10 days, 9 nights
A Self-Guided Trip. 10 Days, 9 Nights, with 8 days of hiking
There were 4 major routes through France used by pilgrims traveling to Compostela, eventually merging into 2 main paths to cross the mighty Pyrenees mountain range into Spain and finally meeting near Puente la Reina, just west of Pamplona.
The 3 most northern French routes converged to cross the Pyrenees via the Roncesvals (or Ibaneta) Pass in ancient kingdom of Navarre.
The 4th and southernmost route was known as the Via Tolosana in Latin as it went via Toulouse, or as Chemin d’Arles in French due to its starting in Arles, near the Mediterranean Sea. It was used by pilgrims from southern Europe in general as well as those from Switzerland and southern Germany.
This route crosses the central Pyrenees at the difficult Somport pass, (Summus Port for the Romans) at 1640 m, following an old Roman road from Aquitaine to Saragossa.
The section in Spain, from Somport to Puente la Reina has become known as the Camino Aragonés, as it mostly runs through Aragón, one of the most powerful and important kingdoms in the history of Spain, whose dominions once stretched far and wide on both sides of the Pyrenees.
Our trip on the Camino Aragonés begins in historic Oloron-Sainte-Marie, the last major town in France on the Way. After a short but challenging climb up and over the Somport pass, set among some of the highest peaks in the Pyrenees, you’ll descend the beautiful forested Aragón River valley to the lively town of Jaca, former capital of Aragón. From here, the route heads west, continuing along the Rio Aragón, paralleling the main ridgeline of the Pyrenees, across gently undulating terrain of cereal fields and scrubland until reaching Puente la Reina.
The Camino Aragonés runs through varied landscapes of extraordinary beauty in which the pilgrim feels a sense of great isolation, as there are few other pilgrims and the territory is sparsely populated.
Walking a total of nearly 188 Km (117 mi) in 8 daily stages, some of which involve considerable elevation gain and loss make this one of more challenging Camino routes, but in fact, completing this itinerary is well within reach of anyone who maintains a moderate level of fitness.
Easily accessible by bus or train from Pau; we can also arrange a pickup by taxi from relatively nearby French towns with airports such as Pau, Bordeaux, Toulouse or Biarritz; for further details on getting to and from our trip start points, see our FAQ’s page.
Puente la Reina (Spain).
20 taxi to Pamplona or 40 min taxi to Logroño. Both have bus and train connections to Madrid & Barcelona. Alternatively, a taxi ride of 1 h 15min to 2 h will get you to many interesting destinations on the north coast (Bilbao, San Sebastian, Biarritz, etc. all with airports for connections to European cities).
(C+/D-) Moderate to challenging due to length of some stages and elevation gain/loss on some days. Daily stages range from 16 – 31 km / 10 – 19 miles. For most people this would be about 5 to 7 hours of walking.
We use the best available lodgings at each overnight stop, usually 2* – 3* hotels or equivalent inns, always focusing on charm & character, comfort & quality, good location, good food and family run if possible.
Start any day between April 15 and October 30.
Breakfasts, some evening meals with local wine and bottled water. Other nights to explore on your own.
Local maps of some towns where necessary to help you find your way to your hotel.
Custom-written, detailed daily route instructions, hotel contact information, public transport schedules and other information necessary to complete your personal itinerary.
Luggage and personal transfer as required by itinerary between start & end points.
Local English-speaking Iberian Adventures contact
In standard hotels at start & end points of tour are also available, as well as other nearby towns such as Pau (near start point) or Pamplona (near end point). Please consult us for prices and availability.
We can provide other itineraries over this section of the Camino for people who would like some shorter stages or have fewer days available. Contact us!
The Pyrenees – Europe’s 2nd major mountain range, after the Alps, you’ll cross the France-Spain border following an old Roman road across one of the higher passes in the Central Massif, where swirling mists and flocks of sheep are often your main companions. When the fog lifts wonderful views abound of magnificent mountains and valleys.
Oloron-Sainte-Marie: founded by the Romans in the 1st century at a strategic point on the old Roman way across the Pyrenees between Dax and Saragossa, it is just 50 km from the Spanish border, located at the confluence of two mountain rivers, and is the capital of the Haute-Bearn region that encompasses several important Pyrenean valleys
Historic military engineering near Somport Pass – the area below the pass on both sides, but especially on the Spanish, is strewn with vestiges of military defensive constructions of various vintages. The pass was one of the most important crossing points of the entire Pyrenees, and was crucial to maintaining control throughout centuries to the rulers on both flanks of the range, from the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago to the Nazis in the 2nd world war and General Franco during and following Spain’s civil war. These include forts of varying types, bunkers and towers.
Hospital de Santa Cristina – the Camino Aragonés route began to achieve major importance in the 11th century, partially due to the presence of this celebrated pilgrim refuge (“hospital” in Spanish) – located just below Somport Pass. The Liber Sancti Iacobi (Codex Calextino) guidebook specifically mentions it as 1 of the 3 most important in all of Christianity, together with the one in Mont-Joux (at St. Bernard pass on the pilgrimage route to Rome) and the Hospital of Jerusalem! Run by Augustinian monks and supported by Aragonese monarchs and Counts of Bearn (France), it provided shelter and services to pilgrims and travelers of all kinds who braved the perils of the mountain pass, including wild beasts, fog and blizzards. Today, only ruins remain.
Canfranc Estación – just at the Spanish end of the Somport railway tunnel, completed in 1915 to cross under the Pyrenees, this huge “international” train station opened in 1928 and was Europe’s largest, with a total length of over 200 meters, 3 stories high, 75 doors on each side and more than 360 windows! The main passenger’s hall has much splendor and there was a luxurious hotel, customs and post offices, bars, restaurants etc. The station and nearby town of Canfranc share a truly fascinating history during WWII and the Franco dictatorship period involving smuggling, nazi gold, Jewish and other refugees and so on. Closed and abandoned since 1970 when the railway line was closed, various projects are now in place to restore the station and hotel to its former glory, create services for pilgrims etc. The railway line linking France and Spain is projected to reopen also in upcoming years.
Jaca – the former capital of the powerful Kingdom of Aragón, this lively town is located at a strategic point at the confluence of two rivers and major medieval (and Roman) routes. Its proud history is evidenced by its Romanesque cathedral, the earliest in all of Spain, which nowadays also houses one of the country’s finest museums of Romanesque art. An unusual citadel is a pentagon-shaped fort, the only one in Spain. This attractive town is the base of training operations for Spain’s military and mountain search & rescue teams as well as a dynamic hub of outdoor activities in this region. Jaca bid (and failed) 3 times to host the Winter Olympic Games
Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña – one of the most interesting monasteries in all of Spain – San Juan de la Peña (“St. John of the Cliff”) is said to have once housed the Holy Grail where it was sent for protection from the Muslim invaders of the Iberian Peninsula. The small but impressive complex is partially carved into the stone of a great cliff that overhangs the structures. The fascinating 12th C cloister contains a series of beautiful capitals with Biblical scenes, arranged below the huge overhanging rock.
Santa Maria de Eunate – one of the most interesting churches on any of the Camino routes, with its unusual octagonal floorplan and exterior arches whose capitals feature rich ornamental details with masks, plants, human and animal figures. Its origins are unknown, and various theories include that it was Templar church or a pilgrim’s hospital run by the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.
An authentic experience of “pilgrimage” and immersion in nature – you’ll experience a myriad of changing landscapes, from rocky trails, high mountains, verdant valleys and rushing river torrents, to gently rolling terrain of wheat fields, arid steppes, olive groves and vineyards. Oregano, mint, rosemary and thymes scent the trail. There will be many moments of joy at the wonders of nature and opportunities to revel in solitude as you won’t find many other travelers on the trail. Inevitably, pilgrims soon find themselves imbued with the unique and magical spirit of this Camino.
NOTE: If you aren’t in a hurry and want to see more of the area or another part of Spain, consider taking a short taxi to Pamplona to rent a car and go exploring! For example, driving west following the Camino through the famous wine-producing area of La Rioja and then north to the Atlantic coast to Bilbao to catch a plane home, or head directly northeast to the nearby Pyrenees mountains and then follow the range eastward to Barcelona. We can help you to plan your itinerary. Ask us!