Day 1: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Valcarlos

Today we walked 7.2 miles (11.6 km).

Day one complete! We can do this! :-)

We had a simple breakfast (bread, cheese, jam, etc.) at the B&B and then headed out the door. Even though we were getting a late start, the town was really quiet as we walked back down the hill and over the river to the south end of town. It was a chilly 47 degrees F (8 C) but it warmed up quickly and thankfully we only had a few drops of rain throughout the day.


At the Porte d’Espagne (“Spanish Gate” – one of four gates to the walled city) we had our picture taken and officially began our Camino. Almost as if on cue, the old clock tower rang its bell nine times at precisely 9:03. ;-)

The Valcarlos route begins with a bit of walking on the side of a main road, but it wasn’t busy, and we soon branched off onto a set of quiet country roads. That’s when the unbelievably beautiful scenery started, and we discovered that all those photos and videos we’ve seen are real. ;-)

Important turn-off away from the highway. Remember the white poles with red stripes.20130520-140313.jpg

Note the new scallop shells that we got from the pilgrims’ office in SJPdP — now firmly affixed to our packs.

“Roncesvalles via Valcarlos” — These French waymarkers seem to be what are used for this part of the Camino instead of painted yellow arrows, which I’m sure we’ll be seeing soon.


Highway rest stop at the French/Spanish border, including a supermarket and cafe. Walk through but don’t turn left over the bridge. There’s a marked path at the back, behind the gas station.


The albergue in Valcarlos. When you finally get to the top of the hill, it’s the first building on the right before you get to the main road that runs through Valcarlos. Take the ceramic steps down the right side of the building to a metal door with a combination lock. If you’re the first to arrive, go back up and continue to the main road, turn right, and ask for the key at the Bar on the left. The bar is also a good place to eat.

Today we walked over generally easy but sometimes very steep terrain, usually on paved roads away from the main road. We crossed back and forth over the Spanish-French border a couple of times, without so much as a signpost indicating the change in countries. But we’re in Spain for good now.

We’re staying at the main albergue (like a hostel, and pronounced “al-bear-geh”) here in Valcarlos tonight. It has one room with 10 bunk beds and another room with 14, but there are only six people staying here tonight so we have the entire 14-bed room to ourselves. We showered, washed the clothes we wore today, and had a good dinner at a nearby cafe — made even better because it came with free WiFi. :-)

We now have two sellos (stamps) in our Camino Passport. We’ll show them to the official Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago one day when we finally finish the whole thing, to get our Compostellas — the document in Latin or Spanish saying we completed the Camino.

Tomorrow we do the second half of the trek over the Pyrenees mountains, and the last part of it includes a very steep uphill section as we come in to Roncesvalles, where we’ll stay the night. We’ll probably start seeing a lot more people there, since the Spanish tend to start there instead of in France, and they make up about half the pilgrims on this Camino — also because some people do these first two stages all in one long day. We decided not to push things since we knew we’d have a bit of jetlag, and I’m really glad we did it this way — Valcarlos is the perfect half-way point.