The road to Santiago (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela) has been trodden by millions of pilgrims since 1100ad, when it first rose to prominence as a Christian Pilgrimage. Christians from all over Europe would embark on the arduous journey: and unless you arrived by boat to the northern Spanish coast or started in Spain itself, all pilgrims would have to cross the imposing Pyreneen mountain range.
Towns, villages and hamlets in the western Pyrenees became accustomed to pilgrims and quickly began to serve their needs; providing food, water and places to sleep.
Those towns are now well established and widely recognised stops along the Camino de Santiago, having welcomed and looked after thousands of Pilgrims each year.
Saint Jean Pied de Port – the starting point for many
For those reluctant to attempt the long 1,600km journey from the Notre Dame, in Paris, Saint Jean Pied De Port has become the starting point in the Pyrenees; shortening El Camino to a mere 780km.
To most walking, or even cycling, 780km to Santiago de Compostela would be an insurmountable challenge. To more than 100,000 people each year, it is a journey that has to be undertaken.
View Road to Santiago de Compostela: Route through the Pyrenees in a larger map
The Pyrenean leg starts in Saint Jean, passes over the border and down into Roncesvalles 27km later. The stretch makes a full day’s walking for most starting out on El Camino de Santiago. With climbs of up to 1,300m and the average walking pace at 6km per hour, the route will take between 5 and 7 hours, depending on your fitness, training and rucksack weight. Good enough for a first day in your boots.
The road to Santiago is signposted with yellow arrows and the symbolic scallop shell; the emblem attached to Saint James.
The Pyrenees provides some of the most interesting and challenging walking on the Camino. Its historical significance as part of the Camino and the modern revival of the Pilgrimage by walkers and cyclists means restaurateurs, hostels and leisure businesses serve Pilgrims well throughout their journey.