Nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains in southwest France is the Basque town of St. Jean Pied De Port. In fact, its name literally means “Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass.” It’s an ancient town, and the traditional start of the French Way or Camino Francés of the Camino de Santiago. The French Way travels 800 kilometres, or 500 miles, to Santiago de Compostela in the west of Spain. Other routes from points in France join the French Way in St. Jean Pied de Port, most notably, the one from Le Puy which travels 740 kilometers. The Caminos through France are far less utilized than the Camino Francés.
Before I began my journey on the Camino de Santiago, I had a wonderful afternoon and evening in St. Jean Pied de Port. If you read A Walk In Biarritz France, Part One, I discussed how I arrived to St. Jean, and included links to the schedule for the train that departed the station in Bayonne. I left my last post, The Cathedral, Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne, Bayonne, France, at the train station, just before I boarded a bus to St. Jean. Pied de Port At that time, the train tracks were undergoing maintenance so the bus was the only choice. The trip from Bayonne was picturesque through valleys, villages, deciduous forests, and farmland. The train ride will take you about 1hr 20min.
The city gate, Porte St-Jacques, is the beginning of the Camino Francés, and leads to the Rue de la Citadelle through the old town. In 1998 these gates were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here, I’m standing outside the Pilgrim Office where I picked up my pilgrim passport or Credencial, and a scallop shell.
Traditional bakery on Rue de la Citadelle.
On the Rue de la Citadelle, facing the church, Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont, and the portal, Porte d’Espagne.
The Nive River flows gently through St. Jean Pied de Port. For years, this scene has been an inspiration to artists such as Louis Dewis in The Bridge at St. Jean Pied de Port. The Nive has its headwaters in the Pyrenees and flows 80 kilometers until it enters the Adour River in Bayonne.
Next, I wanted to visit the Citadel on the hill overlooking St. Jean. I walked along the Chemin de la Porte Saint-Jacques to the east side of town and this portal in the fortified walls. Chemin de St-Jacques is French for Camino de Santiago. Before we climb up the hill, let’s visit to the St. Jean Pied de Port cemetery…
Now let’s continue to the citadel…
Construction of the citadel began in 1628. Because of its close proximity to the French/ Spanish border, St. Jean Pied de Port has long been contended among kingdoms, and the countries of France, Spain, and England. According to the St. Jean Pied de Port Wikipedia page, the town’s current site was located by the Kings of Navarra shortly after the original site was razed to the ground in 1177 by troops of Richard the Lionheart. The main citadel building was classified as a historical monument in 1963 and now houses a school.
The stone walls of the citadel and viewpoint.
St. Jean Pied de Port, the valley, and the Pyrenees from the viewpoint. This is one of my favourite photos, with the contrast in colours between the homes and the surrounding landscape.
Looking toward the valley that I traveled through the previous day from Bayonne.
The Porte du Roy outside the main building of the citadel.
You don’t have to follow the same route. This trail descends from the citadel to the bridges over the Nive. Just follow the path in the previous photo.
One more look at Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont. Let’s take a closer look at the icon or religious statue…
Later, I walked more around the town, found the Camino for the next morning, and had an enjoyable communal dinner alongside fellow pilgrims at the albergue or pilgrim hostel. This Basque quiche was the highlight of the dinner. For a delicious-looking Basque quiche recipe, check out the Diabetic Gourmet.
I hope you enjoyed this post because on my next one, On the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean Pied de Port to the Pyrenees, I’ll begin my journey on the French Way with a definite sense of nervousness and excitement. Please join me.
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