There are two main routes leading from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, the popular first day’s walk. Because of rain and overcast weather, we chose the easier route that goes by Valcarlos—a lovely town with several good accommodation options. We stayed the night to give us an easier and shorter first day on the Camino.
The main Route de Napoleon is recommended as the most scenic route, which offers fantastic views on a clear day. Since the weather was overcast with very little visability, we were not disappointed with the quiet walk and beautiful farmlands along our trail. Although we walked on some roads for part of the day, they were minor farm roads with hardly any traffic. We also had some pleasant paths that led us through small verdant valleys and up gentle hills.
We had a pleasant 6 mile walk for our first day on the Camino. This gave us time for a leisurely lunch in town and an opportunity to shop a bit for snacks.
We left very early the next day so that we could avoid traffic on the main road out of Valcarlos. We had read that this was a dangerous part of the Camino. However, we only spent 20 minutes on this road and there was little traffic that morning. The drivers were very kind and gave us plenty of room, too.
It didn’t take long to get back onto a pleasant trail that led us up into the Pyrenees to join the more popular route into Roncesvalles. This is a popular stopping point for many pilgrims because it has a large hostel. It also has a few nice options for a lunch stop.
The food along the Camino was always good and the prices were great. Most restaurants offer a Pilgrim’s plate at a special price. We especially enjoyed the tapas, called pinxtos in Northern Spain. Since dinner time is usually much later in Spain, we opted for the pinxtos, which were available for lunches and early evening “happy hour” times.
After a fun lunch in town, we were able to go beyond Roncesvalles to the town of Espinal—a comfortable 9.5 mile walk. Since the town is very small, we were glad that our hotel provided dinner. Be sure to consult your Camino Guidebook before choosing a town to stay in. Many of the towns along the route are so small that you may not even find a grocery store. However, most towns have a few restaurants that cater to us pilgrims.