The Ignatian Way in the Basque Country: Demanding and Surprising
The route now known as the Camino Ignaciano (Ignatian Way) was taken by the badly wounded Iñigo de Loyola in 1522 from his family’s medieval tower, located near Azpeitia, to Manresa, the town where he stayed for a few months in Barcelona. On this journey he underwent the personal transformations that allowed him to write his famous “Spiritual Exercises.” In the hundreds of kilometers that he traveled, he had some ups and downs and inner transformations that allowed for his progressive transformation from a brave and gallant knight into a servant of his neighbor.
The road to immortality of the future founder of the Society of Jesus has the characteristics of harshness, variety and great stretches of solitude that historians have associated with the great Basque saint. It is worth remembering that he walked the current Ignatian Way alone and on foot, being lame and in poor health due to his war injury. This path has some challenging stretches; it is only suitable for hiking or mountain biking experts (and during favourable weather conditions).
Although the Ignatian Way in the Basque Country is well-marked, for practical guidelines on how to complete the route we recommend taking a look at the page corresponding to Tourism in the Basque Country. We propose sleeping in Azpeitia and spending a full day in the valley, soaking up the Ignatian sites. We suggest a visit to the village of Azpeitia, paying special attention to its church; a trip to the Sanctuary of Loiola, enjoying its sensational temple, the museum, the old family tower, the conversion chapel… Leaving emotionally ready at the point of departure of the Ignatian Way is as fundamental as the equipment and your physical shape.
From Loiola to Zumárraga it is 17.7 kilometres; the Ignatian Way gently ascends a 629 metre drop along the Greenway of the Urola River. Walking, it takes about four hours.
This perfectly fitted road takes us to the foral village of Azkoitia, an important town. Along with San Sebastián and Tolosa, the town was the rotating residence of the Deputy General until the 19th century. In Azkoitia there was a small incident that had serious consequences in Europe and the Americas.
The Ignatian Way goes up along the Urola to Zumárraga, where you must do at least two things: visit the Hermitage of La Antigua (14th century), known as “the cathedral of the hermitages;” and pay due respect to the memory of Legazpi– conqueror of the Philippines– at his monument.
From Zumárraga to the Sanctuary of Arantzazu there are almost 19 kilometres with a drop of 873 meters, which can take six and a half hours of walking. It is an ascent through difficult terrain, which may even be impracticable for bicycles if it rains or snows– watch out for the weather forecast.
From the Plaza de las Estaciones take the ‘bike lane’ to Legazpi. After visiting the Church of the Assumption, cross the village to continue along the banks of the Urola River, where we see the old forges moved by water, water mills and farmhouses. We can visit the forges of Mirandaola and Elorregi, as well as the grazing museum. In the district of Brincola we see an important stone viaduct at the railway station in the district of Irún.
After crossing the recreational area of Olalde and the dam of the reservoir, you’ll enter the Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park, ascending to the port of Biozkornia– a good place to recover strength and take photos if the clouds allow it. Then the Ignatian Way goes down to the Sanctuary of Arantzazu, with its spectacular display of contemporary art.
This stage is almost 16 kilometres long, with a 650-metre slope, which will take us more than five hours to cover. Since it is at an altitude with areas exposed to the wind, be careful with the weather forecast.
It begins with an ascent through the beech forest where we find the fountain of Erroiti, where the Virgin of Arantzazu appeared to the little shepherd Rodrigo de Balzategi in 1469. The ascent between beech forests continues until Portuzarra, where it crosses the inland Way to Santiago to reach the “Top of the Gallows” at 9.6 kilometres. This name signifies the place where those who were caught stealing the livestock from the mountain were to be executed.
The descent of the Ignatian Way through Álava passes by the Iturrioz spring and leaves on our right the view of the ruins of a watchtower, which has the exaggerated name of Marutegi Castle. We continue until we see the Factory of San Pedro de Araia, who was for a century the main blacksmith of Álava. This stage of the journey ends at the Church of San Pedro.
This part is more than 21 kilometres with a drop of 630 metres, which can be covered in just over six hours. After crossing the road in a southeastern direction, take the path that leads to the village of Albéniz, where you will find the old Roman road that connected Astorga with Bordeaux and where the N-1 motorway and the Madrid-Irún railway now pass.
Continue traversing the Ignatian Way towards San Román de San Millán. You’ll take the GR25 path to go up the Entzia Natural Park to the port of San Román. Continue south to Kortagaña. After passing in front of the chapel of Ullibarri Arana, you’ll reach Alda.
From the Sierra de Entzia, for almost 18 kilometres, we descend about 200 metres in altitude in about four and a half hours. You’ll travel along a trail parallel to the road that leads to San Vicente de Arana, located three kilometers away.
The Ignatian Way continues through the town of Oteo and then goes to Antoñana. Before arriving in this village, in spring (and if the weather permits), you may want to take a short detour to the Aguaqué waterfall. After Antoñana you’ll reach the end of this stage, at the fortified Santa Cruz de Campezo.
This is one of the longest stages of the Ignatian Way: 32 kilometres, with almost 700 metres of gentle descent towards the plain of the Rioja Alavesa, protected by the Sierra de Cantabria (which we will cross). This is a stage of more than eight hours during which we must reserve some time for a ‘mandatory’ stop in Elvillar.
In the Natural Park of Izki we can find the largest area of Spanish Oak in Spain. It’s worth appreciating. Start from the Santo Cristo Hermitage heading towards Genevilla, 5.4 kilometres away, and continue to Cabredo and then Marañón. We’ll continue without delay to El Villar in order to have enough time to visit the imposing dolmen of “the witch’s hut” and have a photo taken there. Then continue along, surrounding the Prao de la Paul Pond, until you reach the walled hill of Laguardia.
After one of the longest stages of the Ignatian Trail, and with more than a hundred kilometers of effort, it may be a good idea to rest one day in Laguardia and visit this extraordinary villa and the spectacular Ysios winery.
This final stage of the Ignatian Trail has 19 kilometers that can take about five hours to walk. If it is done in spring, we recommend that you spend at least a couple of hours to stop and see the ecosystem and birds of the Lagoons of Laguardia, which you will find along the route: first the pond of the previous day, and then the lagoon of Carravalseca and Carralogroño. Both are products of rain and have high concentrations of salt in the soil on which they settle.
The Ignatian Way continues towards Oyón-Oion, and then goes through vineyards towards Fuenmayor and Navarrete. In this town, we’ll complete our journey along the Ignatian Way in the Basque Country.
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