St Jean Pied de Port: Gateway to the Camino Frances

St Jean Pied de Port is one of the most significant towns on the Camino de Santiago. It is not only the finishing point for the Le Chemin du Puy, Vezelay, and Paris-Tours Camino but also marks the start of the famous Camino Frances.

History of St Jean Pied de Port

Founded in the 12th century, the town replaced the original Saint-Jean-le-Vieux, which Richard the Lionheart destroyed. This strategic location has always been crucial for traders and pilgrims.

This destruction was part of a campaign ordered by his father, King Henry II, to punish Barons who had previously fought on the side of Richard, who had since reconciled with Henry. During this campaign, he acquired the name ‘Richard the Lionheart’.


Situated strategically on a River Nive meeting and roads extending into all parts of the Basque Country, the town has always been an important place for traders and pilgrims alike.

Formerly the capital of the Basque region of Base-Navarre, St Jean Pied de Port might be small in size but has great charm. Inside the old town walls, the medieval cobbled streets are lined with beautiful and unique red and white buildings.

What to see in St Jean Pied de Port

1. Porte St Jacques

Pilgrims arriving in the town after one of the three Camino routes that end here will pass through the wonderful Porte St Jacques (St. James Gate). The 15th-century gate is UNESCO World Heritage-listed and sits just below the Citadelle, built in the 1700s.

2. Citadelle of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Vauban strengthened the Citadelle later in the 18th century as part of his process of strengthening the borders of France under Louis XIV. From the Citadelle, you will enjoy fantastic panoramic views of St Jean and the countryside.

3. Cobbled Streets

The cobbled Rue de la Citadelle (northside) and Rue d’Espagne (southside) both slope down to the river and are notable for their buildings with ornate wooden overhangs and balconies carved with inscriptions, designs, and religious symbols.

At House No. 9 on Rue d’Espagne, an inscription records the high price of wheat in 1789, the same year as the Storming of the Bastille.

4. Museum

On Rue de la Citadelle, you can visit the Museum, located at the 16th-century Maison des Evêques (Prison of the Bishops) which contains artefacts from the Camino.

At the bottom of the street, you will find the beautiful 14th-century church of Notre Dame du Bout du Pont (Our Lady at the End of the Bridge), made of the local pink Arradoy stone and sits beside the gateway onto the bridge over the river.

5. Ramparts of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

We highly recommend that you walk along the ramparts in the footsteps of the medieval town protectors.


The Gastronomy of St Jean Pied de Port

There is a wonderful culinary tradition in this area, and some of the traditional food you may encounter includes:

  • Salmais de Palombe (wood pigeon stew)
  • Fromage de Brebis or Ossaultry (sheep’s cheese)
  • Axoa (beef or veal dish)
  • Trout (generally served ‘a la plancha’, which is a type of grilling)
  • Pipérade (omelet with onions, peppers and Bayonne ham)
  • Basque-style baby squid and Basque-style chicken.

The Starting Point of the Camino Francés

If you are setting off on the Camino Francés, this is one of the best starting points for the Camino Francés; you will feel a real sense of the journey beginning as you make your way up Rue d’Espagne, away from the river and through the Porte d’Espagne in the 19th-century walls.

You will meet many pilgrims worldwide, and your sense of excitement will be palpable. These memories will remain with you long after you have finished your journey.

St Jean Pied de Port is the second most popular Camino de Santiago starting point. Over 33,000 pilgrims begin their journey here annually.

You have two options from the town for your first day’s walking to Roncesvalles. There is the Route de Napoleon, which travels over the Pass of Roncesvalles, and the Valcarlos route, which is more suitable for bad weather.

You can learn more about the Camino from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on our dedicated page.

For more information about the Camino de Santiago routes or to book your Camino holiday, contact us.


  1. By Mr David McMillan

    Reading your inspirational commentary has made me decide. 20 August 2024, day after my 64th birthday. French Way, here we go. Thank you for getting me over the edge!
    David Bikes (very Ltd)

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