Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (literally meaning ‘Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass’ in French) is the most traditional starting point for pilgrims walking the Camino Francés. It has evolved so historically because three main routes (from Paris, Vézelay, and Le Puy-en-Velay) meet at Ostabat, which is 20 kilometers to the northeast, to start crossing the Pyrenees here.
Only 8 kilometers from the Spanish border in southwestern France, it used to be the capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre.
In 1998, the Porte St-Jacques city gate was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the Camino sites located in France.
Starting the Camino from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is linked to Bayonne (and thus to Paris) by railway. If you’re coming from the other side of the Pyrenees, you can get as far as Roncesvalles from Pamplona by bus.
Credentials can be obtained at the pilgrims’ office on Rue de la Citadelle.
What to Do in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
Rue de la Citadelle
The historical old town center, which is mainly lined up along Rue de la Citadelle is famous for its red and grey schist buildings, mostly constructed in the 18th century. They have various inscriptions above their doorways, like, for instance, the date of construction, or the names of the original owners, sometimes along with their professions.
Église de Notre Dame du Bout du Pont
The town’s 14th-century Gothic church reflects the typical Basque church structure: men were traditionally seated in the gallery and women on the ground floor. The adjoining house used to serve as a hospital. There is a scallop shell-decorated fountain just outside.
Richelieu commissioned its building in the 17th century. Today the fortress itself houses a school and therefore, it is not open to the public, but there is still a panoramic view, and maps are also set up.