The GR653d has little to do with the Via Domitia. Remember that and you may still enjoy the GR route or chose to go off the GR signing at times like we did. The GR route just connects many of the bigger towns that the Via Domitia passed through but on routes that are often mountainous, overly difficult, oddly spaced and not really close to the Via Domitia. In fact, the GR route purposely bypasses the best place where you can see the Roman road as well as some of the better Domitia towns like Saint Rémy. It’s even kind of funny that the route ends in Arles, 14km away from where the Via Domitia really crossed the Rhône and continued on, all the way to Narbonne, 143km from Arles. While the GR route can provide stunning landscapes and wonderful trails, there are often more “Camino-like” trails available and I am pretty sure better for the average pilgrim. I suggest that you use the GR route as a guide but look at other sources for other options in order to enjoy your walk more.
If you plan on staying in municipal gîtes along the way, make sure you have the phone number of the mairies before you leave. Call in advance. Beds are not reserved for pilgrims.
That reminds me… don’t expect to meet other pilgrims. We only met one and that was after Arles. We walked with him for a short bit into Saint-Gilles but never saw him again. The lack of any other pilgrims was the main reason that this trail is getting ranked near the bottom of my favorite long walks.
Expect to see stunning landscapes.
I highly recommend carrying a phone-based GPS app that works offline. I like maps.me but use whatever you like. Very few days had near enough trail markings that a normal pilgrim could follow efficiently. Even if the phone stays in your pocket for 99.9% of the day, you will be very happy you brought it along. We often used it to find alternative routes and I wish I had also used Google Earth in the evenings when I had wi-fi too. I have since seen some better non-GR trails that I could have taken that likely were better. Add several different trails into your phone before you leave to give you options. The trail we walked is available for download HERE.
I’m not 100% sure about walking in summer but in October, French hotels are locked up tightly from about 11am to usually 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, or even 6pm. Plan accordingly. We found this extremely irritating and whenever possible, chose accommodations that were open earlier than the others or made arrangements to get us in early.
September / October looks like a good time to walk, weather-wise. We’ve only had too brief drizzles and needed our raincoats only for about ten minutes one day. If anything, the afternoons were still too hot. That said, on the train back to Milan to fly home in late October, we saw snow covering the mountains that were so close weeks earlier. The Montgenèvre pass was definitely white.
Few people you meet along the way will even know a pilgrims route runs through their town and the may not even know that a Roman Road did either. Cherish the hosts (like in Chorges) that do know what is going on.
Don’t expect to do this route cheaply. There are a fair number of hostels but when you can’t get in one, cheap hotels or B&Bs are usually 60€ or more. I also had to set a personal record one night when nothing else was available… 155€. It wasn’t worth it.
Pilgrim meals don’t exist except inside church affiliated hostels. A main course in a simple French will cost 12-20€ but may not fill you up. The food is awesome but dinners for two of us have been about €50 – €60 for two plates of pasta, a good salad shared and a glass of wine or beer.
We met many wonderful people along the way who went out of their way to help us or show interest in the concept of Caminos but, for the most part, I think we walked in a part of the year when most French people are tired of having “tourists” around. Maybe walking in Spring would be better. Or the 1600’s. This was the second reason why this wasn’t close my favorite walk.
All that said, I’m glad we walked this route. Mostly I am glad that it completes our walk “from Lisbon to Rome” but many of the experiences and memories made it worth the challenge.
Holler if you have any questions or comments.