The most popular route when doing the Camino de Santiago Compostela is the Camino Frances. And it starts in this tiny but enchanting Basque village in the south of France. Saint Jean Pied de Port or SJPP literally translates to “Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass”. That mountain is the Pyrénées. Pilgrims or peregrinos congregate here and many small inns and albergues accommodate them. The Pilgrims Center gives out camino route maps and the village parish priest blesses pilgrims who attend mass services. But SJPP is really more than just the starting point for a camino or pilgrimage walk. And one need not be a pilgrim to appreciate this village called Donibane Garazi in Basque.
There’s the old bridge over the River Nive in this old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre. Within the “walled area”, one can walk on the ramparts or go up and down the charming streets called Rue de France, Rue de Espagne and Rue de la Citadelle. The cobblestoned streets are lined with shops and restaurants. The Pilgrims Center is located in here, along the path towards the Citadelle. Some deli and pastry shops have balconies or windows overlooking the river and the old bridge.
I’ve seen many locals and a few tourists (it’s still early for the Camino season) go up the Citadelle from where a panoramic view of the village outside the walls can be glimpsed. In Place de Trinquet, there are more inns and dining places to choose from. It’s lovely just walking up and down these streets, within and outside the walls. The atmosphere is also very congenial as many solo camino walkers are open to making friends and gaining camino buddies. One can never be alone here in SJPP. Saying “Buen Camino” has become the norm. In the village church near the clock tower, the parishioners engaged me in an animated chat seeing I’m “solo” and from the Philippines, which I think is a rarity. Many pilgrims come from France and Spain.
SJPP is lovely, even with an overcast sky or even if it rained the late afternoons and evenings we were here. There’s wine to partake to while away cold evenings and the tiny chocolate shops can be tempting. When the sun’s out in the morning, it can still be freezing cold but a good walk is not a bad idea. You can even trace the start of the camino if you like by simply going all the way through the Rue de Espagne and then following the camino signs. Try the first three (3) kilometers venturing out of the village if you like. In no time, you’d find bleating sheep and dogs let loose on country roads.
So how about it? Ready for a walk? Be sure to wear comfy shoes to navigate the cobblestoned paths and a windbreaker to shield you from the wind especially as you hike up the Citadel. Buen Camino!