Saint Jean Pied de Port (France) – Roncesvalles (Spain)
Although the guidebooks stress that SJPP is the perfect starting point for “penitent pilgrims” because the Pyrenees are physically challenging, I’m so happy our Camino began here. The picturesque mountains and incredible views were well worth the hard work; if we’d begun to walk in Spain, I think we would have really missed out. [Unfortunately, all my pictures from these first few days are on my camera; I’ll update them soon!]
Accommodation: In SJPP, we stayed at a charming donativo (pay-what-you-will/can albergue). In Roncesvalles, there’s essentially one hostel for ALL pilgrims who cross the mountains; it’s a large but comfortable parochial refugion, seemingly run by Dutch volunteers.
Roncesvalles – Larrasoaña
This walk was a long one! Unfortunately, it seemed longer because we misread the guidebook. We could have ended about 5 km earlier in a small town called Zubiri, but, thinking Larrasoaña was close by, we pressed on. We passed at least three towns we felt sure were Larrasoaña before we finally walked through one. Then, when the Camino finally winded its way through a town, we were sure we had arrived- only for some locals to send us several more kilometers down the road (and uphill!).
Accommodation: We stayed in a satellite location of the municipal albergue here; it took up several buildings in town. It also seemed to be either preventing or responding to a bedbug infestation, as all the sheets and pillows were covered in blue rubber sheets. Not the most comfortable accommodations!
Larrasoaña – Cizur Menor
Cizur Menor is a charming little Basque town (Zizur Txikia). We passed through Pamplona along the way; spending time in such a big city was a pleasant change (if a little disconcerting!) after three days of walking through the countryside.
Accommodations: We stayed at a cute, family-run albergue here. It was called the Albergue Familia Roncal (home of the “don’t worry; be water” lady).
Cizur Menor – Puente la Reina
The walk from Cizur Menor to Puente la Reina wasn’t too memorable (but that’s probably a good thing!). It was the shortest day we’ve had so far, but for me, it was by far the hardest. The best part was summiting Alto de Perdón and see the monument to pilgrims [picture below]. We planned to push ahead that day because our guidebook only recommended 11 miles, but somehow John Brierley knew what he was talking about. Even though the terrain wasn’t difficult and the day was short, Day 4 was the most draining for me.
Accommodation: In Puenta la Reina, we stayed at an isolated albergue up a very steep hill (Albergue Santiago Apóstol); it almost felt like we were trapped on a mountain. Luckily, Katherine and I brought food with us (and ordered our first Pilgrim Menu) so we didn’t have to go down it again until morning.
Puente la Reina – Estella
This was another quiet day of walking, but just like Larrasoaña, the town of Estella tricked us a bit. We thought we were there before we actually arrived! The town itself was pretty nice, but we ended up walking through it and staying in the neighboring Ayegui. Our albergue was within walking distance of five grocery stores and was pretty suburban. After 5 days of shopping in tiny mercados, walking through the aisles of a supermarket was quite a change!
Accommodation: We stayed in the basement of an athletic center- or “polideportivo” that had been converted into an albergue. The setup was pretty strange- weird music played throughout the night, the showers were open, and the walls were covered in mirrors- but the location was pretty nice. We had a nice view of Estella and, because Ayegui is to the west, we actually shaved a few kilometers off the next day’s distance!