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Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James

3.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  374 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
Driven by curiosity, wanderlust, and
health crises David Downie and his wife set out from Paris to walk across
France to the Pyrenees. Starting on the Rue Saint-Jacques then trekking 750
miles south to Roncesvalles, Spain, their eccentric route takes 72 days on
Roman roads and pilgrimage paths—a 1,100-year-old network of trails leading to
the sanctuary of Saint James the Greate
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 1st 2013 by Pegasus (first published January 1st 2013)
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Apr 26, 2015 Sue rated it it was amazing
My usual disclaimer: I'm not typically one to do written reviews. But every once in a while I find I can't stop thinking about a book and need to comment on it. This is one of those times.

Knowing of my love (read: obsession) for narratives about pilgrimages along The Way, a friend recommended this book to me. I immediately discerned from the title that this wasn't the typical "Way" narrative, which usually starts somewhere on the edge of France, proceeds across the Pyrenees through Galicia, and
Feb 14, 2015 Barb rated it it was ok
Ugh. I give Downie two stars for keeping me reading this book. It's more likely that my love of France kept me reading it. The subtitle, "A Skeptic Pilgrim walks the Way of St. James" is entirely misleading. It should have read "hostile skeptic"; he's hostile at times and often snarky to belief whether it be Druid, Buddhist or Christian. And he and his wife did not walk the Way of St. James, but made it up as they went along. It's fine to meander, but then don't title your book as if you followe ...more
Feb 29, 2016 Sarah rated it liked it
This was a different sort of book about the Camino de Santiago. For one thing, the author did not walk the well-travelled Spanish route, but started out in Paris and finished up in Roncesvalles in the Pyrennees, often the starting point for the pilgrimage. Also, the author seemed more interested in following the trail of Julius Caesar and Francois Mitterand than the way of St. James! However, an interesting read nonetheless.

The France described by David Downie also differed from the France descr
Mar 16, 2015 Ryan rated it did not like it
I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with Jacki Lyden of National Public Radio, who assures me on the cover that "David Downie is fabulous company!" David Downie is unbearable company. He has filled three hundred-odd pages with faux-philosophical meanderings about French history and... whatever else he's on about, never really arriving at any particular point or even making much sense at all. A sample from p. 295:

"Gravel and rocks, polished by fifteen thousand years of scuffing feet, now sli
Jul 22, 2013 Mackay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france, travel
Hmm. Shoulda loved this; didn't. It's a journey I wish I could take (but know myself well enough to know I'd hate the walking part). What I didn't like was how self-absorbed Downie was. Yes, the book is not simply a travel book, but about his own search for ... something. Whatever it turned out to be. But since he went with his wife, you'd think she'd be more than a shadow. And you'd think, since he lives at least part of the time in Paris, and conducts touristic tours of France, that he'd have ...more
Jan 26, 2015 Dave rated it it was ok
I guess I was expecting much more. Downie is a good writer, and I hate to say this, but he's just the wrong person to write this book. He's a jaded Parisien transplant who's already tasted all the great things France has to offer, so he takes a begrudging walk with his wife (photographs are exquisite, btw) through part of France in order to lose some weight.

The awe and spendor of the French countryside receive a cursory treatment at best. Downie has already seen most of the area by car, and as
Apr 10, 2013 Beverly rated it really liked it
Pay attention to the sub title..." a skeptic walks the way of St. James". Skeptic indeed.Entertainingly well written, it is both a travel narrative and musings on what it's all about....(the journey NOT a destination is my read).Having lived in FRance a while back, his descriptions of the people of the Morvan (in particular) absolutely ring true.The author's skepticism/cynicism shines through in many instances...particularly when it comes to the pomp & circumstance of catholic pagentry and F ...more
Jane Dugger
I wanted to give this book 3 stars. I didn't, not because of the content. I enjoyed learning little snippets of French history and the kooky cast of characters the author meets, including the author. But the editing of the audiobook was not done well. At the end of chapters (or sections since there was no numbering of the chapter) the audiobook would rush into the next section not allowing the listener time to finish the thoughts of one topic before moving on to the next. This does not happen of ...more
Angela Risner
Aug 10, 2013 Angela Risner rated it it was ok
I have been on a roll of reading about walking the Appalachia Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, so I thought I would expand my knowledge base and go international with this book. To be honest, I didn't realize that James the Greater aka St. James was the same James of Jesus.

This is David Downie's recollection of his attempt to walk from Paris to the Pyrenees. His wife, photographer Alison Harris, is along for the pilgrimage. Downie is facing a health crisis and is searching for meaning in his
Tucker Cox
Jan 15, 2015 Tucker Cox rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who like travel lit.
Recommended to Tucker Cox by: No one

Mr. Downie and his wife walk the “2,000-year-old Via Agrippa and pre-Roman, Gallic footpaths, routes predating Christianity, safe in the knowledge that, unbeknownst to most pilgrims, they underlie the Way of St. James just as surely as Paganism underlies Roman Catholicism.”

Downie meditates on the nature of pilgrimage, personal reconciliation of faith and family issues, and life in today’s France.

One passage illustrates the scope, insight and captivating interest of Mr. Downie’s commentary:

And wh
Anne Green
Sep 03, 2014 Anne Green rated it really liked it
On the back cover of this book a reviewer is quoted as saying "Downie is the master of educated curiosity" and this sums up what makes this book a fascinating read. If you love books about travel,you'll find plenty in here to give you itchy feet (especially if you're thinking about going to France, as we are). But equally if you're a history lover or of a philosophical bent, there's lots to get you intrigued and pondering all kinds of "life" questions, not the least of which is why do pilgrims d ...more
This was a quick, delightful read of a partial journey on the Camino de Santiago. The author and his girl walk from Paris to SJPP, and along the way enjoy the history, architecture, and a few eureka moments. Of particular interest to me, the author concludes that the appeal of the Camino to pilgrims is not necessarily an anticipation of divinity upon reachingSantiago, but that its the journey that draws them. It certainly is whats drawing me.
Jun 22, 2015 JDK1962 added it
Shelves: abandoned
I got 36 pages through this and decided to exercise my right to quit a book by page 50 if I'm not enjoying it. It took me over a week to read as far as I did, just because I kept wanting to read (or re-read) other things, rather than continuing to read this. I'd read 2-3 pages, find myself drifting off, then would set it down for the day. Finally I just gave up.

For some reason, I didn't connect the the narrator at all. On a book like this, I think the narrator needs to establish some sort of con
Apr 13, 2014 Carmen rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
A quasi pilgrim couple travel in the Burgundy region of France on their way to Spain. Both originally from the States, they combine their talents to write an inspirational thinking travelogue full of history and insights into their personalities. David is able to make connections with the French and English languages to the Latin he studied long ago. Allison is a photographer. Great photos of the walks. I had seen signs in Germany for the walk and wondered if it was the same walk. (I had though ...more
Mar 04, 2014 Karen rated it it was ok
I was rather disappointed. I have read a few books about people taking a pilgrimage and thought this would be a welcome addition to that topic. I was, however, rather disappointed. I suppose the one thing that I found interesting was that the author couldn't explain the yearn for the pilgrimage .. . which is exactly how I feel. I hate to admit, I didn't finish the book. Some of the history of the trail and the landscapes war background brought an interesting element to the book, but I wasn't com ...more
Mar 28, 2015 Kerry rated it liked it
I had plans to hike The Way this Spring with my husband...homebuilding didn't go as planned so maybe next year.

This is not your typical hiking memoir - this couple doesn't go about hiking the usual path which puts them in some rather unusual places and circumstances and makes for an interesting read.

The 'skeptic' part is that he doesn't really believe in pilgrimages, he learns there are different types of pilgrims and different beliefs that are fed by the act of walking.

It's an interesting book.
Feb 15, 2016 Joyce rated it liked it
Most of the time, when I read about journeys, I'm attracted to the idea of doing the same kind of journey. Not this time! Downie and his wife trekked through what I'm hoping is the most inhospitable part of France on their way to the Pyrennees. Ostensibly, they were making a pilgrimage of some kind, roughly following one of the many routes of St. James but focusing on the ancient history of Gaul and Rome, rather than the Christian pilgrimage. Fine with me, but that route! Oh my.

The Morvan, whic
I am interested in spiritual/pilgrim walks so I was happy to find this memoir. It is a useful and entertaining as a travel guide/virtual vacation. I liked the mentions of where they visited and what they ate. The challenges of finding shelter and food in the small towns, somewhat off the other more heavily traveled pilgrim route, were not issues I would have considered.

Perhaps it was because I listened to the book instead of reading it but I found Downie's "skepticism" and his relentless suspic
I could just as easily given this book 4 stars as the 3 I ultimately decided upon. That alone proves my feelings about it.....I did rather enjoy it overall but not certain how much so. It really wasn't at all what I expected, based on the title, but for what it proved to be it was fine. More really of a travel book than anything, certainly I found little of the 'pilgrim mentality' to it. If you are looking for something in the spiritual genre there are no doubt much better choices. He has an eas ...more
Biblio Files
Jul 24, 2013 Biblio Files rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read my share of road trip books, and long walk books, and bicycle around the world books. In general, I enjoy them. They certainly beat those "we moved to France and bought a chateau but we're still regular folks" books. Although I like most of those too.

Paris to the Pyrenees goes on the list of books I liked. David Downie, the author and half of the couple who trekked around France, is opinionated, smug, whiny, snobbish, and a bit of a misanthrope. In his favor, his wife as he writes her,
Aug 15, 2013 Deborah rated it really liked it
Part memoir, part travelogue, "Paris to the Pyrenees" is at times smart, funny, enlightening and annoying.

David Downie and his wife, photographer Allison Harris, hike the Way of St. James in France, following pilgrims' route in southwest France to the Spanish border.

The route is filled with Downie's musings on family, faith, the nature of pilgrims, politics, history - you name it, he has an opinion. He descriptions of the people they meet along the way are wonderfully alive. His own health probl
Oct 02, 2013 Mark rated it it was ok
Well the weird thing about this book, is that for the first 300 page you cross the one inch which is the portion of the book's map, in Burgundy. You spend the next 17 pages (in Epilog) crossing the much longer section of detailed map which leads up to Roncevaux Pass, barely the beginning of the Camino De Santiago Compostela. Granted, the author is atheist and despairs of all the yakky-doodle pilgrims they do come across once they finally get down to Basque Country. But it's still really weird to ...more
Jan 13, 2015 Linette rated it liked it
I enjoyed Downie's style of writing but didn't always agree with his conclusions. He's a skeptic though and I'm a Christian so we're not going to agree. Many times he gets so close. Most of the time his conclusions come from the fact that he's leaving Jesus entirely out of Christianity. Fun read though and I really enjoyed his look at France historically and in the present.
Brenda Funk
Aug 02, 2014 Brenda Funk rated it it was ok
I think I am not much of a 'travel' book reader unless I am planning to go there myself, or have been there. That's what would make it resonate with me, and since I have never done this one, I found it a bit slow to read. It was well written, great descriptions of the area and the people and the experiences on the road.
bibliotekker Holman
Jul 01, 2013 bibliotekker Holman rated it really liked it
The author is an apt companion on a tramp through France. A France based American writer with enough knowledge of language and culture to make for an interesting tromp. The author shares my interest in the layered history of places and especially the Gallic and Roman past. While reflecting on the past, Downie also paints a compelling picture of a changing France and the impact that globalization is having on the landscape he crosses. Part of the reason I like to read travelogues like this, is to ...more
Jul 26, 2013 Tuck rated it really liked it
downnie and his wife, alison harris (here's her photos of walk(s) ) walked more or less, from paris to roncevalles on the camino de santiago and or other walking trails (roman roads) through france. so a funny, not too grumpy travelogue of hiking and b and bing and hostels and hotels and such through the countryside of france, lots and lots of celtic and roman history. informative, well written, mostly fun, not too much self-backslapping, not too much gro ...more
Jun 01, 2014 Marija rated it really liked it
A skeptic following the path of Saint James through the heart of France. A historian with a love for details. Clear and excellent writing. The author is likable enough that you want to walk right along with him, and have him point out all the sites and share his thoughts. His wife's photos in the book are lovely.
Jonathan Kirton
Feb 22, 2015 Jonathan Kirton rated it really liked it
I read this book as I am contemplating walking the Camino myself and I am not sure why. The book is easy to read and very accessible. Whether you are a believer, a skeptic, a hardened walker or just enjoy a good read this is well worth it. I at least know that I won't be starting where I thought now.
Oct 18, 2014 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I enjoyed this book. It's a fairly simple book but I felt that the author was open about himself & his beliefs. He seems to be disconnected from emotions & feelings but that could just be his skill as an author & not being able to portray that in writing.

His descriptions of the food & history, however, is where he shines. You can tell that he really values food & history. his descriptions make me want to do a pilgrimage through France as well...well, maybe a bourgeoisie vers
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