Starting The Camino in Lourdes Instead of St. Jean-Pied-de-Port

Yesterday was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes. For anyone considering a Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage here are 9 reasons why it is a wonderful starting point.
Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes

While a high majority of pilgrims wanting to do the Camino de Santiago for a month or longer choose St. Jean Pied-de-Port (SJPP) as a starting point, there are alternatives. Of course you can start closer in Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, or even Sarria. Or elsewhere in Spain. However, for some the longer the better and a few start farther away at their homes all over Europe. In any case there are no right or wrong, best or worst places to begin. There is only your starting point.

For those with a bit of extra time, Lourdes and the Sanctuary of Our Lady is worth your consideration for the following reasons:

1. Lourdes is a holy city and a pilgrimage destination itself. In 1858, Mother Mary appeared to Bernadette, a 14 year old French girl. Today there are over 5 million pilgrims arriving here annually.

2. Puts you into a ”pilgrim frame of mind”. This is the single most powerful reason. There was something quite special starting the Camino lighting a candle for loved ones, walking around the grounds with other pilgrims at night holding lit candles singing ‘Ave Maria’ and other holy hymns, sensing the power of prayer watching people on their knees on the hard pavement connecting to their God and spirits. Lourdes is truly a place of miracles, as there have been 70 reported healing miracles since 1858.

3. This one is an extension of 2 and a bit subjective but if you are seeking a pilgrimage that reconnects you with your inner soul, walking from Lourdes to SJPP will offer some quiet reflection time before integrating with the much more populated Camino Frances.

4. Starting in Lourdes allows for a pilgrim to get in a bit of shape before the challenging SJPP to Roncesvalles stage over the Pyrenees. This stretch is 149 kilometers and takes 6 days on average. And you still get to experience the joy of reaching St. Jean and connecting with the many pilgrims arriving from all over the world to start their own pilgrimages. You may enjoy being one of the few through pilgrims who started before this bustling border town.

St. Jean Pied-de-Port

5. Enriches your pilgrimage experience walking through 2 countries. Every Camino is great but my personal favorites are the 4 I started in France or further away. Granted, SJPP is in France but one gets just a brief taste of France.

6. Allows one to experience French culture and cuisine. I love walking in Spain, but France is just as special. Only slightly more expensive as there are auberges and gites available. And the food and wine are exceptional. I enjoy the food in Spain, but the French passion for delectable cuisine paired with a good local wine makes dining in France a truly memorable part of one’s Camino.

Being American, I call it “Baked Alaska”, but in France they call it “Norwegian Omelet”. Either way, French Cuisine is a wonderful part of walking in France.

7. This one is a bit subjective but if you are seeking a pilgrimage that reconnects you with your inner soul, walking from Lourdes to SJPP will offer some quiet reflection time before integrating with the much more populated Camino Frances.

8. Starting in Lourdes extends your Camino by a week. If you are like me any reason for lengthening our time on The Camino is a big plus.

9. Lourdes is easier to get to than SJPP. Being a major pilgrimage site there are excellent flight and train connections to Lourdes from all over Europe.

FYI, Lourdes is on the Camino Piemont which runs south and parallel to Camino Arles. It starts in Narbonne on the Mediterranean Sea and passes through the wonderful city of Carcassonne. 3 days past Lourdes in Oloron Ste. Marie it connects with Camino Arles taking you into St. Jean. Alternatively in Oloron, pilgrims can veer south over the Pyrenees to Somport and the wonderful and quiet alternative, Camino Aragones which then links up to Camino Frances in Puente La Reina.

One final note.  Speaking little or no French shouldn’t deter you.  While the French have a reputation for occasionally being rude to tourists, I have found them to be friendly and accommodating to pilgrims during my 100+ days walking in France. Plus it’s fun to use “Bon Chemin” rather than “Buen Camino”.

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7 thoughts on “Starting The Camino in Lourdes Instead of St. Jean-Pied-de-Port”

  1. Hi, I find this very interesting. Are there villages/Albergues to stay every 20 to 25 kms? 25kms is my maximum per day ability to walk. Thanks. I am planning on starting on 30 May.

  2. Hi Kevin, I hope to walk from Lourdes to St Jean Pied de Port in April ’23. Is there an English Guide Book and/or GPS map that you can recommend.

    Thank you for your blog.

    1. I don’t generally use a guidebook on such short walks. There is plenty of info online via gronze and other services. The Camino Vie Piedmonte and Aragones are part of the Camino routes download available at santiago.nl website. The gps download is available in two formats and easily overlaid into my maps.me app. In fact the download is available for all the Caminos in Spain and France. I envy you. Starting from Lourdes is a special experience. Buen Camino and I would welcome a post on your experience on this website. Feel free to contact me with any other questions and pay us a visit if you make it to Muxia. We have many guidebooks and 500+ canvas print pictures on walls on various Caminos and other world pilgrimages. This guide may be of help: http://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/attachments/guia_aragones_english-pdf.75166/Aragones guide

        1. I walked from Lourdes to Santiago in 2017. I arrived in Lourdes on September 11 and spent the night La Roche. There were 9 or 10 pilgrims spending the night there. By the time I got up, all except one pilgrim left La Roche. So I had just one pilgrim for company. The lesson learned is to wake up early and be ready if you need company because there aren’t many people walking from Lourdes. Be sure to pick up maps from pilgrim office to help find your way since the route markers are few and sometimes hard to find (look for white and red marker – as in flag of Poland). You can also use google maps to find your way to the next gite.

          On day two or three, route goes over a tiny bridge where there is a sign in French, warning the pilgrims about dogs. There is no sign that tells which direction to go. You should walk straight ahead, under the power lines. If you walk to the left, giant dogs will come at you (they really are giant dogs). You will be walking towards a house with big dogs, but they are on long leash.

          After I started my walk, along the way I met and walked with two other pilgrims for two days. So, if you don’t have company on first day, it doesn’t mean you will be alone until you reach St Jean. They went off to southern route. From the 4th day to the last day before arriving in Santiago I walked alone because I needed to walk 35+ km per day so that I could complete my walk and arrive in Fatima on Oct 12th evening for the Oct 13 anniversary.

          By the way, this was my second Camino. My first walk was in June 1st 2017 from St Jean to Santiago.

          1. Sounds like a great walk; Lourdes to Fatima via Santiago. We walked the Portuguese Way from Lisbon last year and stopped in Fatima. Found it magical and spiritual. Beautiful.

Happy to answer any questions and help in any way.