The start of the Camino Frances
The start of the Camino de Santiago Frances is officially located in Saint Jean Pied de Port. However, given the difficulty of the first stage of the tour, many people decide to start the Camino de Santiago Frances from Roncesvalles.
Every year hundreds of people contact us to ask where is the best place to start the Camino Frances, whether from Saint Jean Pied de Port or from Roncesvalles. For this reason, in Santiago Ways, we have decided to include in our blog of the Camino de Santiago a post that will help you to decide which starting point of the Camino Frances is the most suitable for you.
Where to start the Camino de Santiago Frances
Before we start talking about what it means to start the Cano Frances from Saint Jean Pied de Port, we want to make something clear. Both Saint Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles are the traditional starting places for the Camino de Santiago Frances.
The stage between Saint Jean Pied de Port de Roncesvalles faces a route of 24.1 kilometres with a climb of 1,250 metres. Not all pilgrims have the necessary physical condition to complete it, especially when it is the first day on the Camino Frances. There are still many kilometres ahead, and many pilgrims do not risk injuring themselves from the first day, facing such a harsh stage.
Here is how this famous stage presents itself and we give you some tips to start the Camino Frances from Saint Jean Pied de Port. We will also explain how to get to this French town.
The Camino Frances from Saint Jean Pied de Port
Starting the Camino Frances from Saint Jean Pied de Port implies starting your pilgrimage in France. As its name indicates (San Juan Pie de Puerto, in Spanish), this locality is located at the foot of the mountains that separate the border between France and Spain. That means that if you decide to start the Camino de Santiago from Saint Jean Pied de Port, in your first stage you will cross a border on foot.
This feat, besides the beauty of the landscape, has its historical interest. The first stage of the Camino Frances is known as the Napoleon route, as it was the route made by the French emperor, through the Pyrenees, to enter with his troops in Spain.
If you decide to start the Camino de Santiago French from Saint Pied de Port, you will have 33 stages and a total of 763.5 kilometres ahead of you. Next, we tell you how your first stage on the Camino Frances will be.
Stage from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles
The Camino Frances starts at the Nive Bridge of Saint Jean Pied de Port. Soon after you will find the two signs that will accompany you on this stage: the GR-65 and the classic Camino de Santiago scallop shell.
The first variant
The beginning of the Camino Frances soon puts the pilgrims in front of their teaching chalkboards and forces them to choose on several occasions between one itinerary or another. Therefore, it is not only necessary to decide whether to start the Camino de Santiago from Roncesvalles or Saint Pied de Port, but if you choose to start from this last locality, you will also have to decide which variant to follow.
Before leaving Saint Jean Pied de Port, heading for Roncesvalles, you will already find the fork dividing the two main variants of the first stage of the Camino Frances: Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostela and Arnéguy and Valcarlos.
The variant of Arnéguy and Valcarlos is less beautiful but simpler. By this route, the stage runs close to the road and passes by several localities.
The official route, known as the Napoleon Route, is the one that follows the route of Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostela. This stretch runs on the old Roman road that joined Bordeaux with Astorga.
This route, unlike the variant of Arnéguy and Valcarlos, runs through a mountainous environment, away from the urban nuclei. In fact, 5 kilometres after you start walking you pass through Huntto, this will be the last locality you’ll find until Roncesvalles.
The second variant
Following the Camino Frances along the route of Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostela, when reaching the highest point of the stage, the Lepoeder Pass, at 1,450 metres high, you will find a new fork in the road. The itinerary that runs through the forest of Mount Donsimon and the one that passes through the Alto de Ibáñez. This last option is somewhat longer (400 metres) but the descent to Roncesvalles is less pronounced.
The reward for starting at Saint Jean Pied de Port
We previously said that as well as the historical interest on the first stage of the Camino Frances, the route has landscapes of singular beauty. Below we explain some of the rewards that the Camino de Santiago has saved for you if you decide to start on your Camino Frances in Saint Jean Pied de Port.
Of course, if you start your pilgrimage from Saint Pied de Port, you will have the opportunity to visit this town with a medieval air. In it, you can visit the Citadel zone, the Church of Notre Dame or the medieval wall, among other places of interest.
You can also visit Roncesvalles. You can consult the information about the places of interest in each of the locations in our guide of the Camino de Santiago Frances. But in addition to all of the above, on the route, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery. One of the most outstanding is the beautiful panoramic views of Saint Jean Pied de Port and French Aquitaine that you will get after facing the first metres of ascent.
Another of the breath-taking views that the start of the Camino Frances gives you are those that are obtained from the highest point of this stage. Shortly after reaching the Lepoeder Pass, the lands of Navarre will open up in front of your eyes, as if it were a beautiful postcard, being crossed by the Camino Santiago.
If you choose the Ibañeta variant, you can also visit the Chapel of San Salvador and the Roldán Monument will cross your path. This monument commemorates the Battle of Orreaga – Roncesvalles and according to some historians, it indicates the place where Charlemagne found the corpse of Roldán.
Advice for starting the Camino Frances from Saint Jean Pied de Port
If you are thinking of doing the Camino Frances from the beginning, that is, from Saint Jean Pied de Port, it is important that you have good physical preparation. We recommend that you consult our training manual for the Camino de Santiago.
However, there are some tricks to tackle this tough stage without taking too many risks. Keep reading, in Santiago Ways we’ll give you some tips!
If you are not sure that you are able to finish the stage in a single day, if you make the Camino de Santiago by bike or if it is winter, we recommend you take the variant of Arnéguy and Valcarlos. You will find many more services, and if bad weather is encountered, you will find places to take refuge.
If you do not want to give up the official route of Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostela, you should know that on the route you will find several places where you can spend the night. So you can divide the first stage of the Camino Frances into two parts.
7.5 km after the start of the Camino de Santiago Frances, you will find the Orisson restaurant and hostel. This option is valid for all those who have ventured to finish this stage and that soon after their start realize that it is too hard.
The other alternative is to divide the stage at the Izandorre refuge. After this point, you will only have to ascend a little more and then descend to Roncesvalles. Of course, we recommend that you follow the Ibañeta variant, even if it is somewhat longer, has less height and is more attractive.
The Camino Frances from Roncesvalles
Considering Roncesvalles as the starting point of the Camino Frances is not a crazy idea either. The Camino Frances from Roncesvalles begins with a gentle journey through the Robledal de las Brujas, surrounded by legends, up to Zubiri. If you want to know more about the second stage of the Camino Frances, you can see it in our guide.
How to arrive at the beginning of the Camino
Whether you decide to start the Camino de Santiago in Saint Jean Pied de Port, or if you decide to do it from Roncesvalles, you will have to take some transport to the beginning of the Camino de Santiago Frances. Here we explain how to get to each of these places. But we would already indicate that both to go to Saint Jean Pied de Port and to reach Roncesvalles, the easiest thing is to do it from Pamplona.
How to get to Saint Jean Pied de Port
From Pamplona, you can take one of the buses that leave daily towards Saint Jean Pied de Port. In high season, one leaves every 2 hours. The price of the ticket is approximately 22 euros.
If you do not find a bus to Saint Pied de Port, an alternative is to take one that is directed to Roncesvalles. Once there you can take a taxi to Saint Pied de Port.
However, you should know that on Sundays there is no service. Therefore, the only option to get from Pamplona to Saint Pied de Port is to take a taxi.
How to go to Roncesvalles
If you decide to start the Camino de Santiago from Roncesvalles, you will also have to travel to Pamplona. There you can take a bus to the beginning of the Camino Frances. You can check the timetables here.
Now you have all the information to decide if you want the start of your Camino Frances to be Saint Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles. You only have to prepare the rest of the details of your pilgrimage, for that we have elaborated this practical guide for the pilgrim. If you would like to book your journey with a specialized agency, don’t hesitate to contact us.
If you have already completed the Camino Frances by starting to walk from Saint Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles, we would like to thank you for leaving us a comment with your experience. You can be sure that it will be useful to the rest of the pilgrims.