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LIVE from the Camino Norte: Biarritz-Bilbao

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN BIARRITZ
Arrived on afternoon flight and cleared the airport in less than 20 minutes. They did check for both a COVID cert and the printed French Health attestation form. Bus into Biarritz was 1.3€ paid to the driver, but walking would have been nearly as fast - it’s a pleasant route and takes about 50 minutes depending on where you are staying. Restaurants in Biarritz asking for Pass Sanitairre but also accepting USA CDC card. Everything can be paid by credit card chip now (even used it to pay .3€ to access a private bathroom 😂)
 
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Rick M

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
April ('16,'18, '19, 21)
Oh it's um, ah, a very stimulating Walk to Bilbao! The views are spectacular through the basque country, enjoy it. Connie and I left San Sebastian today by bus for a CF start from Pamplona, her knees just are not Norte ready anymore. Do not miss a tapas crawl in the old town in Donostia, they have taken it to the next level there.

Buen Camino
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 1: Biarritz - St Jean de Luz
There’s a signed Camino path from Bayonne to SJdL and though it skirts Biarritz, we walked along the coast until we intersected it in Bidart. Fairly easy walking with along generally well-marked trails and roadways with a lot of views of the ocean. Plenty of cafes, bars, water sources, bathrooms, and rest stops along this stage - you are never far from developed neighborhoods. Very few masks and little compliance with asking for the French Sanitare Pass. Definitely a great way to get to the start of the Norte rather than by bus/rail.
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 2: ST JEAN DE LUZ - IRUN
Walked the Sentier Littoral along the coast - as they said in Indians Jones 3: “I chose…poorly”. Turns out that the route is currently deemed “DANGEROUS” and they have erected barricades every 100m or on the 15km path 🙄. We walked the road shoulder but then decided that whatever “danger” the French thought the path held was significantly less hazardous than the manic French drivers swerving around us on the roadway. Easy to climb over the guard rail, bypass the barricade, and then re-climb over the guard rail back on the very safe path. There was one 25m washout of the trail which should be detoured, but the rest was completely normal. Not sure what the authorities are thinking…

Very pleasant walk other then the barricade gymnastics (we sang Les Mis songs during these moments) with plenty of ocean views. The Museum of Basque History provided a lovely picnic stop and clean bathrooms, though the actual exhibits were closed. Upon reaching Hendaye, you are forced to traverse sand for a bit as the pathway through the hospital grounds are closed to visitors (COVID perhaps?). Took the 2€ ferry to Himdarribia which has to be the nicest overlooked town in Spain. Worth a visit!

Due to COVID, the basque public albergues in Hendaye and Irun are closed, so we ended up at a 65€ Casa rural 2km out of town. My new friend (hey seaseeker!!!) walked quite a distance more for a proper 18€ bunk-bed albergue. NOTE: there’s a new, sparkling clean 10 bed albergue in SJdL worth a visit!!!

Haven’t met a pilgrim yet as the trail seems quite empty. A beautiful walk if you have to extra €€€ to make it through these early parts.
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 3: IRUN - PASAJES DE SAN PEDRO
Lucked out and walked between morning and late afternoon downpours! Took the lower path but still had plenty of great views. Stopped short before San Sebastián since that’s the ideal distance for my wife. All albergues are closed on both sides of the water, so booked a small room in an apartment through AirBNB. Not ideal, but it works. This stage is without water, food, or bathrooms for about eight miles, so plan accordingly. Plenty of great bars in this area, all offering pintxos and menu del dia specials.
 
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Maggie Y

Maggie
Past OR future Camino
Camino del Norte Sept 2013
Camino del Norte Sept 2014
Camino del Norte 2015,16,17,18
I am with you all the way. I loved this stage if the walk. Very special indeed . Enjoy
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 4: SAN PEDRO - SAN SEBASTIÁN:
Anyone who attempts Irun to San Sebastián is crazy!!!! This was a shortened stage and the rocks and elevation changes tore us up! Probably the hardest segment (for its short length) we’ve done in three Caminos!). Of course, we took the GR alternative along the coast (doubling the distance), so the standard Camino path is likely much easier. Our last was beautiful, but no services and a tremendous amount of rocky surfaces. If it’s raining, stick to the CN since the GR would be dangerous and likely impassable during a storm. As for the city here? Best food AND ocean swimming in Spain!!!
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE FIVE: SAN SEBASTIÁN - ORIO
You like stairs and rocks? This is your kind of path 😎. Humidity is finally easing and more pilgrims are on the trail. Albergue in Orio is at 50% capacity and almost full. Mostly Spanish walking right now. Good waymarking today and we actually were successful on getting a sello (which has been oddly rare so far). This stage would be a bit treacherous in the rain, but doable. There was only one water spigot and no other facilities.
 

biarritzdon

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
CF11, CF12, CP13, CF14, CA15, S.Anton15, CF&CI15
Ditch Pig16, CF&CP17, CdN18, CM18, CF18, LePuy19
Your first day was my old practice walk. I lived on the south side of Biarritz so Bidart was just up/down the road from me, it is well marked from the Surf Museum all the way to St. Jean de Luz and beyond. The Corniche is a special walk on a bright sunny day which is quite normal except for the other 6 days a week when it rains.
 
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Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE SIX: ORIO - AIZARNAZABEL (off trail)
We headed away from the coast at Zarautz towards Loiola/Loyola as we are making a side-pilgrimage to the birthplace of St Ignatius. Followed a marked GR route (yellow/white) through the hills and pasturelands, so no pilgrims or services. Definitely nice to get away from the touristy coast and the associated high prices.
 
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Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE SEVEN: AIZARNAZABEL - LOYOLA
Still “off trail” as we left the Camino Norte for a side trip to the birthplace of St Ignatius. Followed a route suggested by maps.me which followed sheep trails and backcountry roads which kept us off the highway but was a killer on the knees due to all the ups and downs. There is a GR here somewhere, but we had difficulty finding it. This area is beautiful, but not much for the standard pilgrim. No “menu del dia” in town, no open pilgrim albergues, not even a pilgrim discount at the museum. Glad I came, but won’t be back.
 

biarritzdon

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
CF11, CF12, CP13, CF14, CA15, S.Anton15, CF&CI15
Ditch Pig16, CF&CP17, CdN18, CM18, CF18, LePuy19
STAGE SIX: ORIO - AIZARNAZABEL (off trail)
We headed away from the coast at Zarautz towards Loiola/Loyola as we are making a side-pilgrimage to the birthplace of St Ignatius. Followed a marked GR route (yellow/white) through the hills and pasturelands, so no pilgrims or services. Definitely nice to get away from the touristy coast and the associated high prices.
In Laredo I had my first taste of a vino tinto from a vineyard in Orio. It was outstanding. Don't let the amount of sediment put you off, it adds so much to texture and taste. I have tried to find it outside the area and it is no where to be found> i suppose it just one of those small region anomalies.
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 8: LOYOLA - ELGOIBAR
Slept in after a disappointing Loyola; they promoted 2021 as the 500 year anniversary of Ignatius conversion and invited people to come, but there was ZERO in the way of anything special happening and Eve masses were canceled at the Sanctuary for COVID precautions, though the other churches in town manage to hold them still.

Walked out of town via a trail that quickly climbs into the mountains and then follows a mid-slope path around the entire mountain as a marked yellow/white GR route. Google maps suggested walking on the highway shoulder, which would have been flatter and faster except there is little room and the speed limit is 100kmh in parts. Maps.me gave two routes, so we took the non-highway one. While this area encourages hiking and biking, the routes tend to be circular in nature versus assisting walkers moving through the countryside village to village.

Elgoibar is a nice-enough place, but these villages tend to be mostly modern construction with little historical features remaining. (This one doesn’t even have a Catholic Church (new or old), a first for me after visiting dozens of larger Spanish cities. Tomorrow we walk 14km to rejoin the Norte.
 
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Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 9: ELGOIBAR - MARKENA
Back on the Norte and surprised to be in a fairly crowded albergue with 12 other pilgrims. Municipal and parochial ones are closed, so the private ones get a lot of traffic. The two day route from Loiola to here was very difficult, requiring a lot of rocky ascents and descents with zero services. My advice is that if you’d like to see Loiola, take the train or bus for a day visit. We averaged about 15 miles a day of the CF, but only 11 or so on this route due to the terrain. Reports from other pilgrims are that the more popular end-stage cities (Guernica near here) are charging €25-30 for a bed. We haven’t seen that yet in our stops. Masks inside stores but not elsewhere.
 
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Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 10: MARKENA - OLABE
More stairs, but they were downhill through a wooded glen so it was actually quite pleasant! Lovely to be back on the the “official” Camino Norte route and amongst pilgrims again. The Norte is still quite empty and our calls ahead to reserve beds a day or two out seems silly now that we are actually on the route versus simply hearing the moans and groans of folks online theorizing what it’s like out here…. So as of early October 2021 during the waning(!) pandemic, no need to plan ahead for a bed AFTER Deba!

Our host tonight charged 13€ for a bed in Olabe and 11€ for a dinner of soup, beef cheeks on rice, and apples for dessert. Not the largest of meals, but a delicious one! (And yes, beer and wine included!). Just a note that last night’s dinner in Markena was the standard pilgrim one (meat/fries/egg/peppers with a fresh tomato salad) but done in a way that was remarkably good. Highly recommend it. Three other pilgrims in an otherwise empty albergue. Definitely a good time to walk and the vibe from the hosts is a welcome one (oddly enough, the folks we pass vary from non-chalant to outright surprise that pilgrims were back, but NEVER anger over our presence.)
 
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Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 11: OLABE - MORGA
Easy day on the Norte, which would be considered a tough day on the Camino Frances! Seriously, pretty much any day on the Norte is usually harder than the Napoleon Route, Cebrero, Cruz de Ferro, etc. Passed through Gernika which is actually worth an overnight stay if it’s a Monday due to the local market and general festive atmosphere of the day (we were told there was an old saying that on Monday’s, no one lifts a finger in Gernika”! My kind of town!). Sadly, logging has devastated the landscape along this route over the past few days and the beauty of what is left contrasted to man’s devastation of it in certain areas is incredibly depressing. Sadly, logging industry impacts the pilgrim route with machinery, downed trees, tractor traffic, torn up paths, and more. It’s tragic…

Tonight we stay at the private albergue in Morga - the host (Ignacio) has done the Camino twice and provides a pilgrim paradise: lots of outside space, available wine/beer/soda, and a selection of groceries that can be cooked onsite at an outdoor grill area. Definitely a worthy stop and I encourage all pilgrims to support this albergue.
 
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Past OR future Camino
2002, Toulouse/Aragon 2005, Cami S Jaume/Aragon 2007/9, Mont Saint Michel/Norte/Vadiniense 2011, Norte/Primitivo 2013, Norte/Primitivo 2014. Norte 2015, Cami S Jaume/Castellano-Aragonese 2016
STAGE FIVE: SAN SEBASTIÁN - ORIO
You like stairs and rocks? This is your kind of path 😎. Humidity is finally easing and more pilgrims are on the trail. Albergue in Orio is at 50% capacity and almost full. Mostly Spanish walking right now. Good waymarking today and we actually were successful on getting a sello (which has been oddly rare so far). This stage would be a bit treacherous in the rain, but doable. There was only one water spigot and no other facilities.

The mediaeval road into Orio is one of the most ankle-challenging stretches of any Camino I have walked. I would recommend the country road rather than the mediaeval one. But that's me.
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Past OR future Camino
2019
STAGE 12: MORGA - BILBAO
Wow, what a trek! Can’t believe that folks do the longer Gernika-Bilbao in one stage! The long downhill into Bilbao isn’t so bad, but then it’s several kms of concrete and stair walking to reach the city center. Plus it poured rain all day, so overall it was a tough slog without a lot of support services. Definitely stop for food or pack supplies before crossing the final mountain range. Bilbao is a HUGE city, so add a few kms to your estimated walking distance depending on where you are staying. Albergues are fairly empty since there a few pilgrims walking right now.
 

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