Until the end of the first millennium, the attacks by the Moors against the Christians and the difficulty crossing the Pyrenees Mountains in certain parts of the year led pilgrims to cross from France into Spain through the Bidasoa River. Being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2015, the Northern Way to Santiago in España-Spain has received a major boost in pilgrims and is expected to gain even more popularity..
The Cantabrian coast has mild temperatures throughout the year; although it is the most rainy way to Santiago. During the summer it is possible to bathe in pleasantly temperate waters along the coast (because of the Gulf Stream currents).
A short distance from the Northern Way, you can find 6 of the most famous prehistoric caves in Europe. In Gipuzkoa, near Zumaia you can find the Ekain Cave. In Vizcaya, near Gernika, is the Santimamiñe Cave. Passing through the city of Santander, you’ll find El Pendo Cave. The famous Altamira Cave, often called «The Sistine Chapel of cave art», is very close to the city of Comilla. Pindal Cave is located on the border between Asturias and Cantabria (San Vicente de la Barquera). Finally, very close to Ribadesella is the beautiful Tito Bustillo Cave.
The most typical places along the Northern Way to Santiago where you can see traditional ships and eat grilled fish include cities like Hondarribia, Pasajes de San Juan (where you must embark on a boat to cross the bay until you get to the San Pedro passages), Orio, and also passes a few hundred meters from Getaria. In Vizcaya, the Camino delves into the interior to avoid the fishing ports. In Cantabria, the Northern Way to Santiago passes through the fishing ports of Castro Urdiales, Laredo, Santoña and San Vicente de la Barquera. In Asturias, you will find fishing villages such as LLanes, Ribadesella, Cudillero and Luarca. Entering the Lugo province, you’ll pass through Ribadeo, from where the Camino heads inland.
The Northern Way passes through regions with some of the best cuisine in Spain: Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. Being that this Camino has been less traveled until 2015, the number of shelters is reduced in some sections. However, the Northern Way to Santiago has some of the best lodges with crazy architecture with great prices. At the bottom of this page we have prepared a section with some of the best places to stay as well as the best dishes to try at each one.
KEY TIPS TO ENJOYING THE NORTHERN WAY
Not all stages of the Camino are as interesting as others; there are some places in which it is worth planning a longer stay, while other stages can be completed more quickly, even making two stages in one day (if you’re traveling by bicycle, horseback, or car). We will elaborate in more detail on these paths in the following section.
One of the most exciting and most ritualistic moments on the Northern Way is crossing between France and Spain. The usual option is to cross the International Bridge of Santiago and get your passport stamped at the Irún guesthouse; from there you can take the road to Hondarribía. There is also an even more authentic alternative: heading down the Hendaya port to cross the river by boat from the international border to Hondarribía (you can bring your bicycles and don’t need your passport stamped). On the outskirts of the road, there is a coastal fortress that climbs the hill up to the Guadalupe fort and later continues along the cliffs to the fishing village of Pasajes de San Juan. In this small village, you can sample excellent fish and after should take another boat to cross the bay until arriving at the Pasajes de San Pedro. The Camino continues north to San Sebastián, a beautiful city with a great «Old Town» where you can try their pintxos (small portions of food also known as tapas), which are considered some of the best in the world.
We recommend leaving San Sebastián and continuing your path around La Concha Bay to the funicular of the early 20th century, a curious way to climb up Mount Igueldo. From there, take the Camino de Santiago along the edge of the cliffs towards Orio. The time saved by climbing up Mount Igueldo can be used to make a detour on the Alto de Talaia—which separates the Oria valley from the Zarautz plain—taking the narrow GI-2631 to spend a few hours in Pagoeta Park. Nearby, you’ll find a foundry (a factory that produces cast irons using Medieval methods).
We also suggest taking two days in the Zarauz-Deba stage, where you will find some two of the most interesting places in the entire Northern Way. In the first place, we recommend a small detour where you can see the beautiful Getaria fishing village, with the amazing Museo Balenciaga. After spending the night in the town of Zumaia, you can bath in the beautiful Itzurun beach while enjoying the flysch and tidal zones (there is an interpretation center in Zumaia, for those who are unfamiliar with this geological phenomenon). This option allows you to lengthen the day, crossing Deba and ascending to the Ermita del Calvaria, which is very close to the Nerea Hostel and Gaizka. This reduces what is considered the toughest stretch of the Camino for those who travel on foot (Deba – Markina).
The best alternative for those traveling by bicycle is completing the Deba – Markina stage through the coast, visiting the beautiful fishing villages of Mutriku and Ondarroa (excellent places for eating grilled fish and bathing in the sea). Afterwards, you can continue on the highway until Markina.
Bilbao is a stunning city, both the right bank with the Seven primitive streets and the Santiago cathedral, with the modern left bank of the city. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Bilbao’s museums and walk through its streets. The following stage is the least beautiful, and there are two distinct ways of covering the 19.7 km. One is to arrive as quickly as possible to Portugalete ; enjoying the time crossing the river through the famous Puente Colgante until you arrive in the beautiful city of Getxo, returning to sleep in the shelter. The other is to continue the Northern Camino to complete two stages (32 km) in the same day and bathing at the Arena Beach next to the Pobeña Shelter at the end of the day.
A marvellous stage of this Northern Way is leaving Laredo. We recommend taking the first boat possible to cross into Santoña (there are no boats between December 6 and March 1 and in this case you would follow the Camino along the marsh) and head into the Park of the Marshes of Santoña. Here you will find all kinds of waterfowl and dawn is a wonderful time to observe and enjoy this unique place. After enjoying the marshes and perhaps bathing in the Berría or Trengandín beaches, you can eat in the resort town of Noja, where the Northern Camino de Santiago starts heading inward.
In the following stage (Gúemes – Santander) we recommend arriving to the town of Somo around lunch hour and heading toward the extraordinary Loredo Beach. After taking a swim surrounded by excellent views, visit Santander and its bay back to Somo to ride a boat that will take you to Pedreña.
The stage of Santander – Queveda is one of the most poorly planned stages of the «official» Northern Way. Not only is it 41 kilometres, but it is difficult to enjoy the Liencres Dunes National Park and take a soothing bath in its beach. We therefore recommend completing this stage in two days: enjoying the park and looking for accommodations in Liencres or heading to the Regato de las Anguilas or Requejada shelters.
After Queveda, the Camino takes you to Santillana del Mar. Head slowly to visit the the nearby Altamira Caves, making sure to dedicate enough time to this extraordinary place. Upon arriving at Comillas, don’t forget to explore the amazing buildings by Gaudí. In the next stage, you’ll pass through the Oyambre National Park with beaches and an excellent environment. After, make sure you dedicate time to enjoy the medieval San Vicente de la Barquera and head a few kilometres away to enjoy a secluded swim in the Tina Menor bay.
It is also important to remember the natural monuments beside the Camino in the beautiful protected space of the Asturian Eastern coast like the spectacular bufones of Santiuste and Arenillas and the possibility of bathing in the Gulpiyuri and Cobijeru «interior beaches». After this unique recreational site, the pilgrim has the to choose between two paths. One option is to follow the coast until Gijón, walking along the Northern Way. The other is to deviate a few kilometres before Gijón to the La Parra barrio in order to see the Casquita Village (parish churches), head south, to finally arrive at Oviedo, where you’ll find the Primitive Camino de Santiago (first traveled in the 9th century). There are several populations in this stretch until the capital of Asturias like Casquita, Camoca, and San Pedro of Ambás. Here we recommend not following the «official» Camino, instead taking the road to the important Monasterio cisterciense de Valdediós (Cisterian monastery) and following it until the Vega de Sariego hostel.
Those taking the Northern Way by bicycle or car can take a beautiful detour to the Gijón – Avilés step. Instead of following the official path, take the costal highway to visit the seaside town of Candás, and continuing to follow until The Cabo Peñas protected space.
In the following stage, plan on making a small detour in the Pito village (after Muros) while deviating two kilometres from the official Camino to visit the beautiful fishing village of Cudillero; an excellent place to eat fresh fish. Later, follow the coastal highway to see the rare vegetation of the Turbera de las Dueñas National Monument. A few kilometres forward, you’ll join back with the Northern Way.
Between La Caridad and Ribadeo, we recommend taking your time and heading towards the Tapia de Casariego fishing town.
On your way to Lourenzá, we recommend taking the coastal highway instead of the «official» Camino and try to visit the Playa de la Catedrales Natural Monument. It is easier to buy a ticket to the monument if you stay at one of the local hostels and buy it there as it is a very popular attraction.
While making your way from Lourenzá to Abadín, don’t forget to visit the local town of Mondoñedo to check out the «puente del pasatiempo» (bridge) and the plaza in front of the cathedral.
In Arzúa, the Northern Way to Santiago fuses with the Primitive and the French Camino, greatly increasing the transit of pilgrims.
FASCINATING PLACES TO STAY AND EAT
Below there is a list of local cuisine and restaurants. There are a large variety of places to stay including high-quality homes as well as rural homes (called “agroturismos” in Basque Country). The page selections of varios, unique locations are ordered from East to West:
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