de Santiago / French Way : 01. Saint Jean
Pied-de-Port - Roncevalles
26.5 km) (or via Valcarlos 25.0 km)
Jean Pied-de-Port - St Jean Pied de Port city
Jean Pied-de-Port is a French town situated on the
banks of the River Nive at the foot of the Pyrenees
mountain range approximately 8 kms from the border
with Spain. Dating back to Roman times this area
has been an important passage through the Pyrenees
and dating back to the 10th century it has been
the meeting point of the Caminos de Santiago that
come through from various points in France such
as Paris, Vézelay and Le Puy. Entrance by the Porte
the 12th century this part of the Pyrenees was part
of the Spanish kingdom of Lower Navarra and the
kings of Navarra rebuilt the town in the late 12th
century after it had been destroyed by the British
king Richard I, the Lionheart in 1177. Over the
centuries the town's ownership changed numerous
times between the French and Spanish as they fought
for sovereignty over these lands. Finally during
the French Revolution of 1789 to 1799 the Kingdom
of Lower Navarra was abolished and has remained
in French hands ever since. During
the late 15th and early 16th centuries, following
the French Wars of Religion between French Catholics
and Protestants, the town was fortified by Cardinal
Richelieu who commissioned the building of the Citadel
on a hill overlooking the town. The
Citadel is now a college.
you are here there are a couple of places worth
visiting, most of which can be found off the cobbled
street of Rue de la Citadelle where you will have
picked up your credencial.
first is the 13th century prison dite des Evêques,
or Bishop's prison. Some claim that it had been
the Bishop's residence but the local tourist office
doesn't believe there was any link. It did however
house those good for nothings that plagued the early
pilgrims. The building now houses a museum on the
Basque region as well as a museum on the Camino
little further down the street is the 14th century
church Église Notre Dame du Bout du Pont
butting up against
the imposing Porte de Nôtre Dame with its small
statue of Santiago up above the arch. The current
Gothic church was part of a former priory hospital
and was built over the foundations of an earlier
13th century church that had been built by the Navarran
King Sancho VII, el Fuerte. In front of the church
is a fountain decorated in scallop shells.
can be found in a number of different places mostly
hostal but there are some more upmarket hotels.
Most of the accommodation can be found along the
Rue de la Citadelle or the Place du Général de Gaulle.
You may have to reserve before you leave your country
of origin as places are booked up a long time in
advance, especially in busy periods.
obtain your "credencial” (or Pilgrim Passport)
make your way to Accueil St Jacques at 39 Rue
de la Citadelle, the main street through St
your first proper day on the Camino de Santiago
it is recommended that you leave early in the morning
as most of the route is uphill and you don't want
to be caught up in the mountains when the light
is fading. Also make sure that you have a hearty
breakfast and take enough food and drink with you
to last the remainder of the day and to have something
to eat for breakfast the following morning.
Camino de Santiago is clearly marked by either yellow
flashes, yellow arrows, red and white marks or marker
stones with scallop shells.
usually depart on the Camino from the church Notre
Dame du Bout du Pont, continuing down le Rue d'Espagne
towards the bridge over the River Nive, exiting
the town walls through la Porte d'Espagne.
the pilgrim is faced with a decision, do they take
the route up over the Pyrenees or take the lower,
mainly asphalted, route. The route over the mountains
is known as the “Route Napoléon” and the asphalted
route taking you through the village of Valcarlos,
is known as the "Chemin de Compostelle".
Chemin de Compostela is more suitable during the
winter months as the mountains experience bad weather
such as fog and snow. This route is also more suitable
if you are doing the Camino by bike. A word of warning,
if it is very windy down in St Jean Pied de Port
then you must take the Chemin de Compostelle.
Route Napoléon is quite exposed the higher you get
and you can encounter severe weather even in the
middle of summer.
St Jean Pied de.Port
- Roncesvalles / Orreaga / Roncevaux
the "Route Napoléon"
route is thus named because of its strategic importance
during the Napoleonic wars and it is the route Napoleon
took to cross into Spain following the old Roman
road the Via Traiana. It was also used as a route
through the Pyrenees by Emperor Charlemagne.
Route Napoléon is the route that pilgrims have used
for several centuries primarily because of its lack
of trees and other places where bandits could hide,
unlike the heavily wooded route through Valcarlos.
This is one of the toughest parts of the whole Camino
Frances as for most of the first few kilometres
you will be climbing up into the mountains and the
first 2 kilometres are particularly hard.
reach the beginning of the Route Napoleon follow
the signs initially for the Chemin de St Jacques.
Once through the Porte d’Espagne you should soon
come across a sign, just after a water fountain,
for the Route Napoleon.
route is clearly marked and after approximately
5 kilometres you should reach the hamlet of Huntto
(or Untto) where you can find accommodation
or you can choose to continue your walk through
to the albergue of Orisson. Along this part of the
route you will see some spectacular views, subject
to the weather of course, across the Pyrenees mountain
range. Be aware that the markers for the route around
this area are on rocks on the ground, so may be
is approximately 5 kilometres from Huntto and here
you will find a pilgrim hostel or auberge (albergue
in Spanish). If you do decide to stay at any of
the pilgrim hostels along the way, we would recommend
that you call ahead and reserve your place as they
can get full very quickly. Some hostels do, however,
only take people on a first come first served basis.
the uphill path from Orisson you will come across
the statue of the Vierge d’Orisson (or Vierge
de Biakorri) reportedly brought here all
the way from Lourdes by shepherds. You will often
find the statue bedecked with flowers placed there
by both locals and pilgrims alike. At this point
take a right fork and continue straight at the road
long after leaving the Vierge d’Orisson you will
pass what is left of the Château Pignon,
a castle that had been built by the Spanish when
they conquered this region in the 16th century.
Surprisingly it was destroyed by the Spanish during
the Napoleonic wars at the end of the 17th and early
the remains of the chateau take a right hand fork
that leads to a farm until you reach the Croix
Thibaut on the right hand side of the road.
The track from here takes you up to the pass
of Leizar-Atheka, Col de Bentarte, and
in about 3 kilometres reaches the Spanish border.
here the Camino begins to descend down towards through
some woods by Elizarra, Col d’Izandorre,
and from where you keep going straight towards Col
Lepoeder, at 1410 metres above sea level, is
the highest point on the Route Napoleon. From here
you get your first view of the roof of the Abbey
of Roncesvalles. It was rumoured that in medieval
times the Col Lepoeder was where you would find
Charlemagne’s Cross, said to have been placed on
the spot where the Emperor prayed to Santiago, giving
thanks to the Apostle for the safe crossing of his
army over the Pyrenees and asking for the Saint’s
help in his battles with the Moorish invaders. Unfortunately,
the historical timeline is a little out of kilter
as Charlemagne’s conquests took place in the 8th
century and the Apostle’s remains were not found
until the 9th century. Despite all this medieval
pilgrims would stop here and pray to the Apostle
for a safe journey.
here you are again faced with a decision, which
route do you take down to the hamlet of Roncesvalles?
One route takes you through Puerto de Ibañeta and
is considered the easier, but slightly longer, of
the two routes; or alternatively, you can take the
Roman route, or Calzada Romana, but this is much
steeper. Both routes lead you to the Abbey at
the route through Puerto de Ibañeta follow the markers
towards the road and then just follow this road
for about 4 kilometres until you get to Puerto
you will find a small monument to Roldán (Roland)
one of Charlemagne’s favourite knights and commemorating
the Battle of Roncevalles which took place in the
late 8th century. There is also a small chapel
(capilla del Salvador) here
which has been built over a smaller chapel once
occupied by a monk who would ring a bell to guide
pilgrims to the chapel during bad weather.
legend behind the monument being in this spot is
that it is believed to be the spot where Roldán
sounded his horn Oliphant, as well as where he met
his end. It was during the wars with the Moors that
Roldán led 20,000 Christians up to the pass above
Roncevalles. He had been told by Emperor Charlemagne
that if he got into trouble he should sound his
horn and he would come with reinforcements. Unfortunately
up in the pass the Christian army is ambushed by
a huge Moorish army of in excess of 400,000 warriors.
Roldán’s best friend Oliver advised him that he
should blow the horn but unfortunately Roldán left
it too late. Every one of the Christian army was
killed and Roldán being the last man standing gave
3 long blasts on his horn, so hard did he blow that
horn that the veins in his temples burst causing
his death. I would have thought some of the sword
wounds would have also contributed to his death,
but then that doesn’t make such an interesting story.
left down by the side of the observation center
to join the path again for the remaining through
the beech woods to Roncesvalles.
the route through Valcarlos
route takes you through what is known as the Valley
From the Rue de la Citadelle walk
through the Porte d'Espagne, cross the bridge and
walk up the Rue d'Espagne. At the cross-roads of
the "route de Saint Michel" and the "chemin
de Mayorga", leave the GR 65 and follow this
chemin de Mayorga which to the right
in the direction of the D933 road. Follow
this road on left during 1 Km before turning right
on a little road which crosses· the Nive river onto
a concrete footbridge, in order to join, after 500
meters, another little road coming from Lasse. Follow
this little road for about 3,5 kilometres, parallel
to the Nive river, left bank, as far as the
spot where it goes up to the right; there, turn
on a path and continue on this path to reach the
Spanish border at less than 1 kilometre. Follow
the little spanish road which goes on, still on
the left bank, for about 1,5 kilometre, in order
to joïn Arnéguy, one of the last French villages
on the route. It does have some shops, so you could
buy yourself some provisions and there are also
a number of pilgrim hostels and small hotels for
the weary walker to spend the night.
back again to France at the cross-road on the right,
crossing the Nive river on a roads bridge, and go right
the D 128 road along the Nive river which is
reached after 2,5 kilometres. Cross the hamlet
of Ondarolle, then continue on the D 128 road
(to Urculu); you will arrive soon at a cross-roads:
take the way which plunges to the right, to Join
the Nive river which you can cross on a footbridge,
and go up on the Spanish side, to Valcarlos,
a small town situated in a beautiful valley
surrounded by forest.
Here you will find a hostel
and a number of small hotels (casas rurales), cafés,
shops and a bank. It is also believed to be in this
valley where Emperor Charlemagne was encamped when
he heard of Roldáns defeat at the pass of Roncevalles.
The Iglesia de Santiago in Valcarlos contains a
life-size statue of Santiago Matamoros (St James
the Moorslayer) and outside there is a slightly
odd sculpture of pilgrims.
out of Valcarlos and crossing the River Chapitel
you will pass through the village of Gañecoleta
and after approximately 4 kilometres, and a steep
climb through the forest, you will re-join the Route
Napoleon at Puerto Ibañeta and it is then
downhill into Roncesvalles.
is a small hamlet with few amenities other than
a couple of bars and hotel, however, the hamlet
is dominated by the large collegiate church and
monastery complex and is largely built around this.
Part of this complex is the Pilgrim's hospital which
was built in the 12th century by the bishop of Pamplona.
This was re-built in the early 19th century and
is now a youth hostel.
Iglesia de la Real Colegiata de Santa María,
within the collegiate complex, is one of the most
impressive examples of French gothic architecture
and well worth a visit. Built in the 13th Century
by the Navarrian King Sancho VII, el Fuerte it now
plays host to his tomb. Be sure to see the impressive
high altar with a Gothic figure of the Virgin Mary
richly clad in gold and silver, Nuestra Señora
to the church are the cloister, and the chapter
house where the remains of King Sancho
VII are laid.
the monastery's museum are housed some significant
historical objects such as Charlemagne's chess board.
This doesn't actually appear to have any link whatsoever
with Charlemagne, it is essentially a 14th century
reliquary reported to contain the remains of 32
saints. Where the name came from I do not know.
within the museum is the carved ivory horn called
Oliphant that had once belonged to Roldán and which
he used at the end of the battle at the Roncevalles
pass. Actually much of the town's attractions appear
to be linked to Roldán and Charlemagne in one way
interesting building in the town is the Itzandegia
a gothic style building from the 13th century which
was believed to have housed the image of the Virgin
of Roncevalles which is now located in the Iglesia
de la Real Colegiata de Santa María. It was refurbished
in the 1990's.
12th century Capilla de Sancti Spiritus,
also known as the Silo of Charlemagne, is
believed to have been the burial site of Roland,
one of Charlemagne's knights and many other of the
Emperor's men. The building is an ossuary and apart
from the bones of the more illustrious knights of
Charlemagne's army it contains the bones of medieval
pilgrims who died whilst crossing the Pyrenees or
those who died in the monastery's pilgrim hospital.
to it is the 13th century gothic Iglesia de Santiago,
sometimes known as the Iglesia de los Peregrinos.
This is no longer used as a church but now houses
a museum containing objects relating to the Camino
de Santiago including the bell that the monk used
in the old chapel at Puerta de Ibañeta.
are other sites worth visiting in Roncesvalles and
further information is available from the tourist
office based in the old mill situated across from
the Museum and opposite the Casa Sabina hotel.
à CF description
at wanadoo.fr - 10/01/2014