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 in winter, since not all the albergues operate in the winter.
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 four 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.
- Avoid going alone if you possibly can.
- Dress appropriately for the conditions, bearing in mind these can change abruptly and without warning. Wearing some sort of reflective gear is sensible for road walking in dark/snowy/wet 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 and check the local weather websites:
If in any doubt at Saint-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.
Don’t be altogether discouraged, but do be aware of the risks: click here for a description by one of our members of making the pilgrimage in winter, and for some sound practical advice.