Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port Things to Do

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  • Things to Do
    by kenHuocj
  • Things to Do
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Best Rated Things to Do in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

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    The route to the Citadelle

    by mikey_e Written Jan 2, 2009

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    The hike from Rue de la Citadelle
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    The route to the Citadelle is as much its own attraction as the Citadelle itself. It is not an easy climb, so if you cannot take the difficult and steep route, you should consider driving up on the other side of the ramparts. However, those who hike their way up will be treated to magnificent views and the sense that time has stood still in this part of France. There are still huge trees that cover some parts of the approach, making you feel like you are walking down a country avenue up to an estate of the Ancien Régime. The hike also allows you to explore more fully the various defensive structures on the approach to the Citadelle, which would have protected it should an invading force have breached the outer ramparts (and, likely, killed off the unlucky civilian population of the town).

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    Pont Notre-Dame

    by mikey_e Written Jan 3, 2009

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    The Pont Notre-Dame from afar
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    It seems like everything in Donebane Garazi is named Notre-Dame, which is perhaps also why everything has a second name. This old bridge, which crosses the Nive near the Porte Notre-Dame, is also known as the Pont Sainte-Marie or the Pont romain, despite the fact that it dates from the 1630s and not the Roman period. It provides pretty views of the Nive and the houses upstream, but it can get quite busy at mid-day approaches and the bulk of tourists arrive.

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    The Citadelle

    by mikey_e Written Jan 2, 2009

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    La Citadelle
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    The Citadelle of Donebane Garazi was designed by Vauban, who is responsible for a number of Citadelles all throughout France - including the one in neighbouring Bayonne. This Citadelle was erected in the mid-17th century, although there were some additional improvements to the structure in the 18th century too. It is a massive structure that not only overlooks the town but essentially all of the valleys and passes around the town too. Unfortunately, you cannot enter the Citadelle itself today, as it merely houses a school for children and thus tourists are not really welcome. You can, however, explore the moat and defensive structures around the Citadelle, and you can walk up to the various munitions depots and the like. Even better than the Citadelle are the views from the Citadelle - after all, the military planners were supposed to be able to keep watch on the entire valley.

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    La Nive

    by mikey_e Written Jan 3, 2009

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    La Nive from the Pont Notre-Dame
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    I know, this is a bit of a double-up tip: I have one on the Nive in my page on Bayonne too. The thing is that the Nive in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is quite different from the Nive at its confluence with the Adour. Here is where the Nive begins, in the torrents above Donebane Garazi, and here is where the Nive has a quintessentially Basque feel, lined with traditional houses and buildings, unlike in Bayonne, where it simply feels like a commercial canal. The Nive splits the fortified part of Donebane Garazi off from the newer but still historical part of the town outside the walls. Its waters aren't really for swimming or for fishing, but the provide an excellent backdrop for memorable photos of this picturesque little town.

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    Rue de la Citadelle

    by mikey_e Updated Jan 3, 2009

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    Rue de la Citadelle near the Porte Notre-Dame
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    Rue de la Citadelle is the major street that runs through the old town of St. Jean Pied de Port. In fact, now that I think about it, it may be the only street running through the inside of the ramparts, if you exclude that little piece of Rue de France that enters through the Porte de France. This street is typically what you would expect from a small fort town like Donebane Garazi: cobblestoned and steep, it can be quite the challenge for those with leg or mobility problems. It stretches from the base of the Citadel and the Porte Saint-Jacques down to Église Notre-Dame and the Porte Notre-Dame, which gives onto a bridge of the same name crossing the Nive. The houses lining the street are all part of the original 15th and 16th century fortification of the town, although some have undoubtedly been restored and most of them house not families but quite modern shops selling Basque handicrafts, music, jewellery, books etc. and a few that host inns and pensions. My suggestion is for you to come fairly early to walk up and down the Street, as it can get quite busy around 11 or 12 in the morning, when the bulk of tourists arrive.

    Take a good look at many of the doorways along the street - they are engraved with the names of famous people who were born/lived in the buildings or with the date of the building's construction - one all the way back to the 1640s.

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    Maison des Evêques

    by mikey_e Written Jan 3, 2009

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    Maison des Ev��ques

    The Maison des Evêques is a mediaeval structure that is now open to the public as a museum. This area was frequently engulfed in the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, not least because of its proximity to Navarre, where King Henry I was a Protestant monarch. I don't remember the exact story behind the house, but I believe that at one point priests who had attempted to preserve the official Catholic faith in the region, and they were imprisioned by the authorities in this house and tortured. In memory of their sacrifice, the house was eventually converted into a museum documenting religious intolerance in the area. It is also dedicated to the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

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    Rue d'Espagne

    by mikey_e Written Jan 3, 2009

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    Rue d'Espagne along with its tourists

    Rue d'Espagne is essentially the continuation of the Rue de la Citadelle on the opposite side of the Nive from the Citadelle. It does not have the same charm and old-world character of the town within the walls, and this is largely because it is packed with shops hawking anything and everything that might be considered Basque or Basque-inspired. This is the place to come if you are looking for a souvenir or something "unique" to take home - although this will probably end up being linge basque, Basque linen. There are also a few good pastry shops and bakeries here, where you can buy delicious gâteau basque.

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    Accueil des Pelerins

    by mikey_e Written Jan 3, 2009

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    Accueil des Pelerins
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    The Accueil des Pelerins, or Pilgrims' Welcome, is an oft-visited centre in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It has information on the route and is a great place to meet up with other pilgrims en route to Santiago, but if you're not on your way to make the pilgrimage, there isn't really a lot to see or do here. Nevertheless, given the popularity of the pilgrimage and the fact that it is one of the main reasons for people visiting Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, it is an important attraction.

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    The Ramparts

    by mikey_e Updated Jan 3, 2009

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    The Porte de France
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    Donebane Garazi is a fortified town, and its ramparts and various other defensive structures have been incredibly well maintained. It is one of the aspects of the town that is so attractive, especially if you walk up from the train station and enter through the Porte de France. Surprisingly, the ramparts can be accessed by simply going up staircases at various points along the walls. The stones can be a bit slippery when wet, so be careful it is has been raining. The view from the ramparts is spectacular, both into the valleys and into the small gardens that are attached to the various houses inside the town. Unfortunately there aren't any explanations posted on the walls explaining their construction, but they are just as enjoyable when used to get a view on the countryside as they are when considered a historical monument.

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    Porte Notre Dame

    by mikey_e Written Jan 3, 2009

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    The Gate and the Statue of the Virgin and Child
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    The Porte Notre Dame is interesting because it serves as both a gate and a clock tower for the Church next to it. It opens the ramparts of the old city onto the Nive and provides the continuation of the Rue de la Citadelle into the newer part of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. There is an interesting statue as well beneath the clock, adding to the mixed usage of the Gate. This is a copy of the original Virgin and Child, which was taken away for safe-keeping during the Wars of Religion but was never returned to its proper place. In all, it provides a good landmark and interesting completion to the Rue de la Citadelle, but unfortunately I don't believe you are allowed to enter the Gate or climb up in the tower.

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    The West Front of the Assumption Church

    by hquittner Written Feb 10, 2010

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    Details of the West Entrance
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    The church of the little old city of St. Jean is in the rue d'Eglise and its west end projects over the bridge edge. It is called the Church of the Assumption or alternately Notre Dame. The western entrance has an arcade of small statues upon it of various types ranging from grotesques to church leaders to grape clusters and leaf groups.

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    The Church Belfry and More

    by hquittner Written Feb 10, 2010

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    South View of Belfry
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    The North and Southern sides of the Belfry have statues below the top. The one on the south is the Notre Dame. That on the north is possibly an Archangel. There is nothing on the west and south sides. It gives a nice view of the rue d'-Eglise

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    More Views of the Church

    by hquittner Written Feb 10, 2010

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    South View of Church at River
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    The best view of the church is from the South along the Nive. A view frpm the North side gives a view toward the Citadel above the upper Ville. Another view from further down the Nive River shows the Belfry and the Church. The inside of the church is simple.

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    Into the Upper Town

    by hquittner Written Feb 11, 2010

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    Almshouse
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    Further down the hill there are the older buildings. On the right one of the older buildings is called the former almshouse which contains a small museum. Nearby on a wall is a plaque with an inscription indicating the pilgrimage direction.

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    Église Notre Dame

    by mikey_e Written Jan 3, 2009

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    The church as seen from Rue de la Citadelle
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    The Église Notre Dame is a rather small, unassuming church at the end of the Rue de la Citadelle inside the ramparts of the old city. In fact, it is actually right up against the rampart walls, and part of the church juts out on the other side of the defensive line (see the fifth picture). It has an interesting statue of Jesus (I think that's supposed to be Jesus) near its large doors, and some interesting stained glass inside. On the whole, however, this is not a spectacular church, which makes it blend in well with the pretty but simply surroundings in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. There is an organ in the church, and from time to time you may be able to hear quite good performances on the organ. I entered the church during one and it really does change the entire atmosphere of the building. The church is in Gothic style, but built on an earlier Romanesque foundation, and the organ dates from the 19th century. Actually, the name Notre Dame is not entirely correct: it used to be called Notre Dame, but is today known as the Assumption of the Virgin.

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Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port Things to Do

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