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Vie Française | Interviews

Inspiring Women: trekking the Compostelle pilgrimage – Alix Baboin-Jaubert

Inspiring women: Collaborative partnership with MidetPlus.fr

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Undertaking the Compostelle pilgrimage? That’s nothing new, with close to 200 000 pilgrims travelling the distance per year. Doing it on foot? About 87% walk it. A woman? Nothing too special, since 44% of travellers are women. Aged 54? Also unremarkable, for 56% of pilgrims are aged between 30 and 60.

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What makes Alix Baboin-Jaubert’s journey so different is that she completed the 1800 kilometre trek alone, and in only two months. Starting on a cold winter’s morning on 18 January 2015, Alix departed from la Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris on a daring and courageous journey.

In this article we meet a modern-day pilgrim: we will discover how Alix Baboin-Jaubert found the energy and strength to leave in the middle of winter to walk towards Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle in one go.

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Preparing for Compostelle

Why did you choose to leave in winter?

There are fewer people on the road and in the lodgings than in summer. The trip was also timely since my professional and private lives were in order – my youngest son having just achieved his baccalauréat.

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In your opinion, when is the best time to leave?

For me, July and August. The worst time to leave is May and June when the route is busy with people.

Who do you meet along the way?

MyFrenchLife™ - Compostelle pilgrimage - Alix Baboin-Jaubert - Compostelle map - hike - in winter - MyFrenchLife.org

About 15 to 20% of those I meet are faithful. The rest are on the journey for the fantasy, the poetry and to follow the tracks of the pilgrims who walked the same route 1000 years before them. People are anxious these days, they are not satisfied with modern life, yet are fearful of emptiness.

Many retirees can also be found along the route. Isn’t it that the more one ages, the closer one becomes with the fundamental nature of life?

A saying goes that there are more pharmacies are open along the route than churches; there aren’t enough priests to maintain many churches nowadays. The Compostelle journey is therefore a spiritual journey in a broader sense.

Did you already know the route?

Yes I knew it very well since I have been walking the same route each year since 2007. In early July, I leave with a group of 12 friends – a tradition I’ll continue this summer [July 2015].

What about clothing and equipment?

I had a backpack weighing seven kilograms, which included only the essentials: a change of clothes and a Bible. I didn’t even take a towel because it would take up too much space and be too heavy. After arriving at my stopover each night, I bathed and dried myself with the top I wore that day (already washed with the rest of my clothing). Everything would somehow dry on the heaters.

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - Compostelle pilgrimage - The Way of St James - Alix Baboin-Jaubert - hike - in winter - Compostela mountains

On the Compostelle route

Where do you sleep?

I spent 30 days in France and another 30 in Spain. In France, I slept either in local or religious lodgings or at relatives’ houses, if by chance a door opened for a night in the towns or villages I travelled through. In Spain I stayed at lodgings.

The nights spent in French rural accommodation were lonely. Arriving in the early afternoon, I took the key from the town hall and found myself eating alone after having already walked and spent the day without company. I now better understand why people opt to eat at cafés – to find some human warmth and company.

What does your day consist of?

Waking at 7am, leaving at 8.30am after a substantial breakfast, and then walking for about six hours. I generally arrived at my next stopover towards 2.30pm, having walked about 25 to 30 kilometres a day. I sometimes pushed to 40 kilometres. After bathing and washing my clothes, I sent my husband a text to notify him of my arrival. I also wrote some notes in a notebook before promptly getting ready for bed at 8.30pm or 9pm. Each evening, I marked where I would be sleeping the following evening by consulting my guide.

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Surviving the elements

How does your body cope?

I don’t experience any aches or body pains. I am a good walker so I am used to big hikes.

Were you cold?

Yes, sometimes during the night, especially in Spain where the heating is turned off in the middle of the night. On the road, however, despite the snow and rain encountered at the meeting places, I never felt cold. On the contrary, I had rivulets of sweat running down my back – but it must be said that I am not fainthearted.

Did you lose weight?

Yes, at least three or four kilograms.

Did you share your days with other walkers?

There were some happy encounters, but no, I prefer to walk alone – and quickly. When I cross the Beauce region and find myself trekking four kilometres through the terre amoureuse (which sticks to my shoes), I prefer not to be with a friend who would want to give up or whine throughout the journey. On the road, you pray and offer special intentions, including the intentions others have asked you to offer.

A number of my friends told me to listen to music or recordings of philosophical or spiritual debates on cassette tapes. At times, I regretted not having music or something to read at night.

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Reflections on the Compostelle

What is your worst memory?

One day I arrived at a lodging not too far from Burgos [Spain] at around 2pm. It should have been open from 1pm, however, there was no one inside apart from mounds of dust. A man soon arrived by car and informed me that the building was under construction – I gathered that he was the building’s contractor. Feeling tired, I asked if he could take me to Burgos (which is 14 kilometres away) for the night. When he dropped me off at the town, he asked for a beso. Thinking he had requested a friendly kiss, I found I was mistaken when he approached me for something more. I quickly left his car feeling mortified.

What is your best memory?

I was lost in Tours and stuck in a rainstorm, trying to find my itinerary. I had entered an optician’s, where no one had come to my aid, when a lovely delivery man helped me get back on track. He took me in his delivery van to show me the right direction and advised me not to walk on the right side of the road because “people will crash into me since they’re focused on their mobiles and won’t see me”. He was also eager to share his meal with me; his kindness and concern were touching.

Is returning to your life difficult?

No, since we must live with the graces received from the pilgrimage. We return strengthened, fortified and
regenerated. Life simply returns to its proper course.

MyFrenchLife™ - Compostelle pilgrimage - Alix Baboin-Jaubert - Compostelle - hike - in winter - Santiago sunset

There is always a purpose to throwing oneself into the beautiful adventure of the Compostelle walk. A purpose that often surpasses a simple wandering or the initial religious pilgrimage. A great number of those who complete the Saint-Jacques walk consider it a progression in their life. It is a process that they dedicate to self-revitalisation. By taking an intelligent and constructive break from life, they put their life into perspective and seek to ameliorate it. Indeed, many undertake the journey as a personal promise or as a promise made to another person.

Everyone has their own secret motivation for completing the Compostelle. While Alix’s source of inspiration seems to have been a religious walk, what she discovered along the way remains her secret.


Have you ever undertaken the Compostelle pilgrimage? We’d love to hear your stories of other inspiring women too! Start the conversation in the comments


MyFrenchLife™-alix-baboin-jaubert-bonnes manieres et politesse-book-MyFrenchLife.orgAn occasional food critic and journalist, Alix Baboin-Jaubert has created a website based on French savoir-vivre. The various and diverse workshops advise on the art of table presentation, dress codes, conversation, correspondence, receiving guests and living à la française. There is also information on educating children and – quite the novelty – business savoir-vivre.

Created to help put people at ease, the program teaches ways to speak to others, carry and express oneself in public, and also make friends. Anyone can subscribe, from your husband or son-in-law to a work colleague. The program is anyone who seeks assistance in deciphering the numerous codes and uses of French society. This pleasant project suits Alix well – a Mid&Plus full of energy and ideas. She has succeeded in assembling her own network of women, creating a meet-up opportunity for youth lacking in social connections and writing a book on good manners. (Bonnes manières et politesse, auriez-vous le prix d’excellence? Ed. Les Petits Cahiers Larousse, March 2015).


Inspiring women: collaborative partnership with MidetPlus.fr

[This article was originally written in French by Author: Marie-Hèlène Cossé]

Here at MyFrenchLife™ we have pleasure in announcing our partnership with French site MidetPlus.fr to produce this new series: ‘Inspiring women’. This article first appeared on MidetPlus.fr and we have translated it into English for your added pleasure.

Mid&Plus takes a decidedly positive view of women in the world and produces wonderful portraits of inspiring women. This collaboration enables you to read this series of inspiring life stories in French and in English here on MyFrenchLife™ – MaVieFrançaise® magazine and also to visit midetplus.fr for further inspiration. We hope that you enjoy it.


Meet these ‘Inspiring women’: Spirit . Strength . Stories

Marie-Hélène Cossé – founder of MidetPlus
Claire Basler – artist
Zahia Ziouani – conductor
Tina Kieffer- journalist

Virginie Taittinger – femme champenoise
Hannelore Cayre  author+
Zeina Egho – face of exile
Catherine Soulas-Baron – French etiquette


Image credits:
1. Courtesy of Alix Baboin-Jaubert
2.’LX7_Camino_20130504_090529_1020028′, Alexander Schimmeck via Flickr
3. ‘Map of the Way of St James in Europe’, Mr Manfred Zentgraf via Wikimedia
4. ‘LX7_Camino_20130504_115001_1020039’, Alexander Schimmeck via Flickr
5. ‘Santiago’, Fran Erlin via Flickr
6. ‘LX7_Camino_20130504_090018_1020026’, Alexander Schimmeck via Flickr
7. ‘Compostela’, Feans via Flickr
Translated by Artemis Sfendourakis


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