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Frances or Norte for first camino?

Anne-Marie S.

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2017
I plan to do my first camino starting in early July 2017. I have done extensive research on both of these routes, and am more confused than ever.

The Norte seems to be much less crowded, but also more expensive. I am also concerned that I may not be able to find the accommodation required along the way. I would begin my journey in Irun if I chose this route.

I am worried about crowds on the Frances, though. I would choose the begin in St. Jean Pied de Port for this route. Are the crowds so large that you are not alone on the trail? Will I have trouble finding a bed? I certainly do not want to feel stressed about finding a place to lay my head each day.
 
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Kitsambler

Jakobsweg Junkie
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
How about starting in Le Puy, instead?
 

giorgio

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
CF(2000), Puy (03), VDLP(04), Arles(05), Paris/London(06), Norte(07),Vezelay(09), Levante(10),Madrid(13),CF(15),CF(16)
I'd generally recommend Frances as a first camino. The number of pilgrims on the Norte are certainly much lower than CF but so are the accomodations along the route.....in addition the Norte is certainly more demanding phisically as you'll encounter many more ups and downs than CF , especially on the first bit...
Check sites such as http://www.gronze.com/ to find out details
 

scruffy1

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Holy Year from Pamplona 2010, SJPP 2011, Lisbon 2012, Le Puy 2013, Vezelay (partial watch this space!) 2014; 2015 Toulouse-Puenta la Reina (Arles)
The Norte IS less crowded but you should have legs like Paul Bunyans' cattle, longer on one side then the other, lots of climb/descend then more climb/descend a-n-d there is the rain factor, some have recommended bilge pumps for their boots - it can be very wet! Still it is a beautiful Camino, you might even feel lonely there, but there is much compensation.
 
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A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
So let's see. We'll start with the Norte as I see Scruffy has not walked it and is painting a scary picture so I feel I must defend it. ;)

July can be an issue on the Norte because it's high season and filled with beachgoers, but they are not staying in albergues dedicated to pilgrims. They will add to the de,and for beds in camping sites amd youth hostels, but those can be reserved ahead of time: La sirena in San Sebastian, the juvenil in Gernika como to mind as does the train station place in Llanes.

As for how hilly it is. I am no doubt overweight, and not just love handles. I have walked the Napoleon route and from there the rest of the Frances, I habe walked the Norte from San Sebastian to Llanes amd the Primitivo (the Portuguese central way as well, but that might as well be flat except for one bit out of Ponte de Lima). I have heard that the day out if Irun is tough, but you don't have to take the Alpinsta section. The rest ks just fine. The uphills are short, and not that terribly steep. Out of Zarautz there is also a way to walk via the coast rather than across the hill. The bit out of Deba is difficult, but you can stop in Olatz, breaking up the hike over 2 days.

On the Norte the albergues would fill up by the end of the evening, but you walked alone during the day. A perfect combinTion for me of a quiet walk and socialisation in the afternoon and evening. But if you are not a 40km walker who waltzes in late in the evening, and reserve in non pilgrim places, you will be fine.

Keep in mind that on the Norte you are likely to walk with a much greater proportion of Spaniards and other non English speakers than on the Frances. You decide if that is a plus or a minus for you. Also, on the Norte you will find a greater proportion of "hardcore" walkers, people who are members of hiking clubs, who regularly do have walking holidays, than on the Frances where many have just bought their first pair of trail runners (that was me, I now have a collection of them).

Great bonus for the Norte: scenary, excellent food, even in tyny villages, beautiful and important towns and cities (San Seb, Bilbao, Guernica, Santander, Santillana del mar and its Altamira caves). Back to food: nothing beats Basque food. Menu del dia in small places such as Ponema are a of outstanding quality and a much better deal than the pilgrim/tourist menu on the Frances.

Now, what it doesn't have that does Feances has:

A definite historial link to the birth of the Camino and the Middle Ages that permeates the Frances in its architecture, founding of towns ans cities, etc. Pilgrim mass is offered in many many stops, have not seen one on tne Norte, and once on the Primitivo.

Also the camaraderie of the Frances where you feel like a character in the "Cheers" sitcom everytime you enter a village, recognise faces and get a warm inviation to share a table while you enjoy a cafe con leche.

I feel these three things are what make the Frances the Frances, and there is a lot to say for those three things. I would venture to say that when people rhink of the Camino this is what they think of, rather than a long distance, inexpensive though stunningly beautiful walk through Spain, what the other Caminos are.

The Frances does offer many more choices of albergues, so if you feel like walking 5 km one day, that is possible on most days. There are very few 15km stretches without food, water or an albergue.

But it has a conga line of walkers, you will most likely always have one in view, in front or behind you. I don't mind them being in view, but I do mind hearing their nonstop chatter, but that is me.

It is said that there are times when there is a wave of walkers, an unusually large group of people moving together. If that occurs, it has been suggest you slow down and let is pass ahead of you, so that they keep fighting for beds, while you arrive as they are leaving, leaving you with a choice of beds.

As you may have guessed by now, I am not a fan of the pilgrim menu, but love the cafe con leche bar hopping. Food on tne Frances is not one of its best features, far from it.

So, now that we know the Norte is not anymore difficult than the Norte if you are able to walk the Napoleon route, that it is quieter, to the extent that you will most likely only meet other walkers in the evening, that both offer their own kind of beauty (scenery vs religious architectural heritage), that one offers a greater relgious/spiritual feel than the other, and that food is not a topic woth discussing on the Frances, you get to decide.

Ah, weather... in September 2013 or 14 when I walked the Norte, there had mot been any rain during the summer and I got 1 day of rain, record rain for that day mind you. Temps went as high as 34 degrees, so just as hot as the Frances can be (which is why you will never find me on a camino at the height of summer, bit that's just me).

Have a wonderful deciding which route to pick. Both will be rewarding, each one in its own way. Plus, once on one it's not as if you will ever be able to know how the other would have been like....
 
M

Mark Lee

Guest
I'll keep it simple, especially since you would be a first time pilgrim.
Walk the Camino Frances and start in St. Jean Pied de Port.
Yes, in July you will see many fellow pilgrims along the Way but don't let it stress you. That's some of the best part of the Camino. Meeting other people. Besides, why would anyone even be slightly stressed out about any aspect of a holiday? Leave the stress at home, while at work.
I have walked twice in July. In 2013 and in 2016. From St. Jean to Santiago. I always found room at an albergue, or a pensiones with no advance reservations.
If the aspect of not having a bed for the night bothers you that much I recommend that you get a guidebook, plan out your stages exactly, and know where you will stop each day and make advanced reservations there at a private albergue or pensiones. That is easy enough to do and nothing wrong with it.
If you know what days you will be in Santiago, I highly recommend you make advance reservations there.
cheers and ultreia
 

wildrover

thewildrover
Year of past OR future Camino
2015 april c/f. vdlp feb 2016. Norte / primitivo Sep 2016. C/f 12/16. Vdlp 12/17. 12/18. Lana 02/19.
I'll keep it simple, especially since you would be a first time pilgrim.
Walk the Camino Frances and start in St. Jean Pied de Port.
Yes, in July you will see many fellow pilgrims along the Way but don't let it stress you. That's some of the best part of the Camino. Meeting other people. Besides, why would anyone even be slightly stressed out about any aspect of a holiday? Leave the stress at home, while at work.
I have walked twice in July. In 2013 and in 2016. From St. Jean to Santiago. I always found room at an albergue, or a pensiones with no advance reservations.
If the aspect of not having a bed for the night bothers you that much I recommend that you get a guidebook, plan out your stages exactly, and know where you will stop each day and make advanced reservations there at a private albergue or pensiones. That is easy enough to do and nothing wrong with it.
If you know what days you will be in Santiago, I highly recommend you make advance reservations there.
cheers and ultreia
Spot on mate.
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I have done extensive research on both of these routes, and am more confused than ever.
No need to be confused at this point, and it sounds like the decision is causing stress. Toss a coin and see if you are happy or disappointed with the result. Then you'll know how your gut feels, so go with that. All the suggested possibilities are possible and some might happen. If you have a choice in timing, you might choose differently. However, if you don't, you don't, and it is extremely likely that you will finish the camino very happy with your decision, whichever it is! You can change your mind any day, and get a bus to the other.
 

scruffy1

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Holy Year from Pamplona 2010, SJPP 2011, Lisbon 2012, Le Puy 2013, Vezelay (partial watch this space!) 2014; 2015 Toulouse-Puenta la Reina (Arles)
2009 October Noverber planned in ord
So let's see. We'll start with the Norte as I see Scruffy has not walked it and is painting a scary picture so I feel I must defend it. ;)

July can be an issue on the Norte because it's high season and filled with beachgoers, but they are not staying in albergues dedicated to pilgrims. They will add to the de,and for beds in camping sites amd youth hostels, but those can be reserved ahead of time: La sirena in San Sebastian, the juvenil in Gernika como to mind as does the train station place in Llanes.

As for how hilly it is. I am no doubt overweight, and not just love handles. I have walked the Napoleon route and from there the rest of the Frances, I habe walked the Norte from San Sebastian to Llanes amd the Primitivo (the Portuguese central way as well, but that might as well be flat except for one bit out of Ponte de Lima). I have heard that the day out if Irun is tough, but you don't have to take the Alpinsta section. The rest ks just fine. The uphills are short, and not that terribly steep. Out of Zarautz there is also a way to walk via the coast rather than across the hill. The bit out of Deba is difficult, but you can stop in Olatz, breaking up the hike over 2 days.

On the Norte the albergues would fill up by the end of the evening, but you walked alone during the day. A perfect combinTion for me of a quiet walk and socialisation in the afternoon and evening. But if you are not a 40km walker who waltzes in late in the evening, and reserve in non pilgrim places, you will be fine.

Keep in mind that on the Norte you are likely to walk with a much greater proportion of Spaniards and other non English speakers than on the Frances. You decide if that is a plus or a minus for you. Also, on the Norte you will find a greater proportion of "hardcore" walkers, people who are members of hiking clubs, who regularly do have walking holidays, than on the Frances where many have just bought their first pair of trail runners (that was me, I now have a collection of them).

Great bonus for the Norte: scenary, excellent food, even in tyny villages, beautiful and important towns and cities (San Seb, Bilbao, Guernica, Santander, Santillana del mar and its Altamira caves). Back to food: nothing beats Basque food. Menu del dia in small places such as Ponema are a of outstanding quality and a much better deal than the pilgrim/tourist menu on the Frances.

Now, what it doesn't have that does Feances has:

A definite historial link to the birth of the Camino and the Middle Ages that permeates the Frances in its architecture, founding of towns ans cities, etc. Pilgrim mass is offered in many many stops, have not seen one on tne Norte, and once on the Primitivo.

Also the camaraderie of the Frances where you feel like a character in the "Cheers" sitcom everytime you enter a village, recognise faces and get a warm inviation to share a table while you enjoy a cafe con leche.

I feel these three things are what make the Frances the Frances, and there is a lot to say for those three things. I would venture to say that when people rhink of the Camino this is what they think of, rather than a long distance, inexpensive though stunningly beautiful walk through Spain, what the other Caminos are.

The Frances does offer many more choices of albergues, so if you feel like walking 5 km one day, that is possible on most days. There are very few 15km stretches without food, water or an albergue.

But it has a conga line of walkers, you will most likely always have one in view, in front or behind you. I don't mind them being in view, but I do mind hearing their nonstop chatter, but that is me.

It is said that there are times when there is a wave of walkers, an unusually large group of people moving together. If that occurs, it has been suggest you slow down and let is pass ahead of you, so that they keep fighting for beds, while you arrive as they are leaving, leaving you with a choice of beds.

As you may have guessed by now, I am not a fan of the pilgrim menu, but love the cafe con leche bar hopping. Food on tne Frances is not one of its best features, far from it.

So, now that we know the Norte is not anymore difficult than the Norte if you are able to walk the Napoleon route, that it is quieter, to the extent that you will most likely only meet other walkers in the evening, that both offer their own kind of beauty (scenery vs religious architectural heritage), that one offers a greater relgious/spiritual feel than the other, and that food is not a topic woth discussing on the Frances, you get to decide.

Ah, weather... in September 2013 or 14 when I walked the Norte, there had mot been any rain during the summer and I got 1 day of rain, record rain for that day mind you. Temps went as high as 34 degrees, so just as hot as the Frances can be (which is why you will never find me on a camino at the height of summer, bit that's just me).

Have a wonderful deciding which route to pick. Both will be rewarding, each one in its own way. Plus, once on one it's not as if you will ever be able to know how the other would have been like....
2009 October/November planned to see the foluage which we do not enjoy here. I spent 2 beautiful sunny days in Bilbao and then on the Camino, the rains came. At least one gully washer every day and anything from heavy fog and mist to light rain to thunderstorms and then more of the same every day. Walking with with glasses often not seeing very much, without even less. I remember muddy uphill slogs and slippery downhill slides. Wet, soaking wet for two weeks and I then abandoned the whole idea. Would I do it again? Perhaps, but not in the Fall.
 
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jsalt

Jill
Year of past OR future Camino
Portugués, Francés, LePuy, Rota Vicentina, Norte, Madrid, C2C, Salvador, Primitivo, Aragonés, Inglés
I plan to do my first camino starting in early July 2017. I have done extensive research on both of these routes, and am more confused than ever.

The Norte seems to be much less crowded, but also more expensive. I am also concerned that I may not be able to find the accommodation required along the way. I would begin my journey in Irun if I chose this route.

I am worried about crowds on the Frances, though. I would choose the begin in St. Jean Pied de Port for this route. Are the crowds so large that you are not alone on the trail? Will I have trouble finding a bed? I certainly do not want to feel stressed about finding a place to lay my head each day.

What @Mark Lee said :)
 
A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
Thank you all for such thorough and practical advice! I have chosen to do the Frances. I know it will be an amazing experience.

You will not be disappointed, and the Norte will be there for another day. (And if you are, there are lots of buses along the Frances to beautiful cities along the Norte, but I didn't just say that ;)).
 

marbuck

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Condom to Pamplona April 2016.
Le Puy to Condom France - April-May 2015.
Roncesvalles to Santiago April - May 2014
Finisterre to Muxia May 2014
For a number of reasons you may only walk one Camino so why not walk the most loved one. The Camino Frances is just such a wonderful pilgrimage you will never regret walking it. It sets you up to walk again.
 

boski

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Norte/primitivo (15)
I plan to do my first camino starting in early July 2017. I have done extensive research on both of these routes, and am more confused than ever.

The Norte seems to be much less crowded, but also more expensive. I am also concerned that I may not be able to find the accommodation required along the way. I would begin my journey in Irun if I chose this route.

I am worried about crowds on the Frances, though. I would choose the begin in St. Jean Pied de Port for this route. Are the crowds so large that you are not alone on the trail? Will I have trouble finding a bed? I certainly do not want to feel stressed about finding a place to lay my head each day.
I plan to do my first camino starting in early July 2017. I have done extensive research on both of these routes, and am more confused than ever.

The Norte seems to be much less crowded, but also more expensive. I am also concerned that I may not be able to find the accommodation required along the way. I would begin my journey in Irun if I chose this route.

I am worried about crowds on the Frances, though. I would choose the begin in St. Jean Pied de Port for this route. Are the crowds so large that you are not alone on the trail? Will I have trouble finding a bed? I certainly do not want to feel stressed about finding a place to lay my head each day.
For a number of reasons you may only walk one Camino so why not walk the most loved one. The Camino Frances is just such a wonderful pilgrimage you will never regret walking it. It sets you up to walk again.


I have done both. The norte is more physically challenging and some of the distances between albergues are long. I was there in the summer and it was quite crowded. Not on the trails but in the albergues. We had too get hotel rooms a few times. Some people were leaving at 4 am to beat the rush. We didn't have problems finding places on the Frances but there were a lot more people and places to stay. If I did it again I would do the norte every time.
 
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D

Deleted member 12253

Guest
I plan to do my first camino starting in early July 2017. I have done extensive research on both of these routes, and am more confused than ever.

The Norte seems to be much less crowded, but also more expensive. I am also concerned that I may not be able to find the accommodation required along the way. I would begin my journey in Irun if I chose this route.

I am worried about crowds on the Frances, though. I would choose the begin in St. Jean Pied de Port for this route. Are the crowds so large that you are not alone on the trail? Will I have trouble finding a bed? I certainly do not want to feel stressed about finding a place to lay my head each day.


Why not both. Start in sjpdep and if you find it too crowded switch to Norte. Easy to get bus from Pamplona, logrona or Burgos. Plenty of accommodation on Norte and it's no more expensive even cheaper. I have walked from Irun it's quite hard to Bilbao but very easy after. Your call Buen Camino
 
D

Deleted member 12253

Guest
2009 October Noverber planned in ord

2009 October/November planned to see the foluage which we do not enjoy here. I spent 2 beautiful sunny days in Bilbao and then on the Camino, the rains came. At least one gully washer every day and anything from heavy fog and mist to light rain to thunderstorms and then more of the same every day. Walking with with glasses often not seeing very much, without even less. I remember muddy uphill slogs and slippery downhill slides. Wet, soaking wet for two weeks and I then abandoned the whole idea. Would I do it again? Perhaps, but not in the Fall.
Scruffy as a veteran of many caminos I value your views. I have walked the Norte in Spring 2015 and Autumn 2016 (sept October) no rain or mud, the paths are improved every year and new accommodation even 12 months. Irun to Bilbao tough but easy if fit. As an old mountainey man easy. 35 degrees going into Bilbao and lots of pilgrims very sick with sunstroke in albergue that night. Also stop short of San Sebastián and go to to a lovely albergue in orio. I don't like cities and never ever stop in them . Our paths crossed once outside La Virgin Del Camino and we had a conversation about which route. We had 3 choices.i went left and did not see you again, Buen camino
 

Galuh

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
mei 2016
Mei 2017, the Primitivo from Oviedo is my choice (my first camino) walking or biking (Airnimal Joey)
 

jimmcauley

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances x 2: 2010 > 2016. Plan to start Norte in May/June 2017.
Definitely do the Frances as a beginner! Buy a copy of the Brierly guide and plan your walk ( distance ) each day. The key to ensuring you get a bed each day is get on the road EARLY ( 5.30am or 6.00am at latest ).Plan what distance you can cover by 2.00pm at the very very latest and you shouldn't have any worries. Buen Camino......
 
A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
The key to making sire you het a bed is to book one the previous afternoon and then stay in bed until 6:30 or 7:00, and not wake everyone up. That way you can stop here and there for a coffee, have a little rest in the shade under a tree and waltz in the albergue around 4pm ready for a good shower, laundry, a nap and a quick tour around town while laudry dries in the sun then dinner and zzzzzs until 6:30 the next day. Please be considerate of others in the morning, and in the eveningof course as well.
 
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Mailo

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy- France- SdC (1998)
San Sebastián- SdC (2014)
Leon- Oviedo (2015)
The Norte- is my advice.. although it seems you already decided :). It is quite some time ago I walked the Frances so probably cant advice you in terms of crowds these days apart from what I have heard/ read. Yet- the norte is so beautiful especially the first part- just stunning- but I think this route is becoming more crowded too now. If you want more peace and quiet- maybe best to go more 'off season'. This might not be your last camino so dont hestitate too much and as many others commented- you can easily switch from one camino to the other along the way. Buen camino!
 

jpflavin1

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I plan to do my first camino starting in early July 2017. I have done extensive research on both of these routes, and am more confused than ever.

The Norte seems to be much less crowded, but also more expensive. I am also concerned that I may not be able to find the accommodation required along the way. I would begin my journey in Irun if I chose this route.

I am worried about crowds on the Frances, though. I would choose the begin in St. Jean Pied de Port for this route. Are the crowds so large that you are not alone on the trail? Will I have trouble finding a bed? I certainly do not want to feel stressed about finding a place to lay my head each day.


Anne-Marie:

The benefit of walking a Camino is to get away from your daily stress. Both of these Camino's are great walks.

The Frances is definitely the most popular and has the best infrastructure. The Norte also has good infrastructure but it is spaced a little less frequently than the Frances.

The Norte day in and out is more difficult, imo. The first third being the most difficult and gradually getting easier as it progresses. It also has many beautiful seascapes. The Norte, because of it's location, will offer more seafood on it's menu's. It will also provide you an option to switch to the Primitivo in Oviedo. The Norte will pass through some touristy cities.

That said, I always recommend the Frances to first time walkers.

Pack as light as possible (you will pack too much). Start slowly (let your body adjust to carrying a pack and walking a half marathon a day). Listen to your feet (If you feel friction or a hot spot, stop and address it) As your feet go, so goes your Camino. Finally, Just trust the Camino to be your guide.

Ultreya,
Joe
 

zzotte

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2012 Camino Frances, 2014 Lourdes to SDC, 2016 Camino del Norte
I'm not sure about less crowed on North, if you mean less people "walking" not exactly in the sense of the world yes they walked after they get off the train hahaha ( I so lots pelegrino using the train as a hop-On-hop off but its a conversation for not post, anyway its very crowed at the albergues just the same because they are smaller and further apart, July on the north you will be competing with the tourist, yeah yeah if someone tells you that the albergues are "just" for pelegrimos" I have some river front land in Florida I can sell you :) on the North the prices will triple during tourist season as they told me in San Sebastian "we don't need pelegrinos here" so my two cents first time walking? Do the Frances, better infrastructure, friendlier and you can find a bed just about anywhere, you will be less stressed, frustrated and saved enough money for your second camino. :)))

Zzotte
 

Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese, Primitivo
For a first Camino, I always recommend the Francés. There is something special about that path.

The Norte is lovely, but so are many other walks around the world.
 

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