Walking the Camino de Santiago has been a dream of mine for a long time. I have always thought that it would be a strong experience, because I enjoy walking, I enjoy solitude and I like the idea of confronting some of my biggest fears and of having time to think, uninterrupted. But I also enjoy the idea of sharing parts of my journey with like-minded people.
A bunch of friends who have walked the Camino de Santiago told me how incredibly tiring it is. They told me that they experienced incredible heat, or rain, or cold weather. They said that although they started walking alone, they eventually made friends along the way, and created ever lasting bonds.
I am incredibly happy to announce that I will soon be walking the Camino Norte, crossing the Basque Country and the regions of Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia on my way to Santiago de Compostela.
For those who don’t know it, the Camino de Santiago is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes that from various places in Europe come together at the tomb of Santiago, one of the evangelical apostles, in Santiago de Compostela, in the north-west of Spain. The tomb was discovered in 814 and from then on, Santiago became a peregrination point. As many walked along the routes, an impressive web of hospitals, churches, monasteries, abbeys and towns started developing along the routes.
Each year hundreds of thousands of people walk the Camino for a variety of reasons, the main being spiritual, by which I don’t necessarily mean religious. In my case, there is a mixture of spiritual reasons (although I am a convinced atheist, I still feel very spiritual), as well as a strong sport, cultural and social component.
Of the many routes that lead to Santiago, the most popular is the Camino Francés, which starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz, in France. Other routes are the Camino Inglés from Ferrol, and the Camino Portugues which starts in Oporto, Portugal.
I opted for the Camino del Norte for a number of reasons. It is supposed to be the most challenging but rewarding as it offers spectacular views over the untouched nature of the Asturias. It is significantly less crowded compared to the more popular ones, thus offering a more solitary experience. And finally, this route will allow me to discover the wealth of culture and heritage of the regions I will be crossing (although I have been to Spain many times, I have never been to those regions), the many charming fishing villages and seaside towns, and to taste their delicious food.
Furthermore, all other routes are way too hot in the summer months, whereas these are the best months to walk the Camino del Norte.
The Camino del Norte follows the northern coast of Spain, which is much greener than the rest of the country. I like the idea of having a view over some lush green hills and mountains such as the Pics de Europa, in Asturias. I will also be walking next to the sea, through some unspoilt beaches!
So, here’s what my itinerary will look like.
I will fly into Bilbao, and from there transfer to Hondarribia, one of the most charming towns of the Basque Country. The morning after, I plan to walk around the Old City, a maze of cobbled streets loaded with old Basque houses famous for having beautifully carved and brightly colored wooden balconies. I will walk around the Marina, which is packed with bars and restaurants – which have made Hondarribia one of Spain culinary hot spots.
Another place I would like to visit is Guadalupe Hermitage, from which I should be able to enjoy the view of the Txingudi Bay, which marks the entrance to the Camino de Santiago in the Basque Country.
I will go to Pasai Donibane and cross the river to Pasai San Pedro, on my way to Getaria, from which I will walk to Zumaia.
My exploration of the Basque Country will continue with a visit of Zenarruza, famous for its monastery, and of Gernika (the Basque name of Guernica), the scene of the first aerial bombing by the Nazi Luftwaffe in 1937, which later inspired Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica.
I am quite keen to visit the Urdaibai Bird Centre, a great museum and research center of bird life, from which I will finally make my way to Bilbao. There, I will go straight to the Begoña Basilica and then, walking down the Mallona Stairs, I will enter the Casco Viejo.
My last stop in the Basque Country will be Getxo, whose main attraction is the Bizkaia Bridge, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inaugurated in 1893 as the first transporter bridge entirely built of metal.
Ontón is going to be my first stop in the region of Cantabria, and after that Castro Urdiales, a small port city in the Bay of Biscay, from where I will walk all the way to Güemes and then Somo, where I will take the boat to Santander, the main city of Cantabria.
In Santillana de Mar, near Santander, I will visit the caves and museum of Altamira, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and famous for their Upper Paleolithic cave paintings of wild mammals and human hands. Other places I am hoping to visit are the Colegiata de Santa Juliana, a beautiful 12th century Romanesque ex-monastery, and San Vicente de la Barquera, an old fishermen’s village and one of the most picturesque in Cantabria.
From San Vicente I will join the Camino Lebaniego, a beautiful path through the mountains, and reach the Hoz-Mirador de Santa Catalina, one of the best view points in the region, from which I can reach Fuente Dé, a gorgeous stop where I can take a cable car to enjoy yet another fantastic view.
One of the most important places to visit in the area is the Monasterio de Santo Toribio, a Franciscan monastery famous for holding the Lignum Crucis, an important relic which refers to the wood that the Romans used to crucify Jesus Christ.
Next stop will be Unquera, a tiny village at the border with Asturias, from which I will move along the coast towards Oviedo, the capital of the Asturias. From there, I will reach El Pito, which offers gorgeous panoramic views of the fishing village of Cudillero, famous for its hanging houses with brightly-colored windows perched on steep cliffs.
I will continue to Lamuño, from which I will go to Soto de Luiña, Luarca and Castropol, my last stop in the Asturias. Luarca is meant to be gorgeous – a quiet town of white houses built around an s-shape cove, divided in two by a river and with various bridges connecting the two parts.
My last leg of the Camino de Santiago will be in Galicia, and it will start in Playa de las Catedrales, in Ribadeo, famous for its rocky formations carved by the wind and the sea. I will then continue towards the town of Lourenzá, where the most interesting places to visit are the Town Hall Square and the Monastery of San Salvadorde Vilanova Lorenza.
From Lourenzá I will walk to Mondoñedo, whose cathedral square has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An area I would love to explore is the neighborhood of Os Muiños, which is meant to have some beautiful traditional architecture and system of canals.
I will also explore Sobrado dos Monxes, where there is the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is directly linked to the Camino de Santiago.
My journey will end in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia and another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and pretty much synonymous with the Camino. My final goal is reaching the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, one of the most sacred cities in Christendom.
I suppose by the time I will reach Santiago de Compostela I will be exhausted, yet happy. My feet will hurt and I will have an amount of blisters I won’t be able to count. Yet, just reading my itinerary I can foresee it will be an incredible, enriching experience that will make for a few amazing stories to share.
Have you ever walked the Camino de Santiago? Which route did you follow, and why? What was your most memorable experience?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with the Tourism Board of Spain, and the local tourism boards of the The Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia and in cooperation with The Travel Mob as part of the #InGreenSpain and #VisitSpain campaigns. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.