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Anyone taken the GR121 coastal path from Hondarribia?

NualaOC

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Time of past OR future Camino
A few and hopefully lots more.
I’ll be in Hondarrabia for a couple of nights next month and I plan to do a day hike. Walking to Pasajes and (and maybe San Sebastián) is very appealing, as it’s so easy to get back by public transport.

Having already walked the other two routes, I really fancy trying the coastal one. With the luxury of time and a daypack, so I don’t mind how long it takes.

So, here’s my question: If you’ve walked this option, are there any particular hazards I should know about? I’m fit and healthy and I enjoy a climb. However, I’m quite cautious on steep descents.

My information so far has been from this leaflet, some wikiloc tracks and the tempting comments/photos from forum member and guidebook author @Dave over the years. Here's what he says in the Cicerone guide :

tempImagelsL0pu.png

Hopefully someone here has a few words of wisdom! Thanks in anticipation.
Nuala
 
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Hola @NualaOC what a coincidence! We arrived in Hondarribia today and will base ourselves here for the next 5 days and do some day walks. We have walked on the Norte and from Hondarribia to SS via Alpiniste way a couple of times and we were just discussing walking that stage again. I’ll look into that coastal path. Can’t promise we will do it but if we do I’ll report back.

And I’ll be interested to see what responses come in.

And I hear you re the day pack. We were just saying the same. 😎
 
PS @NualaOC Looking at the map and description in the leaflet, i think that we have in fact walked the last section of this GR 121 - twice- the part after it joins the Camino.

Back in 2016 and again in 2018 🙃, we made a mistake on this stage of the Norte and missed the turn off from the camino which takes you more gently into Pasajes. Instead we ended up on a very steep and sometimes scary descent - the fact that it was raining and the narrow stony path was slippery didn’t help.

But good weather forecast for the next few days. So we’ve decided to try the coastal path either tomorrow or the next day - so will see what happens. 😎
 
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Hola @NualaOC what a coincidence! We arrived in Hondarribia today and will base ourselves here for the next 5 days and do some day walks. We have walked on the Norte and from Hondarribia to SS via Alpiniste way a couple of times and we were just discussing walking that stage again. I’ll look into that coastal path. Can’t promise we will do it but if we do I’ll report back.

And I’ll be interested to see what responses come in.

And I hear you re the day pack. We were just saying the same. 😎

What a coincidence indeed, @anancara! My first thought was also to do the Alpinista, especially as I missed the turn last time and did some bushwhacking to join it. However this route really appeals to me.
PS @NualaOC Looking at the map and description in the leaflet, i think that we have in fact walked the last section of this GR 121 - the part after it joins the Camino.

Back in 2017, we made a mistake on this stage of the Norte and missed the turn off from the camino which takes you more gently into Pasajes. Instead we ended up on a very steep and sometimes scary descent - the fact that it was raining and the narrow stony path was slippery didn’t help.

But good weather forecast for the next few days. So we’ve decided to try the coastal path again either tomorrow or the next day - so will see what happens. 😎

Wishing you well if you decide to do this! A stroke of luck for me if you do 😀
 
I'm so curious to see if anyone else has walked this! The main thing I'd underscore, Nuala, is making sure that you have plenty of water and food, as it's a long way to Pasajes. No major concerns with steep descents on this variant--it stays lower level until the ascent to the Norte.
 
Anyone knows a circular route around this area? I’ll be based in San Sebastián for 3 nights. Most of the hiking routes I’ve found are A to B with info on getting public transport back. I’m coming with my fur baby so that is not possible for us :( the alternative will be to do half the distance and walk back!
 
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Thank you Dave, that's very helpful reassurance. Weather permitting, I'm definitely going to do this.

Thanks also for all your 'coastal alternative' ideas over the years. I especially enjoyed taking the Santander to Boo one - I had my favourite Camino swim on that stretch.
 
Hola @NualaOC

Good news! We walked the GR 121 today from Hondarribia to Pasajes.

A fabulous walk - a few challenging parts but not too strenuous, especially with a day pack - 😎. We had no problems at all following the GR - the route was very well way-marked. Highly recommend.

We left downtown Hondarribia around 8.30 and strolled along the harbour until the end where we found the first signboard (photo below) at around 9. We took our time, stopped for lots of photos, and arrived in Pasajes just before 3 - would have been considerably earlier but for something unfortunate after we had rejoined the Camino. Will post that separately.

A couple of fallen trees to scramble over early on and some brief rock scrambling. I took one pole but didn’t end up using it. But there were just a few rocky downhill bits where, if I hadn’t been walking with The French who lent a hand with his usual chivalry, I would probably have unwrapped my one pole. But nothing too tricky or that you wouldn’t have struck before.

The GR 121 eventually makes its way back up to the Camino (Alpiniste away) with a set of signs that shows 7.2 kms to go Pasajes via the GR 121 or 6.2 via the Way. From that signage, the paths are the same for about 1.5 kms at which time you take a sharp backward left to go to Pasajes via the Way (as I’d done in 2019) or continue straight on via the GR (as we’d done in 2016 and 2018) though at the time we didn’t know it was GR 121, we just missed the lefT turn - yes, TWICE, but that’s another story.

Once you reach the sharp left, the sign to go to Pasajes via the Way says you have 4.5 kms to Pasajes. It didn’t quite work out that way for us - and I’ll post separately about that, as per above comment.

The coastal section today reminded me of the Ruta del Flysch coastal alternative on the stage to Deba. When I just looked that up for spelling I noticed it is also GR 121 so there you go. Today was almost as spectacular!

On thé GR 121 sections, we saw quite a few day walkers, like us, and a couple of fisherman..

@NualaOC The serendipity of your post yesterday - and me seeing it - led to us walking this alternative route today 🥰 - and also allowed us to solve the mystery of what path we were actually following for the final ascents and then steep descent into Pasajes when we were on the Norte in 2016 and 2018 - it was the GR 121.

Spolier alert for photos below - almost all before we joined the del Norte (Alpiniste Way).

A little more to come later.
Best wishes
Jenny

PS there were also two points at which we saw signs to head up to Guadalope for anyone wanting to loop back to Hondarribia or Irun. You will have seen some lovely coastal scenery by then but would be a shame to miss what came next.
 

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Spoiler photos #2

Finishing with calamares in Pasajes - what’s not to love about that. 😎
 

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I’ll be in Hondarrabia for a couple of nights next month and I plan to do a day hike. Walking to Pasajes and (and maybe San Sebastián) is very appealing, as it’s so easy to get back by public transport.

Having already walked the other two routes, I really fancy trying the coastal one. With the luxury of time and a daypack, so I don’t mind how long it takes.

So, here’s my question: If you’ve walked this option, are there any particular hazards I should know about? I’m fit and healthy and I enjoy a climb. However, I’m quite cautious on steep descents.

My information so far has been from this leaflet, some wikiloc tracks and the tempting comments/photos from forum member and guidebook author @Dave over the years. Here's what he says in the Cicerone guide :

View attachment 124812

Hopefully someone here has a few words of wisdom! Thanks in anticipation.
Nuala
We just walked the 121 on Sunday starting from the light house. The first 5k are easy and well marked. After that it's a 7 on the scale of 1-5!!! Extreme inclines and decent on narrow goat trails. Not well marked, use a gps if possible. Very physical. Several points where you have to pull yourself up a boulder 4 ft on a rope. That said, the ocean views and scenery are AMAZING to say the least.
 

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@NualaOC

I wrote above that something happened today - which changed the nature of our walk into Pasajes. To recap, I’ve now walked Hondarribia (or once from Irun) to Pasajes four times counting today - the previous three to we’ve continued on to San Sebastián, which we had planned to do today.

For the last 5 kms or so to Pasajes - two times we walked, by accident, via the longer, steeper (and a little bit scary at times, for me) GR 121 and the third and today were via the Way.

We had thought we’d continue on the GR 121 today as we’d done before because, even though it was quite scary for a short section (probably the rope on the boulder section that @Bastalley is referring to above) - those two times before the path was wet and we were carrying full packs. Today the skies were clear, the path was dry and we were carrying very little.

However as we approached the part where the GR 121 joins the Way, the broad smoke haze we’d seen in the distance had all but enveloped us. So we decided to go down via The Way, through the forest, as I’d done with my friend Jill in 2019. I told Domi that it was a lovely walk mainly through the forest and we figured we’d arrive relatively fresh in Pasajes, have some lunch, take,the little boat across and continue on to SS.

But … some way down through the forest we came across two sets of competing arrows, multiple arrows. One said ‘albergue’ the other said ‘official camino route’. It seemed odd and I didn’t recall that from when I was there in 2019. I commented perhaps there’s a new albergue that way? Had we had phones on us with signal we would probably would have checked.

Oh well, we followed the ‘official route’ which seemed ok for a while but then I felt it was all very unfamiliar. It was a bit late by then. We had seen a separate sign to Lezo, which we hadn’t taken, so it was all a bit confusing. After what seemed like way too long we found ourselves in … Lezo … What the! Determined to get the old town of Pasajes we had to walk about an additional hour on hot concrete footpaths through the mostly unattractive Portside, to finally arrive in Pasajes, from the opposite direction of the previous three times. Very disappointing. And we were not the only walkers / pilgrims to do this.

Finally on the waterfront square in old town Pasajes, a cold drink and calamares in one of the familiar small bars helped restore my good spirits 😎 but by then we decided not to continue on to SS. We walked back again a little way and caught two buses back to Hondarribia.

So what happened - was this competing signage there in 2019 and I somehow didn’t notice or knew to take the albergue option? It’s possible - though I have no memory of it. Or is it something new that that’s been added, designed to push pilgrim traffic through Lezo?

One thing I did notice earlier, because I looked twice at it - the sign from where you leave the GR 121 and take a left turn back for The Way shows both Lezo and Pasajes but the latter almost burnt out. Photo below. Suspicious?

So @NualaOC - if you take this path in coming days, be sure to follow the albergue arrows not the ‘official camino route’ 😎
 

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We just walked the 121 on Sunday starting from the light house. The first 5k are easy and well marked. After that it's a 7 on the scale of 1-5!!! Extreme inclines and decent on narrow goat trails. Not well marked, use a gps if possible. Very physical. Several points where you have to pull yourself up a boulder 4 ft on a rope. That said, the ocean views and scenery are AMAZING to say the least.
Hi @Bastalley we had very different experiences ?

We found the GR 121 very well signposted. At no point were we in any doubt which way to go. There were a few small paths off to the side here and there - Is it possible you missed some red and white GR markers and went ‘off piste’ without realising?

The rating of 7 on a scale of 1-5 and descriptions of extreme inclines is subjective I guess. But that was not our reaction at all. And we are not in the super fit category - by any stretch 😀

Today we stopped the GR 121 when we turned off The Way. But previously - in 2017 and 2018- we have gone all the way to the end on the GR, which did have one pretty steep climb - but short and sharp - a few points with a very narrow path and that steep descent in Pasajes. The ropes in the boulders we encountered were to help you go along the narrow path - we were not required to pull ourselves up. Maybe something has changed since then.

I only post these comments - not to invalidate your description - but to offer an alternative view as I know @NualaOC is considering walking this path.

In our experience if you walk the GR 121 only until the sharp left turn back to The Way - and you don’t make the mistake we did taking the ‘official camino route’ that in fact leads you to Lezo 😖 - there is nothing I would feel I need to warn anyone about, other than having enough water as @Dave advised! Thank you Dave 🙏
 
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Wow, what great responses and photographs! Thanks so much @anamcara and @Bastalley for taking the time to share your experiences.

This looks like a really beautiful walk, albeit a challenging one. It's interesting to see the different perspectives/experiences - this will help me to manage my expectations. I'll make sure to watch out for the GR markings and to take extra care at the junction with the Camino. I'm trying not to think too much about that rope!

I'm very much looking forward to this! It will be strange to be in the Basque region for a non-Camino trip (a music festival), but this will be the perfect end to a fun trip.
 
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One said ‘albergue’ the other said ‘official camino route’.

Walking the Camino last October I believe I arrived at this spot. The albergue is indicated right and official Camino to the left ?

This sign is a distance before the sign for albergue to the left, or right to continue down into village.

I took the direction to left. It is marked with yellow arrows.
At some point further along this way there is also an option to go left down through trees. I took this way. ( I assume continuing straight would shortly loop around to rejoin ).
I arrived in Lezo in time for lunch!
 
Walking the Camino last October I believe I arrived at this spot. The albergue is indicated right and official Camino to the left ?

This sign is a distance before the sign for albergue to the left, or right to continue down into village.

I took the direction to left. It is marked with yellow arrows.
At some point further along this way there is also an option to go left down through trees. I took this way. ( I assume continuing straight would shortly loop around to rejoin ).
I arrived in Lezo in time for lunch!
Exactly. But previously The Way did not take you to Lezo but via a much more picturesque path arriving directly into the old town of Pasajes. Such a pity this ‘diversion’ has been created in the hope of leading people to Lezo rather than Pasajes - at least that seems to be the case.

Once in Lezo the walk back to Pasajes is anything but picturesque. Such a shame after having made the beautiful stage from Hondarribia (or Irun). Oh well 😎
 
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At some point further along this way there is also an option to go left down through trees. I took this way. ( I assume continuing straight would shortly loop around to rejoin ).

Going downhill from the high Camino route to Lezo you intersect with and cross the lower route from Irun to Pasajes.
It is at this point I encountered yellow sign indicating official route down through the trees, and thus on towards Lezo. ( It's actually straight on as you are coming downhill , with other yellow arrows to the right leading to Pasajes because pilgrims on lower route see them straight on. )

I suspect some pilgrims walking the lower route intending to go directly to Pasajes are misled by this yellow sign and veer off down towards Lezo.

Feeling confused ?....... Just ignore!
 
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The above mentioned sign on the higher route has been replaced, but I believe it still misleads some walkers to drop down to the Camino lower route.

In order to remain on higher route, keep right at this point.

26CA571D-F0C6-44F0-A76B-A92FD9FFB7BF.jpeg
 

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