Day 1 of the 1st stage of the French Camino:
SAINT JEAN PIED DE PORT – RONCESVALLES
Distance: 25,7 Km
Time: 6/8 h
This first day is considered the most difficult as the Camino crosses the Pyrenees. The “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. Don’t miss the “Collegiate Church” in Roncesvalles.
A bit of History and interesting facts:
In the 12th century this part of the Pyrenees was part of the Spanish kingdom of Lower Navarra and the kings of Navarra rebuilt the town in the late 12th century after it had been destroyed by the British king Richard I, the Lionheart in 1177. Over the centuries the town’s ownership changed numerous times between the French and Spanish as they fought for sovereignty over these lands. Finally during the French Revolution of 1789 to 1799 the Kingdom of Lower Navarra was abolished and has remained in French hands ever since. During the late 15th and early 16th centuries, following the French Wars of Religion between French Catholics and Protestants, the town was fortified by Cardinal Richelieu who commissioned the building of the Citadel on a hill overlooking the town. The Citadel is now a college.
While you are here there are a couple of places worth visiting, most of which can be found off the cobbled street of Rue de la Citadelle where you will have picked up your credencial.
Points of interest along this way (CROSSING THE PYRINEES):
– Virgen d’Orisson: Following the uphill path from Orisson you will come across the statue of the Virgen d’Orisson reportedly brought here all the way from Lourdes by shepherds. You will often find the statue bedecked with flowers placed there by both locals and pilgrims alike. At this point take a right fork and continue straight at the road junction. Not long after leaving the Vierge d’Orisson you will pass what is left of the Chateau Pigñon, a castle that had been built by the Spanish when they conquered this region in the 16th century. Surprisingly it was destroyed by the Spanish during the Napoleonic wars at the end of the 17th and early 18th centuries.
– Collegiate of Roncesvalles: Once you get to the end of this stage, you will see the monumental complex of the Collegiate of Orreaga/Roncesvalles, an old pilgrim hospice and the tomb of King Sancho VII ‘el Fuerte’ is an excellent example of medieval architecture and a legendary place.