Lourdes to Pamplona on the Aragones Route
by Silvia Nilsen
(Westville, KZN, South Africa)
Pyrenees - France to Spain
The Camino Aragones is one of the most ruggedly beautiful camino routes in Spain. From Pyrenean grandeur at the 1600m Col du Somport the path drops sharply, 400m in 7.5km, into an ancient, crumpled valley formed by a shallow sea that covered Aragon some 100 million years ago. In places the lunar landscape is spectacular with ingrained fossils of marine microorganisms in the grey rocks.
Long before Charlemagne led his 3rd expedition across the Pyrenees in the 8th C to become Master of Spain, the “Summus Portus” was traversed by Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Arabs and merchants.
We started our journey in the pilgrimage town of Lourdes following the blue and yellow Amis St Jacques markers of the Via Tolosana for three days along muddy paths through the damp, heavily forested Pyrénées-Atlantiques as far as Oloron St Marie. From there we turned south, trekking through the green valley of the river Gave d’Aspe and the Parc National des Pyrénées to the Somport Pass.
The first town we stopped at in Spain was Canfranc International Estación, which developed around a stunning (now abandoned) 1920s art deco railway station featured in the film Dr Zhivago. Just below the Puerto are the ruins of the Hospital de Santa Cristina described by Aimery Picaud in the Codex Calixtinus, as one of the world’s three great pilgrim hospices after Jerusalem and the San Bernado (in the Swiss Alps).
From Canfranc to Jaca the landscape is noticeably drier with rocky gorges and stony, gravel paths clinging to scree slopes barely held together by patches of dense gorse, heather and broom. Here the camino markers change from blue and yellow to the ‘flechas amarilla’ of the Spanish caminos.
Jaca, one of two largish towns on the Aragones route, was the last to fall to the Moors in 715. It became the capital of the tiny Kingdom of Aragon and was an important pilgrimage town with at least four pilgrim hospices. From Jaca we did a detour to San Juan de la Pena – St John of the Rock - a mountain monastery built under the overhang of an enormous sinclinal rock (the pena). The 7.5km path down the mountain is an incredibly steep, torturous trail to Santa Cruz de la Serós. Perched on impossible ledges, some only 10cm wide, rough stone tracks twist downhill into the abyss with nothing to save you if you trip or slip. From Santa Cruz we followed the Rio Aragon to Santa Celia de Jaca, Artieda, Ruesta, Izco, Tiebas and Eunate. We walked against the pilgrim tide from Eunate to Pamplona.
We flew to Toulouse on Iberia and got a train to Lourdes. Lourdes to Somport ± 100km and Somport to Pamplona ± 170km. There is pilgrim accommodation on both routes.
Ed Note: You can read more about Sil's travels at