay, which is in Burgundy. And I’ve been to Vézelay, it is just exquisite. It’s one of these magnificent fortified big villages that it’s up on this huge hill. And of course, that is very important because theoretically, that is where Mary Magdalene’s bones are.

[00:28:37] Annie: Ah, well, yeah. Okay. That’s really important.

[00:28:39] Elyse: So that’s very important. And that is called, the official Latin name is Via Lemovicensis

[00:28:47] Elyse: Just remember Vézelay. And that stops in a town that’s really in the dead center of the country, called Nevers. And from there you continue going South and you can kind of switch over slightly as East or West or straight South, whichever you want. Theoretically from Vézelay, it’s 54 days of walking, if you start from there because there’s a lot of hills and mountains in-between in the Massif Central.

[00:29:12] Elyse: So it’s kind of a long one. Though the one from Paris is actually considered a little shorter for the simple reason that more of the land is flat. So they take in consideration how difficult it is to get from one place to the other. So that’s route number two.

[00:29:28] The third route from Puy en Vélay

[00:29:28] Elyse: The third one is from Puy en Vélay, which is in the Auvergne, which is really dead smack in the middle of the Massif Central. And from there you go to Conques, which I know is very beautiful. And that’s in Aveyron, and from there you turn really West, going Southwest, and you can go from there to Toulouse.

[00:29:49] Elyse: Very often that’s what people do, and continue onto Moisak, which is just West of here, about 60, 70 kilometers. And then on, of course, into the Pyrenees.

[00:29:59] Elyse: And by the way, the Puy en Vélay is Via Podiensis.

[00:30:04] The fourth route

[00:30:04] Elyse: And then the last one, the one that’s the most Southern route.

[00:30:07] Elyse: The one from Arles is called the Via Tolosana, and that stops in a place that I’ve been to twice, that is absolutely superb called St Guilhem le Desert. Which is a very interesting place that it’sa monastic medieval town down in the bottom of a kind of very narrow valley North of Montpellier. If you’re going to Montpellier, you can easily do a day trip to St Guilhem de Desert, it’s not that far away, it’s fascinating.

[00:30:34] Elyse: It’s got the Abbey de Gellone in there, and it’s just gorgeous, and hot, hot, hot in the summertime. So be warned, be warned. And that one goes from St Guilhem de Desert to Toulouse.

[00:30:47] Doing the routes

[00:30:47] Elyse: So you have basically these four routes, and you can do any variation of any of the four of them. And a lot of people do in fact, do a section or two at a time. And they decide that over a period of years, they’re going to do, maybe two or three stops. Because it is kind of arduous and it is strictly really walking.

[00:31:06] Free lodging?

[00:31:06] Elyse: Now, one of the things that’s interesting to know, because I know this from having talked to people who work at the sacristy here at the Pilgrimage Church in Toulouse. It is a fact that in any of these major stops and all of the minor stops along the way, if you have the card that says that you are an official pilgrim, you have the right to spend one night free in each of these stops.

[00:31:29] Annie: Hmm, You’re the only person I have ever heard mention this, so I’m not sure it’s true because I read a lot of blogs about Compostelle and I follow some groups on Facebook. Nobody ever mentions that.

[00:31:43] Elyse: This is for the official religious pilgrims.

[00:31:46] Annie: It’s possible. I’m not saying it’s impossible.As far as I know it is true.

[00:31:50] Elyse: I mean, but, the problem is I know of people who’ve stayed in a place in Conque for that reason, and in Toulouse, but the spaces are limited and you have to reserve ahead of time.

[00:32:01] Annie: Anyway, don’t count on that. That’s just the detail that may or may not work out.

[00:32:06] Elyse: I think it needs to be verified, but as far as I know,it still is something that is possible, but maybe it’s just that there are not enough spaces for all the people. Groups don’t do it.

[00:32:15] It’s become a huge thing. I know personally, lots of people who’ve done this or have done this at times, and most of them not for religious reasons. They do this because they just enjoy a nice long walk, and it’s all organized.

[00:32:34] Apps and guides

[00:32:34] Annie: Because you know all the stops, there are apps to help you do this. There’s the French one is called Miam Miam Dodo and it’s an app that shows you the route, so it’s a mapping app. It shows all the restaurants and places you can sleep or camp along the way.

[00:32:55] Where to stay?

[00:32:55] Annie: There are people who live along the way who will put signs in their yard saying, if you’d like to camp here overnight, it’s fine. And usually, they will invite people in and let them use the bathroom or whatever. It’s a whole community of people. You can do it to, kind of going from plusher hotel to plusher hotel, but that’s actually the harder way to do it, because most people don’t do it that way. Most people just go to very inexpensive hostels type of situations along the way, or they camp. There are people who do this whole thing without ever going to a hotel.

[00:33:31] Annie: They just camp along the side of the chemin.

[00:33:34] A fascrinating endeavor

[00:33:34] Annie: It’s just a really fascinating endeavor, because so many people do this, whether they are religious or not. It’s just a way to escape the reality of the modern world, I think. And just to be with like-minded people and meet people and talk.

[00:33:53] Annie: And it’s also very healthy for you, if you can manage to do it without destroying your feet.

[00:33:58] Elyse: Well, or your back. I think for a lot of people, it’s a kind of meditation. The idea that you leave behind other things and you just walk.

[00:34:08] And in the process of walking, I know that I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve done sections of it, and that you talk to a lot of the people you meet along the way.One of my husband’s uncles who’s now a very, very old man, he did the whole thing.

[00:34:22] He’s not Catholic, but he wanted to have the experience.

[00:34:25] I don’t know how long it took him to do it. I think it just took him like four or five years. He did major steps each time, but he was thrilled with the experience of having been able to do it. It’s also an accomplishment for your body, to do that kind of walking. It really is.

[00:34:43] Villages everywhere

[00:34:43] Annie: And I’ve mentioned this on other episodes mentioning Compostelle, and by the way, the one that I couldn’t remember earlier was episode 296. It was with Lisa Wylie who talked to me about her experiences along the chemin.

[00:35:00] Annie: In France, there are villages everywhere, and so unlike major trails in the US, like the Appalachian Trail or the great Pacific Trail, I don’t remember the exact name, but hikers will know what I mean, those trails avoid. They just go through woods and wilderness.

[00:35:24] Annie: In France, it’s the opposite. They go through villages and you’re never more than a few kilometers away from a village. You don’t have to pack food for days when you walk there, you can pack food for lunch, and a few snacks, and at night you pull into you, don’t pull into, you walk into.

[00:35:44] Elyse: Walk into.

[00:35:45] A village where you, or an inn or something, where you can enjoy the company of other walkers.

[00:35:51] Not a party route

[00:35:51] Annie: And it’s really interesting to me that French people are very much into big parties and apéros and all that, but not at Compostelle. The feeling, even with the non-religious pilgrims is more like, yeah, we might have a little wine with dinner, but people are not there to party every night. You know, they just have a meal, they chat and they sleep. And then the next day they walk 20, 25 kilometers again, which is a long way.

[00:36:18] Annie: I mean, I do 5k every day. I’m pretty sure I could fairly easily do 10. But above 10, for someone who is not used to walking, it’s physically quite taxing.

[00:36:33] Elyse: It’s taxing, and of course, since most people do it in the warm weather, you have to really worry about the heat.

[00:36:39] Annie: Yes.

[00:36:40] Annie: Well, and this year was particular, and I know this was a problem for Lackland because I’ve been following him. He left when we had this freakish week in April, where it was snowing, and it got cold all of a sudden, it was cold coming from Finland that hit us and it lasted about a week. But he was walking for two weeks and a week of that was much, much colder than normal.

[00:37:05] Annie: So it depends on when you do it. And some years you’re going to have a really warm year. You’re going to have a heat wave or something like that. So it’s not easy physically to do this, I think. It’s a challenge, andI would think that even doing a section or two is a very interesting experience.

[00:37:25] Elyse: Really. I think it would be fun to do.

[00:37:27] Bicycle route?

[00:37:27] Annie: I’ve heard of people doing it on bicycles, but that’s not common.

[00:37:32] Elyse: It’s not common. There is in fact one route,the one that comes through Burgundy, where they do have an organization that works on doing it by bicycle. But other than that, as an organized thing, I think it’s just up to the individuals. It’s not a common thing though. It isn’t a common thing.

[00:37:49] Elyse: However, what’s really interesting to know is that according to what I just read the other day, you don’t have to prove more than the last 100 kilometers by foot to get your certificate. So, so you can do a certain amount by vehicle, and then if you can stamp the last hundred kilometers, proving that you have walked it, you can actually get your certificate.

[00:38:18] Elyse: But I don’t, I mean, for me, this certificate is not necessarily the point of it. There’s the idea of having that experience of walking and interacting with people along the way, you know.

[00:38:28] Annie: Interesting.

[00:38:29] Elyse: It’s interesting. Huh?

[00:38:30] Annie: Thank you so much Elyse, that was very interesting, the history and all that, I really didn’t know anything about it, so.

[00:38:36] Elyse: Well, St Jacques had to be there for some reason, you know? So now we know why.

[00:38:42] Annie: Merci Elyse.

[00:38:42] Elyse: Merci Annie.

[00:38:43] Annie: Au-revoir.

[00:38:45] Outro[00:38:45] Patrons

[00:38:45] Annie: Again, I want to thank my patrons for supporting the show and giving back. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing so. You can see them at Thank you all for supporting the show. Some of you have been doing it for many years, now. You are wonderful.

[00:39:09] Annie: And a shout out this week to new patrons, Ann Williamson, Susan Streit, Sharon Dail, Meris Ruzow, Joni Barker and Trang Diem. Thank you so much for becoming patrons and making this podcast possible.

[00:39:28] Video for patrons

[00:39:28] Annie: This week, I’m going to be recording a video shortly, where I discuss the type of podcast content that my patrons would like to see more of. I polled my patrons first, they told me, and now I’ll talk to them about the direction the show is going to take in a video. I love that Patreon makes it easy for me to exchange with my most dedicated listeners who are after all, the ones paying for this show.

[00:39:55] Hire my services

[00:39:55] Annie: If you are preparing a trip to France and listening to as many episodes as you can to get ready, keep listening to the podcast, because that’s a great way to do it. But if you’d like a little more help, hire me to be your itinerary consultant, here’s how it works. You purchase the service on, then you tell me about your dream trip to France and I get to work on all the things that I think you need to know to have a great trip in France. And we talk about it on the phone. It’s really fun.

[00:40:31] Annie: This service is really popular. I’m booked up well in advance. Right now, it’s late June, but you know, if you plan this ahead of time, it’s a great service. This week, I just did an hour-long chat with someone who wanted to do our itinerary discussion in French. So we did. How’s that for warming up your French neurons?

[00:40:55] Paris self-guided tours

[00:40:55] Annie: She did great. Now, if you can’t talk to me because I’m all booked up, you can still take me in your pocket by getting my GPS self-guided tour on the VoiceMap app. I’ve produced five tours and they are designed to show you around different iconic neighborhoods of Paris. In the tour, I tell you about all the things around you, the museums, the churches, the famous spots, the cafes, the restaurants, the people who made this area so iconic.

[00:41:24] Annie: If you walk one of my tours and do not stop at any of the places that I recommend, it’ll take you 60 to 90 minutes. If you stop at all the cool places, it could take you most of the day. You’re in charge of the schedule, and I guarantee that you’ll have a great time.

[00:41:43] French tip of the week

[00:41:43] Annie: For the French tip of the week, well, if you’re going to order beef or duck in France, they’ll ask you how you want your meat cooked. Let me explain how it goes, but don’t let the language intimidate you. Most waiters in France can speak some English, but if you’d like to do it in French, here’s how it goes.

[00:42:06] Annie: Now, the waiter is going to ask you how you’d like your meat done. Right? And of course there are many ways to put together a sentence, but perhaps this person is going to say something like, “Pour votre viande, vous souhaitez quelle cuisson?”

[00:42:24] Annie: Okay? “Quelle cuisson,” is the important part of the sentence. And if you want it very rare, which would be a rare occurrence for Americans, you’d say, “Bleue s’il vous plaît.” And “bleue”, blue is the least cooked beef that you can order at a French restaurant. Well, you could actually have it raw as well, but let’s not go there.

[00:42:48] Annie: If you’d like it rare, but a little more than bleue, you’ll say, “Saignant s’il vous plaît.” “Saignante s’il vous plaît.” “Saignant”, is the term that you want.

[00:43:02] Annie: If you’d like it medium, you will say, “À point s’il vous plaît.”

[00:43:08] Annie: If you’d like it well done, you say “Bien cuit s’il vous plaît.” Or “Bien cuite s’il vous plaît.” That’s well done.

[00:43:18] Annie: Now, some Americans I’ve met really want their meat, like completely cooked, no pink in the middle. And for those people, they have to say something like, “J’aime la viande bien cuite s’il vous plaît, je n’aime pas qu’il reste du rouge.” “je n’aime pas qu’il reste du rouge.” Okay. This is an important thing to specify, because to French people, even well done, still has some pink in the middle.

[00:43:45] Annie: So those are important little tidbits to know, but again, if you don’t want to say it in French, most people will understand, uh, rare and medium and well done. Okay. By now, a lot of people who work in the restaurant industry, uh, and they might not say it right, they might not say rare, but they will say something like, uh, not cooked very much or something like that. And that would work as well.

[00:44:15] This week in French news

[00:44:15] Annie: This week in French news. Well, things have been pretty calm in French news. We vote for our version of Congress in three weeks. The candidates are all doing like cartwheels, so we’ll pay attention to them. This is normal, but I’m still not really paying attention to them because I know who I’m going to vote for, and so there you go.

[00:44:36] Annie: I would just like to point out that on episode 387, 3 weeks ago, I said, I was hoping president Macron would pick Elisabeth Borne for his prime minister and that’s who he picked. I’m very happy about that. I think she’s smart, she has big plans. Uh, when she started her career, she was a socialist, which in France means that she’s a capitalist with a heart.

[00:45:02] Annie: She was the president of the RATP, R A T P, for a couple of years, that’s the company that runs all the trams and buses and metros in Paris. So she’s used to dealing with strikes, okay?

[00:45:17] Annie: More recently, she’s been the minister of labor, and as it happens, unemployment is at its lowest in France in decades. So she’s been successful in that role. You can argue that she didn’t do this, but if you have a bad minister of labor, you can have bad things happen. And she did not do that.

[00:45:42] I really liked her matter of fact, no nonsense attitude and plain way to express herself.

[00:45:48] Annie: When Emmanuel Macron speaks, you can tell that he’s been educated in all the best French schools. When Elisabeth Borne speaks, she sounds like a regular person, even though she too has attended all the best schools in France.

[00:46:05] Annie: In my mind, she was the best choice, and journalists sometimes say she’s a newcomer, but hello, she’s been in government forever. It’s simply that some journalists don’t pay attention to women in politics. They just don’t take them seriously, and then when they rise to power, they say, oh my goodness, who’s this person?

[00:46:25] Annie: Now, Elisabeth Borne has to pick a whole government and they haven’t made announcements as I record this, but it should come soon.

[00:46:32] Annie: Now, you might think that France is super progressive, but when it comes to women in politics and in the boardroom as well, we are very behind. Things are changing slowly, but it’s a struggle. Uh, I mean, it’s a struggle in many countries, isn’t it? We need to keep telling our daughters that they can do anything they set their mind to, just like our sons, and push for parity everywhere.

[00:46:59] Travel news

[00:46:59] Annie: In travel news, well, it’s been very hot this week in France, and the heat arrived a few weeks early. In Toulouse, it got all the way to 34 degrees, which is 93 Fahrenheit. We generally don’t get that hot until June. Most of the time, I tell visitors that they might need air conditioning in France, in June, July, August, and September. Well, this year, some of us needed it in May as well. Uh, I turned it on in my office for a little bit. And it’s possible we need it an October also, because the planet is getting warmer.

[00:47:39] Annie: So just take that into account when you book your accommodations for France, because it can be pretty miserable if you can’t sleep well, uh, because it’s too hot.

[00:47:50] Personal update

[00:47:50] Annie: For my personal update this week, well, big news. I ordered an EV car, an electric vehicle. I didn’t get to drive it home and I won’t have it for about a month, but I am very excited, because I’ve had it with my old VW ghetto car. Everybody says that my old VW Touran from 2006 has the best diesel engine ever made, and perhaps it is. But everything else is falling apart on the car and it’s just not reliable.

[00:48:24] Annie: So what EV did I pick? I ordered an MG Marvel R and it’s a nicer and bigger car than what I had originally planned on, but I didn’t want to wait for 6 to 12 months for a smaller model.

[00:48:41] Annie: It’s really hard to buy an EV these days in France. All the manufacturers are backordered, there are no EVs on the secondhand market or very, very few. The ones that are on the market are uh the Renault Zoe. There’s quite a few of those because they’ve been making them for 12 years or something, but they’re just, it’s just too small. It’s not going to do for me. We have a small car for the times when we don’t, you know, we don’t go out altogether with the dog and stuff, but, uh, yeah. So I just ordered one and it has been so long since we bought a new car. It’s going to change a lot of things for us and it will be very fun. You know, live a little. Yeah. Sometimes you just got to.

[00:49:26] Annie: With the new car, I’m going to be very motivated to go out and check all these lovely little towns in the Southwest of France, and probably elsewhere as well.

[00:49:38] Annie: Uh, you know, I’ve driven through a lot of beautiful little towns in the Southwest before, because that’s where I live and where I’ve lived most of my life, but when you drive through a town, I never stopped. Let’s put it this way. Sometimes I just slow way down, you know, and I look around a bit and I’m like, oh, this is beautiful, but I don’t stop. Because I always tell myself that I’m in a hurry to get wherever I’m going.

[00:50:06] Annie: Well, with an EV, it’s not going to be the same because, uh, I have to stop and recharge. And think of that, you can choose not to recharge on the freeway. There are EV charging stations in lots of cute little villages, all over France. No gas stations in those villages because the inhabitants, they just drive to the nearest city to find a gas station.

[00:50:37] Annie: But many of these places have EV charging stations already today. A couple of weekends ago, I visited Lautrec in the Tarn. I told you about it and I’m going to do an episode about it. There is no gas station in Lautrec, but there are two public EV charging stations, and they were both available, when I walked by. It takes a lot longer to recharge an EV than it does to pump gas, so you might as well charge somewhere nice, right? That’s my plan, recharge somewhere nice where I can look around for an hour or two while the car replenishes. Slow down, get to see those beautiful little towns that I normally just drove right through.

[00:51:23] Annie: Bed and breakfast and hotels have already started installing EV charging stations for their customers to use. In Germany, most hotels have EV charging stations today, because that’s the way to attract customers, probably more affluent customers as well.

[00:51:42] Annie: And you know, every now and then someone asked me if I would take them around the Southwest, and I always declined because renting a car is expensive, and time consuming, and I’m not about to take customers around in my old beat up VW car. But now that I’m going to have a nice new car at home, why not? I will think about it. It might be fun.

[00:52:10] Reading Victor Hugo

[00:52:10] Annie: You know what else takes a lot of time? Victor Hugo novels. Elyse and I are going to be recording an episode about Victor Hugo, and so I thought it was time to read Les Miserables again. What a book! I’m actually not reading it on paper. I almost never buy books on paper these days, unless they’re a reference book that, you know, I need to have open in front of me. Um, but I’m listening to it.

[00:52:38] I got the French version with the full novel on Audible and it’s 57 hours long. The reader is fantastic. The characters are unbelievable. It’s such a great book, but it’s long. Um, so I’ll be busy with that one for awhile.

[00:52:56] Annie: But that’s okay. You know, I spend every minute that I can in my garden where I can take care of my flowers and my newly planted tomato plants. I planted 11 of them, and um, I might have room for two more, possibly three more. Yeah, a bit too much, but we love tomatoes. I could eat tomatoes all day long. I even eat tomatoes for breakfast in the summer, that’s how much I love tomatoes.

[00:53:17] Annie: And I even had to figure out the timers and all the hoses and fittings that I needed to do automatic gardening, because you know, everything was going to get fried in this heat. Uh, you know, but it’s fun. I mean, gardening time is great listening time.

[00:53:34] Closing

[00:53:34] Annie: Show notes for this episode and a full transcript are on The numeral 390. Transcripts make the website so easy to search. Not only can you see if we talked about a place you want to visit, but you’ll see the timestamps of when it came up in the conversation, you can get right to it.

[00:54:00] Annie: And you can help your francophile friends plan their visit to France. Go to, click on the Share buttons on the side and tag your friend. They will thank you.

[00:54:14] Annie: Next week on the podcast, an episode about exploring small towns in the Aude and Burgundy with Patty Lund. She’s looking for the perfect place to call her own in France, and she’s always very fun to talk to because she’s been to France many times, and she’s a hoot anyway.

[00:54:34] Annie: Send questions or feedback to Thank you so much for listening and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together.

[00:54:49] Legal notice

[00:54:49] Annie: The Join Us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2022, by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No derivatives license.

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Categories: French Culture, French History