Without any hesitation, if the weather permits, the Route Napoleon. It is definitely one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, stage of the entire Camino, with landscapes of utter beauty: colors and light of theBasque mountains; the shepherds, their herds of sheep, the little wild horses, the vultures, the beech forests of Roncevaux…
The Valcarlos way is still beautiful when one cannot take the other route, but in the final analysis it is as long, and almost as difficult, with a much more challenging second stage. Do not be fooled by the difference in altitude between the passes (1400 meters by the Route Napoleon and 1200 meters by Valcarlos). Indeed, to reach Valcarlos, the route climbs, descends, climbs again, descends again, more than 100 meters, whereas by the path the climb remains very regular for 22 kilometers!
The great advantage of the Valcarlosway is that it is close to the road: if one has a problem or becomes exhausted, one can always hitch a ride.
CAREFUL Napoleon route closed in winter :
From winter 2015/2016, the Napoleon route (from the bordier to Ibaneta pass) is closed from November the 1st till March the 31th, by decree from the Navarra Foral Community Government. Contravening the rules expose pilgrims to a fine up to 12.000€ and rescue will be entirely in charge of them. So, this winter, the Valcarlos route is compulsory. Below winter conditions when arriving to Ibaneta pass by Valcarlos….
Do not go in this zone, as did aventurous pilgrims who where rescued in March 2016:
Stay on Valcarlos Route, the winter landscape is gorgeous and come back on Napoleon Route after the spring thaw, the Camino will remain.