El Camino del Norte

Along the Northern Coast

A General Description and some History of the Camino

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Camino del Norte

This route leads from the French border at Hendaye on the Bay of Biscay; along the north coast of Spain as far as Ribadeo then turns inland in a south westerly direction to Santiago. Although most of the Camino is along the coastal strip it is by no means a flat and easy walk. The northern mountains are close to the coast, especially in the eastern stages of the route, so there are many steep climbs and descents as rivers and estuaries are crossed.

There are quite a few alternative routes on this Camino and the waymarking can be confusing at times but the increasing overcrowding on the Camino Francés has led to an improvement to the infrastructure of this route and an increase in the number of refugios (called albergues on this Camino).

The acknowledged starting point is the Puente de Santiago joining Hendaye and Irun. This can easily be reached from the airport at Biarritz and there are many transport links from the Spanish side of the border.

The Camino immediately turns towards the coast and climbs over a couple of hills to the first city of San Sebastian. This stage is just to introduce your legs to the hills because they get even steeper and higher during the next few stages via Guernica to Bilbao.

After the industrial area of Bilbao the route still follows the coast (the hills are not quite so bad) and a short ferry ride takes you into the port of Santander. There is then a week or so along the coast until you have to make a decision about which city you visit next.

Most guides continue along the coast to the port of Gijón but there is a choice of diverting inland to the provincial capital of Oviedo before rejoining the route at Aviles. There is not too much extra distance in the diversion and Oviedo is also an ancient place of pilgrimage.

Aviles is on the coast and the Camino continues to wind its way, never far from the sea, until Ribadeo. There are major roads along this stretch but the Camino avoids these where possible.

At Ribadeo the Camino turns inland and gains height to cross the high ground to the south west. After the initial climb away from the coast the route is quite level through farms and woodland all the way to join the Camino Francés at Arzua. Several small towns such as Mondoñedo and Vilalba are visited but there are stretches where forward planning is necessary to ensure accommodation and supplies.