If you are thinking of going in winter, remember that the meseta is on average 800m above sea level, and that the passes over the Pyrenees, the Montes de León and O Cebreiro on the Camino francés, and the passes of A Canda and Padornelo on the Via de la Plata all reach about 1,400m. It can be very cold, foggy, wet, and windy, and you can meet deep snow.

Accommodation may be less plentiful, since not all the albergues operate in the winter. Those that are open may have little or no heating so a good sleeping bag is essential.

However, with sensible planning and precautions, winter pilgrimage is feasible. Please follow these guidelines:

  • ALWAYS take local advice about weather conditions; disregard it at your peril. We cannot emphasise too strongly: MOUNTAINS ARE DANGEROUS and LOCAL PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. We know of pilgrims who have died while attempting to cross the Pyrenees in bad weather and there are more who have run into severe difficulties in sudden blizzards or fog. Note, that the Napoleon Route of the Camino Francés out of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is closed off from November to March each year and any other time when it is not safe to take this path. In this case, you must take the Valcarlos route (also signposted with Camino waymarks). 
  • Avoid going alone if you possibly can.
  • Take warm/waterproof clothing and boots and equipment appropriate for the conditions, bearing in mind these can change abruptly and without warning. Wearing a reflective vest is a legal requirement for cycling or road walking in dark or poor visibility conditions.
  • Take a compass and mobile phone.
  • Tell people what your plans are, arranging for them to call the emergency services if you haven't phoned by an agreed time to report your safe arrival.

If you are starting at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, ask for advice about weather and conditions at Acceuil Saint-Jacques but remember not all volunteers here are local, socheck the local weather websites:

Meteo France for St Jean Pied de Port

Aemet.es for Roncesvalles

If in any doubt at St Jean Pied de Port, always go by the lower road, it is less attractive than the higher-level route, but since it follows along the road in many places and goes through villages, much safer in bad weather.

Click here for an interview with a pilgrim who walked from Roncesvalles to Santiago November - December 2009.

The CSJ stock a small booklet with tips and advice on this, entitled The Winter Pilgrim, by Alison Raju.