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European Pilgrimage Recommendations
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Paul Siegel
(PaulSiegel)

Locale: Southern Appalachians
European Pilgrimage Recommendations on 02/19/2012 19:31:15 MST Print View

As I approach the end of graduate school and, god willing, a full time job teaching somewhere my thoughts turn from pedagogy to summers off. I have made up my mind to hike one of the pilgrimage routes in Europe. But I am unsure which one. The Camino de Santiago is obviously the most popular choice, which has good and bad connotations. However, the Via Francigena interest me immensely.

What I would like from y'all is some recommendations as to routes that are:

Relatively cheap: I recognize that things are inherently more expensive in europe, but there is an upper limit for a penurious teacher/student.

Marked or well documented (at least): One of things that gives me pause about the Via Francigena is the relative lack of markings. Definitely not a deal breaker, but something I would consider.

Hike-able in summer: My time would be limited to around the beginning of May to the middle of August.

Other than that I have no limitations.

Thanks,

Paul Siegel

German Tourist
(GermanTourist) - F

Locale: in my tent
European Pilgrimage Recommendations on 02/21/2012 15:16:16 MST Print View

I am preparing a 5,000 km hike through Europe right now and will use some pilgrimage trails as well.

First of all I would like to state that if it is not for religious reason, I would advise against hiking European pilgrimage trails - they offer some of the worst hiking in Europe. On pilgrimage trails you will do lots of road walking, even often close to really busy roads. On top of all that the popular trails like the Camino Frances will be incredibly crowded. There is much, much better hiking elsewhere in Europe and I am using pilgrimage trails only if there is no other trail available.

Secondly, I do not understand why you think that things are "inherently" more expensive. How have you come to that conclusion? I am German and hike hiked extensively in both the US and all over Europe and I cannot say that things are more expensive in Europe. Especially since the Euro has weakened recently even the exchange rate is more in you favour. You can expect about the same price level in Western Europe as in the US, maybe a bit more expensive, but not much.

If you specifically want to do a pilgrimage trail try to avoid the popular ones like the Camino Frances. Also keep in mind that summers can be very hot in Southern Europe and you will not have much shade especially on road walks. If you must hike in Spain, use trails that parallel the Camino Frances. I will use the Camino del Norte, which parallels the Camino Frances to the North and is agreable to hike on even in summer because it is so close to the sea. Another interesting option that I will use is the Camino Primitivo, which is the least developped and crowded camino in Spain. If you combine those two you will hike around 900 km from Irun to Santiago and you will have less crowds and a more agreable climate than on the Camino Frances.

Naturewise the most interesting camino is the French Podiensis from Le Puy en Velay to the Pyrenees where you could connect with the Spanish caminos. It doubles as a French hiking trail called GR 65 and is therefore not routed along so many roads. The GR 65 continues on to Geneva in Switzerland as Via Gebennensis again is a very nice hiking trail. I would definitely prefer the GR 65 aka Via Podiensis and Via Gebennensis to the Spanish Caminos! Much, much nicer hiking than on the Spanish caminos!

If you want an even longer trail then use the Swiss caminos, too. In Switzerland hiking will also be not as hot as in Spain or even France. The same applies for the German caminos. I have personally hiked parts of the one from Tillyschanz to Lake Constance (Bodensee). You can find a good overview of the caminos here:
http://foren.fernwege.de/jakobsweg-karte/index.html

Generally speaking: the further away from Spain and Santiago the less people and the more pleasant the hiking.

I would not recommend the Via Francigena. As it is hardly known you will have lots of problems finding maps and guidebooks. Also hiking in Italy in summer will be very hot and on top of all that the trail is routed along a bike trail, the EV5. I think you would have a much more pleasant trip on the French Camino!

Christine

Paul Siegel
(PaulSiegel)

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Had no idea... on 02/21/2012 15:53:25 MST Print View

Christine,

Thanks for your insight!

I am in no way tied to a pilgrim trail. They were the ones I could find the most documentation on, and guides in english. I admit the GR65 does sound rather interesting and would tick all the boxes. I'll do some research. I guess one of the hard parts as an american is that It's hard to tell which of the GR routes or the European routes is worth doing. Your suggestions help a lot.

As for price, I had assumed that staying in a gite or hotel or BnB every night would add up. I guess I don't know enough to be misinformed. I'm not even sure how "wild" camping works in France!

Paul

German Tourist
(GermanTourist) - F

Locale: in my tent
European Pilgrimage Recommendations on 02/21/2012 16:03:23 MST Print View

Wild camping is generally not exactly legal in Central Europe, but a lot of hikers (including me) do it. You just have to be discreet and you won't have a problem. I almost never stay in B&B or hotels - I always free camp or use couch surfing.
If you are not tied to a pilgrimage trail there is plenty of better stuff for hiking in Europe- even with English guidebooks. Feel free to contact me via PM if you want some more tipps or ideas for hiking.
I am right now planning a 5,000 km hike across Europe and have spent the last 2 months studying long-distance trails - I guess I am a good source of information now!

Edited by GermanTourist on 02/21/2012 16:04:40 MST.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Scotland on 02/22/2012 01:04:19 MST Print View

There are Scots on this site that would brag about their country - and for good reason. Lovely. Beautiful. Uncrowded. Liberal camping regulations.

Honestly, if you can swing it, spend some of your time here. The routes are generally well marked and include the occasional pub along the way.

You can get a listing of the many of the hikes here.

I've done the West Highland Way, which was quite enjoyable and fun. Even the hand-drawn guide books are pretty quaint, with descriptions that take you through the Highlands and reminds you close a gate as you walk through a farm. I also traveled to the Isle of Skye which is a neat place with some great (if windy at the time we went through) hiking.

Here are a few links on the "rules":
http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

Dirk

German Tourist
(GermanTourist) - F

Locale: in my tent
St Olaf's Way on 02/22/2012 01:04:35 MST Print View

I just had another idea for a pilgrimage route that is often overlooked: The St Olaf's Way in Norway. You will find more detailed information here:

http://www.pilegrim.info/en/

There are English guide books as well for this trail.

Because this trail is in Norway, freedom to roam applies meaning that you can LEGALLY free camp. Another advantage is that this is so far north that hiking in the height of the summer won't be too hot. Unfortunately, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in Europe and food won't be cheap.