There are many ways to walk the Camino de Santiago, the famous path of St. James that ends in the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. For our first experience, we chose the Camino Francés, which starts in France. Even that camino has various starting points. We began our adventure in Saint Jean Pied de Port, which is just below the Pyrenees Mountains on the French side of the border.
We were glad we chose to spend a night in town because it gave us a chance to explore this beautiful town in the Pyrenees-Atlantique department of south-western France. This is the French Basque region, so there were plenty of excellent choices for a wonderful meal.
Many small shops and stores cater to the needs of us pilgrims and there’s an official office (39 rue de Citadelle) where you can get the important credential for collecting your stamps. It’s also a good idea to get an early start in the morning before you start climbing up through the mountains.
There are many types of accommodations along the Camino. For the best price, you can stay at the official Pilgrim Hostels with various types of amenities. Some have bedding, while others require that you carry your own. Some even have laundry services and restaurants.
Another option is a family run Albergue or Albergo (in Spain). We chose this option so that we didn’t have to worry about walking further to find a spot to sleep. It was also great to know we had an ensuite bath (with a warm shower) waiting for us at the end of a long day’s hike. We read reviews on Tripadvisor, then we usually made reservations using Booking.com. You can also contact an albergo directly, however, you may not get the flexible cancellation dates that Booking offers. Be sure to read the policies.
There are many companies who will plan your itinerary and book your lodging. However, with so many resources on the web, it’s not hard to do it yourself. We purchased A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago guidebook by John Brierley and published by Camino Guides. We also read several blogs while planning our trip. We were glad we gave ourselves an extra day every four days—once in Pamplona and once in Logroño. The extra day gave us a chance to get our laundry done, do some sketching and explore these fun cities.
When to Go
The guidebooks talk about the best times to walk the Camino. We chose late May and still had a bit of rain during our first days around the Pyrenees. But after that, the weather was quite pleasant. We were glad we didn’t wait much longer because it warmed up quickly. By the time we were finishing our 10 day trek, we were rising at 5:30 a.m. to avoid too much sun during our walks.
Stay tuned for more posts about the walk.