Sadly, I wasn’t in this picturesque, medieval French town on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, but I loved observing all those lucky fellow travelers who were.
I was in postcard-perfect Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on a family holiday to France’s Pays Basque, and I couldn’t miss out on visiting this pretty town along the pilgrimage to Galicia’s famous cathedral.
This was the last stop for medieval pilgrims coming from the north before they would pass the dangerous Roncesvalles mountain passes on their pilgrim routes.
I was quite envious seeing all the groups – young and old – that were making the kilometers-long walk to the Galician cathedral. One of these days, I’d love to do an unhurried version of the walk myself.
There’s something amazing about walking kilometers along the same medieval route pilgrims took centuries ago, collecting stamps in your pilgrimage papers, and unhurriedly exploring these medieval villages.
But even if you’re not on a pilgrimage, this town makes a great stopping point.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port became an important commercial town on the pilgrimage in the 14th century – and judging from all the hostels in town serving modern-day pilgrims replicating medieval customs, it still is today.
This would officially become part of France in 1589, under Henri IV (who grew up not far from here in Pau – see my earlier post ).
The town is wonderfully suggestive, with its fortified gates and battlements. The city wall upon which you can walk was added later – in the 17th century, and provides wonderful views over the town.
All pilgrims (and non-pilgrim tourists like us) make sure to walk through the Porte Saint-Jacques, the imposing gateway at the end of the pretty Rue de la Citadelle.
The Citadelle is also worth the easy hike up. It provides panoramic views over the town and the surrounding countryside.
Take your time in this charming town. Cross over the bridges crossing the Nive River. Watch all the pilgrims resting their weary legs after kilometer-long walks leading them slowly to Galicia.
If you squint your eyes, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve time travelled back to the 1300s.
One of these days, I’ll be back to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on my hike along this famous pilgrim route…