In Saint Jean Pied de Port at the foot of the Pyrenees, on the banks of the Nive in the department of Pyrénées Atlantiques, belonging to the French region of Aquitanie, begins this stage considered by many as the starting point of the French Way and that will take us up the Pyrenees to the monumental Roncesvalles-Orreaga. An itinerary that by its style, practically in its totality without intermediate populations and by its running, crossing some demanding Pyrenees, will put us the first day in the skin of the ancient pilgrims, enjoying spectacular landscapes and a not inconsiderable mountain route. The first kilometres of the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago begin in Saint Jean Pied de Port, taking us through the 24.8 kilometres of stage 01 Saint Jean Pied de Port-Roncesvalles. We will pass by the church of Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, to cross the river Nive to enter the Rue D'Espagne, an old district of merchants and craftsmen that still retains all its charm.
La Porte d'Espagne directs us in the right direction, as could not be otherwise given its name. The long and demanding ascent takes us through the old Roman road from Bordeaux to Astorga, called Via Aquitaine used by the Napoleonic troops as a step in the invasion of Spain. Few remains remain of this communication route that goes into the Pyrenees and allows us to enjoy a beautiful view from the Viewpoint of France. The peaks of Pic D'Orissons, Itchachéguy or D'Hostatéguy envelop us in green pastures hiding privileged corners such as the figure of the Virgin of Biakorre, perched on rocks and dominating wide valleys. From here and already to good height, the French Way is saying goodbye step by step of France not without before passing next to the humilladero of the Cross of Thibault point in which we abandoned the relative comfort of the asphalted track that brought us until here to direct us towards the Source of Roldan place that remembers this officer of Charlemagne, defeated by the Basques next to his army has by the year 778.
Shortly after a stone milestone warns us of the entry of the Way of St. James in Navarre that gives way to a slight change of landscape to be introduced into a lush forest that accompanied us to the Refuge of Izandorre. Now little separates us from the Collado de Lepoeder and its magnificent location, which allows us to enjoy spectacular views of part of the territory that the French Way travels through Navarre. Two options arise in front of us, a strong descent through the thick beech forest that we have at our feet and that will take us direct to Roncesvalles-Orreaga or a more comfortable descent and somewhat longer but that will allow us to know the Hermitage of San Salvador and the Monument to Roldán in the Alto de Ibañeta.
From here we will descend through the forest to Roncesvalles-Orreaga, where we will see its monumental complex formed by the Collegiate Church of Santa María, which began to be built under the patronage of the Navarrese king Sancho VII El Fuerte, the Silo of Charlemagne or Chapel of the Holy Spirit which is the oldest construction being from the 12th century and the Chapel of Santiago, a 13th century Gothic construction.
To get to Saint Jean Pied de Port the main access roads are the D-918 which, together with the D-932, link it to the coastal towns of Saint Jean de Luz and Bayonne respectively and the D-933 which connects it from Guinarthe Parenties, in all cases with direct communication with the A-64 La Pyrénéenne motorway. We can also arrive from the nearby Roncesvalles/Orreaga following the N-135 until the border crossing of Arnéguy and from there on the D-933 that crosses Saint Jean de Port in the direction of the A-64. From March to November there is a daily bus service from Pamplona that covers the route Pamplona-Saint Jean Pied de Port. For further information, the telephone number of the company providing the service is 902 422 242. Throughout the year, a bus shuttle service is available on the Saint Palais/Saint Jean Pied de Port/Saint Etienne de Baïgorry route. Once there, we must enter the historic centre of the town through one of the streets that, through the gates to the old walled enclosure, connect with the main street Rue de la Citadelle.
We start this stage at Saint Jean Pied de Port (0h 00min) descending the steep Rue de la Citadelle, passing by the church of Notre Dame du Bout du Pont and after crossing the river, we cross the characteristic Rue d'Espagne.
At the end of this street we cross the remains of the old wall of the city through the Puerta de España, finding ourselves at the next junction, on our right, the road where the variant of Valcarlos/Luzaide runs. This route follows the national route that joins Roncesvalles-Orreaga and Saint Jean Pied de Port through the port of Ibañeta, and it is advisable to opt for it on days when weather conditions are adverse and common sense if the ports that the usual route has are covered by snow.
Leaving to the right this variant of the Way, begins in this point the ascent, that did not finish until arriving at the Col de Lepoeder, by the highway that continues straight in front of us. After leaving to our right the detour towards the variant of Valcarlos in following crossing, the Way continues by the right leaving the road towards Saint Michel to ascend by a narrow local road that took us between villages and hamlets.
This first part, like the rest of the French territory, is marked by white and red marks, some yellow arrows and posters with the name of the Route of Napoleon.
The Way leaves behind a good number of crosses that give access to the different hamlets and villages, allowing us to recover our breath to face the next hard ramp that we will find.
The road meanders up and over the hills that stand in the way for a short while and after crossing a wooded area, where we leave on our right a junction, we continue straight on the main track and begin a steep slope that will take us to the small village of Hunto/Hountto, thus climbing to the beginning of the ascent to Pic D'Orissons.
This intense ascent gives no respite and shortly after leaving the village the Way leaves the asphalt track to follow its old layout by a dirt road thus avoiding us to travel the long curve that makes the track.
This part of the ascent does not loosen its intensity by quickly gaining height and describing the very characteristic zetas of the itineraries that save a great slope.
Just 1 km further on and after finding an endless number of paths that pilgrims more in shape or faster have traced to avoid a few meters, we find the asphalted track where we continue ascending the few meters that separate us from the Lookout of France (2h 40min) where we can take a break and enjoy the magnificent views it offers.
After recovering our strength, we continue the steep ascent, now along the eastern slope of the mountain. Luckily, the slope softens and we even have to descend a short stretch, which allows us to catch our breath for the next ascent.
We leave behind us a farmhouse and we border a hill to change of hillside of the mountain, now the route passes by the hillside of the Pic D'Orissons oriented to the east.
The less pronounced ascent continues along the asphalt track and leaves behind paths and occasional detours that lead to nearby farms.
Little by little and with some slopes of a somewhat more demanding level and without leaving the asphalt track at any time we are skirting half a hillside Pic D'Orissons and Itchachéguy to reach the hill where the Virgin of Biakorre is situated (4h 20min) from where we can contemplate both hillsides of the mountain.
Leaving on the left a track that descends towards a nearby farm, the Way continues its much gentler ascent now following the asphalted track that runs through wide meadows of pastures.
We leave on our left a couple of roads that bring us closer to the opposite side of the mountain and also on our right the road that leads to Arnegi-Arnéguy, well signposted, in addition to some access to farms.
Shortly before any curve we find shortcuts that shorten the route, in the area is common dense fogs and although these shortcuts do not separate much from the road and with good visibility are clearly defined but it is advisable not to leave the asphalt track if the fog is dense to avoid getting lost.
After a while of traveling along this road that allows us to enjoy the landscape and recover from the effort made so far, we arrived at the Cross of Thibault (5h 40min) moment in which now yes, we say goodbye to the track that brought us here.
This is the point that causes more problems to pilgrims, we are in the middle of the mountain and although it is well signposted, the days of bad weather the orientation becomes very complicated and the weather conditions may have made the journey here very hard.
Leave the road on your left and head diagonally away from it towards the pass between two rocky hills facing the cross.
The Col de Bentarte is the natural passage to Spain, again we face a demanding ramp this time by a decomposed path that ascends to this hill.
After passing between these two rocks, the path smooths over half a slope, leaving a steep ravine on our right until we reach the hill, at which point we find a bifurcation of the path, now converted into a dirt track, in which the path to follow is the one on the right and leads us to the Roldan Fountain, the entrance to Spain and the Muga of Navarre.
From here begins the ascent to the Col de Lepoeder, a much more comfortable path that he has taken until now, which runs halfway up the slope, partly through the interior of a leafy forest.
Without leaving the main road, after leaving to the left and right the few detours we find and facing the slides that await us on the road, we reach the height of the Izandorre Refuge (6h 55min) after leaving on our right a track that descends towards the valley.
From the refuge start a good number of paths and dirt tracks, our path continues straight on starting the last part of the ascent of the stage by the track to the right of the two that is presented in front of us.
Our next objective is close but we still have a long way to go to overcome the slope that separates us from it. To the Lepoeder Pass (7h 30min) we arrive after overcoming some ramps whose slope becomes stronger because of the accumulated fatigue than because of its real demand, which undoubtedly has it.
The dirt track that brought us here is the asphalted track that ascends from Ibañeta and to our right, at the edge of the asphalted track from where we have a magnificent panoramic view of what awaits us in the next stages, we will see marked by a wooden post and a concrete milestone the beginning of a path that descends the earth slope until we reach a crossroads marked with signs.
In this place we will have to decide if we follow the direct route that means facing a strong and complicated descent through the forest or on the contrary we decide for the one on the right, recommended for cyclists and very advisable for the rest of pilgrims on days of rain or bad weather, which takes us to the top of Ibañeta to meet the variant that comes by Valcarlos-Luzaide, much more progressive and easy, this second option means facing just 1 km more and a little more than 5 or 10 min to total time.
The Way begins the descent towards Roncesvalles/Orreaga leaving on the right the Ibañeta variant, a first path shows us what is ahead. The route meets the asphalted track that we left before at the top of the cabbage, to cross it to continue descending.
It is when we look at the edge of the track that we become aware of the slope that we have to descend. In good weather and road conditions it is important to take this part of the road with calm and caution, there are many kilometers that we carry, which added to the weight of the backpacks, can make the descent complicated.
The long ramp runs through the interior of the beech forest following the white and red markings that delimit the path in not very good condition and plagued with small paths to the edges of the path made by pilgrims in search of better areas to bridge the slope.
The first section of the route crosses the edge of the forest to definitively enter it and soften the slope thanks to the zigzagging drawn by the path, beginning then a series of toboggans with which we save a couple of hills that come before our destination. This area of the itinerary, even in the middle of summer, is usually very humid and muddy, contributing to our progress being somewhat slower than normal.
Shortly before the top of the second hill we begin another descent of a certain intensity that leads us to a crossroads, perfectly signposted, where we have to turn off and follow the path to the right.
The path ends when you reach a clearing of the forest, a little further ahead, on a dirt track where we continue straight in the same direction we take.
The Way crosses this track arriving at a metallic door that gives access to a small recreational area and after crossing, thanks to a bridge, the stream of Arrañosín to reach a large car park.
We can go straight on or cross the car park diagonally in search of the track that runs through the back of the Silo of Charlemagne and the Collegiate Church, turning right when you reach it. Following the limit that these buildings represent, at the end of these we find on the right with the dirt track where the variant comes down from Ibañeta and in front of us a small street that follows the facade of the building and where we continue to find a passage that crosses giving us entrance to the inner courtyard.
In this courtyard in front of us we see another passage that takes us to the entrance of the Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles-Orreaga (8h 20min) where this stage ends.
We leave on the left the descent through the forest to continue along the edge of the trees, descending gently in search of the asphalt track we left behind, which we reach after descending the path that crosses the small earth slope that separates us from it.
The Way continues by this asphalt track that descends meandering by the mountain, we can follow its route without fear to lose us or to take advantage of the paths that in each pronounced curve shorten the route.
These shortcuts are marked by red and white marks in addition to some yellow arrow and sometimes give us a stretch through the forest taking advantage of its freshness.
The shortcuts run through green meadows of pastures so they are not very advisable if they are wet because of their slope and type of road are quite slippery, just as if there is fog is better not to leave the asphalt track.
At the end of the track and after passing a trellis we leave on our right a path that enters the forest to follow guided front of the silhouette of the Hermitage of San Salvador (8h 05min) and the high where the monument to Roldan.
Just when arriving at the height of the hermitage the track ends in the road that gives access to the parking of this place and to our left we see inside a meadow, an informative sign and the path, that bordering the meadow takes us up to a small wooden door where the Way continues.
Once you have crossed this gate, the path, in quite good condition, enters a beautiful forest to continue the comfortable descent through its interior until you reach a dirt track where we continue on the right away from the interior of the valley.
After crossing a metal gate, this track meets the other path that goes down from Col de Leopoeder and to the right the alley that leads to the passage that leads to the interior of Roncesvalles-Orreaga (8h 25min).
There is barely a 1 km difference between the two routes on the descent to Roncesvalles.
Time that this stage will take us, the variant of the Alto de Ibañeta although with just 1 km more does not mean much more time than the direct route, as the better general state of the route helps us move faster. In addition we can cut through the paths that avoid the curves of the layout, thus decreasing the distance and time a little.
In winter it is very common to find the highest sections totally snowed, remaining practically impassable, this possibility, together with the more than usual bad weather, has made it necessary to prohibit unauthorised passage along this route from November until April. The landscape is spectacular offering us different combinations of colours in each period. With practically no shaded areas until the end, in summer it is advisable to take advantage of the coolness of the sunrise to get high and be able to enjoy the day calmly.
Recommended hiking boots and clothing according to the time of year and weather conditions, as well as warm clothing and rain even being summer, equipped backpack, canes, canteen and food. You can not miss the camera, sunglasses and sunscreen, we also recommend a map of the area with the route. Consult our list of material and equipment to make the Way. Read more
Perhaps the most demanding stage of the entire Way, if not one of them, although the distance is within the average, the difference in level that we have to overcome is very considerable. More than half of the route is uphill and the final part presents a strong descent that does not contribute to let us rest. Therefore we must know and assess our physical condition before assuming this stage and we will not have intermediate points where we can stop, thus varying the distance to be covered. The first part of the itinerary is where the greatest unevenness accumulates, beginning to face it as soon as you leave Saint Jean Pied de Port, for this reason and above all it is advisable to take this first part very calmly, so that we pass the minimum possible bill later, especially to those less accustomed to this type of routes. Since it is usual to meet many pilgrims who begin their pilgrimage with a lot of desire and before arriving at Orissons have already had to leave, Santiago will wait for us one more day. The variant of Valcarlos/Luzaide is a little less demanding to save a little less unevenness.
We should not underestimate this area of the Pyrenees, it is a mountain pass and the characteristics of the area give it a particular climate that can vary quickly and go from a full summer day with more than 28 º to a situation of cold and humidity in which the wind chill is really low. In addition, the area is usually enveloped in dense fog that has already caused more than one disgrace, so it is essential to be well informed, the day before, of the weather forecast that is expected to decide whether to make the stage by the usual route or by the variant of Valcarlos / Luzaide. This variant has the problem that most of the route is made by the national road, with a lot of traffic and very twisty, having some sections parallel roads and paths that avoid us so much road, but even so with snow or dense fog we should not hesitate and use this, on the other hand nice alternative. The direct descent through the forest to Roncesvalles/Orreaga from the Col de Lepoeder is quite slippery and steep, so if we are bikers we should go for the variant of Ibañeta and if it is raining or has done so recently for the rest of pilgrims is also advisable. In addition the interior of the forest although signposted is tremendously easy to get lost to little fog that we have. In most of the route we will not have telephone coverage, in the Navarrese area of it there are some posts marking the point of coverage, and also find in the shelter Izandorre, a direct communication equipment with the 112 emergency.
In the French part, although we will find the typical yellow marks, the most common are those of the GR, red and white, although if we do not leave the asphalted track we do not have to have problems to reach the Thibault cross. Here begin with fog the problems to find the passage to Spain, since we leave the track and although in almost all the guides put as reference the two rocks where between them is the passage, the truth is that the fog days is possible that we do not get to see them, so this stage is advisable if you can do it in a group. Once we regain the road past this point we enter the Spanish part of it is well signposted and returns to run along a wide road. With snow the difficulty of orientation widens, the marks and signs are hidden, especially on the French side and the wide road disappears, in the Navarrese part we will find wooden posts that are not so easy to be covered by snow, but it is also true that it is the highest altitude, so it is highly inadvisable to embark on this tour when the mountains are snowed.
|1-Saint Jean Pied de Port
|30T 643493 4780502
|2-Lookout point of France
|30T 643303 4775418
|3-Virgin of Biakorre
|30T 642310 4771228
|4-Cross of Thibault
|30T 641084 4768797
|5-Entrance of the Way to Spain
|30T 641331 4767372
|30T 639412 4766383
|30T 638876 4765133
|30T 636939 4763268
|V01-Hermitage of San Salvador
|30T 636554 4764422
|30T 636939 4763268
Coordinates UTM Datum WGS84
This sketch of the route is not made to scale nor does it contain all the information relating to the area, it is merely indicative.
This schematic with the path is approximate and has been created from the derived cartographic base. © Instituto Geográfico Nacional "Cuadrante 091, 1:50.000".
Senditur has manipulated the tracks to correct the aberrant points that may exist, caused by problems with the reception of the GPS signal. In any case the tracks are always approximate. SENDITUR encourages you to use the new technologies within your reach, using them as support and consultation in your activity, not basing the realization and orientation of the same only and exclusively on them, since they may see their functioning altered by very diverse causes, not functioning correctly and their indications may not be precise.
En mi opinión una de las etapas más bonitas de todo el Camino de Santiago… o mejor dicho de todo el Camino Francés. Eso sí recomiendo tomarse con calma sobre todo el principio, el desnivel es bastante fuerte en algunas zonas. ¡¡Buen Camino!!
Una de mis etapas favoritas!!!
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¿Did you know that...
A few kilometres before Saint Jean Pied de Port, in the small village of Ostabat, three of the four historic roads through French lands join together to reach this locality, entered by the Porte de Saint Jacques and declared a World Heritage Site.
Don't miss out...
The visit to Saint Jean Pied de Port, its still marked medieval air with its citadel at the top of the hill from where the population engages, the cobbled streets where the church and the bridge over the river Nive are located, the ancient gates of entrance to the town, places that welcomed and welcome thousands of pilgrims and visitors.
From the commitment of SENDITUR with Nature and the respect to the balance of the environment, SENDITUR urges you to travel in a responsible way, with low environmental impact and respecting at all times the Natural, Cultural and Social environment wherever you go.
Besides sharing with all of us your experience on the route we would be grateful if you could write to us to inform us of any erroneous or outdated information you may have found, or simply to let us know what you think at Thank you.
This route has been carried out in the field by SENDITUR on 11-09-2018. The route may vary greatly depending on the time of year, weather conditions and terrain, as well as the actions of third parties and the evolution suffered in the natural environment where it is located. All opinions, advice and/or assessments made by SENDITUR in their descriptions are for guidance only and are subject to and/or refer to the specific conditions of the specific day of the route, referring to that specific day, taken from trained people, with the appropriate experience and with a high level of physical and technical preparation as a reference, as well as correctly equipped.
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