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9 Nights – Camino Francés: across the Pyrenees on the Somport Pass route

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10 Days, 9 Nights
Max People : 14
Iberian Adventures > Destinations > Camino Francés > 9 Nights – Camino Francés: across the Pyrenees on the Somport Pass route
Across the Pyrenees on the “Camino Aragonés” from Oloron-Sainte-Marie (France) to Puente la Reina.
Tour Details

Duration:

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.

Meeting Point:

Oloron-Sainte-Marie (France).

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.

Ending Point:

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).

Walk Difficulty and Terrain:

(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.  

Accommodations:

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.

Custom Dates:

Start any day between April 15 and October 30.

Minimum Group size:

2

Price Per Person (2 person group):

Consult us.

Price includes:

Accommodation

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

Extra nights:

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.

Custom Trips:

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!

Highlights

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.

Itinerary

Day 1Oloron-Sainte-Marie

Independent arrival in the charming town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, a lovely little historic town in France’s Haute-Bearn region, nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees, it’s the perfect place to start your journey. Explore on your own.

Overnight: Oloron-Sainte-Marie – in a comfortable and charming 3* equivalent inn.

Day 2From Urdos, across the Pyrenees into Spain, via Somport Pass, to Canfranc Estación

A transfer up the Aspe Valley, leads through lovely landscapes and increasingly steeper terrain and gorges to Urdós, the last village before the border. Here you’ll begin your first hike on this wonderful Camino adventure! The trail begins along the valley floor before heading up the mountain, through forest and finally emerging to alpine meadows near the pass, where you will be greeted with superb views if the weather is kind. Welcome to España! After a well-deserved rest and snack, descend the beautiful valley of the Rio Aragón, and soon pass the ruins of the 11th century Santa Cristina Monastery. A few kilometers later you’ll reach your hotel, in CanFranc Estación with its fascinating history from WWII and the Franco dictatorship period.

Approximate distance & elevation gain/loss: 19.2 km / 11.9 mi (+950 m / 3,117 ft -430m/1,411 ft )
Overnight: Canfranc Estación – in a comfortable 3* equivalent hotel & spa.

Day 3Canfranc Estación to Jaca

A gentle descent southward on good paths down the valley of the Rio Aragón, through Canfranc, a former customs house for the Kings of Aragón where road tolls were exacted on travelers, Villanúa and Castiello de Jaca before reaching Jaca, former capital of Aragón and region of Jacetania. It’s a lively place that is the hub for tourism in this part of the Pyrenees, with plenty of character and plenty of fine options for eating, drinking and shopping. A visit to the Romanesque art museum in the cathedral is highly recommended.

Approximate distance & elevation gain/loss: 23 km / 14.2 mi (+ 50 m / – 425 m)
Overnight: Jaca, in a 3* hotel in the heart of the historic town

Day 4Jaca to San Juan de la Peña & Santa Cruz de la Serós

Get an early start, as it’s a challenging hike with your trip’s biggest single-day elevation gain. From Jaca, the trail now heads west, then our route features a detour from the main trail taken by many pilgrims for a truly fascinating visit to the magical monastery of San Juan de la Peña. From here, on the hike down to your cozy lodgings in Santa Cruz de la Serós you’ll be rewarded with excellent views of the high mountains of the Pyrenees in the distance.

Approx. distance & +/- elevation: 21.2 km / 13.2 mi (+ 1135 m / 3724 ft – 1175 m / 3,855 ft)
Overnight: in Santa Cruz de la Serós, 2* inn at historic inn.

Day 5Santa Cruz de la Serós to Arrés

Begin the day with a gentle descent to rejoin the main Camino route in Santa Cilia de Jaca, then continues west to Puente la Reina de Jaca with its impressive 19th C bridge over the Rio Aragón. A short climb through rolling terrain and boxwood brings you to the quaint little hilltop village of Arrés, end of stage. You’ll stay either here or take a short 10 min taxi to nearby Berdún, an attractive small town colonizing a large hill set among wheat fields.

Approx. distance & elevation gain/loss: 16.3 km / 10.1 mi (+ 130 m / 426 ft – 195 m / 640 ft)
Overnight: in Arrés or Berdún 2-3* equivalent inns with plenty of character (1st of 2 nights)

Day 6Arrés to Ruesta

Rolling rural terrain across fields of grain, following trails used over the centuries by muleteers, merchants and pilgrims to reach Pamplona. There weren’t many villages or towns along the way, but there were a few pilgrim’s refuges and inns, mostly in ruins today. Today you’ll have the opportunity to visit several of the few still-inhabited villages, just off the main Camino route, including Martes, Mianos and especially Artieda, a perfect lunch stop. Small stands of scrub oak begin to appear in the 2nd half of the stage, ending in Ruesta, an fascinating little stone village with many abandoned homes and ruins of an impressive Muslim castle. Transfer back to previous night’s lodging.

Approx. distance & elevation gain/loss: 27.5 km / 17 mi (+125 m / 410 ft – 250 m / 820 ft)
Overnight: in Arrés or Berdún 2-3* equivalent inns in refurbished historic buildings with plenty of character

Day 7Ruesta to Sangüesa

Today the trail crosses from Aragón into Navarre, across more rolling rural terrain of farm and scrubland with little shelter, the soil often presenting calcium carbonate-rich marls, very characteristic of this part of Aragón. Today, as on every day since leaving Jaca, you’ll walk with the magnificent panorama of the Pyrenees far off to your right (north) in the distance. The Way is scattered with fascinating historical remains, including two perfectly preserved sections of medieval paved trail, and the lovely chapel – Ermita de Santiago. Midway through the stage, the stone-built village of Undués de Lerda has a magnificent 16th century parish church and noble homes, a perfect place for lunch. The stage ends in Sangüesa, the 1st town in Navarre on this Camino, with many and earlier Roman remains.

Approx. distance & elevation gain/loss: 22.1 km / 13.7 mi (+295 m / 968 ft – 460 m/ 1509 ft)
Overnight: in Sangüesa, 2* hotel in the heart of the old town

Day 8Sangüesa to Monreal / Elo

Now in Navarre, today’s stage offers views of great beauty, through mostly uninhabited terrain for much of the stage. In Sangüesa, the Camino finally abandons the Rio Aragón, which now heads south to join the Ebro.
The stage begins by going through Rocaforte, famed as a spot where St. Francis of Assisi stopped on his pilgrimage to Santiago, 800 years ago and rested at the hermitage of St. Bartholomew, now considered the 1st Franciscan building in Spain. The trail soon enters hillier terrain with more variety of trees than on the previous few stages, with pine, oaks and poplars in addition to the usual boxwood and junipers.

Approx. distance & elevation gain/loss: 27.4 km / 17 mi (+455 m / 1,493 ft – 300 m/ 984 ft)
Overnight: a simple 2* hotel conveniently located in the heart of the village

Day 9Monreal to Puente la Reina

A long final walk along the northern side of the Sierra de Alaiz, over the cereal plain of the River Elorz valley to Tiebas, and then following the River Robo, with gently rolling terrain featuring olive groves and vineyards, especially on the approach to Puente la Reina. Shortly before the end of stage you’ll pass right by the emblematic church of Santa Maria de Eunate, one of the most frequently photographed on the Camino. In Obanos the Camino Aragonés finally merges with the other Camino Frances route from Roncesvalles pass, entering Puente la Reina together now as a single Way.

Approx. distance & elevation gain/loss: 31.2 km / 19.4 mi (+190 m / 623 ft – 450 m/ 1,476 ft)
Overnight: in Puente la Reina, a comfortable 3* hotel in a refurbished historic building in the heart of the village.

Day 10Departure

Depart from Puente la Reina. Either continue walking along the Camino Frances, or go by taxi to either Pamplona (20 min) or Logroño (40 min)

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!

Map

Photos