THE FRENCH WAY
STAGE 1 - Camino Navarro
The pilgrim must know that this first stage is one of the most arduous of the Camino de Santiago, because its route crosses the Pyrenees. From the beginning in St-Jean-pied-de-Port the walker is faced with a climb of 1,200 metres, the first sections being those with the steepest slopes. There are two alternative routes and we will give priority in our itinerary to the most frequented today, the one that crosses the ports of Cize, a route that runs for the most part along narrow pathways . Alternatively, there is the other way which runs between Valcarlos and Ibañeta, which we will refer to at the end of this post, which is much less popular, probably because most of it is on the ordinary macadamized road.
Our route then crosses the Pyrenees through ports like those of Bentartea and Lepoeder and consists of about 24 kilometers. In case of need, the pilgrim can find shelters at intermediate points as well as some mountain shelters. It is important not to forget these facilities in the event of snow or heavy fog, never forget these mountainous stretches demand the precaution and prudence.
The landscape is one of the main attractions of this stage. The pilgrims flock between Atlantic forests , mainly composed of chestnut and beech trees, as well as travelling beside pastures where Manech sheep graze, whose milk is used in the production of the most famous cheese of the area: Ossau-Iraty.
From the cultural point of view, the stage is enormously rich and one which will allow the pilgrim to imagine the medieval deeds of Charlemagne and Roland in the famous battle of Roncesvalles that was celebrated in the Chanson de Roland.
At the crossroads, we continue to the right and 1 pm. leave the track and follow the path that soon passes through a cross-road made of stone where many pilgrims have left various memorabilia.
Approximately ½ h. later take to the Col of Bentarte (1 344 m.) and the Roland fountain in a small forest. Then cross the border to Spain and from there the yellow arrow will be your constant and reliable companion on the road.
St-Jean-Pied-de-Port / Donibane-Garazi
This beautiful villa was for centuries the capital of Lower Navarre, which in the 16th century came to depend on France. The present town shows an urban layout characteristic of the Way of Santiago: developing along the route of pilgrimage. From the heritage point of view, its main monument is the citadel of s. XVII, which offers the visitor or pilgrim a fine view over the Pyrenees. A large part of its walls still stand today, with some remains of its doors and bastions, among which we emphasize the door of Santiago through which pilgrims still pass the pilgrims today, to end up at the rue de la Citadelle. This street is undoubtedly the most characteristic of the town and one of the best known among the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, its main feature being the houses built of reddish stone that line both sides of the street. Among the buildings of the Citadelle stands the well-known prison of the Bishops (13C) that at present used for exhibitions on the pilgrimage. Among the churches stands the Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont, a gothic construction dating from the XIVth century that towers next to the bridge over the river Nive.
The Way leaves St-Jean-Pied-de-Port for La Nive and rue d'Espagne. The pilgrim then leaves behind him the walls of this beautiful village and movesin the direction of St. Michel. Here the first difficulty of this stage begins: the ascent to Irouleya. This climb is made more bearable by the natural beauty of the surroundings, dominated by the commanding presence of the Pyrenees. The road then continues along a paved track between hills and meadows, past small villages such as Etchébestea, Erreculus and Hountto, landing up at the local road D-428 near the cross of Orisson.
The fame of this place is due to the historic priory-hospital that has now been renovated. From this point the pilgrim’s progress will be less difficult, continuing between valleys and peaks, the summits of Orisson and Hostatéguy, with a more gentle gradient. Thus the pilgrim will arrive at Biakorri, where, along the wayside, can be seen a small oratory dedicated to the Magdalena.
15.5 Cross Thibault
Shortly after the chapel of Biakorri the pilgrim arrives at the Cross Thibault, a cross that marks the end of the road that he has been following and the beginning of the dirt track that will take him to the top of Col de Bentartea, the highest peak at this stage, which rises to a height of 1,344 m. In case of bad weather, there is at this point a shelter for emergencies. Shortly after the top of Col de Bentartea there is the well-known source of Roldán which serves as a frontier or territorial limit: and the pilgrim now crosses into Spain, and enters the province of Navarra.
21.0 Lepoeder Collado
Passing through dense woodland the pilgrim reaches the Colony of Lepoeder, which represents the highest summit so far: 1.430 metres. From here you can see the town of Roncesvalles to which we are heading. The road now runs between beech forests offering the pilgrim the choice to which we have already referred- i. e. continuing along by dirt track or taking the highroad which bypasses Ibañeta . But we recommend the most direct route that runs along dirt tracks and finally ends up at the collegiate church.
25.0 Roncesvalles / Orreaga
Between forests and pastures the pilgrim reaches the famous collegiate church of Roncesvalles, which is a good place to finish this stage of the journey.
Roncesvalles is a magical corner of northern Navarra, one of those places which once visited is never forgotten. It is located next to the French border at the foot of the Pyrenees, and owes its worldwide celebrity both to its natural beauty and to the fact that it was the place where one of the most legendary battles in the West took place: the Battle of Roncesvalles. The legendary battle occurred in 778 and went down in history for being the subject of “The Chanson de Roland”, the most famous epic poem of the Middle- Ages.
It was in 1127 that King Alfonso the Battler urged the then Bishop of Pamplona to Roncesvalles to found an institution that could receive and assist pilgrims arriving through the Pyrenees, most of whom were heading to Santiago. Thus was born the first hospital institution (shelter-hospital) that later, in the early thirteenth century, would be endowed by King Sancho VII of Navarre who was responsible for the current architecture of the church, as well as for its title as the Royal Collegiate of Roncesvalles.
The church is considered to be one of the finest examples of the French Gothic style, which in plan and elevation follows the same pattern as the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Throughout the centuries the Collegiate has suffered several fires and been forced to make several changes to its church, the most profound of which was a reconstruction made in the early seventeenth century, which partially transformed its outward appearance, masking in part its Gothic origin.
Pilgrim Information Office. St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Maison Laborde. 39, rue de la Citadelle. Sale of credentials
Tel 05 59 37 05 09 www.aucoeurduchemin.org
Office de Tourisme de St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. 14, place Charles de Gaulle.
Tel. 05 59 37 03 57. www.terre-basque.com
Hostel and center of attention to the pilgrim. Royal Collegiate of Roncesvalles.
Roncesvalles. Tel. 948-760,000.
Tourist, cultural and practical information about Roncesvalles.
Information on hostels