A Walk In St. Jean Pied De Port, France

December 9, 2011 — 20 Comments

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.

City gate, Porte St-Jacques, St. Jean Pied de Port, The French Way


Here, I’m standing outside the Pilgrim Office where I picked up my pilgrim passport or Credencial, and a scallop shell.

Randall St germain Saint Jean Pied de Port France, Camino Frances


Traditional bakery on Rue de la Citadelle.

bread cheese Saint Jean Pied de Port France Camino frances


On the Rue de la Citadelle, facing the church, Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont, and the portal, Porte d’Espagne.

Notre Dame du Bout du Pont Saint Jean Pied de Port Camino frances

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.

River nive bridge St. Jean Pied de Port France Camino frances


Rue nive bridge Saint Jean Pied de Port France Camino frances


bridge Rue nive Saint Jean Pied de Port France Camino frances


Bridge church Rue nive Saint Jean Pied de Port Camino frances


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…

portal ciadel Pied de Port Camino frances


graveyard gate St. Jean Pied de Port France copy


graveyard St. Jean Pied de Port France copy


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.

Citadel St. Jean Pied de Port France


The stone walls of the citadel and viewpoint.

The Citadel lookout, St. Jean Pied de Port, The French Way


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.

citadel view Pyrénées Saint Jean Pied de Port France


Looking toward the valley that I traveled through the previous day from Bayonne.

11w citadel view valley Pyrénées Saint Jean Pied de Port France


The Porte du Roy outside the main building of the citadel.

Porte du Roy Citadel St. Jean Pied de Port France copy


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.

13 citadel trail Saint Jean Pied de Port France


One more look at Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont. Let’s take a closer look at the icon or religious statue…

Notre Dame du Bout du Pont Saint Jean Pied de Port France Camino frances


Notre Dame du Bout du Pont Saint Jean Pied de Port icon


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.

Basque quiche, Albergue Saint Jean Pied de Port


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.

If you have my book, Camino de Santiago In 20 Days, or have ordered it, I really appreciate your support. It’s also out on Kindle and Kobo. My Goodreads and Amazon pages have reviews and more information. Please share this post, and thanks for your time.

About Randall St. Germain

Randall St. Germain, author of Camino de Santiago In 20 Days, is a middle-aged Canadian Boy who is passionate about nature, photography, hiking, music, and self-improvement. After the death of his mother, he chose to walk the famous pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago, across the north of Spain, despite knowing little about it. He certainly didn’t plan to write a book until the latter days of his Camino. Similar to walking the Camino, writing and publishing a book was a learning experience. It was also very rewarding, and part of his ongoing journey. Please join him as he takes you along on his journey in Camino de Santiago In 20 Days, and on his blog Camino My Way.


20 responses to A Walk In St. Jean Pied De Port, France

  1. Great photos. Continued happy traveling. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love the efforts you have put in this, thanks for all the great content.

    • Thank you very much. Yes, this blog has taken a lot of time. Especially, the earlier ones when I fought with photos that didn’t display, and text that didn’t go where I wanted it. I’m getting a little better now, but have a lot to learn. I also hope to have a new blog layout this year.

  3. We have friend doing a long camino from Germany now nearing Leo . We enjoyed your book and it helped us to imagine where she was and what she had been seeing

    • Thanks so much, Lee. It always makes me happy to hear kind words about my book. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope your friend is having a safe and pleasant journey.

  4. Hi Randall, I am walking the French route alone as from 1 May this year. I have only come across your blog now and I love it. I am going to try and get a copy of your book – but I am leaving South Africa in two weeks. Is there an outlet at St Jean that stocks your book?
    With best wishes

    • Hans, first of all, I want to wish you a safe and rewarding journey. I started my French Way on April 29th, so you are going at the same time of year. I wish you the best of weather too. As for my book, I don’t know of any stores in St. Jean that have my book. It is available at the Book Depository http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Camino-de-Santiago-20-Days-Randall-St-Germain/9780987709004 with many parts of the world having free shipping. You may want the Kindle edition instead. There are free Kindle apps for smart phones. Let me know if I can help with anything else and thanks for stopping by. Buen Camino 🙂

  5. In the last several days I decided that this, the camino, is exactly what I’d like to be doing with my time off… I arrived in Biarritz by chance and then read your blog and it solidified my plans to do a small portion of the camino… iI had already spent the last three days hitchhiking/walking 900km down from Paris as a bit of a warm-up… Im just looking for a little advice: How does one find a list of hostels, along the camino and how does one prepare food wise?

    • Hi Michael. Sorry to take so long. There should be an alberque guide given to you at the Pilgrim Office in St. Jean. There are also up to date ones online. I know the Camino de Santiago forum has one that you can print out or download to your smartphone. As for food, you should have read my book 😉 Seriously, there are stores, bars, and restaurants along the way. The larger centers have supermarkets. It depends how much you want to spend. You can eat at restaurants two or three times a day, or buy something at a store and either eat it during your breaks, or after you arrive at the albergue. I hope that helps a little. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  6. Hi Randall! I absolutely love your blog posts. It just confirmed that this is what I want to do when I finish my semester abroad in Rennes, France. I am a 20 year old Canadian and want to do the leg from France to Spain through the Pyrenees. If I could get in touch with you about some details and advice you could give me I would love that! Thanks again for sharing your experience.
    Danica Steele

  7. Michelle Gatto June 12, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Hi Randall-
    I am going to be walking my first Camino and feel a little worried about starting off at Saint Jean Pied de Port. I am a 47 year old woman who is in pretty good shape but I have never done anything like this…I lost my son to a car crash almost 2 years ago and walking the Camino just feels like the only thing to do…
    I live in Txas where it is very hot and I walk about 4 miles a day in the hill country where it get’s to about 100 degrees…HOT! Thought…? Your pictures are stunning and Thank you! Michelle

    • Michelle, I am sorry to hear about your son. Walking in his memory is the thing to do. I’m sure he would be pleased and proud.
      Regarding the weather, it’s difficult to predict. It can get very hot in the summer, especially on the Meseta. Walking 4 miles in the heat is one thing but you know walking that far each day will take a long time to get to Santiago. If it’s hot, start at dusk and stay out of the heat of the day. That would give you 7 hours or so and you could get a nice bed and relax for the afternoon and eve. If you have a cool day, walk longer and walk less on the hot days.

      You’ll get to know what you can and can’t do on the Camino fairly quickly. For many of us, walking in the heat can be energy draining and even dangerous. Don’t over do walking on hot days. Have a safe journey. Your son will be with you. Buen Camino 🙂

  8. Hello Randall St. Germain,
    Enjoy and appreciate your writings. I too live in Canada. I plan to take this trip alone in the spring 2016–never done anything like it before and I’m middle-age. Would like to go when the weather is not too hot but the trees and flowers are all in bloom and best of colouring. Can you please tell me what month in the spring you think best.
    Also, one place I enquired is asking a fortune and in US$. It’s too much for me. Do you think I can find a place to sleep each night just as I arrive at each location or is that not a good idea? Do I have to book my lodging in advance (too much stress!) Have never stayed at a hostel and am considering doing this but would want a private room. Your opinion please.
    Any hints or advice you can give me would be very much appreciated. Thank you Randall!
    Kind regards,

  9. Hello Lynn,
    I believe your Camino begins when you have it in your mind to go and planning is all a part of it. First of all, I wouldn’t overplan. I couldn’t imagine trying to book every night in advance. There is so much that could happen – bad weather, tiredness, injury on the negative. Perhaps you may find somewhere you want to stay for an extra day or 2 or have days where you walk less than expected. I would only book your first night in St. Jean and leave the rest. I would also try not to book your return flight in advance or have some flexibility, if possible, depending on how your Camino goes.

    As for rooms, the best way to meet others is in the albergues and I would recommend staying in as many as possible. They are part of your Camino experience. I also fully understand in needing a private room now and then to properly rest and have some alone time. These opportunities are along the way and you will pass hostals (private small rooms) and hotels along the way. Hostals are usually inexpensive.

    As for time of the year, I recommend starting in late April/early May if you want to see flowers. The weather can get warm, but you will also escape the Summer heat. However, there is also the chance of poor weather like I had. You can’t predict this too far out, so you have to accept the weather and make it part of your Camino. As for other tips, please read my book 🙂
    Take care and Buen Camino.

  10. Hi Randall – would you suggest spending a whole day in St Jean and two nights before starting Camino? I am travelling from Paris by train and assume from calculations it will take the best part of a day if I leave early. A late afternoon arrival won’t allow much time to look around St Jean and get organised. I enjoyed your wonderings around St Jean…thinking this might be a good way to start the journey.
    Thank you for your opinion.

  11. Yes I would stay two nights if you’re arriving late. It amazed me that I met some that would arrive in the afternoon and actually start walking. I would book a place before arriving but an albergue may not allow you to stay for both nights. The next morning, you can relax, visit the pilgrims office and go walk a walk in the beautiful town. I would make sure to stay in an albergue for at least the second night. Check in at the earliest time and have the pilgrims dinner. You will get an idea of the albergue life, although no two are the same. You will also get to meet fellow pilgrims and may also find someone to walk with if you wish. Getting organized is also a good idea. You may be surprised how many items are discarded along the Camino on the first day from pilgrims who carried too much. I wish you the most pleasant of journeys, and some fine weather too. Buen Camino 🙂

  12. would a reasonably fit woman of 71 find it to hard to walk the whole trip, not in 20 days LOL

    • Hi Eve. Of course you can. Please check with your doctor first but I saw pilgrims of all ages. In fact, one of my companions on the Camino del Norte was in his 60s and I could barley keep up at times. You will get to know you fitness very well. Just be patient and take it easy, especially at the start. Don’t worry about 20 days. I wish you all the best and Buen Camino 🙂

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