These notes are designed to assist Australians travelling to St Jean Pied de Port in France, the starting point of the Camino Frances, the pilgrimage route that ends in Santiago de Compostela 800 km to the west in Galicia, Spain. The route described involves flying into Paris and then catching a train from Paris to Bayonne, and then from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port.
(Note: Of course there are other ways to get to St Jean Pied de Port …. for example, flying into Barcelona and catching a train or bus to Pamplona, then a bus to St Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles and taxi to St Jean Pied de Port.) (www.caminoteca.com or www.expressbourricot.com)
1. Preparations before leaving Australia
Check all your travel documents, passport and tickets. Make sure that you can carry these securely, particularly if planning to use the RER or Metro trains in Paris.
Acquire some Euros in notes. It’s handy to have some on arrival to use for transportation, food and drink. It may take some time to find an ATM.
Purchase your ticket from Paris to Bayonne before leaving Australia. The cost is often less than the ‘over the counter’ price. (see useful websites below)
2. Air to Paris
Many airlines fly from Australia into Paris, arriving at the Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) 30 km north-east of Paris – eg Emirates, Qatar, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Malaysian. For information about Charles de Gaulle Airport visit paris-cdg.worldairportguides.com
3. Travel into Paris from Charles De Gaulle Airport
There are a range of shuttle services and coaches into the city from the airport. Best choice will depend on your destination (eg hotel, railway station) and budget. Search on Google.
The RER railway station is a short walk from the airport terminals at Charles de Gaulle airport. Follow the signs. Trains will take you directly into the city. Journey time is approximately 30 minutes.
Information is readily available at the station about how to buy a ticket, which station to go to (depending on where you’re staying), how to change to the Metro system etc.
4. Train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Bayonne
It is possible to travel by train to Bayonne from the station at Charles de Gaulle Airport without going into the city of Paris. Visit www.thetrainline-europe.com.
Other useful websites for timetables, itineraries, booking tickets include:
It is cheaper to book train tickets online before arriving in France – book as far ahead as possible for best deals.
5. From Paris (Gare Montparnasse) to Bayonne
If spending a day or two in Paris before heading to St Jean Pied de Port, you will need to take the train from Gare Montparnasse in the city. Journey time is approximately 6 hours 30 mins.
5.1 Gare Montparnasse
Trains depart from the main hall (Hall Maine) of Gare Montparnasse on level 2. A description of the station can be found at parisbytrain.com/gare-montparnasse-photo-tour/. Look for the headings “Montparnasse TGV Trains & Tickets” and “Montparnasse Train Departures & Arrivals Area”. In the centre of the main hall there is a large black departures board showing when trains are departing, their numbers, destinations and line numbers.
6. Validate tickets before boarding trains in France
You must validate your ticket before boarding trains in France by inserting the barcode end into the validating machine: bar code up and magnetic strip down. These yellow machines are usually at the entrance to the platform on all stations. The machine prints a code on the end of the ticket and you can board the train. See the website parisbytrain.com.
Make sure you board the correctly numbered carriage and sit in the seat indicated on your ticket.
7. Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port
SNCF run a local train from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port leaving two to four times a day. The trip takes about 80 minutes. See www.voyages-sncf.com for train times. Also the SNCF Aquitane website at www.ter.sncf.com (in French).
7.2 Express Bourricot
The Express Bourricot is a taxi and luggage service. They transport pilgrims from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port and provide other services. Check out their website at www.expressbourricot.com.
8. Accommodation in Paris
There are many hotels and pensions near the Gare Montparnasse with widely varying rates. Before booking on any of the online travel sites, it may be wise to read some of the reviews. The Montparnasse area is within walking distance of many of the iconic Paris landmarks. If you plan to stay for a few days, the Paris Metro system is a must for getting around.
8.1 Other Facilities
There is a coin operated laundromat, the Laverie Libre Service S.B.S., at 16 Rue Bréa near Montparnasse.
9. Accommodation at Bayonne
(as above – search and book online)
10. Accommodation at St Jean Pied de Port
A popular albergue in St Jean Pied de Port, is Beilari (‘pilgrim’ in Basque). It is located at 40 rue de la Citadelle. It is a private establishment so bookings can be made. Dinner and breakfast are available at this albergue, and together with the bed costs 26€ per person. See their website at www.beilari.info for more information.
The Beilari is open from March to November, though it would be wise to check the website for dates.
The Municipal Albergue is located at 50 rue de la Citadelle. The Pilgrim Office is located in the same street opposite the Beilari at number 39. This office is open all year and can also issue credencials (pilgrim passports), provide information on the weather and assist in finding accommodation.
If you have arrived in France, travelled straight to Bayonne, and then on to St Jean Pied de Port, you may still be jet lagged. The first stage described in many guide books is the 25 km Route de Napoléon over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles. This includes an ascent of 1390 m and a decent of about 500 m into Roncesvalles. If this appears too strenuous for the first day consider staying at the Refuge Orrison, 8.6 km and 450 m up the hill. The website is at www.refuge-orisson.com and beds can be booked. Dinner and breakfast are available and a packed lunch can also be purchased.
www.caminoguide.net A guide to the Camino Frances is available for download. The guide lists pilgrim accommodation and essential services along the route. This guide and additional information is also available for purchase as 2 PDF files.