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Our Camino del Baztan - an overview

NualaOC

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
A few and hopefully lots more. See signature.
We (Damian and I) have just returned from 5 days on the Camino del Baztan and 3 days on the Camino Frances. I will do a more detailed day-by-day report of our Baztan stages in the next week or so. In the meantime, here’s an overview based on the ‘FAQs’ we found ourselves answering when we joined the Camino Frances in Pamplona. Those conversations typically started with a friendly pilgrim asking: ‘where have you walked from?’ and then looking a little confused when we answered: ‘Bayonne, on the Camino del Baztan’………

What/where is the Camino del Baztan?
It’s a 110km (approx.) route from Bayonne to Pamplona, through the beautiful Basque Country and the Baztan valley. It’s also called the Camino Baztanés, Voie du Baztan/Bastan, Ruta del Baztan and Baztan Bidea.

Most sources refer to the Camino del Baztan as one of the ancient pilgrim routes across the Pyrenees, into Spain. One website states that it’s an older crossing than those beginning in St Jean Pied de Port. I have no idea if this is correct, but it’s a nice thought when walking on what feels like a very traditional pilgrim path.

This Camino is also described as an easier way of crossing the Pyrenees than the Route de Napolean. This is true, but only up to a point. The two biggest climbs on the Baztan are certainly not as high or as steep as the Col de Lepeoder. The highest point on the Baztan is 936m and involves a climb of just over 600m. However, the walking terrain is quite different and the paths are poorly maintained (part of the charm of this Camino). So, while you don’t have dramatic ups and downs of the first couple of days on the Camino Frances, there are other challenges that make this a more difficult walk than some commentaries imply.

I'm putting together a flickr album, but it will be a while before I have time to organise and caption it properly. It's very much a work in progress at this point: https://flic.kr/s/aHskB7e8bM

What was it like? Did you meet any other pilgrims?
Again, this was one of our ‘FAQs’ when we tried to explain that we didn’t walk from St. Jean or Roncesvalles, or that we didn’t have to decide between the Napoleon or Valcarlos routes.

Firstly, this is definitely a less-travelled route, which is a bit surprising given its proximity to Biarritz airport. We met two other pilgrims; Spanish men who walked the same stages and stayed in the same accommodation. We met them each evening and they gave us lots of very helpful information and guidance. They are veteran Peregrinos and we had some great broken English/broken Spanish conversations about different Caminos.

The pilgrim record in the Berroeta albergue gives an interesting snapshot of pilgrim traffic. 590 people stayed there in 2015 and just 100 names are recorded so far this year. Most were French and Spanish, with many coming from nearby cities or regions. The busiest nights this year were 25 March (Good Friday), when 12 of the 16 beds were occupied, and 4 May (10 pilgrims). There were also quite a few nights with no, or just one or two pilgrims. The earliest record is for December 2006 and numbers seemed to have grown over the years. Although non-Europeans are very thin on the ground, I noted a famous @Kiwi-family staying there on 10 May 2014!

It is a very beautiful Camino, with wonderful scenery, excellent way-marking, good albergues and friendly locals (especially in rural Navarre). The terrain is varied, but there’s a lot of asphalt and concrete on the first couple of days. After that, there are more natural paths – including some very muddy and overgrown ones. For that reason, it’s difficult to know which type of footwear is best. We wore our usual Camino trail shoes (non-waterproof), but there were times when we wished we had the boots and gaiters that we wear when hiking in Ireland. However, our boots would not have been a good idea on the Camino Frances, so there’s probably no 100% perfect solution if you are going from the muddy Baztan to a warm and dusty Frances.

Because of the recent rain and thunderstorms, there really was a lot of mud, especially between Lantz and Sorauren. This meant slippy trails at times and on a few occasions, walking in ankle deep mud that had been trampled by cattle. We were very glad of our poles as falling in the mud (and other substances) would not have been fun! Most guides mention mud, so maybe it's a constant feature of the Baztan. I'd be interested to hear other perspectives on this.

Are there services?
The waymarking on this route is really good. At times, you have to look closely for the arrows as they are on rocks or trees and may be obscured by vegetation. But all in all, it’s easy enough to stay on track (even for navigationally challenged people like me). We had thought about using GPS or buying a proper map, but there was no need.

There are five albergues (Esplette, Urdax, Berroeta, Lantz and Olague) and lots of private accommodation. However, it might be a bit risky to take ‘pot luck’ on a day-by-day basis. A bit of planning is probably helpful.

This is not a ‘café con leche’ type Camino. The shops and bars are few and far between (particularly in Spain) and many keep erratic opening hours. For example, most places are closed on Sundays and possibly also on Mondays. Early opening (e.g. at the typical pilgrim breakfast time) is not the norm and some places also close on Tuesday. We were a little unlucky as our walk included a Sunday, Monday and a Tuesday! Realistically, you need to carry food and to be prepared to cook if needed.

Our stages:
We set off from Bayonnne on Friday 27 May and walked to Pamplona over 5 days. This was shorter than our usual daily distances, but we found that we walked more slowly on some of the days due to muddy, overgrown or damaged trails. This was particularly the case when walking downhill on stones or mud.

Our stages were:
Day 1: Bayonne to Esplette (about 24kms). We stayed in the municipal Gite de Pelerins - €15 a bed. This albergue also serves pilgrims walking from St Jean Pied de Port to Irun (typically Le Puy pilgrims connecting to the Camino del Norte).

Day 2: Esplette to Amiaur/Maya (about 24kms). Pension Goizi Argi, €47 for a double room.

Day 3: Amaiur to Berroeta (about 19kms). Great 16-bed municipal albergue with kitchen, €4. Just us and the two Spanish men!

Day 4: Berroeta to Lantz (about 16kms). Good 10-bed muni albergue with kitchen, €4. Just the four of us again.

Day 5: Lantz to Pamplona (about 30kms as we wandered a bit), joining the Camino Frances on the river path at Trinidad d’Arre. Thanks to everyone who recommended Hotel Eslava - it was perfect.

5 days worked out fine for us, but a more leisurely 6-day walk might be nicer. It would also afford more opportunities to take photographs, or to stop and cool the feet in one of the many streams along the way. This Camino definitely lends itself to a more relaxed approach.

Is there a guidebook?
Yes and no. There isn’t a glossy Brierley or Cicereone style guidebook, but there are some helpful resources. To be honest, this probably isn't a Camino for people who need to follow a step by step guide.

We used the following:
The Gerald Kelly guide. A shorter pdf version is also available in the forum resources section.

Eroski – http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/los-caminos-de-santiago/baztanes/

The ‘touristy’ guide to the Spanish section: http://tourism.euskadi.eus/contenidos/recurso_tecnico/aa30_folletos/en_def/folletos/2011/santiago/Caminos del Norte INGLES.pdf

Perhaps the most useful resource of all is the list of accommodation from Bayonne Cathedral. This is a good basis for planning your stages.
Baztan accommodation.jpg

There’s also a facebook page for this route.

Useful stuff too on RayyRosa.com: http://www.rayyrosa.com/caminodebaztan.htm

Last but not least: @peregrina2000 's translation of a 2012 Spanish guide: https://www.caminodesantiago.me/com...-of-spanish-guide-to-baztan.12765/#post-86248

May 2017 update: The Buen Camino app is also really good, and it seems to incorporate some of the recent route changes.

Would you do it again?

My answer: ‘yes, in a heartbeat’. Damian’s: ‘no way!’

Overall, I absolutely loved this Camino and I will definitely walk it again sometime. Damian didn’t like it as much and was a lot happier on the Camino Frances. We had good fun, though and laughed a lot about our completely different perspectives. Damian summed it up well when we were discussing the pros and cons – he said that it’s best for seasoned hikers/pilgrims who are resourceful, reasonably fit, comfortable with their own company and not scared of being completely alone on remote trails.

Hints and tips:
1. Learn some Spanish - you will have a much richer experience if you can communicate with the local people. They are not 'pilgrim-weary' and are genuinely interested in chatting about their villages and about the Camino.
2. Bring a good insect repellant - there are lots of flying mini-beasts!
3. Make sure you have coins and small notes - the tiny tiendas and bars will not appreciate €50 notes.
4. Bring lots of socks. Did I mention the mud?!
5. Consider bringing some reading material - the evenings can be pretty quiet.
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thanks for this Nuala. I am converted already, and have booked flights for October. You paint a very attractive picture! Looking forward very much for your further details. I did some up-to-the-calves-in-mud walking crossing from Primitivo to Norte (Lugo to Sobrado dos Monxes) a couple of weeks ago and in a perverse camino kind of way enjoyed it;).
 

clearskies

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Here and there
@NualaOC Thank you so much for this! It's a massive help. It certainly isn't a busy trail, like the Frances, but I have a feeling I'm going to love the solitude!
 

NualaOC

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
A few and hopefully lots more. See signature.
Thank you for sharing this. It sounds like a wonderful alternative to starting in SJPP.
It is indeed Doug, but I found the transition to the Camino Frances a bit of a shock to the system. I really missed the simplicity of the Baztan. It took me a while to adjust my mindset and realise that in spite of all the little (and sometimes not so little) irritations, there are great experiences to be had on the Camino Frances.
 

NualaOC

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
A few and hopefully lots more. See signature.
Thanks for this Nuala. I am converted already, and have booked flights for October. You paint a very attractive picture! Looking forward very much for your further details. I did some up-to-the-calves-in-mud walking crossing from Primitivo to Norte (Lugo to Sobrado dos Monxes) a couple of weeks ago and in a perverse camino kind of way enjoyed it;).
Good for you @timr, we are so lucky to have cheap flights to Biarritz! It looks like we'll be walking in your Primitivo mud in October while you're on the Baztan.
 

gerardcarey

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CFx2, CPx1
Thank you very much NualaOC
Sounds like it may be suitable for an autumnal type pussy pilgrim like me.
I don't particularly like the idea of cold/wet/mud/heat. That's why I'm autumnal.
I've had my eye on this for a few years but been put off as I don't enjoy/can't do, distances much over 20ks a day.
It appears that increasing accommodation on the Baztan is increasingly able to provide a Camino with shorter stages.
Regards and thanks again.
Gerard
 

LesBrass

Likes Walking
Camino(s) past & future
yes...
@NualaOC Thank you so much for this. I have just booked our first nights accommodation in Bayonne. We've booked the time off and we're driving down on Saturday the 20th August. I love walking in the mountains so I am really looking forward to this holiday... and I think we'll virtually follow in your footsteps! :)
 

NualaOC

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
A few and hopefully lots more. See signature.
@NualaOC Thank you so much for this. I have just booked our first nights accommodation in Bayonne. We've booked the time off and we're driving down on Saturday the 20th August. I love walking in the mountains so I am really looking forward to this holiday... and I think we'll virtually follow in your footsteps! :)
Hi @LesBrass, hope you enjoy the Baztan! It's a very beautiful and quiet little Camino. I'm glad that my notes were helpful.

In case you didn't see it, I did a more detailed post about our stages here.
 

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