These pilgrimage paths, which are listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites and officially recognised European Cultural Routes, are notable for their spiritual significance and their exceptional ensemble of historic sites.
This pilgrimage on foot covering a distance of hundreds of kilometres developed into one of the most important pilgrimages of its kind from the 11C onwards. The ultimate aim was to reach the sacred site of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, however these four historic, spiritual and symbolic routes also travelled across France, which at the time was already rich in major Catholic sanctuaries.
Four historic routes in France:
The following is a list of long-distance footpaths:
( NB: distances refer to the length of the route in France)
- Via Turonensis (885km), which starts in Tours (alternative routes exist from Mont-Saint-Michel and Paris)
- Via Lemovicensis, which starts in Vézelay (800km)
- Via Tolosona, which starts in Arles (525km)
- Via Podiensis, which starts in Le Puy-en-Velay (730km) and which holds the greatest appeal.
Discover the Via Podiensis, also known as the GR65
The Le Puy-en-Velay route is the preferred path for hikers and follows the markings of the GR65 footpath. Its renown stems from the abundance of remarkable monuments and sites found along its route as it passes through the Cantal, Aveyron, Périgord, Gers and the Basque Country in particular. Key stops along its route include the Abbaye de Conques, the medieval town of Figeac, the town of Cahors and the sanctuary at Rocamadour.
Traditions and symbols
- Pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela are known as “Jacquets” in French (Jacques is the French word for James). The “historic costume” traditionally worn by pilgrims includes a large cape and a staff (a large stick with a metal tip).
- To help pilgrims find their way, the route is identifiable by a scallop shell, a souvenir which can be found on the beaches of Galicia, not from the sacred town of Santiago. Nowadays, the logo is more official (yellow and blue).
UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrims’ Routes and Sites
A total of 70 religious buildings have been listed by UNESCO since 1998, such as the little-known church in Saint-Avit-Sénieur (Dordogne) and the church of Saint-Hilaire in Melle (Poitou-Charente).