A recent addition to the ranks of France’s most beautiful villages, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a delightful note on which to end a long-distance walk along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques du-Puy.
I’ve enjoyed many unforgettable moments here. Before you scroll to the bottom for practical tips on where to stay and where to eat, these are a few of my favourites!
(Published October 2016, updated May 2020)
The highs and lows of completing a long-distance walk
It goes without saying that the end of any long-distance walk invokes a mixed range of emotional responses – gratitude and relief that you’ve made it safely; that tomorrow’s weather doesn’t matter so much; that tomorrow’s schedule may allow a luxurious sleep-in and blisters and stiff muscles can finally start to recover.
But all endings carry an element of sadness – that the new friends you’ve made over the past weeks will be going their own ways; that tomorrow may actually need some sort of plan and activities more complicated than putting one foot in front of the other and remembering to keep your water bottle topped up.
Whether you’ve come 750 kilometres (470 miles) from le-Puy-en-Velay, broken the journey into shorter stages or you’re continuing on across northern Spain to Santiago, take a moment to celebrate – and raise a glass to acknowledge your achievement!
Rue de la Citadelle
The Chemin de Saint-Jacques du-Puy enters Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port through Porte Saint-Jacques, one of four medieval gates where access was granted (or denied) to the traders and pilgrims who arrived each day. From here, the path continues down the hill along Rue de la Citadelle. Lined with chambres d’hôtes, windows and doorways bursting with flower-filled pot plants, the street is a charming introduction to the town and an invitation to slow down and ease into the afternoon. Souvenir shops scattered along the street threaten to fill any small gaps there may be lurking in your backpack – after all, the need to travel as lightly as possible is no longer quite so important (unless you’re headed for Roncevaux!)
On your right as you walk downhill along Rue de la Citadelle, is Prison des Évêques. The ground floor of this beautiful stone building dates from the thirteenth century when it was built for the Bishops who were based here. Although the name translates to Prison of the Bishops, it is unclear whether the building was used for this purpose or not – there are conflicting reports to support both cases. But it was certainly used as a prison several hundred years later during the eighteenth century when the upper floor was added. Today, its walls form the backdrop to a variety of cultural exhibitions. (Open every day, except Tuesday, from Easter until 1 November. Hours vary according to the season.)
Next door to Prison des Évêques, at number 39 Rue de la Citadelle, is Bureau des Pèlerins. Here you’ll find answers to all your questions regarding the 800-kilometre (500-mile) walk across Spain to Santiago. If you think you may return one day to make this journey yourself, call in, ask questions and pick up your crédencial, or pilgrim’s passport, which allows access to the refugios along the Camino.
Just a few of the gorgeous chambres d’hôtes and shop fronts along Rue de la Citadelle…
Continue along Rue de la Citadelle to the bottom of the hill. On your left, hemmed in snugly among shops and the city walls is Église Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont. Pilgrims’ Mass, held here each evening, is a memorable experience for many walkers and the front corner is often ablaze with dozens of candles, lit as an expression of thanks for a successful journey from le-Puy-en-Velay or as a requested blessing for a safe journey to come.
The pilgrimage to Santiago begins at the bottom of Rue de la Citadelle where Porte Notre-Dame leads walkers across the oft-photographed Pont Romain (Pilgrims’ Bridge) and on to Rue d’Espagne. Instead of crossing the bridge, turn right and follow Rue de l’Église to the main road where you’ll enjoy views back along the river and, no doubt, capture your own ‘magic moment’.
Chemin de Ronde and the Citadelle
A walk along Chemin de Ronde, the medieval wall, will take you from Porte de Navarre near the river back up the hill to Porte Saint-Jacques, offering picturesque views towards the Pyrénées Mountains. The crisp white stucco walls of the houses, with their contrasting deep red or green shutters and red roofs, scattered among lush green hills provide a postcard view – and possibly rekindle that urge to keep walking and discover what lays beyond those mountain peaks!
It was from Chemin de Ronde that soldiers guarded Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in medieval times, providing the first line of defence against attacks from the Spanish. Behind them, the Citadelle, which towers over the town from Mendiguren Hill, provided protection for the ruling nobility.
Built in the first part of the seventeenth century on the site of an earlier fortified château, the buildings now host the secondary school. The grounds can be explored at any time or guided tours of the Citadelle (en français) leave from the Tourist Office—on Thursday afternoons in July and August and on Monday afternoons in September and during school holidays.
And if you can’t walk another step? Le Petit Train Touristique will whisk you around all the major sights in 40 minutes!
And tomorrow? Perhaps another journey awaits…
Which long-distance walk in France visits Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port?
Where is Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France? Find it on Google maps
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is located 730 kilometres (456 miles) along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques. If you follow the Célé variante between Figeac and Cahors, the walk is extended by 20 kilometres to 750 kilometres (470 miles) – a thirty-nine day walk from the starting point of Le-Puy-en-Velay.
Click through to find my suggested itinerary for all five stages of the walk
If you prefer to set your own agenda, I share the steps I take to calculate distances on any long-distance walk (using the Chemin de Stevenson as a case study)
Frequent bus and train services connect Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Bayonne and on to Bordeaux and Paris providing several options for exploring the region more widely – or heading home once your walk is over.
Tourist Office in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
You’ll find the Tourist Office on the main road at 14 Place Charles de Gaulle. Opening hours are listed here.
Before you arrive, download a map (available in French, English and Spanish) with several places of interest marked.
Accommodation in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
There is no shortage of accommodation in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, with something for every taste and budget. If you’ve spent most nights over the last few weeks sharing a dorm room with snoring strangers and feel you’ve earned a night of comfort (and privacy!), I can thoroughly recommend Hôtel Itzalpea and Maison d’hôtes Ziberoa (both are very reasonably priced).
Gîte Refuge Municipal des Pèlerins
Gîte le Lièvre et la Tortue
Gîte Auberge du Pèlerin
Gîte Maison Kaserna
Gîte le Chemin vers l’Étoile
Where to eat in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
Whether you’re hankering for crêpes or a simple pizza or looking forward to something more upmarket or typical of the region, you’ll find something close by to suit your tastes. For a delicious, traditional meal based on local produce, I can recommend Oillarburu on Rue de l’Église (where Martin Sheen dined before setting out across Spain in the movie The Way). You’ll find a comprehensive list of restaurants here.
There is also a full range of bakeries, supermarkets and speciality food stores in town which cater well to the throngs of walkers.
Fresh food markets are held at Marché Couvert every Monday morning (Tuesday if the Monday is a public holiday). Place Charles de Gaulle hosts a general market all day each Monday.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is one of eleven ‘most beautiful villages’ found along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques du-Puy. Find them all here.