Next on my series about the different Caminos is the Camino del Norte, the second longest route after Vía de la Plata. It covers a distance of over 800km from Irún in the País Vasco (Basque Country) to Santiago de Compostela.
In fact, this was the route of choice for most pilgrims in the early days, since the French route was more dangerous then. But as the Spanish Reconquista advanced and the Southern territories became safer, the Northern route lost relevance and the French one became more popular.
So, for centuries, the Camino del Norte was nearly forgotten. But the huge increase in the number of pilgrims in recent years has led people to look for less crowded options. And so the Camino del Norte has seen increasing numbers of pilgrims in the last few years, making it the third most travelled Camino, after the Francés and Portugués (and still, less that 6% of pilgrims chose this route in 2017, according to the Pilgrims office statistics).*
This route is well signposted and there are albergues along the way, although not as many as you would find along the more popular Camino Francés.
The Camino del Norte is one of great natural beauty. Some stretches go along the coast, with its playas (beaches) and acantilados (cliffs), while other sections take you inland through montañas (mountains), valles (valleys) and bosques (forests).
But it’s not all nature. You also get to see some interesting towns and you go through three different regions, before entering Galicia:
- The starting point is the Puente de Santiago (Santiago bridge) in Irún, in the Basque region, or País Vasco, and right on the border with France. From Irún, you’ll walk through mountains to San Sebastián.
San Sebastián (or Donostia in the Basque language) is a very well known touristic city, with a beautiful playa, catedral and other interesting monuments, as well as plenty of cultural activity: It hosts an international cinema festival in September and a jazz festival in July, among others. San Sebastián is also the world capital of pinchos (see this previous post for more info).
Before you get to Bilbao you’ll pass Gernika, which is remembered by the German air raid that destroyed most of the city during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). This massacre was depicted by Picasso in one of his most famous paintings.
Bilbao is the most populated city in the País Vasco and it has plenty to do and see. You can find more info here: http://www.bilbaoturismo.net/BilbaoTurismo/en/tourists
- After Portugalete, you enter the region of Cantabria, a very mountainous region. Your first main stop here is the fishing village of Castro Urdiales. The town and surrounding area is rich in history: there is evidence of prehistoric settlements, as well as Roman presence. In Medieval times, it was one of the most important ports on the Northern coast.
The capital of Cantabria is Santander, another beautiful city with plenty to do and see (playa, museums, catedral and many more monuments). The local cuisine is based on fish and seafood.
- After Comillas, you are in the last region before Galicia: Asturias, famous for its cider, among other things. The landscape is similar to that of Cantabria, with the coast on one side and the montañas on the other.
Before you reach Gijón, you have the option of continuing on to Oviedo and joining the Camino Primitivo. But that’s for another post. For things to do and see in Gijón, check this website: http://en.turismo.gijon.es
- The first Galician town after Asturias is Ribadeo. From here, the Camino turns away from the coast as it heads Southwest towards Santiago.
In Arzúa, you will join the Camino Francés for the last 2 stages. But before you get there, you’ll get the chance to see and enjoy Vilalba (food festivals are its main attraction) and Sobrado, famous for its monasterio, where you can spend the night (check http://www.monasteriodesobrado.org/index.php/pilgrims-hostel/).
So, what do you think? Is this the Camino for you?
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