The French Way in Galicia

Take a journey along the most famous and historic Way route.

By Regional Government of Galicia

Pilgrims in Alto do Poio (2008)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

The French Way is the pilgrimage route par excellence. Back in 1135, each stage of the journey was described in Book V of the Codex Calixtinus, which was an authentic medieval guide to the St. James Way pilgrimage.

Road to Santiago passing through O Cebreiro (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

After crossing the Pyrenees and hiking through the Northern Plateau of the Spanish Central Plateau, known as Meseta Central, the French Way enters Galicia through the village of O Cebreiro. 96 miles (155 km) of Spanish landscapes, nature, culture, and spirituality lie ahead.

O Cebreiro (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

O Cebreiro

O Cebreiro is a picture-perfect example of the landscape where the apostle Saint James the Greater was laid to rest. At an altitude of 4,252 feet (1,296 m), this landmark of the Way enjoys one of the most extraordinary panoramic views of central Galicia's landscape, which is dominated by mountains and rolling green landscapes.

Church of Santa María Real de O Cebreiro. Holy miracle (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

The main features of this village are its pallozas (oval dwellings covered with thatched roofs) and the Church of Santa María la Real. Inside the church, the relic of the Miracle of O Cebreiro is stored alongside a chalice and paten (a small plate used to hold Eucharistic bread). Tradition links these items to the search for the Holy Grail.

Sculpture in Alto de San Roque (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Alto de San Roque

A trail brings pilgrims from the village of O Cebreiro to Alto de San Roque, where there is a monument dedicated to pilgrims by the galician sculptor José María Acuña.

Chapel of Padornelo. Alto do Poio (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Alto do Poio

The French Way reaches its highest altitude in Galicia at this point. A short but challenging slope brings travelers up to Alto do Poio, at an altitude of 4,380 feet (1,335 m). From here, travelers can see the various hamlets that form this route of the St. James Way.

Pilgrims hostel of Triacastela (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Triacastela

Arriving at Triacastela, travelers are met with two lodgings that together make the public hostel (albergue) of the Galician State Government Office. The hostel is in a prime location as it's surrounded by expansive grassland and the Oribio river is a stone's throw away.

Cairn in Triacastela (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

On leaving Triacastela, a milepost gives travelers two optional routes to continue the Way towards Sarria: the San Xil route, which is shorter, or the Samos route, which passes by a spectacular Benedictine abbey.

Popular architecture on the Camino de Santiago (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

San Cristovo do Real

The Samos route guides pilgrims past dwellings that are characteristic of the Way landscape, such as those found in San Cristovo do Real. This hamlet features the best Galician architecture, though nowadays some of the buildings here are in need of better preservation.

Monastery of San Xulián de Samos (6th Century - 18th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Samos

The main point of interest in Samos is the majestic monastery of San Xulián, which was built in the 6th century. King Alfonso II was educated there. He was the king who promoted pilgrimages and the tomb of Saint James the Greater was discovered during his reign. The cloister of this abbey is one of the largest in Spain and dates back to the 18th century. It still offers shelter to pilgrims today.

Chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

Capilla del Ciprés

A few yards from the monastic settlement lies the chapel of el Salvador (Capilla del Salvador de Samos). It is commonly known as the Cypress Chapel (Capilla del Ciprés) because this small architectural gem is sheltered under a cypress tree, one of most emblematic trees of Galicia. The chapel was built in the 10th century in Mozarabic style.

The cypress reaches 25 meters in height.

Cloister of the Convent of A Madalena (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Sarria

Sarria is the main population center between Ponferrada and Santiago de Compostela. The town was founded by King Alfonso IX, who happened to die in this town in 1230 while on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims who start their journey from here to complete the final 62 miles (100 km) to Santiago de Compostela can get their Pilgrim Credential from the Albergue Monasterio de la Magdalena.

Get rough (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Bridge over the Celeiro River

The route starting from Sarria is a highly enjoyable stage of the Way, with gorgeous rural landscapes. This bridge over the Celeiro river still has its three arches that date back to the Middle Ages. The bridge was built with pieces of slate, except for the arches, which are granite masonry.

Pass in O Peruscallo (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Winter walkways

The ethnographic heritage of the region can be seen all along the Way. These winter pasales, or walkways, consist of rows of stones used to cross streams and calm rivers by foot.

Stepping stones feature throughout this route due to its many waterways, and they have become one of the most symbolic images of the Way in the 20th century thanks to photos taken by pilgrims.

Section of the Camino arriving at Portomarín (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Ancient roads, farmland, and dry stone walls built without any kind of mortar come together to form a rural landscape that has been shaped by humans over the centuries.

Church-fortress of San Nicolás (12th and 13th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

Portomarín

The next stop along this route is Portomarín, which sits on the banks of the Miño river. The town was completely rebuilt in the 1960s: the ancient medieval town lies beneath the Belesar reservoir and can still be seen when the tide is low enough.

Church-fortress of San Nicolás (12th and 13th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The only church, the Church of San Nicolás, is located in the main square of Portomarín and was formerly known as the Church of San Juan de Malta (Saint John of Malta). It is a church-fortress built by the knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. The church had be moved, one stone at a time, to prevent it being flooded in the Miño river basin.

Church-fortress of San Nicolás (12th and 13th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The main door of the church features images of the 24 elders of the Apocalypse, which was clearly influenced by the Portico of Glory in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Church of Santa María do Leboreiro (14th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Santa María de Leboreiro

After traveling through Palas de Rei, the next stop is the hamlet of Santa María de Leboreiro. Here, travelers will find a cabaceiro or cabazo, which is a type of granary used to store grain. It is located next to the Roman Church of Santa María.

Church of Santa María do Leboreiro (14th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The tympanum, the decorative wall above the entrance, is particularly striking, and inside the church there are painted murals dating back to the 16th century. Next to the church and the granary lie the remains of one of the oldest preserved pilgrim hospitals in Galicia, which dates back to at least 1164.

Bridge over the river Furelos (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Furelos

Before reaching Melide, the French Way guides travelers through the beautiful little town of Furelos. Anyone wishing to enter the town must cross its medieval bridge, which is cited in the Codex Calixtinus. It is one of the architectural gems of the French Way.

Church of Santa María de Melide (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Melide

The usual final stage for thousands of people who do the Way is the capital of Terra de Melide, which is home to what may be the oldest cross in all of Galicia. Part of Melide's invaluable heritage is the Church of Santa María, which pilgrims can see as they exit the city in the direction of Arzúa.

Pilgrims hostel in Ribadiso (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Ribadiso

Just before reaching Arzúa, travelers will go through Ribadiso, an old pilgrim hospital next to the medieval bridge that crosses the Iso river. This was the last historical place of assistance for pilgrims to remain open on the French Way. It was reopened in Holy Year 1993 as a public hostel.

Arzúa-Pedrouzo section of the Camino de Santiago (2020)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Arzúa and O Pino

The French Way next goes through the towns of Arzúa and O Pino. In addition to its architecture and monuments, this stage of the route particularly stands out for its forests and green grasslands that have become icons of the Way today.

Pilgrim´s monument (1993)Regional Government of Galicia

Monte do Gozo

Before they arrive at Santiago de Compostela, pilgrims will first come to Monte do Gozo, or Hill of Joy, just 3 miles (5 km) away. From this point, travelers can spot the towers of the cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela for the first time. A monument dedicated to pilgrims by the sculptor Acuña is currently placed at the site.

Rúa de San Pedro in Santiago de Compostela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Santiago de Compostela

The wide street of San Pedro marks the Way's entrance to the old town of Santiago de Compostela. Nearly every property along this street has a gallery. The oldest houses have stone lintels above their doors which are carved with images of scallop shells, crosses, pine trees, and other images that symbolize which institution in the city owned each house.

Porta do Camiño, en Santiago de Compostela (2021)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

The Porta do Camiño, or Way door, is at the end of the street and is one of the oldest entrances in the city walls. Pilgrims arriving to the city via the French Way continue their journey to Santiago de Compostela through this entrance, like many pilgrims before them.

Cathedral of Santiago of Compostela (1075)Regional Government of Galicia

The journey finally comes to an end as travelers reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Behind them lie miles of unforgettable experiences from both the past and present as they walk in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims who were guided by the Codex Calixtinus.

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