St Jean Pied de Port
The tiny old town of St Jean at the foot of the pass over the Pyrenees is small enough to fit in your pocket. It’s basically a steep cobbled street or two between three ancient stone gateways. It feels as if you are coming into an ancient time zone.
I’d ridden up and over the hill from the next village past the ruined citadel fortress. And instantly I’m transported back to the early middle ages as I came through the gate. Narrow street, bumpy cobbles, Camino market in the roadway. A gateway wide enough for two people…. Just.
Down the steeply curving Street with adverts for hebergements, alberges, refuges, pilgrim gear I came to the Pilgrim Office. Wet and dripping pilgrims queued to ask questions.
What’s the path over the pass like? What’s the weather forecast? Where will I stay tonight? Everyone has a different budget. The two girls from Germany want to pay 10 euro, the man from Wales wants some comfort tonight in a hotel.
Maddi takes her list of accommodation and starts ringing for me. Some places are yet to open for the season, some are full, others not what I want or are too far out of town. They are all volunteers in the pilgrim office and do a week at a time. All with a smiling face and happy to answer the same dumb questions over and over.
“When I was growing up in this town," she said, “we hardly saw any pilgrims." “Now there are thousands every year." Possibly 100,000. I stay with Franck (from St Malo) and Patrizia (from Italy) the smiling couple who met two years ago walking the Camino. Now they run this pilgrim refuge with smiling faces and big encouragement. The was room for the bike, nice bed, good showers, washer dryer and good meal. Entertaining multi national company, eight of us in total. Happy days and just what I needed to set off over the Pyrenees.