Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella

Mont de Marsan to St Jean Pied de Port :

3 May 2011 to 9 May 2011

The final part of the French section of our pilgrimage.


Tuesday 3 May 2011
Off to France by Easyjet from Gatwick to Bordeaux for the last French part of our pilgrimage: just six days would take us into the heart of the Pyrenees.   On the bus from the airport into the centre of Bordeaux, we met another pilgrim, a young woman who was going directly to St Jean Pied De Port via Bayonne to start the Spanish section of the camino.  We explored the lovely city of Bordeaux until it was time to get our train at 17.26 to Mont De Marsan.  We arrived at 18.50.  Our Hotel was basic but convenient for the start of our walking and it had wifi. We explored the town and had dinner in the Hotel Richelieu.

Wednesday 4 May 2011
Mont De Marsan to St Sever  (20Km) Our first walking day was flat and fairly easy.  The weather was wonderful with blue skies and warm temperatures. This part of France had clearly had a very early Spring and all the roses and other flowers were well advanced. We ended up on the

banks of the pretty River Adour and climbed the hill up to St Sever where we visited the Tourist Information Office and got the details of a Chambre D’Hote.  It was an impressive house with a beautiful park-like garden, referred to as the “English House” by Madame who ran a small private language school teaching English to local children and adults.  Our room was very large and well furnished and the bed was as comfortable as ours at home. We went out to see the sights, including a viewpoint with a concrete cow,.  The only restaurant which was open on a Wednesday was the local Pizzeria.  So we returned there at 7.30pm.  Gillian had lamb chops with chips and I had a pizza which included honey as one of its toppings.  Afterwards we had a drink at another bar : beer blanche for Gilly and an armagnac for me

Thursday 5 May 2011
St Sever to Hagetmau  (18Km) Another easy walking day in wonderful warm sunshine.  A man tending his cherry trees in his garden, as we walked by, was kind enough to offer us a large handful of ripe red cherries.  Arriving at Hagetmau early (about 2 pm)  we found accommodation at the smart little Hotel Jambon. It was their last room  With time to kill we had an afternoon nap before exploring the town.   Later we walked along the local river in the sunshine and had a game of cards at a table in a park.  I had a beer in a bar while Gillian checked her emails using the hotel wi-fi. Then we had a meal in the hotel.  My starter course was fantastic (goats cheese parcels with fois gras on the side) but we both had magret of canard for our mains which wasn`t too good.  For wine we had a red Madiron which was quite heavy.  This was the wine we had drunk in the Pyrenees on our Headwater Holiday several years before.


Friday 6 May 2011
Hagetmau to Orthez (29Km)  This was a very hot walk in 30+degrees of heat. It was also the day on which we got our first view of the Pyrenees. They filled the horizon to the south and our route was taking us steadily westwards along their flank. The countryside began to get more hilly and we had quite a few ups and down.  Often, the road would descend steeply before crossing a stream and climbing the opposite hill. About lunchtime we were lucky enough to find a bar/restaurant open in a village.  I had a cold coca cola and Gillian had a coffee ice cream.  We moved on and sat around the next corner, in a shady rose arbour and ate our picnic lunch. We walked on through woods and across fields and then did a lot more road walking as we approached Orthez.  By this time my drinking water had become too hot to be palatable and, identifying myself as a pilgrim,  I begged a glass of cold mineral water off a lady in a roadside house.  We descended into Orthez and went to the tourist information Office to find out about hotels.  They recommended one right opposite. (which was convenient) After settling in we had a drink in a bar and then we sat in for part of a servicein the local church. Then did a tour of the town to find a restaurant.  We ended up having a Chinese meal.  Chicken and pineapple for me and chicken chop suey for Gillian. I also had a couple of Chinese beers. The owner was very friendly and spoke a strange mixture of English and French which was hard to understand. He enjoyed making “jockes".

Saturday 7 May 2011
Orthez to Sauveterre De Bearn (26Km)  Rain was forecast and it was certainly a much cooler day for walking. We had breakfast at a bar in the town square. Gillian did a bit of picnic shopping. We were on the road by about 9 a.m.  As we made our way towards the first village there was a short burst of rain but nothing much. A few kilometers out we discovered that the signed GR route went in a different direction to our guide.  We followed our guide and after descending to a main road found ourselves wallking up a green avenue through some woods.  At the top of the next hill we had our “elevenses” ( bread and cheese) There was then another track with a good scenic views before a long road descent to a village.  After this the countryside began to get really hilly with lots of downs and ups. The valleys were deep and dark with soft flowing streams and the hilltops were bright and grassy with open meadows.  We had our lunch on one of the tops with a view across a field full of horses and foals. Then more ups and downs.We took another break beside a church until we discovered we were being attacked by a host of mosquitoes.  We only had a few kilometers to our destination, but the sky was getting steadily darker.  Soon we could see the hilltop town of Sauveterre with its prominent church but about 300 meters from the village the rain started to fall  heavily. We moved as quickly as we could but we were very wet by the time we climbed the 100+ steps to the church square where we sheltered in the church portico along with some local teenagers. The rain eased and we enquired about the location of our accommodation “La Maison de Navarre". It turned out to be about ten minutes walk outside the town.  When we got there it looked delightful and we had a very nice room.  We were the only guests.  We had a meal consisting of scallops to start with, and "breast of lady-duck"  for our main course.  Madame was very friendly and chatted to us as she served us a really nice bottle of Jurancon Sec.  It was so nice that Gillian ordered another half bottle while I moved on Armagnac.  From the window we could see two donkeys and a large pet pig in the field which adjoined their garden.  After dinner we did a short walk and also went to see the animals.   The rain had stopped and the air was crystal clear giving us a lovely view of the Pyrenees which suddenly looked much closer.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Sauveterre de Bearn to Larceveau (30Km) After an early breakfast we were out on our  route at about 8.15am.  We had been unable to buy any supplies but reckoned that we had enough to last us to Ostabat. As usual we got some odds and ends from the breakfast table. After a bit of main road walking we folllowed the Compostella signs onto side roads and then a track which plunged into a wood and after a bridge became a path going ever upwards.  At the top a sign said we were at the border of the ancient kingdom of Navarre.  We followed a nice by-road which contoured along with very few ups and downs and presently found ourselves at a junction with a wonderful clear panoramic view of the Pyrenees.  We had our elevenses sitting on a grassy bank and simply enjoyed the beauty of the scenery.  It was now very hot and there was lots of road walking as we travelled mostly westwards. We had our lunch on a bridge on a disused railway line.  No snakes this time but a well-behaved black dog with a red

collar appeared and sat down a few yards away and gazed at our food.  In the distance we could hear a brass band playing. We walked another kilometer into the town of St Palais where there were bars and a small supermarket.  We took advantage of both and  had an ice cream.  Looking at the route guide, Gillian said we were going to be doing a lot of climbing very shortly. And that’s the way it was. At about 2 pm, when  the day was at its very hottest we slowly ascended some major inclines. The scenery had become very definite foothills which seemed to flow right in to the big mountains only a few miles away. Ahead of us we could see our path winding up another steep hillside.  At the top we took a long break, unfortunately too close to some very noisy French women walkers.  Also a man with the blue rucksack whom we had met a couple of times

previously. Some cows wandered up to inspect us while I was taking a nap under a tree. After about 40 minutes we descended the other side of the hill and started climbing through woods.  A yellow butterfly tried to get water from the mouthpiece of  Gillian`s platypus hydration pack.We were now at the point where the walking routes from Le Puy and Tours joined our “Voie De Vezelay” and we began to see many more pilgrims.   At the village of Ostabat we had a cold drink in the company some other pilgrims and several sleeping cats laid out in the sunshine.  Gillian made a couple of phone calls and obtained a hotel room in the village of Larceveau 4Km further on.  The day was still burning hot but the path was easy and we soon popped out on the main road and found our Hotel Espellet.  Our room was OK but the beds were soft and lumpy.  We were given the “half board” dinner which was perfectly good. There was a lot of noise outside our window that night with young men singing Basque songs.

Monday 9 May 2011
Larceveau to St Jean Pied De Port (15Km)  Bright and sunny with a cloudless sky again. We soon found ourselves walking with a number of other pilgrims. This was most unlike our solitary walk from Vezelay. The scenery was beautiful with lots of easy ups and downs within  the main valley which led to St Jean Pied De Port. It really felt like we were in the midst of the Pyrenees and we took lots of photos.  We had our lunchtime break on the grass beneath some oak trees.  We got to St Jean Pied de Port at about 1.45 pm. It was a bustling tourist town with many shops, bars and hotels and many pilgrims. We got our pilgrim passports stamped and had lunch in a cafe by the river.  I had a plate of chips and a beer: Gillian had a salad and a glass of cider. Then we fed the fish in the river with all the stale bread we had accumulated en route. Reaching here was a significant milestone on our journey and we would be back in September to start the Spanish section of our walk to Santiago de Compostella. We got the 16.32 train to Bayonne.  The railway followed the valley of the little River Nive which flowed through the heart St Jean Pied de Port: a wonderfully scenic trip along the edge of the mountains.  The river was still with us at Bayonne where it joined the now mighty River Adour which we had last seen at St Sever. We got a room in the Hotel Arceaux right in the centre and saw a bit of the city before having an excellent dinner (with a bottle of Jurancon) at a restaurant beside the river.  The next day we visited Biarritz on the coast just six miles from Bayonne and then got a train to Bordeaux and a flight back to London.