9781605984322 198

Paris to the Pyrenees

A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James


David Downie (Author)

Our Retail Price:£17.50

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Part adventure story, part cultural history the author of Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light explores the phenomenon of pilgrimage along the age-old Way of Saint James in France

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 Greater. It is best known as El Camino de Santiago de Compostela—“The Way” for short. The object of any pilgrimage is an inward journey manifested in a long, reflective walk. For Downie, the inward journey met the outer one: a combination of self-discovery and physical regeneration. More than 200,000 pilgrims take the highly commercialized Spanish route annually, but few cross France. Downie had a goal: to go from Paris to the Pyrenees on age-old trails, making the pilgrimage in his own maverick way. 32 pages of color photographs by Alison Harris.


“An entertaining read… fabulous company!” — Jackie Lyden, "All Things Considered," National Public Radio

“In the tradition of Patrick Leigh Fermor, David Downie takes off on foot. Such a rigorous, slow journey—the polar opposite of airport-to-airport travel—gives him the gift of time, and the chance to absorb, taste, and experience the places he sees. Downie’s adroit, learned, and ambitious book re-invigorates my sense of travel, taking me back to the happy knowledge that the world is still large, and history unfathomably deep.” — Frances Mayes, author of The Tuscan Sun Cookbook and Under the Tuscan Sun

“Profound. A witty and intelligent spin on the spiritual-journey motif.” — Kirkus Reviews

Evocative and moving… Downie’s quest is unconventional in tone and spirit as well as route. A lively wordsmith, Downie brings a deep and impassioned knowledge of French history, culture, and language to this pilgrimage. He also brings something more, a longing that he himself can’t pin down at the beginning… they encounter a memorable succession of taciturn, deep-rooted local farmers and gregarious, transplanted-from-Paris innkeepers. They also encounter the multi-layered, interweaving pathways of French history, commerce, religion, and spirituality—and manage to tuck in a few sumptuous celebrations of French food and wine, too. The result is an extraordinary account that illuminates France past and present and casts a light on something even greater: the truth that, however we choose to label our journey, we are all pilgrims on a common quest, to answer why we wander life’s question-paved path.” — Don George, National Geographic Traveler

“Bristling with knowledge and often with theinsights of good fiction, Downie takes you on a trip that is as much acompelling intellectual journey as it is a rich revelation of place. It’s ahard book to put down.” — G. Y. Dryansky, author of Coquilles, Calva and Creme

“A great writer and a very interesting trail, what more could you want?” — James Martin, Europe Travel

“Richly textured, meticulously detailed, a compelling, picaresque narrative of adventures on the road and a sophisticated meditation on the past, present and future of France.” — Sandra M. Gilbert, author of Kissing the Bread

“Brilliant, witty and stylish.” — Anton Gill, author of The Sacred Scroll

“Richly illustrated with Alison Harris’s color photographs, it is not only a fascinating journey through France on foot, with illuminating glimpses into French history from prehistoric times to the present. Downie also shares his idiosyncratic observations and provocative musings about connections between the Roman and American empires, the character of Francois Mitterrand, and the shadow of both Nazi collaboration and the French Resistance. It is also an intimate, personal journey, the author sharing his candid ruminations. There are moments of comedy, many grins and even some laugh-out-loud moments. A word of advice? Don’t peek! Every page of this book is worth reading, and in order to understand the ending, you’ll have to have been there for the whole journey.” — Janet Hulstrand, Bonjour Paris

“A wonderful book: historically, culturally and spiritually fascinating, refreshingly honest without being self-aggrandizing, full of humor and sharp observation of the people and the landscape. Downie is a great companion on the road.” — Imogen Robertson, author of Instruments of Darkness

“David Downie’s pilgrimage/anti-pilgrimage has two things no one else does. One is his inimitable wit. The other: he travels not just in space, but in time, creating constant delightful surprise and reassuring familiarity. An atheist who starts the Way of Saint James necessarily sees the world with a certain irony. One who finishes the trail from Paris to the Spanish border won’t let that irony consume him. It is the conversation between the two that makes this such a special book.” — Andrew Riggsby, Professor of Classics and of Art History, The University of Texas at Austin

“Perhaps the most evocative American book about Paris since A Moveable Feast.” — Jan Morris

“David Downie is the master of educated curiosity. With him we discover Paris, a seemingly public city that is, in fact, full of secrets—great lives, lives wasted on the bizarre; forgotten artisans; lost graves. I have walked some of the city’s streets with him, and reading this book is just as tactile an experience.” — Michael Ondaatje

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