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Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Valcarlos

Roncevaux sign on the Camino on eatlivetravelwrite.comThose of you who follow me on Instagram will know that this summer, I spent 9 days walking around 180km along the Camino de Santiago, from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Logroño in Spain. I wrote a Q&A post in response to some of the questions people had asked me along the way already but had so many people ask me if I was going to blog about the entire experience that I’ve decided to make this a nine part series over the next 3 months or so. Noone wants to read a recap featuring 100s of photos and 1000s of words and I feel like this might be more helpful for people who are looking for information about the specific stages.

pre-Camino: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port railway station on eatlivetravelwrite.comSaint-Jean-Pied-de-Port pretty town on eatlivetravelwrite.comYvonne and I decided to stay in SJPP for two nights prior to starting the walk. This allowed us one full day and two nights to prepare, read up on the first few days and (for Yvonne) get accustomed to European time. It really is a gorgeous town and I would have been very happy to spend some more time there…

Pretty house in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.com Quiet street in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.com Dusk in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe did important things like research and purchase snacks for the road…

Macarons in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.com La Maison du Macaron in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.comOriginal-style macarons from La Fabrique de Macarons (almond cookies, not sandwiched, as they were originally made and sold). We can HIGHLY recommend this as a Camino snack and the owner/ baker was super friendly as well!

Walking sticks in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe looked at walking sticks but in the end decided not to purchase, sure that we would be able to buy one along the way if we changed our mind. We absolutely were able at each stop to buy a stick but we didn’t end up feeling like we needed them…

Everywhere around Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port there are signs of the Camino…

Hiking shoes in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.com Rooms for pilgrims on eatlivetravelwrite.comIncluding some signs that had us wondering if maybe it might just be easier to get a bus (we didn’t!)…

Pilgrim transport on eatlivetravelwrite.comIn any case, SJPP was a lovely way to ease into our walk. It’s SO pretty and has a definite calming effect on you as you wander around…

Evening Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.comLa Porte de Saint Jacques on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe next day, however, bright-ish and early-ish, having handed over our luggage to the luggage porter who would bring it to our guest house for that evening, we were off…

Getting started to walk the Camino on Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on eatlivetravelwrite.comCamino Frances Day 1: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Valcarlos (approx 12km)

When I was researching self-guided Camino trips, I knew immediately that Yvonne and I would probably take the opportunity to split the first day (SJPP – Roncesvalles directly) which featured a “strenuous uphill walk” in halves. I liked the idea of taking it a little bit easy on the first couple of days and so did Yvonne so we were thrilled when the Camino Travel Center. offered us the choice to stop over in the little town of Valcarlos en route to Roncesvalles

We’d been given directions from both the Camino Travel Center as well as our guest house host for how to get from SJPP to Valcarlos. It sounded like a relatively easy day, *just* 12km or thereabouts and not too challenging terrain…  Even though John Brierley’s “A Pligrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” didn’t recommend this path unless the weather was adverse, we were still happy with our choice as we set out… Sadly, the route is not super well-marked on this “alternate” route and around an hour into walking out of town, we were faced with a fork in the road. We dithered around for a bit, looked at Google Maps and decided that both paths led to where we needed to go eventually and took the high road (as you do…). And ended up in a valley with the options being to take the road back up the hill and try again or take what looked like a dirt road (hey, it WAS on Google Maps!) to head back onto the right road…

Not quite lost on the Camino on eatlivetravelwrite.comYvonne was NOT happy with me but I just kept looking at my map and thinking it had to turn out ok in the end. Also, there was what looked like a main road fairly closeby so we couldn’t be far wrong. Also, there were friendly cows…

Cows on the Camino on the road to Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.comI maintain that we were on what is referred to as the “quieter parallel route”.  The absence of route markers may not have been a real thing in this section. I do have to say that until you get “in the swing” of walking the route, you don’t have the instinct to look out for route markers .  And that one little section where we lost our way probably had them, we just weren’t looking for them.  As we read the guide book and looked at all our maps, we figured we were pretty close to the route (or actually on it, who knew) and then there is was… We both breathed a big sigh of relief as we spotted this:

Camino sign spotted on eatlivetravelwrite.comYo – way up on a pole not at eye level at all but there is was. Of course as soon as we realised we needed to really look for the markers, we saw them everywhere…

Chemin de Saint Jacques on eatlivetravelwrite.comAnd off we went, back on track along what is described as “quiet paths and pleasant rolling countryside.” Well ok, I’ll give it that. It was very lush…

Sheep on a hillside on the road to Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe had been told by our guest house host that morning that at some point, we could come across a “huge” shopping center. And indeed, out of the blue, there it was. We were both very excited to see this at the end of one of the paths…

Spotting a shopping centre on the Camino on eatlivetravelwrite.com Arneguy shopping centre on Camino on eatlivetravelwrite.comOur well-meaning host had told us “You’ll see a shopping centre. Just go straight past it and continue on the Camino.” Um, excuse me? “Go straight past it”? I don’t think so. In any case, it was coffee time…

Coffee en route on the Camino on eatlivetravelwrite.comAlso time to stock up on some essential Camino snacks:

Jamon chips on eatlivetravelwrite.com Sausages in supermarket in Spain on eatlivetravelwrite.comBuoyed up with caffeine and a little bit loaded down with new snacks, we set out on the path again (note: if you are walking this route, you must stop here (I mean, it’s really the only place to stop for a coffee along the route so….)…

Camino signs spotted on eatlivetravelwrite.comSince we knew that Valcarlos was fairly close by at this stage (6km), it felt much easier post-coffee as we meandered through pretty towns…

Views on the road to Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.com En route to Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.comA bit of this route was also on main roads but at least we knew we were headed in the right direction:

Proper road signage on eatlivetravelwrite.comMust have neglected to read (or pay attention to) the part about the STEEP climb to Valcarlos. In retrospect, that was nothing but it was a little bit of a shock on the first day. We were happy to see the lovely town of Valcarlos welcoming us with bunting!

Arriving in Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe settled into our lovely guest house and set out to explore. There is not much in Valcarlos but there is La Maison du Jambon:

La maison du jambon in Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.comI mean, what else could you need?

Well, maybe a “Jamonera” to go with that ham…

Jamonera in the supermarket on eatlivetravelwrite.comAnd perhaps some sangria in bulk?

Sangria in the supermarket on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe scenery was stunning…

Views in Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.comThat evening, we enjoyed a simple pilgrim meal at the Benta Azkena (the “Pilgrim Menu” is offered in most of the restaurants and cafés in towns along the way. This includes three courses – entrée, main and dessert of very acceptable dishes, so think salads or soups to start and pork or fish as a main while the dessert options were mostly flan, fruit or yoghurt along with bread, a bottle of water and a bottle of wine for between 10 and 13€) featuring the ubiquitous lomo (pork” with some token peppers masquerading as vegetables… (delicious but so much food!). With a starter and dessert for 12€!

Pilgrim meal in Valcarlos on eatlivetravelwrite.comWashed down with some house wine…

Young wine with pilgrim meal on eatlivetravelwrite.comAnd enjoyed a great night’s sleep at Casa Etxezuria Valcarlos.

Verdict? This is definitely a short and easy day in terms of how strenuous it is. Sure there are a few steep climbs but they don’t last long and the terrain is definitely much easier than what you’ll encounter in later days on the Camino. In terms of the route, make sure you have a detailed map for getting out of SJPP and perhaps take a look at it a few times (and read the guidebook and your trip notes before you start walking… Ahem!).

Stay tuned in a couple of weeks for the next instalment Valcarlos – Roncesvalles (featuring a whole lot of rain….) where we decided that perhaps ONE day of steep climbing (the regular route) might have been easier….

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Disclosure: I researched Camino trips independently and chose the Camino Travel Center based on a number of features such as flexibility to accommodate a couple of “splits” in some of the longer days, price and customer service. They were, in fact the first company I came across in my very first Google search and the one I ended up booking with. From the initial inquiry to the actual trip, they were a pleasure to deal with and we were very impressed with the service provided (bag transportation) and the accommodation choices. I was not compensated to write about this trip in any way but I love sharing companies and products I believe in with my readers. I couldn’t recommend the Camino Travel Center more and, in fact, am looking at booking another Camino walk with them in the future.

Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!

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Read more about the Camino de Santiago:

Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – questions and answers
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 1: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Valcarlos
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 2: Valcarlos to Roncesvalles
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 3: Roncesvalles to Zubiri
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 4: Zubiri to Pamplona
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 5: Pamplona to Puente la Reina
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 6: Puente la Reina to Estella
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 7: Estella to Los Arcos
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 8: Los Arcos to Viana
Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago – Day 9: Viana to Logroño

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18 Responses to Walking (part of) the Camino de Santiago: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Valcarlos

  1. Laetitia Brock August 22, 2016 at 10:51 #

    OK, so I don’t know if I can wait two years to do this!! I want to walk the camino NOW 😉

    • Mardi Michels August 22, 2016 at 16:34 #

      Thanks! I am already looking at my next stage!!

  2. Blythe Harris August 22, 2016 at 13:30 #

    Very much enjoyed your photos and your style of writing. I would love to follow you to read the rest of your blogs

    • Mardi Michels August 22, 2016 at 16:35 #

      Thank you so much – there is an option to subscribe by email (the “@” button) in the top right hand column where it says “follow me” 🙂

  3. Geoff August 23, 2016 at 01:54 #

    Your pics really capture a place. Nice post.

  4. Jennifer August 23, 2016 at 07:15 #

    I am still in awe of you and Yvonne. I cannot imagine ever attempting something like this, but hearing the fact that you’re already planning another stage is inspiring.
    The landscape is absolutely stunning and those cows! Such beautiful cows!

    • Mardi Michels August 23, 2016 at 07:21 #

      The COWS!!! We felt like they were keeping watch over us as we plodded along 😉

  5. Amanda Orlando August 24, 2016 at 12:59 #

    Beautiful photography!

  6. Redawna August 24, 2016 at 13:09 #

    Such stunning views Mardi! I have enjoyed reading about your adventure very much.

  7. kristy August 24, 2016 at 18:22 #

    Wow Mardi. What a beautiful trek. I’ve been to Spain (this is in Spain, right?) but it never even occurred to me to walk it! I’m obsessed with hiking right now and all I wanna do is get on the trail. I think I could stomach these views, especially with the tetra bag of vino 😉

    • Mardi Michels August 25, 2016 at 06:29 #

      The Camino runs all over Europe but yes, the stage that we walked was in France and Spain. We had visions of enjoying vino a go-go too but honestly after some of the days it was all we could do to try to get a proper meal into us we were so tired! Stay tuned for more posts!

  8. Hema August 25, 2016 at 09:50 #

    I was following your journey on Instagram and love that you are doing this series to give us a closer look at the 9 days. Those snacks are pretty amazing. I’d be stuffing my pockets with meat 🙂

    • Mardi Michels August 25, 2016 at 19:33 #

      Thanks Hema, though we were a bit “meated-out” after 12 days in Spain…

  9. Kimberlee August 25, 2016 at 17:42 #

    Hi
    Just found your blog
    I leave in 20 days for my Camino!
    The days in preparation are full of challenges.. Too much? Too little?
    Are you kidding ? I need a root canal now and two crowns now?
    All these interruptions just seem to make me more determined.
    I am SO glad I took the Camino out of my bucket and decided to step up!
    I will travel alone as I do most my adventures ( I camped hiked 5100 miles from S Florida to Alaska in 2014).
    Will start in Pamplona …
    I expect to attain a bit of enlightenment or may be just 500 miles of blisters..

    • Mardi Michels August 25, 2016 at 19:33 #

      Enjoy! Sounds like you are more than prepared!

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