St Jean Pied de Port (map), or “Saint John at the Foot of the Pass” is located in the Pyrénées department in South-Western France, close in the Pyrenean foothills. The town is also the old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre. It is the traditional starting point of the Camino Francés. If you are to start your Camino here, you are 8 kilometres from the Spanish border, however those 8 kilometres may as well be doubled if you factor the ascent. The town is made up of one long main street, crossing over the River Nive as you exit the town.
You can travel to St. Jean from nearby Biarritz Airport. Ryanair offer regular flights from Ireland. For those of you who live outside of Europe, you can fly to Barcelona, Paris or Madrid.
There are plenty of accommodation options in St. Jean Pied de Port once you arrive (Gronze). If you are planning to walk during peak season, it is advisable to pre-book your as you are not guaranteed a bed on arrival. Gite Beilari is well known and well liked. Many pilgrims you meet here will walk with you for much of your Camino.
The old town of St Jean Pied de Port is one long cobbled street, la Rue de la Citadelle. It stretches downhill from the 15th century Porte St-Jacques to the Porte d’Espagne. The street crosses the River Nive on a old stone bridge and there are many pictures of these views strewn across the internet. Up above the town is the citadelle which once held great importance in St Jean Pied de Port. St Jean Pied de Port is very pilgrim-ready, with restaurants offering pilgrim menus and shops selling last minute items for the first day on the Camino. A top tip is to visit the local Lidl to buy some snacks for the long walk the next day. The pilgrim office will either give you a credencial or stamp your existing one, which you need in order to stay in the albergues along the Way. They also provide maps and useful advice. Heed any advice the volunteers there give you, especially if you should cross the Napoleon pass or if you should walk via Val Carlos. The weather plays an important part in this decision.
Your next stop after leaving St Jean is Auburge Orisson after 8 kilometres of gradual ascent with your new found pilgrim friends. But remember to enjoy the views.