Walking the Camino Francés: SJPP to Roncesvalles

posted in: Adventure, Europe, Spain, Travel, Travel Journal | 16


We left Madrid today by train to arrive in Pamplona.  At the station, we encountered a bit of a misunderstanding, a taxi fiasco if you will.  Once it was all figured out, we began an hour long journey for only the strongest of stomachs.

Camino Frances Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Our driver whizzed through small villages randomly pointing out sections of the Camino trail in Spanish. He took hairpin turns at questionable speeds and had a short run-in with the police. It was quite the hair-raising experience.

We survived and made it to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port this afternoon. It is the official start of the El Camino de Santiago.


Camino Frances Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Just over the border from Spain in the Basque region of France, the town is nestled in the foothills of the Pyranees. It is as picturesque as they come. We wandered around and found a 17th century citadel, medieval wall, and a path along the river.


After exploring the town, we enjoyed our first pilgrim meal. The three course meal is offered at most restaurants along the route and is usually between 9 and 14 euros.

Tonight it included vegetable broth soup, strips of pork, fries, Basque cake and a glass of wine for thirteen euros. The dessert is a local tradition that tastes like a lemon filled pound cake. Yum!

After dinner, we slowly made our way back to Alburgue du Pelerin. Tonight we have a private room, shared bath with the most breathtaking view of the countryside. You can even see the city wall.

I can’t believe after months of talking and planning, it is finally happening. Tomorrow is day one and I can’t help but feel anxious and excited. I wonder if we’ll get any sleep?

I cannot believe we leave tomorrow!!


The bags started shuffling and muffled voices could be heard before dawn. Those going over the mountain today via the Napoleon route have a long day ahead of them.

Those of us that decided to take the side route, via Valcarlos, have a less intense day. We walk roughly eight miles to our next overnight so there is no hurry to get started too early.

We head out of our alburgue around 8am, most of the other pilgrims have already left. We search the tiny town for an open cafe so we can get a small breakfast and coffee to get us going.
Most of the shops and restaurants are closed, but we find one close to the beginning of the trail. We take a quick stop then head out for the beginning of our Camino adventure.

We walk on the road half of the time, but we are relieved to find it not that busy with passing cars. The countryside is dotted with green pastures, bunches of trees, and stone houses. We see lillies and stunted sycamore trees.

It is cool in the morning but as the day goes on, we shed our layers.

We arrive to an empty albergue a little after noon in Valcarlos, the sign says “Luzaideko Aterpea Albergue” but we are looking for Albergue de Valcarlos. Turns out they are the same place. 

I would consider today a great start! Nothing too challenging for our bodies for day one. Tomorrow will be a tough one though.

Day 2: Valcarlos to Roncesvalles

I have mixed feelings about today because half was road walking and the other half in a magical setting.  I hate being on the road, but at least we didn’t see much traffic.

The sections in the forest are lovely. The green moss glows and the treetops provide shade for us on the path. Many flowing waterfalls along the path  give us a peaceful background sound.

We came across a friendly local pointing us in the right direction. He even spoke a little English. We comment that he speaks it well and he says he hasn’t spoken English in forty years!
The last quarter of the day is tough with a constant steep climb so we arrive at the albergue exhausted. Tonight we are staying at a renovated monastery turned into sleeping quarters for at least 100 pilgrims, Albergue de Peregrinos Orreaga Roncasvalles. There are multiple floors with two sets of bunks in each sleeping section.

Camino Frances Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Camino Frances Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Tired but so far so good. I didn’t even ask myself once, “what was I thinking?”

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Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

16 Responses

  1. Laura Cerny

    We were in Santiago de Compostela last May and I would love to do the Camino. I’ll enthusiastically follow your trip.

  2. Danik

    I would love to go hiking in this area. Havent done anything like that yet in Spain but hope to do it one day. Loving the photos of places you explored in this area.

  3. Amalia

    I always imagined to do this! Don’t know if I could handle it but at least your photos look really nice and achievable!!

  4. Miranda

    What a lovely little trip! No matter where I go, I try to get a hike/walk somewhere in nature 🙂

  5. Edith

    This is so cool! I don’t remember the name of the movie I saw but it was about Camino de Santiago. It definitely got me interested in walking. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll find myself doing it. Great job walking it! I’m sure it’s something you’ll never forget!

  6. Juliette @ Snorkels To Snow

    Such an incredible journey to undertake – something I hope to achieve some day. A shame you had a hair-raising start and a run in with police?? You’ll have these memories forever.

  7. Ivana

    Beautiful photos 🙂 I would love to do el camino someday, all those towns are so picturesque!

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