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St. Jean Pied de Port is the starting point for the majority of pilgrims walking the Camino Frances/French Way to Santiago de Compostela.
It’s a small town and easy to navigate around:
(click on any photo to enlarge)
Pilgrims arrive to this picturesque French Basque town either by train, bus or taxi.
The train station, which is a 15 minute walk to the town centre:
It’s also here that busses arrive and leave for the French city of Bayonne; a popular transit point for international pilgrim arrivals. I also met a few pilgrims who took shared taxis from Bayonne and who paid about 20 Euros each for the journey.
The main bus/coach station, also a 15 minute walk from the centre, is a less frequented arrival point for pilgrims:
In addition, there is the option of arriving from Pamplona (Spain) and one bus a day arrives to a car park located about 5 minute’s walk from the centre of St. Jean Pied de Port:
Hitching is also an option if wanting to get to St. Jean on a budget and it is relatively easy to do so in France. Having your destination written on a piece of cardboard for example will greatly increase your chances of success. You should though of course be aware of the potential dangers of hitching. Female pilgrims are advised to hitch in pairs.
If you are walking into St. Jean from the Le Puy Way then you will arrive to the town through the northern gate:
The first thing you should do when you arrive to St. Jean Pied de Port is to arrange accommodation pronto, because it can get pretty busy here and there are only so many available sleeping options for pilgrims.
My advice is to head directly to 39 Rue de la Citadelle (the main artery street of St. Jean’s centre) and it’s here that you will find the extremely helpful and informative St. Jean Pied de Port pilgrim office which offers free wifi internet:
The office opening times:
Some of the very helpful (multilingual) volunteer staff at the office who kindly posed for this photo:
Here at the office you can register your name and country of origin and receive your pilgrim passport for a small fee of a few Euros only:
The volunteers provide detailed information of pilgrim albergues (hostels) along the route to Santiago and also detailed information about the terrain and any other tips or warnings which will be relevant for the time of year that you arrive in.
Also importantly, here the volunteers can book your night’s stay in St. Jean, in one of the many albergues located in the centre which form an association in the town; meaning that you will be guaranteed a pair price and safe and secure conditions. How the system works is that you pay the office whatever the night’s fee is and then you are given a payment confirmation slip which you then take with you to the albergue when it’s time to check in. The last time I arrived to St. Jean I stayed in a wonderful albergue (Refuge du 55) and it cost me only 8 Euros per night including breakfast:
You can read more about this option here:
Be warned that it is only possible to stay 1 night in association accommodation, so if you plan on staying longer in St. Jean then you will need to find a private accommodation option for other nights.
Be also warned though that it can get very busy at the office and my advice is to (if possible) arrive to St. Jean in the morning and before the surge of pilgrim numbers descends on this little Pyrenees town. I arrived to the office in the morning when there were just a few pilgrims in the office, but later in the afternoon when I returned I could hardly move inside because of the sheer number of pilgrims jostling for their turn at one of the information desks and plus there was of course a long line of pilgrims outside waiting to take their turn inside the office. The other issue with arriving late to St. Jean is that you might find that all affordable accommodation options are taken:
Regarding eating options, St. Jean is a bit of a tourist trap and prices are higher than in other villages and towns in the area. My advice is to take a short walk to the local Carrefour supermarket, which is located close to the main bus station, and where you can shop much cheaper than if you did in the centre of town. I also advise to buy food and liquids for the next day’s walk over the Pyrenees and into Spain.
An early morning’s start is recommended when leaving St. Jean for the walk over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles. Walk south down the Rue de la Citadelle, past the church and over the bridge:
Then continue onwards up the Rue d’Espagne:
Through the south gate:
And follow the directions for Roncevaux:
The first day’s walk to Roncesvalles in Spain (Roncevaux) is the most difficult of the entire Camino frances/French Way stretch to Santiago, but also one of the most beautiful. You can read more about this first day’s walking stage here:
If you have any questions about St. Jean Pied de Port or if you wish to add information, then please feel free to leave a comment or question in the Reply box below.