The three words: Camino de Santiago, encompass a lot of routes, from across Europe, all of them leading to Santiago de Compostela (or Saint Jacques de Compostelle in French, on map above). The most popular route is the Camino Francés – the heavy red section – through northwestern Spain. About 250,000 pilgrims get their official certificate at the end, every year. This is the Camino I’ll be doing in September and October of 2016.
Where to start?
Since only the last 100 km need to be walked to receive this official Camino certificate (200 km for those on bikes or horses), peregrinos (pilgrims) often start in Sarria, a city between Ponferrada and Santiago, a 100 km away from Santiago.
But a short walk didn’t appeal to me. I was looking for the spiritual growth, cultural immersion and the rigorous physical demands of a long trail. So I asked one of my friends, who’d done the Camino Francés, a couple of times, where I should start. He said, “Roncevaux.”
I laughed. When he didn’t laugh too, I realized he was serious.
There is a very good reason to choose this option. The photo above was taken of the town I plan to start from, St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a small French town on the other side of the Pyrenees from Roncevaux. So yes, as you’ve probably guessed, if you start in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the first day is a climb over the Pyrenees – 27.5 km, most of which is uphill. The last bit into Roncevaux is a fair drop in elevation.
Why start in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port?
Regardless of his suggestion, I have decided to start in St-Jean. Why?
The first reason is exactly the same as the incentive to evade the crossing; it’s the mountains. I’m not trying to test my endurance with this ascent (well, maybe just a little). It’s that I love, love, love mountains – their energy, the plant diversity, the changing terrain, the never knowing what’s around the corner, the big rocks to lean against while I take a rest, the constant challenge. Nothing about them is boring. And let’s not forget the views. Imagine turning around on the trail and taking the photo above? It would be a moment, never forgotten.
One of my other friends who has done the Camino told me to take my time on this climb. “The Pyrenees are one day,” she said. “Then they’re done. So enjoy it.”
It is possible to overnight on the Pyrenees, in Orisson, 8 km after St-Jean. I plan to cross this unusual range of moutains all in one day, but if I feel the need and there is availability in Orisson (only 28 beds), I might decide to.
One day at a time. It’s my new motto.
I like the French people and culture (being French myself, of course, though Québécoise and not from France) and enjoy spending time there, especially eating their food – I always feel I’m spoiling myself when in France – and drinking their wine. Do bakeries in St-Jean make mille-feuilles that are as good as the ones in Paris and Avignon? God, I sure hope so!
How long is it from St-Jean to Santiago?
The Camino Francés is 850 km long. It takes most people between 30 – 40 days to walk the distance. Another friend of mine (yes, I am surrounded by impressive people!) did it in 25 days. But that’s a pretty unusual feat.
She told me she walked, as far as she could, the first ten days. Then she realized it wasn’t the point of the pilgrimage.
I’ve given myself six weeks. It may be wishful utopia (or is that idealistic?), but I want to soak in my surroundings, practise my Spanish till I sound like a local, record my experiences and try to love every step I take, all in under 35 days.
Yep. It’s a pretty tall order.
Want to hang around and see how it all pans out?
Also, visit my Page: Upcoming Trip – Camino Francés, for any new developments on this awesome project. All new posts will be added to this page.
If interested in reading more on the Camino Francés, today, try the Wild Junket blog. It’s really good.