When planning to walk your first camino, there are a hundred things to get excited about and another hundred (or more) logistical questions.
- Where will I sleep?
- How far will I be able to walk each day?
- What will I find to eat?
- Will the weather be kind?
- Etc., etc., etc.
One of the most frequent questions, and often the hardest to find an answer to, is how do I get to the starting point – Saint Jean Pied de Port?
Saint Jean Pied de Port (or SJPdP to us camino groupies) is a small town in the middle of nowhere and slightly off the beaten track, despite the fact that thousands of enthusiastic pilgrims beat a path to this town every year.
SJPdP is located deep in south-western France, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountain range. Many pilgrims cross the Pyrenees on the first day of their camino, to collapse exhausted in Roncesvalles, at the foot of the Pyrenees on the Spanish side.
I have to say that this day’s walk was the hardest day’s work I have ever done! Those bloody mountains keep bloody going bloody up!! But the sense of achievement, and the taste of that first cold beer at the walk’s end, made it all worthwhile, but I digress…
So, along with all the other logistics planning, I had to work out the best country (France or Spain?) to fly into, and then the best way to get to the starting point. I eventually settled on flights into Paris, and then a south-bound train direct from Charles de Gaulle airport to Bayonne (slightly inland from Biarritz).
The challenge was then to get from Bayonne to SJPdP, as on the day we were to arrive, there were no connecting trains.
This company provides a convenient shuttle bus service, picking up both passengers and luggage from various towns along the camino, as well as from feeder cities such as Biarritz and Bayonne.
Unfortunately, my incredibly detailed, and well-thought-out, travel plans went completely out the window when all the trains from Paris went into shut down, leading to massive delays and disorganisation across France.
Express Bourricot were fantastic, and even though we were running about five hours late, they rejigged their timetable to collect us from Bayonne train station. I did return the favour though, as I managed to find them two more passengers who were also stuck at the train station wondering how they would get to the Pyrenees. This helped us too, as the more bodies in the shuttle bus decreased the cost per person. Win-win.
If you want to skip the slog over the Pyrenees, Express Bourricot will shuttle you direct to Roncesvalles or, alternatively, up to one of the two hostels located part-way up the French side of the mountains, at Huntto or Orisson. If I had my time again, I would definitely split this day into two, and have a much more leisurely start to the Camino Frances.
Another good option would be to have your backpack transported direct to Roncesvalles, leaving you lighter and less encumbered for your mountain crossing. Baggage transport costs €8 per piece.
A new service, which I really wish was around in 2013 when I walked, is that they will transport to, and store luggage in, Santiago de Compostela. This would be ideal, if you are enjoying further travel after your walk, or to send your ‘good’, post-camino clothes ahead and have them waiting for you. When I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, I was so sick of the same clothes I had been wearing for the past four weeks, and they were so disgusting, I simply had to throw them out. Naturally I then had to go shopping for new ones. A shopping expedition may be an attractive option for some, but for €70 you can have all your own favourite clothes waiting for you. This is potentially, a cheaper option that shopping for new outfits and footwear, and cheaper again if you are walking with a friend and can split the cost in half.
Along with Express Bourricot, there are a number of other luggage transport companies who will move your bag/backpack from town to town, as dictated by your daily walking schedule. I didn’t choose this option, but I think it is an excellent one for people with back problems or for those who simply don’t want to carry a heavy backpack all day.
These services means that anyone can walk a camino. Whether it is 14km or 40km every day, you can adapt it to suit yourself, your level of fitness and your budget.
Check out Express Bourricot for a hassle-free start to your Camino Frances.
Do have shuttle bus tips?
What: A convenient shuttle transport service for people and luggage.
Where: 31, Rue De La Citadelle – 64220 St Jean De Pied De Port
When: The service operates seven days a week. Contact them to confirm pick-up times.
Why: For a relaxing, stress-free door-to-door transport service for your body or an easy and enjoyable transport of your luggage.
Who: No age limit.
Related Posts: For some camino suggestions, as well as Nuts and Bolts planning information, have a look at the range of posts on the Two Feet section of this blog.
Related Blogs: For another perspective, and an enjoyable read, have a look at this blog by a highly experienced and passionate camino pilgrim, https://magwood.me/
Read About It: For the equivalent of the Camino Bible, check out the guidebooks written by John Brierley on Book Depository.