Is there only one Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago is a generic description of the numerous routes which lead to Santiago de Compostela. There are many other routes to Santiago de Compostela, from England, France, Germany, Scandinavia, the list goes on ..... but the Camino Francés or the French Route, has become by far the most popular route to Santiago de Compostela.
Where is the official starting point?
Most commonly people start the Camino Francés in St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees or Roncesvalles in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Others start the route in Le Puy-en-Velay in France (part of the GR65, or Grande Randonée from Geneva to Roncesvalles).
From Toulouse following the Via Tolosana (the Arles Route) joining the Camino Aragonés through the Aragón region of Spain.
The Camino del Norte (Camino de la Costa) which follows the Cantabrian and Asturian coastlines towards Galicia is the second most popular route and starts in Irún, near San Sebastián in the Basque region of Spain.
The route from Canterbury in England to Rome is known as the Via Francigena and is another one of the principal Christian pilgrimage routes, crossing the English Channel into France, through Switzerland then Italy.
What´s the significance of the scallop shell?
Like many things related to the Camino, myth and legend surround the significance of the scallop shell. Medieval pilgrims to Santiago would, if they survived the journey, have returned home (on foot!) with a scallop shell which are typically found on the coastline of Galicia. Some say this was a medieval souvenir and also proof that the pilgrim had completed their journey - pilgrims returning from Jerusalem brought a palm branch and those from Rome the crossed keys of St Peter. Others say it was a practical method of drinking water from streams whilst on the return trip home. The legend of the scallop shell refers to one of the miracles of St James, where a knight fell into the sea on his horse and was raised from his watery grave to emerge covered in shells.
Whatever the origins of the symbol of the scallop shell, you will see it all along the Camino and many people wear a scallop shell on their backpack to show they are a pilgrim. We will provide you with your very own scallop shell when you start your journey!
Is it a religious pilgrimage?
Of course, the origins of the Camino are Christian and many people still walk the Camino as a religious pilgrimage. However, the majority of people are walking for a variety of reasons, spiritual or otherwise. The Camino is a very tolerant environment and you will find most people interested in and respectful of the motivations of others.