The Camino Frances (the main route of the Camino de Santiago) begins in St. Jean’s Pied de Port. Ironically, a pilgrim only spends one day in France while on the Camino Frances. But it is a day to savor.
St. Jean’s Pied de Port is a picturesque village at the foot of the Pyrenees. Camino pilgrims get to sample the flavor of French life, as the locals gaily pop in and out of ‘shoppes’, with their poodles in tow. A rustic French cathedral offers services to departing pilgrims. French youth choirs are often performing there, which pilgrims like to consider good vibes for the long journey ahead.
Pilgrims are often in fragile states of mind, during their brief stay in St. Jean Pied de Port. A 500 mile journey across the northern arc of Spain lies ahead, before arriving in Santiago de Compostela. Ironically, the very first day is the most difficult. Pilgrims are greeted with a 4,300 foot climb over the Pyrenees and across the Spanish border. The wild card is weather (In the movie, ‘The Way’, it was implied that Martin Sheen’s son died in this area). For that reason, this cathedral is often the scene of wide-eyed, but grim-looking pilgrims, on their knees, bracing for the big climb ahead.
Bill Walker is the author of ‘The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago’ (2012). He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail (2008) and Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail (2010). Walker, who is 6’11″, is now working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.