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What was your experience on the Valcarlos Route?

Time of past OR future Camino
CF 2006,08,09,11,12(2),13(2),14,16(2),18(2) Aragones 11,12,VDLP 11,13,Lourdes 12,Malaga 16,Port 06
In all the years I've walked the Camino, I have never walked the Valcarlos Route.

Tell me about it.

Is it shorter? Longer? Steeper?

Have you done both routes?

Compare and contrast?

Thanks Peregrinos!
I'm just curious and wondering if maybe I'll go that way this year...
 
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Bradypus

Migratory hermit
Time of past OR future Camino
Too many and too often!
I've walked the Route Napoleon twice so chose the Valcarlos route for my third CF in September 2016. I found it an interesting alternative but in my opinion it lacks the stark beauty and drama of the high level route. I found it quicker to walk though and arrived at Roncesvalles far fresher than I would on the higher route. Having several places along the way to stop for coffee or a beer was a plus! The main downside for me were a few short road stretches with fairly heavy traffic and very narrow verges to walk on. I left SJPDP on an extremely busy day when the pilgrim office told me every albergue bed was taken by early evening. Yet I saw only 4 other pilgrims on the Valcarlos route until the Roland monument near Roncesvalles itself. It was astounding to walk into the abbey to find hundreds of people milling around - almost all of whom had gone the other way.
 

mspath

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Annie,

I have only walked the Valcarlos route but did it 10 times. You can read my comments re these adventures in my Camino Gazetteer.

The Pilgrim Office in SJPdP will give you a schematic map showing both routes.
Within SJPdP both caminos follow the rue de La Citadelle which becomes the rue d' Espagne after crossing the river and then the rue de Saint-Michel which will start to climb. At the first y junction the marker for the Valcarlos route turns right to follow along the Chemin de Mayorga and the marker for the Napoleon goes left.

There is off road walking but I would NOT take it at dawn/dusk. It would quickly get dark and dangerous in the wood.

When the path diverges off the road into the woods; I always followed the roads parallel to the path. The roads are fine but do walk on the left-side verges facing traffic.

If you walk at dawn/dusk wear something bright and csrry your light to flash towards on-coming traffic.

Between SJPdP and Valcarlos there is only one place for food/water/petrol near the old frontier; between Valcarlos and Roncesvalles there is NO place for food nor water. Hence you must be prepared!

Will you have a reservation in Valcarlos ? The municipal albergue is great and you can reserve there.

Happy planning and Buen camino!
 
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grayland

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
Yes
I have done both more than once.
In my opinion the Napoleon route is over hyped. Those who walk it continue the myth of danger and steep climbs OVER the mountain. It makes their accomplishment more meaningful when describing to others.
I do not take away from the difficulty or accomplishment...but again it is over hyped. Using the terms lower route and higher route adds to the myth of the Napoleon.

The Napoleon route is steep (but easily doable for anyone fit) for 7km to Orisson. After that it is a pretty gentle climb on mostly paved path and then a descent into Roncesvalles.
The ValCarlos route does not have the initial steep climb and has some level areas....but it has considerable up and down fluctuations that more than make up for the elevation on the Napoleon.
Both are challenging for the first day and both are worthwhile to walk.
The views on the Napoleon are not always there to enjoy.
 

Bradypus

Migratory hermit
Time of past OR future Camino
Too many and too often!
Using the terms lower route and higher route adds to the myth of the Napoleon.

I think you may be reading more into the expressions than is actually there. One reaches a higher altitude than the other. That is all the words mean. Any value judgements attached to that are in the mind of the reader.
 
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grayland

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
Yes
I think you may be reading more into the expressions than is actually there. One reaches a higher altitude than the other. That is all the words mean. Any value judgements attached to that are in the mind of the reader.

Actually, I am not reading anything into the expressions as I know the actual facts of the two routes.

My expressed concern was the judgement that will be made by those who have not yet experienced either route. The "higher" route gives an impression to many that it is a superior accomplishment. The term "lower" will lead many to conclude it is a lessor route.

Simply my opinion...but I feel that the ValCarlos route is very often wrongly demeaned by those who chose the Napoleon route.

ps: Roland....Do you think either one is a "hike" or a "pilgrimage walk"
 

nycwalking

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Ourense to Santiago (2019), CF: (2014, 2004, 2002, 2001). On to Fisterra, (2002, 4, 14).
I've done both. I took Valcarlos Feb. 2014. It was a nice route with a few fallen logs to overstep. And, just not scenic. I prefer the Pyrenees.

Buen camino.
 

Bradypus

Migratory hermit
Time of past OR future Camino
Too many and too often!
ps: Roland....Do you think either one is a "hike" or a "pilgrimage walk"

Now that you have given me some understanding of the subtle distinction privately I would have to say that the more popular route (note I make no further references to altitude :) ) is more of a hike than the other but I would not dare to say that the alternative is a "walk in the park" either. Whether either is a "pilgrimage walk" really is in the mind of the beholder :)
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Latest: Rota Vicentina '19; Portuguese '19.
Annie, if you've never walked the Valcarlos route after all your many years on the Camino, you need to just....do it!
It is lovely in spring with blossoming trees, and has its own charm with lots of varying terrain, villages and views. My eyes feasted on the beauty around me as I walked. I stayed the night in Valcarlos, taking my first day slowly. And by breaking it into two days, I arrived in Roncevalles early enough to get a bed without a reservation and as a plus I had no injuries.
 

HedaP

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances starting SJPdP Sept/Oct 2015, April/May 2017
I’ve done both and should I ever walk the CF again it would be the Valcarlos route again. I have an autoimmune disorder that combined with jet lag means I find the first couple of weeks physically challenging so it suits me to overnight at the half way point in Valcarlos. As said above, the downside is having to walk some stretches on the edge of a reasonably busy mountain road but the off-road paths are beautiful. The second day is more challenging than the first because of the steep incline, steeper than the Napoleon but a lot is off-road and I took it slowly and enjoyed it. Carry plenty of water on the second day as no water fountains.
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Colette Z

Happy Pilgrim
Time of past OR future Camino
CF; Norte; Ingles; Augustine; Portugues Central
In all the years I've walked the Camino, I have never walked the Valcarlos Route.

Tell me about it.

Is it shorter? Longer? Steeper?

Have you done both routes?

Compare and contrast?

Thanks Peregrinos!
I'm just curious and wondering if maybe I'll go that way this year...
WAlked it last March 19th. Beautiful, demanding, forest, running water about 15km. Nice municipal albergue. I would walk it again. I think too much is made of climbing the Napoleon route. Buen camino.
 

Colette Z

Happy Pilgrim
Time of past OR future Camino
CF; Norte; Ingles; Augustine; Portugues Central
Actually, I am not reading anything into the expressions as I know the actual facts of the two routes.

My expressed concern was the judgement that will be made by those who have not yet experienced either route. The "higher" route gives an impression to many that it is a superior accomplishment. The term "lower" will lead many to conclude it is a lessor route.

Simply my opinion...but I feel that the ValCarlos route is very often wrongly demeaned by those who chose the Napoleon route.

ps: Roland....Do you think either one is a "hike" or a "pilgrimage walk"

Thanks for that comment. I’ve heard people say that really I didn’t do a real Frances since I went via Valcarlos......I walked March 19th so not foolish enough to try to secretly climb the Napoleon (and there were 2 Brazilians rescued up there that day). I think these comments come from those more motivated by adventure than perhaps spirituality.
 

amocatnerak

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances April 2018, Frances October 2019
I did the Valcarlos route and broke up the first stage into two days. Really glad I did because I was jetlagged and exhausted! The first day was fairly easy and very pretty. The second day was, for me, the killer. The road walk wasn’t so bad, but the up-up-up-up-up trail through the forest was definitely challenging. Then there was the 90 mile an hour wind going over the top of the mountain. It nearly knocked me off my feet!!:eek: I got to Roncesvalles and said, “no mas!” I will stay the night.
 

easygoing

Camino Sharon
Time of past OR future Camino
I have walked the Camino Francis 7 times, twice in 2017 and 2018. (2019)
In all the years I've walked the Camino, I have never walked the Valcarlos Route.

Tell me about it.

Is it shorter? Longer? Steeper?

Have you done both routes?

Compare and contrast?

Thanks Peregrinos!
I'm just curious and wondering if maybe I'll go that way this year...
I walked it two years ago when the weather was foggy on the high route. I loved it. On a cold foggy day there were many opportunities for hot cocoa and it was a better introduction to the many miles through towns that lay ahead. I come from Washington State in the USA and am used to beautiful mountains and found the roads and hills of the high pass disappointing but the views are stunning. As for difficulty, it is a more gradual climb except for the last mile.
 

505badgolfer

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
frances
In all the years I've walked the Camino, I have never walked the Valcarlos Route.

Tell me about it.

Is it shorter? Longer? Steeper?

Have you done both routes?

Compare and contrast?

Thanks Peregrinos!

I'm just curious and wondering if maybe I'll go that way this year...
I did Valcarlos on April 26. It has a total elevation gain of about 3000' as opposed to about 4500' for Napolean. With Napolean, the agony comes at the beginning. With Valcarlos, the agony comes at the end. About two-thirds of the way with Valcarlos, there is a steep elevation gain of about 2000' over about one and a half miles. Pick your poison. Both are about 15 miles in length. On April 26 visibility was like pea soup, so there were no "stunning views" to be appreciated on the Napolean route.
 
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It is gorgeous. Go, Annie - you'll love it.
Besides the forest and the general quieter atmosphere, I particularly appreciate the fact that it's the authentic, original, way. It lacks the Hollywood hype, and that's nice too.
 

SYates

Camino Fossil AD 1999, now living in Santiago de C
Time of past OR future Camino
First: Camino Francés 1999
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Last: Santiago - Muxia 2019

Now: http://egeria.house/
Having done both I would say:

Unless the weather is really ideal (no wind, no rain, no heat) I would always opt for the Valcarlos route. If the weather is so-so AND I have a reservation for Orisson - Napoleon route. In short, I personally wouldn't do SJPdP > Roncesvalles ever again.

Buen Camino, SY
 
Time of past OR future Camino
CF 2006,08,09,11,12(2),13(2),14,16(2),18(2) Aragones 11,12,VDLP 11,13,Lourdes 12,Malaga 16,Port 06
Do we know if the shuttle operates to and from SJPP to Valcarlos?
 

biarritzdon

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
CF11, CF12, CP13, CF14, CA15, S.Anton15, CF&CI15
Ditch Pig16, CF&CP17, CdN18, CM18, CF18, LePuy19
I have done the Napoleon 3 times because I have become addicted to staying at Orisson. I have driven my car over the Valcarlos more times than I can count and I would love to walk it some day when I am much older just to enjoy the villages and their restaurants. I must admit walking along some of the verges would concern me but the traffic is really minimal. I think the scenery on the Napoleon is better bu that's relative.
 
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