Where We Be
Getting Started: The French Pyrenees
If walking from town to town through beautiful countryside sounds
appealing to you, then you should enjoy the Way of Saint James
Our Route
We picked up our scallop shells -- traditional emblems of
the pilgrimage -- at the Pilgrim Office for a donation of €1 each
We also picked up our Credentials, which get stamped throughout
the Camino as we make progress from one town to the next
We took our sweet time in the morning just enjoying the ambience of the town
Then we collected our packs and headed AWAY from the Camino, towards the entrance gate to Saint-Jean. We touched the
entrance gate as a symbolic gesture then were off to the clock tower at the other end of town -- this time in the right direction!
Looking in the direction of our upcoming hike
But we didn't even make it out of town before pausing for breakfast!
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees is the traditional starting point for the
French Way -- and you couldn't pick a prettier town from which to begin your journey
We followed the traditional route known as the Camino Frances, which stretches from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela.
We continued 4 more days to Finisterre on the Atlantic. All told the journey took us 46 days of hiking (50 if you include our 4 rest days).
The number of miles hiked was 536 -- about 11½ miles per day on average, or the equivalent of walking 20 marathons back to back.
Our Starting Point
We enjoyed a hearty pre-hike dinner of
stuffed pork chops with foie gras at Cafe Ttipia
Hiking Day 1. Saint-Jean to Orisson
The Pyrenees in spring were every bit as
beautiful as we imagined they would be
The lovely scenery is why it's worth starting your
journey in the Pyrenees even though it can be steep
We followed simple country lanes past green pasture land
At one point a herd of sheep came
trotting towards us, completely filling the road
We stepped to the side and let them pass. The
herder followed in their midst with a friendly “Bonjour.”
The scenery was simply gorgeous. Birds were singing,
cows mooing, and sheep grazing in the green valleys.
We had to drop into “first gear” more than
once to push through really steep sections
The refugio at the tiny hamlet of Honto came and went. The
road stayed steep as we continued climbing towards Orisson.
We left the road at one point at a well-marked
turnoff and followed this trail for a stretch
This was some of the steepest climbing --
but the views were so good we hardly minded
Welcome to the Pyrenees! Would we love to come back? Yes!
Reveling in a terrific first day
Eventually we reached Refuge Orisson (€70 including dinner
and breakfast, dorms only) -- and what a welcome sight it was
Be sure to book way in advance for Refuge Orisson or it's likely to be sold out (and there are no other good options).
You'll love the cameraderie and family-style dining on your first night -- if not the snoring in the shared dorm rooms!
Why not pause in such a beautiful location and enjoy a more relaxing
first day of your Camino? After all, it's not a race, it's a pilgrimage.
There's an outdoor patio offering killer views
Next morning we got up later than most (since we only had a
half-day hike ahead of us). The town was nearly deserted at 9 am.
There's nothing like the start of a big journey.
And for those committed to hiking the entire
Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, this
definitely qualifies as big: 483 miles (779 km) to
Santiago, 536 miles (865 km) to Finisterre on the
Atlantic Ocean -- our final goal. The starting
point was the traditional one for what's known as
the French Way: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the
French Pyrenees. We arrived May 9 and began
hiking on May 10. It turned out to be the perfect
time of year to begin: spring flowers were in full
bloom and temps were comfortable for hiking.

After months of thinking about the Camino it was
a relief to finally be hiking it. Like most pilgrims
we were a bit nervous but mostly excited. Calls
of "Buen Camino!" rang out between us as we
got underway, individually or in couples or small
groups. For our first day we only had to hike 5
miles -- intentional on our part as we knew we
weren't in shape yet to cross the Pyrenees in
one fell swoop as many do. As expected, by the
time we reached the hamlet of Orisson after a
steep climb with packs, we were plenty happy to
call its basic refuge our home for the first night.
The first of many Way markers
Our Hotel Ramuntcho (€92) was
situated in the center of town
Just getting started -- only 535 miles to go
And the first of many pilgrim statues
Our Guidebook & Inspiration
We relied on "A Village to Village Guide to Hiking the Camino de Santiago." Every guidebook we considered suggested longer stages than
we felt we could happily maintain (e.g., 15 miles per day instead of 12), but we really liked its spot-on distances between towns and accurate
lodging details. The Brierley guidebook is also highly popular. The movie "The Way" was the source of our inspiration for hiking the Camino.