Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port Night Tour

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
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Notice to night owls! At nightfall, some villages in the Basque Country display a very special beauty, magnified by light covers . In Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port , silence and serenity inhabit the alleys and old buildings from dusk. Through the prism of a wandering at night , discover from another angle this charming little town classified among the "Most Beautiful Villages of France" for its remarkable medieval architecture and its timeless heritage .


A magical spectacle at night!

Saint Jean Pied de port

Illuminated Pont Notre-Dame


From darkness, the Notre-Dame bridge, known as the “Roman bridge” lights up with majesty. Brightly highlighted, this stone arch that spans the Nive de Béhérobie, is one of the emblematic monuments of the city of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. To appreciate all the beauty of these lights , we admire from the Neuf bridge this panorama of old houses with colorful wooden balconies reflected in the Nive.

door of navarre

The Gate of Navarre

Do you notice the date on the top of the door?

We follow the main street (D933) to enter the enclosure of the medieval city of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port by the Rue de l'Eglise to discover its architectural treasures. We cross the majestic Porte de Navarre pierced in the wall. Vaulted, this Door testifies to the characteristic allure of the 13th century enclosure doors opening onto beautiful typical mansions with cantilevered floors. The date of construction of one of them is engraved above the door: "1796 4th AR" (4th year of the republic). This night stroll turns into a real journey back in time!


A strategic geographic position between France and Spain

There is a warm and welcoming atmosphere in this village. We meet small groups of pilgrims of several nationalities who greet us kindly and start a conversation. Indeed, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a renowned stage on one of the main pilgrimage routes to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle due to its location between the Basque coast and the Spanish border. The village has always been a crossroads for trade and a strategic place at the center of the territorial challenges of the kingdom of Navarre, located at the foot of the Cize passes (known as the "Ronceveau pass").



Our lady at the end of the bridge

The Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont Church

We gaze with wonder at the Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont Church which stands before us, the most important Gothic building in the French Basque Country after the Cathedral of Bayonne . Its facade of pink Arradoy sandstone is decorated with a sublime Gothic portal with small columns from the 14th century which leads to the Pont Notre-Dame. According to legend, its construction would be attributed to the king of Navarre, Sanche le Fort, in commemoration of the victory of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. Also known as the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, it was listed in the Historical Monuments in 1925.


On the road to Santiago de Compostela

Crossing the bridge, we realize that this is an essential passage for walkers on the paths of Santiago de Compostela. Several routes from France meet shortly before the city and open the route to Spain and Roncevaux (GR 65). Welcoming nearly 50,000 pilgrims per year , this village located some 800 km from Compostela , is the last step before crossing the Pyrenees . Beyond the Bridge, the Rue d'Espagne offers visitors splendid examples of typical old houses (“etxe” in Basque).

The Spanish Street


The Citadel Street

We turn back to explore the Rue de la Citadelle in this magical, almost mystical atmosphere. In this paved street with authentic architecture is organized entirely around the pilgrimage. Refuges, hostels, restaurants, houses stage, homestays and souvenir shops display the attributes of the pious way: the pilgrim's staff, the shell St Jacques, religious symbols or backpack. The street is punctuated by seals on the floors struck by a shell . The charm of these old streets steeped in history is undeniable. Borrowed by all the peoples who crossed the Basque Country, from the Romans to the Visigoths, from the Franks to the armies of Napoleon, they have been followed by thousands of pilgrims since the Middle Ages ...




The Citadel Street

Peaceful places of meditation

Framed by aligned stone facades, adorned with timber framing and carved lintels, the Rue de la Citadelle rises steeply to the Porte Saint-Jacques , listed as World Heritage by UNESCO . From its summit, we admire the view of the historic heart of the village while chatting with a British tourist and a Swedish one en route to Compostela. With cheap accommodation, St-Jean-Pied-de-Port is an ideal destination for people seeking solitude and spirituality , as well as for hiking enthusiasts .


A picturesque village just 8 km from the Spanish border.

In the distance, the Citadel stands at the top of the hill of Mendiguren. Overlooking the 70-meter-high village, this emblematic fortress has watched over St-Jean-Pied-de-Port since the 17th century. Built in 1628 by the knight Antoine de Ville, altered by Vauban in 1685, it shelters for centuries military garrisons to counter attacks from Spanish neighbors, great enemies of the kingdom of France in the 17th and 18th centuries. Classified as a Historic Monument in 1963, the citadel now houses the village school and is unfortunately not open to the public.



We will return to see this building up close in broad daylight and thus enjoy the panoramic view of the village , the hilly and green landscapes of the surroundings and the Pyrenees mountains in the background.

To conclude our nocturnal stroll, we decide to walk along the wall , from the Saint-Jacques gate to the Navarre gate in the footsteps of the soldiers. This route is now accessible thanks to the recent development of the covered way by the services of the municipality.

A night stroll through Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port certainly enhances its heritage and its atmosphere from another time ... The next day, we will take a different look at this Mecca of Basque culture . We will linger in the village to hear its language , its music and savor its gastronomy and its terroir: piperade , Basque chicken , squid , axoa , parsley eels , Nive trout ... A fascinating day ahead!

View of Pont Neuf on the Nive by day

Practical info:

Ask at the Tourist Office of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to visit the Citadel: exceptional guided tours are organized in summer and during Heritage Days.

In July and August, the Tourist Office of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port organizes every Wednesday evening Night Walks of 1:30 min, accompanied by a country storyteller or a tour guide (free for children under 14 years). A great opportunity to discover the village differently!

 

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Photos and Article written by Lesley Williamson for the Guide to the Basque Country


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