Crossing the Pyrenees represented a huge challenge for the first pilgrims who came from afar. Today it remains one of the toughest stages on the Camino, but also one of the most beautiful.
Saint Jean Pied de Port is a beautiful French town where the three big jacobean routes starting in France converge. Those routes start from Paris, Le Puy and Vézelay.
This town of great pilgrim tradition, preserves a fortified citadel on top of the hill, which was built in 1628, and an old town situated on its side, which is priceless.
In France you can book place in hostels, and as it was the first stage we booked place in the hostel L'Esprit du Chemin, on the recommendation of my friend José Antonio.
We started the stage early, around 7:30 am. This stage is the toughest of the route and we, as inexperienced and enthusiastic bike-pilgrims, are eager to let ourselves go to the Camino de Santiago and start our adventure.
The first 2 kilometers are a steep climb up a narrow asphalt road, designated as Chemin de Compostela or Route de Napoleón. 5.3 km from the start, we get to Huntto, a small village and the last place in this stage offering some services. It is convenient to stock up on water here. From here the slope becomes steeper and the landscape begins to open with towering undulations and alpine landscapes.
Normally all cyclists make this stage through the road given its hardness, but the information we received regarding the beautiful landscape and ignorance coupled with the courage of those who are starting the Camino de Santiago for the first time made us choose this route. And although it was hard, now I have no regrets at all and if I travel through the French Way again in the future I will follow the same path undoubtedly.
We found a dirt road with a steep slope and soon we arrived at a paved road that lead us to Virgen de Biakorre. Up to 12 km of steep ascent must be overcome to reach the hill of Bentartea or passage of Napoleon, where a fountain that is left to the left is the reference that leads, after a small decline, to a forest area with some gorgeous beech woods.
Later and after a crossroads on the right you reach the hill of Lepoeder.
Now in Spanish territory, this is one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Camino de Santiago and from here you can already glimpse the valley of Roncesvalles.
From here we chose the variant that leads to Ibañeta (right) and headed to the chapel of Salvador where we can contemplate the monument to Roldan and continue down the road to the collegiate church of Roncesvalles.
In Roncesvalles, because of being the starting point for many pilgrims, you might not find place and we were advised continue to Espinal, (we were told it was a campsite) but not be confused because it is a fledged hostel, with bunks and all you can expect.
After meeting the collegiate and get the coveted seal, we descend into the valley of the Arga through forests of beech and pine. Occasionally we crossed the first few fences with gates (so cattle does not escape) and the wonderful landscape is interrupted by beautiful villages such as Burguete and Espinal where, confused with the idea that we had to sleep in a tent or something (error on our part), we continued our way and headed to the high of Mezkiritz, and after passing through the towns of Bizkarreta and Lintzoain we prepared to ascend the top of Erro through a very loose rock rise and pretty hard ramps.
We found the monument to the japanese man who passed away on the Camino and after traversing various gorgeous woods, we began the fast and dangerous descent down a path with lots of loose rocks to Zubiri, which is accessed through the famous bridge of rabies. By the way, the day we arrived, as presaging the name of the bridge, in the middle there was a huge dog that looked us very attentive but luckily it did not move from its place.
In Zubiri we found place in the municipal hostel, run by Loli, who received us very well and lent us the key of the annex pelota court so we could store our bicycles in a secure place. Dinner in the bar of a nearby sports center, pilgrim menu, quite correct.
Valcarlos is a beautiful village in Navarra that is half way up between Saint Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles. Those who want to spend a night there to face, the following day, the stage from Saint Jean Pied de Port along the Camino or those who venture to carry out the steep climb by road should know that this town has a new hostel with 24 places where you can stay without problems.