Camino Frances: St Jean-Orisson

It is quite a challenge to start the day with a mountain. We stopped in at the Pilgrim Office early to get a weather report, then paused at the bridge for a photo before passing under the Town Gate, and remarked ‘we are not in the Shire any more…’

St Jean Pied de Port

It is said that the Camino has three stages. The first is physical – knocking the body into shape, dealing with pain, learning the routine and finding your stride. The second is mental – testing your tenacity to keep getting out of bed; walking day after day can be, well, boring, and a challenge to keep focus on the destination. The third stage is the spiritual journey, once the physical barriers have been dealt with, and the routine is settled, there is time to consider and reflect. But first there is a mountain to deal with.

One thousand six hundred metres in 7.9kms is a long steep climb. It begins right out of St Jean with a steep climb that just gets steeper. It is known as the Napoleon Route as Napoleon marched his troops over this pass in the Pyrenees.

Other pilgrims have described this first day as ‘brutal’. They’re right. It is probably the hardest day’s walk I have ever done. We were both struggling within a couple of kilometres, and we stopped frequently to catch our breath. We saw a super fit team of Italian cyclists making little headway against the hill, with some people walking faster than the riders. The stops also gave us fantastic views, but the climb was relentless.

View from Huntto

The packs are still a little too heavy, and we could not have managed the climb without the trekking poles. I read once, that used properly, they can take around 18% of the load off your knees.

Almost at a standstill,  we finally reached Huntto and refilled our water bottles and bought coffees and baguettes. Our breakfast at the Gite had been sparse, just a couple of thin slices of baguette, a pot of yoghurt and coffee – nowhere near our energy requirement for the climb. Lesson learned.

As the afternoon approached we were very slow, but conscious of a 3.00pm deadline for our reservation. We made it with 20 minutes to spare, and as the Orisson albergue came into view we cheered aloud and walked into a great welcome with many who had passed us earlier, cheering us in. We got our credential stamped and signed in for our room. Luxury! a room with one double and two single beds. We shared with another Australian couple – very like-minded people and we got on well.

Orisson Albergue

It had taken 7 hours to get just over 7kms, a salutary reminder of our journey ahead. We washed our clothes – though drying proved difficult as the air was humid.

The view of sunset was breathtaking.

Sunset over Orisson

Dinner was an event to remember! Wonderful food – three courses and endless wine. We were all asked to introduce ourselves – our country, and where we hoped to reach. There was quite a French contingent, so I made our introduction in French and English – the French appreciated it and came over to chat later. At one point the Italians broke into a passable operatic version of Oh Sole Mio! more singing and more wine flowed and then we called it a night. It was a night to remember.



INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the beginning, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – which can also be found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog


Paris to St Jean Pied de Port

We arrived early at Gare Montparnasse – scene of that famous photo from 1895 where a steam train failed to stop and crashed through from the upper floor. You can read about that incident here

1895 train wreck at Gare Montparnasse [source: Wikipedia]

1895 train wreck at Gare Montparnasse [source: Wikipedia]

And here is what it looks like today – that platform behind the glass front was where it all happened.

Gare Montparnasse

We boarded the TGV from Montparnasse to Bayonne. At Bayonne we changed trains for the Pilgrim Express – a bus on rails to take pilgrims to St Jean Pied de Port. As we climbed steadily from the coast we could see steep hills rising on either side. Passing the first really steep mountain, a hush descended over the train, as the pilgrims-to-be realised these were the hills we would be climbing from first light tomorrow.

On the pilgrim train

I, too, fell silent, not because of the effort ahead, but the realisation I would not be able to capture such scenes on the phone effectively. I had packed the camera for sending ahead as I considered it too heavy, but seeing the scenery, I made a last-minute reversal of that decision. There was one chance to retrieve the camera – and that being after we arrived at St Jean Pied de Port. Picture the scene – on a bench in the main street there we were, pulling out clothes and underwear in order to find the well-cushioned camera and charger – much to the amusement of the locals and fellow pilgrims 🙂

As soon as we pulled into the station, we joined all the others in photographing the sign for the start of our Camino

St Jean Pied de Port

We made our way up the steep hill to the Pilgrim Office, where we registered, picked up our shells and got a favourable weather report for the climb to Orisson. Then next door to despatch our main city luggage (70 euros with unlimited storage time). We were committed.

We reached our Gite, and got the last private room, where we quickly dropped our packs, grabbed the tech in a bag and headed out to find a place to eat – which we found about 100metres away.

Our first ‘pilgrim menu’

  • a huge fresh salad
  • Spaghetti Bolognaise for me
  • delicious ice cream (2 scoops)
  • spectacular capuccino – the best we’ve had in France!
  • wine

As we ordered, a couple of the other patrons turned and smiled at us, nodding their acknowledgement that here we are, another two peregrinos about to start an awfully big adventure.

Then back to the Gite (Gite Zuharpeta) for a shower, repack and so to sleep.



INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the beginning, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – which can also be found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog


Paris – the final pack for the Camino

Arriving back in Paris after a two-day visit to Northern France to see some friends, it is time to get serious for the final pack. We will be sending a bag on to Santiago de Compostela with our smart clothes, so we will only have the bare essentials for the backpacks we’ll take on the Camino de Santiago (French route).

Camino pack

We repacked several times, weighing the packs each time, only to find them still too heavy, so we repacked again.

See here for my packing video made before we departed from Australia.

With the third re-pack it is uncomfortably apparent that my DSLR camera is just too heavy – it weighs almost 1.5kg in its bag. So it’s hard decision time. Reluctantly, I have to admit that my 10kg backpack is right on the limit – and that is without water – or the camera! So, with the decision made, I packed the camera in the send-on bag and resolved to work on my iPhone camera skills.

With that decision made, and the packs as light as we could manage, it was time to get some sleep – to be ready for an early check-out and a short walk to the Montparnasse railway station.


INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the beginning, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – which can also be found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog