Why do so many start in Saint Jean Pied de Port?

Saint Jean Pied de Port

The question was:

Considering the complications to get to S.Jean Pied de Port, especially for anyone landing in Spain or coming from Spain/Portugal/Southern France, I always wonder why so many of these people want to start their Camino in SJPP!

I remember that when I was a hospitalera, I always gave a “congratulations” type comment when I saw SJPP as the starting point on their Credential. (There was also the occasional Pilgrim who started even further away).

However, although I have started my Camino 3 times in Roncesvalles, I have never even taken into consideration to get myself to SJPP!

My reasoning was simply, why make an uphill and downhill struggle, risking my feet, ankles, legs, etc. when I am just at the beginning of my Camino. Take it slowly for the first few days, is the eternal recommendation!

I also took my age into consideration, plus that fact that we arrive from Costa Rica, which means a 20 hours non-stop journey, before we get to our starting point.

During those first days, when one is getting your body used to this new “way of life”, I have seen many, many people nursing blisters, or worse, and all have blamed the walk over the Pyrenees as culprit.

So, Forum Guests, past and future Pilgrims, what is your comment?

Read this interesting conversation on why start your camino in Saint Jean Pied de Port.

  • cassiopeia

    It was no question for me, starting point needs to be SJPP. Why? Dunno. It is a nice little town. But there are so many cute villages along the way. It is hard to get there, but still. I felt like crossing the Pyrenees. My gut told me that is the starting point for me.
    Eventually crossing the Pyrenees was like crossing Purgatory.
    Actually I crossed the Pyrenees twice! 🙂
    I arrived to Barcelona, took the train to Pamplona and eventually got to Roncesvalles the next day. In order to get to SJPP tried to hitchhike from Roncesvalles, but there was noone to give me a ride. So started walking along the road and eventually walked all the way…
    Needed to arrive in soul as well, not only in physical form…
    The very next day started walking through the mountains, to get where I was already before. People in the pilgrim office thought Im crazy. But that is what I needed.
    uphill and then a steep downhill before Roncesvalles. You may think how stupid it is. But it is the same way in life also. Sometimes you experience peaks with happiness, but other times valleys when your heart is full of sorrow. you need to experience both in order to appreciate the beautiful moments of life. You need to suffer.
    So started walking in the rain. it felt like cleansing my soul, not only my body. It was amazing to walk in the middle of clouds or look down to them… Such a beautiful view… towards the end of the day got completely soaked. But if you want the rainbow you need to put up with the rain. And this is what actually happened. When we arrived to Roncesvalles, it started shining. As I walked even further, enjoyed the sight of the rainbow along the way to Espinal.
    You may claim that crossing the Pyrenees causes suffering. But whenever you suffer, you learn.

    • “The very next day started walking through the mountains, to get where I was already before. People in the pilgrim office thought Im crazy. But that is what I needed. ” No, I think you not at all! I remember my first evening I started from SJPP up to Hunttop only, which is like some 6 km of distance and I was totally exhausted.

    • Krystyna

      We’re thinking of starting from Arles, an extra 750kl, making it a very long walk!! Just hope the weather holds out as we’re hoping to start this September.

  • For me, beginning the Camino was like reading a book. To start, I had to go to the first chapter. Everyone is different but it would not have made sence for me to have started any place else. Also the Pyrenees climb, although challenging at times, was breath taking and well worth it.

  • Seve

    You are crossin’ a Bridge when you go on the Camino, because you will discover everything of yourself , passing from your past, to your next future. The first step is to open yourself to the world, and usually it’s a big obstacle. This can be a reason why to climb over a mountain in the first day. It’s the hardest step, and also probably the most beautiful. If you can do that, you can do all the Camino.I started there 2 times, and I found it right.

  • Leaving from St. Jean meant two things for me – 1. the awesome crossing of the Pyranees and 2. the ability to literally walk from one country to another. I think also there was some real recognition along the Camino for having begun in France and made it all the way to Spain.

  • Also, the walk itself from St. Jean to Roncesvalles is just beautiful

  • I started walking from the front door of the house I had just given up (September 2010) in the Netherlands, walked to Santiago without passing through Saint Jean Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles and continued south to Lisbon, from there to Almeria and along the Spanish, French and Italian coast to Rome. I am now on my way to Jerusalem and finally Cairo, where I will attend a peace concert organised by MasterPeace. I am not a religious person, so Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem have no spiritual importance for me. I believe that the starting point is as arbitrary as the finish line. Marketing makes SJPP more special than other places, in historical reality every pilgrim by necessity always had to start from where he lived (and return there for that matter!). Santiago itself will always be special in my mind, because it was the first of the four cities I had decided to walk to, but in Rome I found that after two years on the road, the Vatican and the old Roman capital around it is just a place like any other. The camino is great, because it is so easy to walk it with all its signs and albergues, but once you learn how to get by without them, there really is no reason not to go and walk in any other place in the world. Freedom starts where the camino ends!

    • Krystyna

      I like your philosophy Wijnand … open yourself up to life’s experiences and see where the road leads and what is to be learnt. We doing the Camino late August early September this year and starting from Arles which is an extra 750km, but walking is an experience in itself and it lightens the spirit and rekindles the belief in humanity. I have been to Jerusalem and Rome, but did not walk there, but nevertheless enjoyed the wonderful experience. Walk my friend and gather the knowledge you’re supposed to gain in order to find the fulfillment you wish for.

      • ilovethesangredecristos

        hi krystyna, we are also looking at maybe doing a walk from arles next year – most likely mid august-sept as well and I am just beginning my research and would appreciate any info you have gathered/ things you find out after the trip 🙂

  • ovelha

    I started in SJPP because I wanted to do the Camino Frances – so I had to start in France! 😀
    And I believe it is easier to get to SJPP by public transport that to Roncesvales. I just hoped on a train in Coimbra, Portugal, change in Irun and again in Bayonne to a smaller train that got me to SJPP.

  • peter

    I would like the follow the Camino Frances, John Brierley and the movie The Way. Every start is as good as this one but there are more reasons to pick this than another.

  • James on the Way

    I started in SJPdP last week and the first day over the Pyrenees was really important to me. It is not so difficult to get to SJPdP. Fly to Biarritz from London, Dublin or several other European cities – it cost me £19 from London. Quick bus to Bayonne (20 mins) and a pretty train ride to SJPdP. Compared to the Camino itself this is a small inconvenience.

  • Lifepilgrim

    I started my Camino in September 2012 from Lourdes, France. I made my way along side the French Pyrenees almost in total solitude and wondering where I could finally meet other fellow pilgrims. I had to face the blisters, the bruises, the muscle ache on my own and by the time I eventually reached SJPP a few days later, I was ready to start my real inner Camino with a reconditioned body and in the true spiritual sense. In SJPP I finally met other pilgrims and rejoiced of the collective enthusiasm. On that very day when I crossed the SJPP city gates at sunrise, my journey truly began.

  • Jacotrans

    Hola amigos. Creo que el comienzo del Camino no debe ser una norma impuesta sino un propósito. Comenzar el Camino desde San Jean, desde Roncesvalles desde… ¿Desde dónde?

    El Camino no tiene un punto estipulado de salida, sólo de llegada.

    Buen Camino!!!

  • Kaitmarie

    I started in SJPP with my husband, we are currently in Burgos. While I do like saying “I crossed the Pyrenees,” my husband injured his knee the first day. This caused many physical and mental difficulties for us, almost ruined our entire journey. The camino offers enough difficulties, you don’t need to risk additional injury just to cross the Pyrenees. If you want to cross them start before SJPP and get your body warmed up before you cross.