The Historical Economics of Pilgrimage

“All the major regions and leading cities of Spain possessed images of Mary or of Christ which attracted pilgrims and whose sanctuaries were lined with testimonies of the miraculous cures they had wrought.”

Brading, D.A. (2001).  Mexican Phoenix, Our Lady of Guadaloupe.  Cambridge:Cambridge U. Press. p. 36.

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The Village Church South of Tarbes

Field of Harvested Corn Stalks and Pyrénées Mts.
© L Peat O’Neil, 2000

The day’s route meandered through small villages and along corn fields.  At one hamlet on the east side of L’Adour River, not far from Vielle-Adour,  a woman tending her roses suggested I ask a neighbor two houses over to open the church for me.  The guardian of the church seemed a bit surprised.  Was I the first pilgrim-tourist to come this way on foot?  She fetched a classic iron key the size of a man’s shoe from a hook in the hallway of the family farmhouse.

We walked a few meters to the old church. A wooden Baptismal with a stone basin caught my eye.  The freestanding cabinet was circular with simple carving, sealed with its own small key.  Most of the building was in decay, with peeling paint and  warped marquetry.  It was cracking apart, like many rural churches with no congregations.  I followed her back to the farm and chatted briefly.  The husband had come in from the barn by then.  He was lean and bright eyed as all the farmers I met in the region.  They work every day and eat exceptionally well.

Small aircraft droned overhead occasionally, like the flyover sight-seers in the Grand Canyon.  Golden light in the late afternoon mandated that I stop to paint a bucolic scene — cornfields after harvest with stalks jutting at angles from the russet brown earth.  A little animal came close while I painted.  A field cat or a wild creature cat-sized crept out of the broken rows of corn stalks surprised by the silent human sitting on the dirt.

A pair of shoes. Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Paris, 1886, canvas 37.5 x 45 cm
© Vincent van Gogh Foundation

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Ceret :: Mediterranean Coast of Catalonia

Colors of Catalonia by Virginie Raguenaud

While I stayed in Ceret after my trek across France, I sketched near a group of visitors from California who painted en plain air all day, then ate and drank through the star-lit evenings.  My memorable visit was during early October after most of the vacationing European families had gone back home and the climate cooled to a shirt-sleeve degree.


Ceret Tourism Office

The Colors of Catalonia — about the artists who lived and worked in Ceret and nearby seaside communities.

This artist based in Ceret offers classes.

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Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre

Logo of the Fédération Française Randonnée Pédestre

Topographic maps and guides for walking in France are available at the online store run by the French Association for Hikers — Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre.  The search function enables you to look by region, départment (regions in France) and by other parameters.

Pyrénées-Atlantiques  – Western region towards Atlantic Ocean

Hautes-Pyrénées – High Pyrénées in the central mountains

Pyrénées- Orientales – Eastern region near the Mediterranean Sea

Read more about the Pyrénées Mountains at

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Planning Your Pyrénées Pilgrimage Walk

Best tool I know for travel planning is to pull out a map and study where you are going.  Don’t limit yourself to a tiny GPS based map — get the real thing, unless you enjoy squinting.

Before investing in a set of topographic maps, plan a route so you can buy just the maps you need for the walk.  Further planning involves deciding the realistic distance you can cover in a day, increasing gradually from a gentle 15 kms (9.3 miles) per day up to perhaps 25 (15.5 miles) or 30 kms (18.6 miles)per day.

Research lodging options and locations where you plan to rest or explore local culture and archeology.  Explore side-trips by bus or rental car if you feel like taking a day or two away from the grind.  Although my experience was that once you leave the walking path for more than a day or two, it can be mentally difficult to return to the same level of energy and enthusiasm. This information hub will be helpful to anyone planning a journey on the Camino de Santiago de Compostello.

Road map of Western Pyrénées region.
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Evaluate GPS Navigation Services Before Renting

If you plan to rent a GPS tool and service provider during your walking journey, examine the services closely.

Will content be in your language?  Are there extra changes for certain features or locations?

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Practical Information for Camino Walkers

Travel Mole offers useful advice on accommodation, transportation and cultural lore on the Camino de Santiago.

Good advice to prepare for injuries or accidents by bringing along appropriate first aid items and knowing how to summon emergency medical services in France and Spain.

Some people rely exclusively on the kindness of strangers and good luck.

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