St Jean Pied de Port

A traditional starting point for thousands of walking pilgrims (peregrinos) & cyclists (bicigrinos) each year with around 11% (2015) of those completing the Camino de Santiago starting here in St Jean Pied de Port and further popularised by Paolo Coelho’s book, The Pilgrimage, and Emilio Estevez’s film, The Way. If you’re starting your pilgrimage from St Jean in the summer months it’s recommended to book ahead or arrive early, some albergues accept reservations but most operate on a first come, first served basis.

The town of St Jean Pied de Port, nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees is a popular French day trip and the town bustles with locals, regular tourists and pilgrims for much of the year. As the starting point for many pilgrims the town comes complete with plenty of stores selling hiking gear and souvenirs. It’s inside one of these stores you can pick up your pilgrim scallop shell, an essential piece of kit that every pilgrim fastens to their backpack (mochila) before setting off on their pilgrimage.

St Jean is served by plenty of local amenities, albergues, B&Bs, hotels, restaurants (even a fabulous Michelin star restaurant at the Hotel Pyrenees), banks (banco), pharmacists (farmacia) and local grocery stores (supermercado) where you can fill up on essentials and local specialities like Basque hams (jamon) and cheeses (queso). There are no more shops or banks until you arrive in Zubiri some two days and 50km later.

 

Why should I go to the Pilgrim office? 39 Rue de la Citadelle

  • Pick up your Pilgrim Passport – you can’t stay at the albergues or collect your compostella in Santiago without it – it’s just 2€
  • Get your camino map & albergue guide – these are the most valuable two peices of paper you’ll carry all month!
  • Get the latest weather forecast & advise on whether to take the Valcarlos or Napoleon route.
  • Brush up on your French – You learnt some basic Spanish before going on camino? That won’t help you here, the assistants at the Pilgrim office and everyone in the town stubbornly refuses to speak a word of Spanish.

 

 

Which route should I take to Roncesvalles, Napoleon or Valcarlos?

That choice depends on two things, the weather and your fitness levels. The Valcarlos route is easier, safer and follows the main road over the mountain to Spain, however, it also lacks amenities such as food or water and if the road is busy, can be treacherous on hair pin bends. If you want to split the arduous mountain climb into two there are more accommodation options in Valcarlos with guest houses and albergues, walking via the Napoleon route you’ll only have Orisson (often booked out) to serve you.

The views on the Valcarlos route are less spectacular and most of the day will be spent on tarmac which can hurt new hiking feet and also reflect heat back up at you in the summer months. It’s the only road you can take in winter, but few pilgrims choose this route in summer so it can also be lonely. I walked the Valcarlos route in 2015 and didn’t meet one pilgrim.

The harder, yet more rewarding Napoleon route is a real physical challenge and if you’re concerned about your level of fitness you may want to avoid this route altogether or split this day into two by overnighting at Orisson. This route should not be underestimated and can take up to 10 hours walking with a climb exceeding 1000m in under 20kms. It is one of the most spectacular days on the Camino, rivaled only by O’Cebreiro which you’ll see in about 30 days time.

In winter, or in extreme weather conditions, the Napoleon Route is closed and it is forbidden for pilgrims to take it. Please heed those warnings if issued at the passport office, several pilgrims have died in recent years on these mountains. The photograph below is from Orisson alberge during my last visit in June 2016, at only half way up the mountain, you can imagine how conditions can deteriorate.

img_1320

Where to stay in St Jean Pied de Port?

Where to eat and drink in St Jean Pied de Port?

Coffee and Tortilla – you’ll have enough

Where’s the church in St Jean Pied de Port + mass times?

y of local amenities, albergues, B&Bs, hotels, restaurants (even a fabulous Michelin star restaurant at the Hotel Pyrenees), banks, pharmacists and local grocery stores where you can fill up on essentials and local specialities like Basque hams and cheeses.

The route from St Jean to Roncesvalles?

How do I get to there?

  • From Madrid –
  • From Barcelona –
  • From Saint Sebastian –
  • From Biarritz –
  • From Pamplona –
  • From Paris –

How to get to St Jean Pied de Port?

How to get your pilgrim passport in St Jean Pied de Port?

Where to stay in St Jean Pied de Port?

Where to eat and drink in St Jean Pied de Port?

Where’s the church in St Jean Pied de Port + mass times?

What facilities are there in St Jean Pied de Port?

  • Taxi
  • Bank
  • Pharmacy
  • Store
  • Train/bus

Which route to take from St Jean Pied de Port?

Anything else I should know before leaving for Valcarlos/Orisson/Roncesvalles?

This advice applies to the entire camino but is important from day one, always fill up your water bottles at every opportunity. There are long stretches of the camino without water, on hot days, you will run out of water.