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

3.15 of 5 stars 3.15  ·  rating details  ·  259 ratings  ·  63 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 G ...more
Hardcover, 317 pages
Published April 1st 2013 by Pegasus Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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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
Huh. Well. First of all, this is not a memoir of a hike from Paris to the Pyrénées. David and Alison took the train from Paris to Vézeley, their starting point. Bad knees and a bad back forced the author to return to Paris with his wife after about 200 hundred miles and 3 weeks, so 98 percent of the book is their trek in Burgundy. The 12-page epilogue tells of the final miles several months later when they returned by train to south central France to resume their quest. I wish the memoir would h ...more
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
Sep 07, 2014 Barb added it
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
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
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
Tucker Cox
Jan 15, 2015 Tucker Cox rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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.
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
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
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
Angela Risner
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
Biblio Files
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Paris to the Pyrenees, the title and cover are really a bit misleading. It's not really a pilgrimage, in the traditional sense. More like a ramble on part of the roman roads with some history thrown in. It's really only Vezelay to Macon, Le-Puy-en-Velay to Roncesvalles is a twelve page epilogue.
Some of the history was really interesting, the rest was self indulgent blah, blah, blah.
Some nice photos, taken by his wife are included.
I bought this book because I have long wanted to walk the Way of Saint James. I just don't have the time to do it, except perhaps in two-week stints along various routes. I follow some Camino blogs, but this book is different. David Downie and his wife/photographer Alison Harris are a different breed of pilgrim, and closer to the type I think I might be (slightly sarcastic and somewhat irreverent). Their experiences along the route are different from any other I have read. If you are interested ...more
This book is more a trip through Burgundy than a tale of the Way of St. James. Although an original pathway, I wish that the author had taken the original Vezelay Route, only because I wanted to know more about it. The historical comparisons were interesting and in depth, and left me wanting to learn more about Burgundy's past. However stuck up and judgmental the author was, he did seem to make slight changes and, although still atheist, seemed to accept other people's spiritual paths by the end ...more
Margaret McCamant
Reading this one as an e-book, although I seem to be having a hard time keeping my reader charged.

I know two women who have done the pilgrimage walk to Santiago de Compostela and I was curious to compare this story with theirs. I have been there myself, but arriving as part of a tour/cruise, not as a pilgrim.

This book was not what I expected. Downie describes his walk, with his wife, a photographer, through the French part of the route, not even getting to the well-trod Spanish portion of the
Geoffrey Skinner
A rather different experience than either of my two pilgrimage stints (one in Brittany and one in Spain), but definitely some overlap, including the feelings around taking part in a centuries-old endeavor.
Really thought I'd like this one but, to tell the truth, it was boring. I didn't even care if Downie was much of a writer and this was basically just a simple diary of his trip along The Way, I figured it couldn't help but be interesting. Instead, I read a lot about the Romans and Gauls, especially Caesar and Vercingetorix, and Francois Mitterand. Downie spends a lot of time describing the hike through Bordeaux and then must have gotten bored himself after suffering a back injury along the route ...more
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