Definitely everyone can make the first stage of the Camino de Santiago between St Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles. In fact over 20,000 pilgrims start the Camino de Santiago in this picturesque village at the foot of the Pyrenees every year, the second most popular starting point (after Sarria) of the so called Camino Francés, the French Way route of the Camino de Santiago.
It is true that this is probably the most challenging section of the French Way, because you actually cross the Pyrenees and this means to make uphill and downhill struggle along more than 25 kilometers (15.5 miles). It is a big effort, absolutely. But the spectacular views from Col Orisson and Col Lepoeder (in clear weather) are second to none. Our first and the most important suggestion is that you need to take it slow and give it a go!
Of course, we cannot omit the complications not only to get to St Jean Pied de Port, but also the fact that you will be risking your feet, ankles, legs, etc. when you are just at the beginning of the Camino. But don’t worry. Take it slowly, is the eternal recommendation!
Some people are also worried about the age (but remember that Martin Sheen started the Camino in St. Jean Pied de Port in the movie “The Way”) and the jet lag after a 10-20 hours non-stop journey from America or any other continent in the world. During the first days you might see many people nursing blisters, or worse, and all usually blame the walk over the Pyrenees as culprit. But we will repeat it hundreds of times: take it slow!
If you need to rest after your long journey, you could spend a day enjoying the cafes and the peaceful atmosphere in St Jean Pied de Port. And once you are ready to start the challenging first stage, you will need to make sure that the weather is right, because you might come across with a cold, dreary and windy day mostly in early March.
It is also very important to get up very early in the morning to start to walk and put into your backpack some light and energetic food, such as dried fruit and nuts, and water. Apart from that, you just will need to enjoy the magnificent views for more that seven hours.
This walk is physically demanding and requires a reasonable level of fitness as you are going to cross over the Pyrennees. However, it’s a highly rewarding walk which includes numerous cultural highlights and a breathtaking scenery. One of the most popular points is Baigorri Virgin place, where most people take a picture not only to her, but also to the stunning views.
This “Camino Napoleon” kicks off with a steep climb, on through orchards and past country houses and then, later, through Alpine style meadows, before weaving its way alongside leafy beech woods towards the border and the descent into Roncesvalles. The Valcarlos Camino mainly follows the road which runs through the valley alongside the river Nive or river Valcarlos.
To those who don’t feel brave enough or those who would like to walk at a more relaxed pace, there is an alternative route (though not as rewarding) that splits this walking day into 2 stages (12km & 14km), staying overnight in the village of Valcarlos. Here you will be staying a charming hotel. Anyway note that this is itinerary through Valcarlos is not the usual Camino itinerary and that the walk is not as rewarding.
Taking all these advices into consideration, it is up to you if you really want to start the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles. Any choice you make will be the best and most amazing experience! Buen Camino!