Hey Sacramento Pilgrims! I’ve recently finished my service at the Pilgrims Office in SJPdP and wrote up some of the info that was repeated day in and day out for pilgrims arriving to start their Camino Frances. If you are getting ready to start your Camino, this might be helpful!

SJPdP Pilgrims Office Wrap up

So I finished up my service at the Pilgrim office in St Jean Pied de Port… where, if you came in to visit us in the last week – and you speak English – you very likely were paired with me! It was the absolute joy of the job to meet so many of you as you start out this incredible journey… It made the very long hours in the office go by quickly and I really felt they made a difference to your journeys ahead. I hope so, anyway!

A few things I’d like to give a heads up on for those who are headed to St. Jean Pied de Port to help get your Camino off to a good start based on the current situation in SJPdP!

First … We are ALL volunteers here in the office and come to SJPdP from all over France and the world. There typically is at least one person who speaks English … in the last week, that was me! I’m from California and it’s what I do for vacation… ha!

YES! Do make a reservation for here in St. Jean Pied de Port. It is such a long trip for so many of you, give yourself a good start by knowing that you have a place to lay your head after the sometimes very long journey to get here! I was surprised by how many arrived without a reservation to this small village. If you arrive and don’t have a bed, head to the municipal albergue at 55 Rue de La Citadelle (just one minute continuing up the hill from the Pilgrims Office). They open at 2:30pm, first come first serve. No, we at the pilgrims office do not look for, find for you, or book accommodations for you in St. Jean.

In fact, with the way things are right now, it is absolutely advised that you make reservations for your first several nights all the way through to Pamplona. All week long I said to those sitting across the desk from me, “give yourself the gift of a good start to your Camino by making reservations for these first nights”. It has ALWAYS been hard to secure a bed in these first stages. I know, I slept on the cement floor of the Jai Alai court in Zubiri in 2015! That was nine years ago, and the numbers have only increased dramatically since that. If you want to be assured you have a bed at the end of each day, book one. Do it now. We had historic numbers of people checking in to the Pilgrims Office this last week to start their Camino. Especially these first several days from St Jean to Pamplona, if you want to walk into town at the end of your day right into your albergue… book a bed.

If you want a bed at Roncesvallas, here is the situation. They have a total of 240 beds for pilgrims. Of those, 170 of them can be pre-booked through their website. That leaves 70 beds a day on a first come first serve basis. They open at 2 PM (although yesterday when I arrived they opened at 1 PM). You therefore want to be there as close to 2 PM (or opening) as you can to get one of those 70 beds. Yesterday all those first come first serve beds were gone by 2:30. If you don’t get one of those 70 beds, you must move on. Roncesvallas does not have any overflow bed plan. The 70 beds that they offer up IS their overflow plan. The walk to Burguete is a nice, easy 2.5km further… You’ve already walked a good long day. As soon as you know your dates, go to the website and book a bed in Roncesvallas.

What many have been doing in St. Jean, if they cannot reserve at Orrison or Borda, is that they will spend two nights in St. Jean. The first day they will walk up to Orisson, Borda, or the Virgin Mary statue, and then Express Bourricot will pick them up and drive them back down to St Jean. The next day, Express Bourricot will drive them back up to where they left them the day before, and they will continue on to Roncesvallas. This should work very well to get you there by the 2 PM opening – if you have not already reserved – in time to get one of those 70 beds. It also is a nice way to break up that mountain leg. Express Bourricot is five doors down the hill from the Pilgrims office – or, check out their website. Here in SJPdP the office is open 7-9am and 4-8pm (16:00-20:00).

If you would like an easier start to your Camino, you can go the Val Carlos route, which doesn’t gain as much elevation on the first day. There is also a municipal Albergue in the town of ValCarlos about 13 km from St. Jean, if you’d like to stop there. That would also set you up to arrive in Roncesvallas by 2 PM the next day if you have not reserved and want to stay in Roncesvallas (although you could continue on further to Burguete or Espinal, staying off stage.) It’s a much less intense start to your Camino doing the ValCarlos route – whether you do it in one day or two.

If you absolutely do not want to make reservations for your Camino, you will likely use the Municipal and Parochial albergues which work off of a first come/first serve basis (meaning they generally do not take reservations). To use the Municipal albergue system however, you need to do a little bit of work! You should research to find out which towns and villages along the Camino route have open municipal albergues, how many beds they have, and most importantly, what time they open – so that you know what time to be there to get a bed! Again, it is first come/first serve and once all the beds are gone, you will have to move on to find another bed option. Note: Try to stay “off stage” from the many guide books and stage maps from the pilgrims office. Municipal albergues that are not an “end stage” will be more likely to have beds available for a bit later in the day.

If you have a phone that you plan your use while on your Camino, get a Camino app on your phone and learn how to maneuver through it. There are so many and many offer a WhatsApp interface to the albergue so that you can send a text to see if beds are available. Important: Be sure that if you confirm a bed with an albergue, that you show up, or send them a message to cancel if you can not make it. We don’t want albergues holding beds for people who never show up. Do the right thing and inform them so that another pilgrim can have the bed. They’ll be so happy! Many Camino apps, pick your favorite! I use Buen Camino (free) and Wise Pilgrim. There are many more. The apps will show many more lodging options in more villages and are updated regularly with open and close statuses of albergues – including municipals.

While you are in France, you will be following the white and red stripe. There may – or may not be – yellow arrows associated with those markings while you are in France. The yellow arrows will start soon after you arrive into Spain. The red and white mark is for the GR 65, the “Chemin de Saint Jacques” … Which, in French means the “Camino de Santiago”. Saint Jacques is Saint James in French!

As you start from St. Jean Pied de Port and head towards Roncesvallas, you are in the mountains! Climate can change drastically and quickly. Especially in springtime. People often note the strong winds (carry appropriate layers w/good wind and rain protection), muddy conditions (carry poles if you use them), cold hands (have gloves, or socks as a backup, accessible if the winds kick up.) Yesterday was just a normal spring day in the mountains and route was open, but it was raining, windy, muddy and yes, hands were painfully cold, even with light gloves.) Come prepared to cross the mountain.

I know there is even more that I could share, but this is already so long! Ha! These were some of the things that came up again and again during my service at the Pilgrims Office in SJPdP! Again, if I met with you during the last week, what a joy! Buen Camino to you all! — in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France.