Day 1 St Jean to Roncesvalles

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Day 1 St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles 24km, 7 to 8 hours.

Next Day: Roncesvalles to Larrasoana

Last Day: Arzua to Santiago de Compostela

St Jean Pied de Port it is a beautiful bustling French market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees which separates France and Spain. In St Jean you can buy most last minute items, like a hat or suncream.

St Jean Pied de Port is the traditional starting point for the Camino Frances, the most popular Camino route which also has the best infrastructure.  This however makes the route very busy during the peak summer months of July and August.

Map St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles Camino FrancesBefore setting out check the weather forecast in the pilgrim’s office at the top of the main street, 39 Rue de la Citadelle. They will also supply you with your pilgrim’s passport and information on the route ahead with an updated lists of hostels.  It is advisable to check here for any last minute information.

The first day on the Camino Frances is the hardest of the whole route.  It is the first day, and your body is probably not used to walking all day carrying a rucksack, if you have packed more than 10% of your body weight you will know about it quickly.  However you will know after a while anyway as your body objects to this extra burden and begins to adapt.  The route from St Jean is steep and climbs from 200 metres above sea level to just above 1,400 meters then descends steeply back down again into Roncesvalles at 900 metres, which can be hard going on your knees and shins.

It is advisable to only start this day if you have a full day ahead and leave early.  You could start half way through the day if you have booked yourself into Orrison, which is about 8km out of St Jean. There are two routes from St Jean to Roncesvalles, the Napoleon Route if you are walking and the Valcarlos route, (road route), if you are cycling – though many cyclists use mountain bikes and travel along the same paths as the walkers.

St Jean Pied du Port All services, inc. bar, cafe, restaurant, bank, ATM, medical, pharmacy, shops, post office, pilgrims office –

Municipal Hostel, 55 Rue de la Citadelle, €8, 32 beds, W, D, K, B, Tel: 559370509, Web: Open all year.

Beilari, private, 40 Rue de la Citadelle, €26, 18 beds, Half Board – Diner, Bed & Breaskfast, Bike, Tel: +33 (0) 55 93 72 468, Web: Formally L’Espirit du Chemin.  They will also provide a snack lunch for the next day for €4.  Open April 1st to November 1st

Auberge du Pelerin, 25 Rue de la Citadelle, private, €16, 48 beds, W, D, B€5, M€12, @, Bike, Tel: +33 (0) 55 94 91 086, Web: Open mid March to 30 th October

Gite Ultreia, private, 8 Rue de la Citadelle, €16, 15 beds, W, D, B€4, @, Bike, Tel: +33 (0) 680884622, Web: Open April to Mid October.

Maison Kaserna, private, 43 Rue d’Espagne, €15, 12 beds, W, D, M€11, Tel: +33 (0) 559376517

Le Chemin Vers L’Etoile, private, 21 Rue d’Espagne, €17, 18 beds, B&B, W, D, K, Bike, Tel: +33 (0) 559372071, Web: Open all year, but reservations required Nov to March

Refuge Esponda, private, 9,Rue du Trinquet, €14, 14 beds, K, W, Tel: +33 (0) 679075252

Auberge Compostella, private, 6 Route D’Arneguy, K, Tel: +33 (0) 559370236

Auberge Azkorria, private, 50 Rue de la Citadelle, €18, 8 beds, W, D, M, @, Tel: +33 (0) 559370053, Open all year.

Leaving St Jean walk down the beautiful main street and start walking uphill through the old town gate.  The Camino signs are impossible to miss and unless you are walking mid winter there will also be a steady stream of pilgrims in front of and behind you. Have some food and your water bottle full.

Take it easy.  The Camino is not a sprint, it is a marathon; one that can be enjoyed and savoured.  Although the walk up the Pyrenees is difficult it is immensely rewarding.  The peace and silence is a precursor of the times ahead on the Meseta. The views are stunning and if you do stay in Orrison overnight it is worth getting up early as the views in the morning sun are stunning.

In the first Pilgrims’ Guide written by the French monk Aymeric Picaud in about 1130 he refers to St Jean Pied de Port as a place where Pilgrims are attacked by evil tax collectors with clubs as they try to collect extortionate taxes; a stark warning that a pilgrimage was not easy 900 years ago especially compared to our easy comforts today.

Orisson, bar/ cafe, water

Refuge Orisson, private, Orisson, €33, 18 beds, D, M, B, Bike, Tel: +33 (0) 559 491 303 Web: Open March to Oct recommend booking in advance as gets very busy.

After Orisson you come to Biakorre where there is a statue of the Virgin. From here the views stretch into the distance as far as Pic d’Aspe and the Somport Pass where the Camino Aragones passes from France into Spain. This area once held a medieval pilgrims hostel of which nothing remains.

Approaching Roncesvalles there is a choice of two paths.  At this point you will see the monastery below nestled in the valley surrounded by trees.  One path goes straight down the hill side and is steep and can be dangerous, (an old Roman Road) – the other to the right is much easier and better underfoot, but slightly longer.  Both routes bring you out at the rear of the Collegiate Church in Roncesvalles.


Roncesvalles, bar, cafe, hotels

Refugede Peregrinos, Parochial, €10, 180 beds + overflow tents, W, D, K, @, V, Cred, Bike, Tel: 948 760 000 Web: Open all year.

Roncesvalles is considered one of the earliest pilgrims’ hospices.  It also became one of the most wealthy receiving endowments from all over Europe. Within the monastery is a 13th century Collegiate Church which holds a 14th century statue of the Virgin of Roncesvalles, Sancho VII tomb, and the chains which Sancho is supposed to have brought back from fighting the Moors.

The monastery also contains a museum which houses the Charlemagne Chess-set, along with other valuable pieces.

Key: W = Washing, D = Drying, M = Menu, @ = Internet, K = Kitchen, B = Breakfast, V = Vending, Cred  = Credential, Bike = Bike Storage

Please let me know if there are any omissions or errors in the comments below, they will be integrated within the page, or email caminoadventures @




St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles Elevation Map

This is an extract from some writings of mine at the time, I stopped at Orisson the first time I walked:

St Jean Train StationI paid €28 for my night in the Orisson, that was for diner and my bed in a small dorm. Okay price wise, but hell I thought if I had to pay every night like that. However this was the most expensive until I reached Santiago. The host in the Orisson was great, friendly, the whole place is run well and I recommend it.

The money was worth it. The views in the morning from the Orisson are great, looking down on smaller mountains, with the morning mist floating in the valleys.

It is about 14 or 15 km to Roncescalles, to me it felt so much more. But today it was not all up hill again. The views are just incredible, film like. I felt like I wanted to fall into the beauty of my surrounding and be swallowed up in peace.

Eagles and buzzards flew overhead. Eagles alone or in pairs, buzzards in packs. Sometimes they flew only 20 or 30 metres above me; and I could hear the noise of their wings as they soared through the sky, catching the morning thermals.

My feet hurt.

The walk down into Roncesvalles was hard on my knees. It is very steep going down, however the views down into the valley are somewhat distracting. Tonight my first taste of a real albergue.



What to see and do:

  • St Jean Pied de Port itself and the Church of Notre-Dame
  • Biakorre – A statue of the Virgin Mary on the route – about half way
  • Roncesvalles – the Collegiate church itself
  • The church of Santiago – Roncesvalles
  • Sancti Spiritus chapel, an ossuary for many pilgrims – Roncesvalles
  • Charlemagne’s chess set – Roncesvalles
  • In 1998, the Porte St-Jacques (city gate) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the sites along the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France


St Jean to Roncesvalles Photos

This is the first day’s photos from St Jean Pied de Port over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles.

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