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Recommendations for “not to be missed” & “ok to skip”

hikermomma04

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino del Norte 2023
I'm planning on doing my first Camino in September, but I only have 3 weeks off and want to do a rest day in a few different cities (because it's also my first trip to Spain). Long story short, I will probably have about 15-16 day to enjoy the Norte. I'm looking for recommendations of legs that are "not to be missed" as well as those that would be "ok to skip". I'm more interested in enjoying the hiking and nature experience than going as fast as I can and checking off all the boxes, so would rather take a taxi or train past the less spectacular areas and use my time to enjoy the best parts. Thank you!
 
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@hikermomma04 if you skip bits you end up losing a lot waiting around for transport, and you also miss out on comradeship of fellow pilgrims, let alone the feeling of completeness that comes with an uninterrupted walk. My suggestion for a spectacular walk with some great Spanish towns and cities is the first part of the Norte, starting from Irun. The first day take the high route over the hill, it is spectacular, down into Pasajes St Juan which is rather like a Norwegian fjord, and on to San Sebastian, a beautiful Basque city with a reputation for fabulous tapas. Then a simply lovely walk on to Bilbao which is a fascinating, the prettiest of towns in Castro Urdiales, and on to Santillaner del Mar, said by some to be the prettiest town in Spain. That will take all your time.

But if you want the "Camino" experience - then the Camino Francés, starting in Leon and walking all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
 
We all have favourite sections and days, but they usually depend on our own moods, the company, and things that cannot be predicted. Many of us think that the appropriate strategy is to pick a convenient starting point, pick the destination to aim for, and then set out to walk from the start to the finish, taking whatever comes. Cherry-picking the stages and hopping in and out of taxis takes away from the continuity of a long-distance walk or a pilgrimage.
 
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@hikermomma04 if you skip bits you end up losing a lot waiting around for transport, and you also miss out on comradeship of fellow pilgrims, let alone the feeling of completeness that comes with an uninterrupted walk. My suggestion for a spectacular walk with some great Spanish towns and cities is the first part of the Norte, starting from Irun. The first day take the high route over the hill, it is spectacular, down into Pasajes St Juan which is rather like a Norwegian fjord, and on to San Sebastian, a beautiful Basque city with a reputation for fabulous tapas. Then a simply lovely walk on to Bilbao which is a fascinating, the prettiest of towns in Castro Urdiales, and on to Santillaner del Mar, said by some to be the prettiest town in Spain. That will take all your time.

But if you want the "Camino" experience - then the Camino Francés, starting in Leon and walking all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
Thank you for your reply. I am planning to start in Irun, and do the walk through San Sebastian, Bilbao, and onward. I'll put Castro Urdiales oand Santillaner del Mar on my list as well. But surely you had at least on part of your journey where you thought to yourself at the end of the day "I could've skipped that part and been just as happy"?
 
We all have favourite sections and days, but they usually depend on our own moods, the company, and things that cannot be predicted. Many of us think that the appropriate strategy is to pick a convenient starting point, pick the destination to aim for, and then set out to walk from the start to the finish, taking whatever comes. Cherry-picking the stages and hopping in and out of taxis takes away from the continuity of a long-distance walk or a pilgrimage.
Right, I totally understand that favorites and not-so-favorites are subjective. At the risk of offending Camino purests, I don't feel I need to walk from point A to point B to have a wonderful Camino. And I don't want to get to the end and think, "darn, I could've skipped that day and seen something more spectacular". I'm already planning on doing most of the routes suggested for avoiding asphalt, because I prefer solitude and more natural beauty.
 
Hi, the Camino del Norte is a beautiful and spectacular walk and there were no parts that we felt we could have missed, even the industrial area after Gijon and coming into Aviles, they were also very interesting and special in a different way.
Rather than missing any parts, would it be possible for you to start your walk in Irun and finish when your time is up and then return at a later time and start walking again from where you finished? Then you wouldn’t miss anything. As you mention there are quite a few alternatives on the Norte and they are certainly worth taking, with spectacular views and scenery.
Or is your aim to start in Irun and finish in Santiago?
Buen Camino
 
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Thank you for your reply. I am planning to start in Irun, and do the walk through San Sebastian, Bilbao, and onward. I'll put Castro Urdiales oand Santillaner del Mar on my list as well. But surely you had at least on part of your journey where you thought to yourself at the end of the day "I could've skipped that part and been just as happy"?
No.

Edited to add: Every day has something special, I agree with Anne&Pat, even the industrial area after Gijon (which you will not reach anyway, if you take my suggestion and finish in Santillana del Mar).

There are sections of road walking on the Norte, but if you want to avoid that, choose a different walk.

There are more spectacular walks in Europe and the rest of the world, if that is your primary goal. Think the walks in Nepal. Or find a tour company that will organise a walk for you, picking and choosing the "best bits".

A Camino is different. For me it means walking a long distance, continuously, towards a special place.
 
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Thank you for your reply. I am planning to start in Irun, and do the walk through San Sebastian, Bilbao, and onward. I'll put Castro Urdiales oand Santillaner del Mar on my list as well. But surely you had at least on part of your journey where you thought to yourself at the end of the day "I could've skipped that part and been just as happy"?
No, I don't think I have ever thought that.

Moving at a human walking pace puts me in a different place-- it's hard to explain how. It takes me a few days of walking to get into the rhythm of the camino. Getting on a bus or taxi might break that rhythm.

As for the long less spectacular sections... um, hmm. I can't think of any. Even the long slog into Burgos (how long is that park along the river anyway?), is an important part of my journey.-

The camino (for me) is about the other people, about the slowing down to consider what I have seen, what I'm doing, whom I've met, where I'm going. I mull over history, religion. I pray and sing to myself and talk with others.

Walking on asphalt is no ones favorite walk, but it allows for appreciation of the quiet on later paths.

As for nature. A pilgrim can find nature on the camino, but it's not majestic like the Cascades or lush like the Adirondacks.
 
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It seems I've offended a good number of pilgims with my question, unintentionally. I actually am not thinking of skipping entire stages, but rather small bits like industrialized, busy inner city parts that I have heard from other posters are not very interesting or relaxing (like taking a taxi or train a short distance to a nicer spot when walking it would mean walking down roads, past factories or beside heavy traffic). I'm definitely into the full experience of doing a camino, with varied experiences both in nature and in beautiful cities and I plan to spend every day walking pretty much the entire day. But as someone who frequently has to get my walking in around urban areas, I know that I prefer to skip that part if possible to go towards beautiful nature or quaint towns like Santillana del Mar or Oviedo. I also like to occasionally go off the beaten path to explore little things that catch my interest, before returning to the main route. In other words, I'm never going to be that person that has my entire route from Point A to Point B mapped out, with how many Km I have to walk every day continuously to meet that goal. It's just too rigid for me, and I know that my enjoyment of the Camino will come with being flexible. Unfortunately, the only part that isn't flexible is my time off, so I have to make the most of the days I do have which led me to ask this question. If I don't make it all the way to Santiago, that's ok because it just means I'll come back some other time to finish :) What is important to me is the experience, as it is to all of you. It's just how we define it that is a individual to each of us.
 
I'm looking for recommendations of legs that are "not to be missed" as well as those that would be "ok to skip".
I actually am not thinking of skipping entire stages, but rather small bits like industrialized, busy inner city parts that I have heard from other posters are not very interesting or relaxing
The second bit is actually what some may be reacting to, @hikermomma04.

I'd say skip nothing, because the Camino is to be taken as a whole, including everything. We can't cherry pick life, and the camino is the same.

But really it's no problem. 😇 Just start closer to Santiago - perhaps at Oviedo - which is its own pilgrimage place - and find your way from there.

Edited to add:
seems I've offended a good number of pilgims
Perhaps you're just not getting the answers you're hoping to get, @hikermomma04?
The camino isn't just a long-dustance hike, but a different sort of endeavor, as much about the inside as the outside. So perhaps start answering your question by asking yourself another: what is the intention of your walk? And then going from there.

And if you're looking for uninterrupted natural beauty, perhaps this is just not the route for you? If so you could consider the San Sebastien/Primitivo from Leon or the Olvidado/Invierno from Aguilar de Campoo instead. There is no end of gorgeous options!
 
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It seems I've offended a good number of pilgims with my question, unintentionally.
No offence taken here! Only trying to give my honest view, having walked multiple caminos.

I tend to agree with @VNwalking - with your time frame, and wanting to avoid urban walking, I'd pick the Primitivo from Oviedo, rather than the Norte.
 
Truly, from all my reading and my one Camino from Sarria to Santiago, if you've got 3 weeks and want hiking, nature, and interesting towns, the Primitivo to Melide, and then the Frances to Santiago, would fit most of that. You could spend time in Oviedo and in Lugo and still make it.

(Full disclosure: I intend to walk the Primitivo in Sep this year).

If, on the other hand, you want ocean views, perhaps the Portuguese?
 
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I also like to occasionally go off the beaten path to explore little things that catch my interest, before returning to the main route. In other words, I'm never going to be that person that has my entire route from Point A to Point B mapped out, with how many Km I have to walk every day continuously to meet that goal. It's just too rigid for me, and I know that my enjoyment of the Camino will come with being flexible.
Yeah, I relate. This describes a lot of us.
It's harder to be flexible where there are 'traffic jams' of pilgrims - and that's not such nice walking, either. On top of that, there are other visitors to consider: on the summer the towns along the Norte can have many people on holidays, coming for sea and sand. So...maybe head for the hills, peregrina! There's more space up there.
 
Truly, from all my reading and my one Camino from Sarria to Santiago, if you've got 3 weeks and want hiking, nature, and interesting towns, the Primitivo to Melide, and then the Frances to Santiago, would fit most of that. You could spend time in Oviedo and in Lugo and still make it.

(Full disclosure: I intend to walk the Primitivo in Sep this year).

If, on the other hand, you want ocean views, perhaps the Portuguese?
Thank you for the advice. I actually was considering the Primitivo initially, but the allure of hiking by the coast attracted me to the Norte.
 
Yeah, I relate. This describes a lot of us.
It's harder to be flexible where there are 'traffic jams' of pilgrims - and that's not such nice walking, either. On top of that, there are other visitors to consider: on the summer the towns along the Norte can have many people on holidays, coming for sea and sand. So...maybe head for the hills, peregrina! There's more space up there.
Exactly. Thank you
 
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Hola @hikermomma04 Another vote for the Primitivo - which seems perfect given your timeframe and what you'd like to do. Not coastal views, but glorious in a different way and a lot less asphalt for sure.

As for towns to enjoy and soak up some Spanish culture both Oviedo (starting point) and Lugo are truly ideal - You could easily spend two days in Oviedo before you begin. And you have the added bonus of arriving in Santiago de Compostela.

Also, transport wise - Oviedo has both train and airport (Asturias) connection for your arrival journey.

PS If you are concerned about numbers of people walking when the Primitivo and the Frances join at Melide, you have option there as well - after Lugo I believe. I haven't taken that path but others on the forum have for sure
 
The better way to do it is pick a starting point - and simply walk as far as you can walk in the time you have. I walked the Norte/Primitivo route in 4 weeks - so in the time you have, you can probably get to the mid-way point on the Norte. You could even plan to come back to pick up where you left off. Or you can start mid-way and get all the way to Santiago. But you get into a better rhythm of walking if you just do it daily and don't spend time waiting around for buses/trains etc. And you will likely meet people that you may become friends with that you want to continue walking with. There are no parts of the trail that I wouldn't mind skipping - even dull sections have their beauty and you get a sense of accomplishment from walking day after day. Even the day on the Frances where I watched a couple pilgrims board a bus into Burgos - I kept thinking "why they heck am I walking when there are bus stops all along this road?". I resisted the urge and continued to walk. I was a bit miserable that day. Then I got to Burgos and I marveled at my accomplishment that day. As for rest days - you may want them - or you may decide you don't want/need them. I suggest playing it by ear. I preferred a combination of long/short days instead of rest days. I made sure I had plenty of time to see a couple special sites along the way, but taking rest days wasn't essential to do that. Also - you may
think" you want to stop in certain areas and arrive and decide the place isn't what you need - and chose to keep walking. Or - you can come up to a city or town that really inspires you to stop and spend some extra time. For me - it was the quiet little villages on the Norte that were inspiring, and the cities that most people wanted to spend extra time in where overwhelming for me. Anyhow - take an app, get a general ideal of what you think you might want to do - but don't make rigid plans. Start walking, see how you feel, wander where you want to wander, stay and rest where you want to stay and rest. And if you decide that "I want to skip this section" then you can do that too. Being flexible is wonderful!
 
I love walking on both, actually :)
Me, too, as they are both much more interesting, especially the rocky trails, although they require more vigilence.
Although my feet have no trouble walking on asphalt, I find it boring. Their redeeming quality is that they allow us to look up to enjoy our surroundings without missing a step, instead of having to pause and stop in order to look around to appreciate the views, unless you are walking on a busy hiway instead of a quaint country road.
 
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I know this isn't answering your original question but just thinking aloud, @hikermomma04, because your thread has triggered some more ideas.

In your shoes, I'd be most seriously considering the San Salvador-Primitivo from Leon. It seems to tick a lot of boxes...unfortunately, just not the sea part.

That said, you could walk the part of the Norte after Oviedo and continue on the Ruta de Mar/Ingles, thus avoiding some of the more touristic and busy parts of this camino while still having a continuous walk. That continuity is really more valuable than it might seem. And the RdM looks fantastic.
 
The better way to do it is pick a starting point - and simply walk as far as you can walk in the time you have. I walked the Norte/Primitivo route in 4 weeks - so in the time you have, you can probably get to the mid-way point on the Norte. You could even plan to come back to pick up where you left off. Or you can start mid-way and get all the way to Santiago. But you get into a better rhythm of walking if you just do it daily and don't spend time waiting around for buses/trains etc. And you will likely meet people that you may become friends with that you want to continue walking with. There are no parts of the trail that I wouldn't mind skipping - even dull sections have their beauty and you get a sense of accomplishment from walking day after day. Even the day on the Frances where I watched a couple pilgrims board a bus into Burgos - I kept thinking "why they heck am I walking when there are bus stops all along this road?". I resisted the urge and continued to walk. I was a bit miserable that day. Then I got to Burgos and I marveled at my accomplishment that day. As for rest days - you may want them - or you may decide you don't want/need them. I suggest playing it by ear. I preferred a combination of long/short days instead of rest days. I made sure I had plenty of time to see a couple special sites along the way, but taking rest days wasn't essential to do that. Also - you may
think" you want to stop in certain areas and arrive and decide the place isn't what you need - and chose to keep walking. Or - you can come up to a city or town that really inspires you to stop and spend some extra time. For me - it was the quiet little villages on the Norte that were inspiring, and the cities that most people wanted to spend extra time in where overwhelming for me. Anyhow - take an app, get a general ideal of what you think you might want to do - but don't make rigid plans. Start walking, see how you feel, wander where you want to wander, stay and rest where you want to stay and rest. And if you decide that "I want to skip this section" then you can do that too. Being flexible is wonderful!
Wonderful insight and good advice. Thank you.
 
Me, too, as they are both much more interesting, especially the rocky trails, although they require more vigilence.
Although my feet have no trouble walking on asphalt, I find it boring. Their redeeming quality is that they allow us to look up to enjoy our surroundings without missing a step, instead of having to pause and stop in order to look around to appreciate the views, unless you are walking on a busy hiway instead of a quaint country road.
Exactly, I totally agree.
 
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I know this isn't answering your original question but just thinking aloud, @hikermomma04, because your thread has triggered some more ideas.

In your shoes, I'd be most seriously considering the San Salvador-Primitivo from Leon. It seems to tick a lot of boxes...unfortunately, just not the sea part.

That said, you could walk the part of the Norte after Oviedo and continue on the Ruta de Mar/Ingles, thus avoiding some of the more touristic and busy parts of this camino while still having a continuous walk. That continuity is really more valuable than it might seem. And the RdM looks fantastic.
Both of those sound like good suggestions, definitely worth looking into. I honestly don't know much about the RdM but I like the idea of avoiding some of the busier, more touristy parts. Thanks for the great ideas!
 
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would rather take a taxi or train past the less spectacular areas and use my time to enjoy the best parts.

I don't want to get to the end and think, "darn, I could've skipped that day and seen something more spectacular"

I have to make the most of the days I do have

I think this is a very interesting topic and one that I'll approach, perhaps, from an unusual angle.

But first, the logistics of what you seek may be difficult.
Leaving a town or city with a large industrial area is easy - order a cab and ask to be dropped out the road. At the other end or in the middle though, that's more difficult and way well involve waiting. I suppose with sufficient research it would be straightforward enough to identify the last café and relax while waiting.

However, your question throws up the dilemma that faces every traveller with a choice - have I made the "right" choice?

As I see it, that leaves us constantly comparing the actual experience, the expected experience and the alternative experience.

The actual experience is what we are doing right now. What we are seeing, hearing, tasting. All that kind of stuff. And what we are feeling.

The expected experience is what we were expecting to see, hear, taste..... And all the rest of it. Maybe we hadn't thought so much about how we'd feel. Maybe we did.

The thing is, to have those two matched as closely as possible to avoid surprises we need to do lots and lots of research. And then some more research. And probably practice. I mean, I can look to see what a particular stretch of path looks like but to get a realistic idea of what it feels like to walk it in baking heat or pouring rain or with blisters on both feet probably requires experience.
(Personally, I couldn't imagine doing that level of research. Any travel would just become a series of iems to be checked off)

Then, there's the alternative experience. The option we didn't take.

When things are going well, there's no problem.

When things go south (as they certainly will) there can be problems.
Maybe that café we were expecting to rest at is closed. Maybe the weather is unseasonably cold, hot or wet.
Now, there's the easy potential to think we're not having the "best" experience.
That doesn't feel good.

Then consider the alternative. All of a sudden the road we didn't take seems "better". Now, we're thinking we made the "wrong" decision.
That feels worse.

I think a happy traveller is the one that can take what's in front of them and be content.
It may not be what is expected. It may not be comfortable. If "best" was the goal they'll be disappointed. But if "contentment" is the goal......?

The thing is a bad day makes a mediocre day a great day by comparison. Uninspiring, ugly scenery can make a bland scene a work of art. A hot, dry, dusty day can make a simple glass of water a vintage wine.
There's a bigger picture than just the here and now.

The thing that is especially true of the Camino (or at least most of the popular routes) is the ability to just "be".
There is so much infrastructure that we don't need to stress about the next bed, the next meal, the next water (although many still do).
It is the pinnacle of being able to travel with minimal planning, of being open to whatever the road throws at us and yet, we can still be safe and relatively comfortable because of such a large "safety net".

I'm never going to be that person that has my entire route from Point A to Point B mapped out, with how many Km I have to walk every day continuously to meet that goal. It's just too rigid for me, and I know that my enjoyment of the Camino will come with being flexible.

So after all my waffle, I'd encourage you to take that same flexibility to route, to distance and rigidity and apply it to your mentality and goals. Try not to

..... think, "darn, I could've skipped that day and seen something more spectacular"
And instead look for what makes you content right now.

Some of my best days travelling (and best stories) are nowhere near what anyone would describe as "best".

Buen Camino
 
Some of my best days travelling (and best stories) are nowhere near what anyone would describe as "best".
So true! 😄

Excellent post, @Flatlander - it did bring a new angle.

Personally, I lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between "living in the moment" and "pursuing a designer Camino." I do a lot of research but make minimal commitments, and I try to keep my expectations modest but positive.
 
So true! 😄

Excellent post, @Flatlander - it did bring a new angle.

Personally, I lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between "living in the moment" and "pursuing a designer Camino." I do a lot of research but make minimal commitments, and I try to keep my expectations modest but positive.
Thank you

There's a line in a Ray Wylie Hubbard song that goes something like....
The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations I have pretty good days.

I firmly believe that the language we use (most especially in our internal monologues) is critical.
I try not to grade my mistakes, instead I have different lessons to learn.
I try not to look for the best, but to make the best of what I have
I'm very rarely lost, instead I'm exploring.

Life can be a lot more pleasant that way. Travelling too.
 
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@hikermomma04 if you skip bits you end up losing a lot waiting around for transport, and you also miss out on comradeship of fellow pilgrims, let alone the feeling of completeness that comes with an uninterrupted walk. My suggestion for a spectacular walk with some great Spanish towns and cities is the first part of the Norte, starting from Irun. The first day take the high route over the hill, it is spectacular, down into Pasajes St Juan which is rather like a Norwegian fjord, and on to San Sebastian, a beautiful Basque city with a reputation for fabulous tapas. Then a simply lovely walk on to Bilbao which is a fascinating, the prettiest of towns in Castro Urdiales, and on to Santillaner del Mar, said by some to be the prettiest town in Spain. That will take all your time.

But if you want the "Camino" experience - then the Camino Francés, starting in Leon and walking all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
Agreed the first section from Irgun to Santander has some beautiful and interesting days. In Basque country its pintxos” (PEEN-chos) not tapas!
 
One of the beauties of the Camino is that it is a beautiful long walk. Such a long walk that it is rewarding and fulfilling in many ways, including, of course, religious and spiritual. Having said that, I have twice walked from Bilbao to Portugalete, once on each side of the river. A third time I took the metro with my disabled son. If I am lucky to go a forth time, I will ride the metro those short 10 kms or so again. Yes, there are some long urban slogs on the Frances but the only other of any Camino section I would ride around is Gijon to Aviles. I walked it once but bused it the second time. Buen Camino
 
I am always confused when someone asks this question. I always wonder why someone has chosen to walk the camino if they want to pick and choose and sightsee and ride busses. Again I too am not offended by the question just puzzled by it. The assumption that I am making is that the OP is not really looking for a spiritual, contemplative, religious walk, or looking to possibly develop a longer lasting bond with other pilgrims. (Just my assumption). That is fine. People walk for lots of reasons. There are other caminos that one can choose that (I did not see that the OP is wedded to walking on the coast.) are magnificent and there is no necessity to skip around. The Primitivo, as someone suggested, Invierno, Salvador or for a French experience from Le Puy. Although I have only walked from Le Puy I know the ones I have mentioned, as well as others, are really beautiful.
I can tell you, and this is just advice, again not from being offended because what you decide to do has no impact on me and this thread will be forgotten quickly, I am just trying to be a pilgrim helping someone new at this. Trying to find the "best sections" to walk, sightseeing, booking transportation, finding your way in big cities etc. etc. will probably end up causing you unneeded frustration and stress. Pick a spot and go. When the time is up, it is up. If you really want to walk on the Norte start in Irun and you will have two beautiful cities to walk in, San Sebastian and Bilbao. Lots of magnificent scenery, wonderful albergues, challenging walking, the opportunity to eat really good food and lots and lots of fantastic pilgrims. You should be thrilled. Isn't this enough? Remember tourists demand, pilgrims are grateful. Be a pilgrim you will not regret it. Be grateful, it is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
 
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I always wonder why someone has chosen to walk the camino if they want to pick and choose and sightsee and ride busses.
As I mentioned in my original post, this is my first time in Spain as well as my first Camino. I’d be heartbroken if I didn’t spend a little time sightseeing in the places I’m already planning to pass through, such as Bilbao and Oviedo. Does this make me a tourist, not a pilgrim? I surely don’t think so.
The assumption that I am making is that the OP is not really looking for a spiritual, contemplative, religious walk, or looking to possibly develop a longer lasting bond with other pilgrims
That’s an interesting assumption. One cannot have a spiritual, contemplative, religious walk if they choose to take a bus or train through a short section that they know will not be enjoyable?
 
As I mentioned in my original post, this is my first time in Spain as well as my first Camino. I’d be heartbroken if I didn’t spend a little time sightseeing in the places I’m already planning to pass through, such as Bilbao and Oviedo. Does this make me a tourist, not a pilgrim? I surely don’t think so.

That’s an interesting assumption. One cannot have a spiritual, contemplative, religious walk if they choose to take a bus or train through a short section that they know will not be enjoyable?
I did say it is just an assumption. I also said, "that is fine" I also said, "People walk for lots of reasons". So I was not saying you can't or will not have one of these experiences I just said it seems to me that you were not looking for that type of experience based on what you said. I also never once made mention of differentiating between whether you were a tourist or a pilgrim. I have walked over 7,000 kilometers and 7 caminos and I am way past worrying or caring what is or what isn't a pilgrim. I have heard this discussion a million times and it is as useful as a blister. Just like what is enjoyable for one or taste good for one is boring or horrible for another. Again a total waste of time. I made the point that I hoped you learn (and again maybe you already know this) as we all need to learn to be grateful and one of the greatest gifts camino gives us is learning the true nature of gratitude. I guess you could say that the statement you made is an interesting assumption too!! Buen Camino and have fun.
 
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I'm planning on doing my first Camino in September, but I only have 3 weeks off and want to do a rest day in a few different cities (because it's also my first trip to Spain). Long story short, I will probably have about 15-16 day to enjoy the Norte. I'm looking for recommendations of legs that are "not to be missed" as well as those that would be "ok to skip". I'm more interested in enjoying the hiking and nature experience than going as fast as I can and checking off all the boxes, so would rather take a taxi or train past the less spectacular areas and use my time to enjoy the best parts. Thank y

Picasso’s mural in Guernica was a must stop for my daughter and me.
 
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The one from Galicia (the round) and the one from Castilla & Leon. Individually numbered and made by the same people that make the ones you see on your walk.
I’d be heartbroken if I didn’t spend a little time sightseeing in the places I’m already planning to pass through, such as Bilbao and Oviedo. Does this make me a tourist, not a pilgrim? I surely don’t think so.
No, I don't think so, either. I do lots of sightseeing on my Caminos, too and I've done some great trips to visit special places. From the start, I was only suggesting that you should be aware that breaking up stages or jumping around will change the experience. That change may be what you want, on this trip, and that's your decision to make, but at least you understand the tradeoffs.
 
I have conflicting thoughts here! In real life, I often strive for the best, and I wouldn't want to change that. Maybe we are saying that the Camino is a bit different - it is a place where we put aside that striving.
Ah, but I didn't mention being the best, I referred to looking for the best. They're different.

Sorry to go off topic.....

I'm one of those terrible, selfish monstrosities - I ride a bike. My "Camino" (Saint Jean to Santiago) was only a part of a longer, round trip to and from my front door. It wasn't my first trip and it isn't my longest but I learned, slowly, very slowly, that contemplative travel is great for reorganising our minds.
I equate it to shaking up a snow globe. I can shake all my thoughts up, see what arises, focus on some if I want to and watch as they all settle down softly and smoothly.

I've learned that to be able to do this I need to be relaxed. In the moment if you will. The journey is what delivers this, not the destination.

But that's me. I know lots of people who think I'm a little odd.:)

Being able to take that into my "real life" has been the greatest gift I've ever given myself.
 
I typed a big long response, hoping to give you the benefit of my great Norte wisdom. Then I deleted it because I wasn’t sure how useful it was. So let me try this. The Norte is a big rambling beast. It wanders around through different variations, it goes to the sea through forests, up on mountains, and down through Galicia. I have walked on it three times and I always get lost. I think of the Frances as being a mostly linear path. The Norte is not linear.

I walked every step of it the first time and then subsequently I have taken many coastal variants and skipped parts I didn’t like.
You could pick and choose the “best parts” but you will spend a lot of time traveling instead of walking. There are true spiritual and logistical benefits to a continuous path.

I could tell you how to do a “greatest hits” of the Norte walk, but you can’t do them all. In three times I still haven’t seen the Altamira caves! So frustrating!

I would propose that you walk the first week from Irun to Bilbao. Watch for the costal alternatives. This section is wonderful. Lots of coastal views and forests. You get to walk into two excellent cities; San Sebastián and Bilbao. And you have a contiguos approximately 7 days. Then skip forward to Ribadeo and walk through Galicia and end in Santiago. It would be an approximately 10 day continuous stretch. You would be away from the coast, but Galicia has a lot of charms, including the mountain walk after Mondonedo and the monastery at Sobrados.

But, honestly, as I prepare to end this comment, I think the best summary advice I could give you is: Walk the Primitivo.
 
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One cannot have a spiritual, contemplative, religious walk if they choose to take a bus or train through a short section that they know will not be enjoyable?
Well, sure you can. But there is magic in the continuity (on many levels), and in realizing we can be content wherever we happen to be. Walking through the landscape and accepting whatever it offers is a wonderful doorway into that experience.

Does this make me a tourist, not a pilgrim
We have to be one or the other? Who made that rule? Whatever, @hikermomma04 - don't listen to them.
A lot of us are both, to some extent.
 
I would like to offer another suggestion. Walk the Norte to Bilbao, then take an easy bus ride to Oviedo and walk the Primitivo to Lugo. I think that will fit your time frame. If you do that and are disappointed come back here and fight me😀.
Or… one more thing, resolve to start in Irun and to walk to Bilbao and then see how you feel. Gather options but make no commitments for after Bilbao until you get there. Just go and see what happens.
 
As I mentioned in my original post, this is my first time in Spain as well as my first Camino. I’d be heartbroken if I didn’t spend a little time sightseeing in the places I’m already planning to pass through, such as Bilbao and Oviedo. Does this make me a tourist, not a pilgrim? I surely don’t think so.

That’s an interesting assumption. One cannot have a spiritual, contemplative, religious walk if they choose to take a bus or train through a short section that they know will not be enjoyable?

I live in the Fingerlakes Region of NY State (about half way between NYC and Buffalo). I lived in Germany and in Rome for a semester. I studied in Paris, and have friends and family up in Ireland. -- So, when I go back to travel to Europe, I'm always tempted to fit everything and everyone in. And new places to boot! It's a mistake. I am always unpacking or packing to leave for the next place.

In 2017 I walked from Le Puy to Conques. I flew into Paris, took the train down to Le Puy. I met up with some German friends for a day who just happened to be camping near by. When I reached Conques, I was just getting into a rhythm of le chemin, but I had already bought tickets from Figeac and so my walk ended. I missed an amazing procession in Conques which happened the very next day after I left. And also, much of my limited time walking was spent staring at maps wondering how I could make up time to get somewhere else...

I did see Chartres (again) and Guedelon before I flew back home. Memorable places to be sure-- but I wish I had just kept walking-- to Figeac and on to Rocamadour.
 
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The journey is what delivers this, not the destination.
YES!!! I wholeheartedly agree with you. And I love your snowglobe analogy. It's always what happens for me when I walk long distance, with hours for contemplation. If it happens for you while you bike your Camino, then that's wonderful. It doesn't make you a monstrosity or odd. It's what works.
 
I would propose that you walk the first week from Irun to Bilbao. Watch for the costal alternatives. This section is wonderful. Lots of coastal views and forests. You get to walk into two excellent cities; San Sebastián and Bilbao. And you have a contiguos approximately 7 days. Then skip forward to Ribadeo and walk through Galicia and end in Santiago. It would be an approximately 10 day continuous stretch. You would be away from the coast, but Galicia has a lot of charms, including the mountain walk after Mondonedo and the monastery at Sobrados.
Thank you for this thoughtful reply. This is the type of advice I was hoping for, from someone who has walked the Norte many times and in many ways. I've bookmarked your advice, so I can look into it in more detail as I'm making my plans. And I'd be willing to bet your first rambling response would also have been helpful
 
there is magic in the continuity (on many levels), and in realizing we can be content wherever we happen to be. Walking through the landscape and accepting whatever it offers is a wonderful doorway into that experience.
True, very true.
 
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I would like to offer another suggestion. Walk the Norte to Bilbao, then take an easy bus ride to Oviedo and walk the Primitivo to Lugo. I think that will fit your time frame. If you do that and are disappointed come back here and fight me😀.
Or… one more thing, resolve to start in Irun and to walk to Bilbao and then see how you feel. Gather options but make no commitments for after Bilbao until you get there. Just go and see what happens.
Both seem like great suggestions. I especially love the spontaneity offered by the second one, as it also allows me to do first one. And I don't want to have to fight you lol.
 
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Dear Hikermoma04:

I've gotten in trouble for this opinion before, but here goes. The
Camino Frances is the mothership. It has more history, more beautiful and charming (often spectucuar) villages, towns, and cities than any other Camino. And it has the infrastructure people talk about. Far more alberques, pensions, B&Bs, bars, gear stores--everything that makes a three week walk comfortable. And, as a cavalcade of posters will likely respond, and cite, many more pilgrims than any other Camino. People on the Camino Frances--a lot of pilgrims on the Camino Frances. Oh no!

In September, you will practically always be able to see fellow walkers up ahead of you, and behind you. It is a constantly westward moving stream of pilgrims from all over the world, and you'll meet a lot of them. Now, here's my idea of what you should do. In July, I walked the entire Camino, and then went back to Leon to meet two longtime friends who had never done a Camino, and only had three weeks--including travel time. So their Camino which I planned for them was Leon to Santiago. There's something pleasant and altogether satisfying with sense of accomplishment about a continuous Camino, without jumping ahead or off to another Camino The people you meet on a continuous Camino, you'll likely see in Santiago. It is still astounding to me that you can meet and talk to someone in the first couple days, and never see them on the Way again, but somehow bump into them when you reach Santiago. Finally, when non-Camino people or magazine articles or movies focus on "the Camino", they are talking about the Camino Frances. And 95% of people you hear talking about how it was the adventure of a lifetime or that it changed their lives profoundly are referring to the Camino Frances. Leon to Santiago de Compostela is a beautiful and varied section of the Camino. You will like it. Send me a forum message in September to let me know how you liked the Leon to Santiago Camino, now that I've talked you into it.
 
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It has more history, more beautiful and charming (often spectucuar) villages, towns, and cities than any other Camino.
Absolutely not so.

@hikermomma04 sounds at ease with solitude. Which may make the Francés less ideal for her. As you say, @Bob Howard:
many more pilgrims than any other Camino.
when non-Camino people or magazine articles or movies focus on "the Camino", they are talking about the Camino Frances.
All this makes many of us (even first time pilgrims) want to avoid the conga line of the Francés like the plague. And September is one of the busiest months.
 
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I agree with @Bob Howard that the first Camino should be on the Camino Francés. I can't explain but for me it always retains something unique. No matter how many other paths I walk.

But we were not asked which path, but which bits of the. Norte to miss. To get back to the original question (because I am a good forum member and don't want to hijack the thread...) I agree with @WalkingLester that the Norte is huge and missing bits of it means missing something unique. As an example (and not to take from Lester's suggestion) if you did skip from Bilbao to Ribadeo or Oviedo, then you would miss (on a day by day basis):

1. The amazing transporter gondolier bridge at Portugalete,
2. The 800 metre tunnel cut through the hill before Castro Urdiales, a simply lovely town, with its astonishingly beautiful church set on the headland, next to the lighthouse first built by the Romans,
3. The fishing boats in the villages and charming town of Laredo,
4. Cliffs and amazing views along the way near Cerdigo,
5. The boat crossing to Santona, the extraordinary beaches with extraordinary rock formations, the excitement of the headland to Noja, the glorious walk through green Cantabria to Guemes (with its famous albergue),

I'll stop there but hope I am making the point that every day on a Camino has a mix of "a bit ho hum" and "I am so glad I saw this".

For various reasons there have been times when I've travelled along a Camino route by bus. The temptation is to think that "I've seen it", but of course I have not. Peering over a wall into someone's vegetable garden and spying wooden clogs, seeing a new born foal hidden under the leaves of a wild Galician rose in full bloom, passing a woman carrying a primitive handmade rake, seeing corn being hung inside a horreo, being surprised by the braying of a donkey, watching fishermen pull a boat up a beach, children in first communion dresses on elaborate coloured sand carpets, spontaneous singing in the bar when the local team scored - these are all unexpected delights that I saw on the Norte. And so much more. Those experiences only come with continuous walking.

There is nothing wrong (and lots of things right) about having a bucket list of Important Things to See - but somehow that idea does not fit with walking a Camino.
 
I agree with @Bob Howard that the first Camino should be on the Camino Francés. I can't explain but for me it always retains something unique. No matter how many other paths I walk.
This is also my opinion, @Kanga, but I last walked the Frances in 2017. Unfortunately I don't think I am willing to choose it again due to the huge increase of pilgrims every year since, especially post-pandemic.

All of your recollections of the Norte brought back and stirred up many wonderful memories for me! I loved the Norte and loved reading your descriptions!😊
 
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It seems I've offended a good number of pilgims with my question, unintentionally. I actually am not thinking of skipping entire stages, but rather small bits like industrialized, busy inner city parts that I have heard from other posters are not very interesting or relaxing (like taking a taxi or train a short distance to a nicer spot when walking it would mean walking down roads, past factories or beside heavy traffic). I'm definitely into the full experience of doing a camino, with varied experiences both in nature and in beautiful cities and I plan to spend every day walking pretty much the entire day. But as someone who frequently has to get my walking in around urban areas, I know that I prefer to skip that part if possible to go towards beautiful nature or quaint towns like Santillana del Mar or Oviedo. I also like to occasionally go off the beaten path to explore little things that catch my interest, before returning to the main route. In other words, I'm never going to be that person that has my entire route from Point A to Point B mapped out, with how many Km I have to walk every day continuously to meet that goal. It's just too rigid for me, and I know that my enjoyment of the Camino will come with being flexible. Unfortunately, the only part that isn't flexible is my time off, so I have to make the most of the days I do have which led me to ask this question. If I don't make it all the way to Santiago, that's ok because it just means I'll come back some other time to finish :) What is important to me is the experience, as it is to all of you. It's just how we define it that is a individual to each of us.
Thank you for the explanation. Here is my view and experience:
I walked the CN only once, in September 2015. Having done the CF before, I was disappointed; it was an altogether lonely walk, there were very few fellow-peregrinos on the way and I missed the camaraderie. The presence of holidayers did not help, as there is no connection. The CN scenery is distractively breathtaking and beautiful, so much that I often fell into an unintentional holiday mood.
Micro skipping even short distances would only further enhance solitude.

Its personal, but I find "that real Camino experience" a lot more on the CF; I found the best of two worlds by walking the CF to SdC, rent a car and drive along the CN in the opposite direction. I did that twice. If I were tight with time, I would start the CF in Leon: Depending on the route taken, the 700 km drive from SdC to Bilbao or further to San Sebastian can be done in a few days (longer is better)

To separate the Camino and the Sightseeing is a good idea.
 
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I’m not one for attributing emotion unnecessarily; but something changed about half way.
These things happen.

Once on my way out of Burgos, a younger man (40ish, 1st timer) approached me and talked extensively: Why I was walking, beliefs, etc. etc. He stated his status as a tourist, walking for the fun of it.

I told him: "When you arrive in Santiago, in front of the Cathedral, you will cry". He didn't respond to that.

Well, it so happened, that we walked together into Santiago some 3 weeks later. Impossible to get rid of him :) After entering the plaza in front of the Cathedral, we sat down, me 2 metres behind him (I knew what was coming).

He was crying like a child.

Over a beer, later, he told me: "Back outside Burgos, weeks ago, when you told me I would cry in Santiago, I thought to myself: "What a load of bullshit from an old man!". But you were right: I have been thinking a lot on my way: I have hurt a lot of people in my time, including my exwife, my children, and my handicapped little brother, who I always pestered. I have to go home and try to repair what I have done wrong".

I am sure he did, and I hope (for him) that he managed to sort of mend things.

The Camino has its ways, and the Meseta worked well on him.
 
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Absolutely not so.

@hikermomma04 sounds at ease with solitude. Which may make the Francés less ideal for her. As you say, @Bob Howard:


All this makes many of us (even first time pilgrims) want to avoid the conga line of the Francés like the plague. And September is one of the busiest months.
Lol, @VNwalking is absolutely right. While I did enjoy your description and obvious appreciation for the Camino Frances @Bob Howard, it only served to reinforce my decision to do any other camino but that one! LOL. The idea of walking among large groups of people, even if it was in absolutely the most beautiful setting, would not be enjoyable to me. But that's not to take away from those who opt to do the CF, as we all find fulfillment in different ways.
 
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Lol, @VNwalking is absolutely right. While I did enjoy your description and obvious appreciation for the Camino Frances @Bob Howard, it only served to reinforce my decision to do any other camino but that one! LOL. The idea of walking among large groups of people, even if it was in absolutely the most beautiful setting, would not be enjoyable to me. But that's not to take away from those who opt to do the CF, as we all find fulfillment in different ways.
I've walked the CF five times and I've never, ever, walked among "large groups of people".

By busy, which it is today in comparison to when I first walked in 2001, it means that you will see someone on the path ahead of you, and possibly someone on the path behind. On the first few days, when everyone is setting out together, and before they string out (which happens by about Pamplona), you might find people passing you, or you might pass them.

As Jerry says, linger over your breakfast and leave at 9am instead of 7am. If you do that you may not see anyone.
 
if you did skip from Bilbao to Ribadeo or Oviedo, then you would miss (on a day by day basis):

1. The amazing transporter gondolier bridge at Portugalete,
2. The 800 metre tunnel cut through the hill before Castro Urdiales, a simply lovely town, with its astonishingly beautiful church set on the headland, next to the lighthouse first built by the Romans,
3. The fishing boats in the villages and charming town of Laredo,
4. Cliffs and amazing views along the way near Cerdigo,
5. The boat crossing to Santona, the extraordinary beaches with extraordinary rock formations, the excitement of the headland to Noja, the glorious walk through green Cantabria to Guemes (with its famous albergue),
Thank you for your thoughtful and intriguing reply. Those all sounds absolutely great, not things I'd want to miss out on for sure. And I know exactly what you mean by those unexpected delights of walking. It's one of my favorite parts of my hikes here at home - never knowing what you'll discover.

I only wish I had more time to walk it....
 
Thank you for your thoughtful and intriguing reply. Those all sounds absolutely great, not things I'd want to miss out on for sure. And I know exactly what you mean by those unexpected delights of walking. It's one of my favorite parts of my hikes here at home - never knowing what you'll discover.

I only wish I had more time to walk it....
Coming from Australia to walk my first Camino the year I turned 50, I too thought it would be my first and only. Fitted in between working and with many other responsibilities there were years away from the Camino, but I'm now 71 and still walking! Coming back to walk a Camino is something I will keep doing as long as I am physically able and there are a few cents left in my bank account.
 
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I am loving all the wonderful suggestions and comments (including the different viewpoints), and definitely appreciate everyone taking time to reply.

It occurred to me that I kind of just threw my question out there, and gave a brief description of why I was asking it but didn't actually give any indication of what kind of a walker or person I am. Which may have given the experts here a better idea of the advice I was looking for...

I am 51yrs old, mother of four who works full time in the medical field in a stressful, mentally and physically demanding job. As you all know, the last 2.5 years have been pretty hard on those in the medical field. My method of survival during the tough times was hiking and exploring, and it became one of the best ways for me to "refill my cup". When one of my patients told me about the Camino, I knew I had to do it. But as I read about the different routes, I was drawn to the least commonly traveled routes. This is because I connect best, find the most peace, and work through that "snow globe" in my head the best when I can hear every bird sing, whisper of wind through the leaves, smell and taste and feel the water beside the path. This is not to say that I don't enjoy walking with a good buddy and talking through things from time to time, and I love meeting travelers from all over the world and hearing their stories and learning from them. I just don't want to walk next to busy roadwork, heavy traffic that emits gross fumes, or through densely crowded areas if I have a choice of avoiding them while also saving a little time. I also know myself well enough to know that one of the things that really annoys me is listening to constant chatter of a group and not being able to hear the birds, wind, etc. As I mentioned, I have 4 kids so I get plenty of chatter. It's why I value solitude, when I can :cool:
 
I've walked the CF five times and I've never, ever, walked among "large groups of people".

By busy, which it is today in comparison to when I first walked in 2001, it means that you will see someone on the path ahead of you, and possibly someone on the path behind. On the first few days, when everyone is setting out together, and before they string out (which happens by about Pamplona), you might find people passing you, or you might pass them.

As Jerry says, linger over your breakfast and leave at 9am instead of 7am. If you do that you may not see anyone.
I am loving all the wonderful suggestions and comments (including the different viewpoints), and definitely appreciate everyone taking time to reply.
It occurred to me that I kind of just threw my question out there, and gave a brief description of why I was asking it but didn't actually give any indication of what kind of a walker or person I am. Which may have given the experts here a better idea of the advice I was looking for...
I am 51yrs old, mother of four who works full time in the medical field in a stressful, mentally and physically demanding job. As you all know, the last 2.5 years have been pretty hard on those in the medical field. My method of survival during the tough times was hiking and exploring, and it became one of the best ways for me to "refill my cup". When one of my patients told me about the Camino, I knew I had to do it. But as I read about the different routes, I was drawn to the least commonly traveled routes. This is because I connect best, find the most peace, and work through that "snow globe" in my head the best when I can hear every bird sing, whisper of wind through the leaves, smell and taste and feel the water beside the path. This is not to say that I don't enjoy walking with a good buddy and talking through things from time to time, and I love meeting travelers from all over the world and hearing their stories and learning from them. I just don't want to walk next to busy roadwork, heavy traffic that emits gross fumes, or through densely crowded areas if I have a choice of avoiding them while also saving a little time. I also know myself well enough to know that one of the things that really annoys me is listening to constant chatter of a group and not being able to hear the birds, wind, etc. As I mentioned, I have 4 kids so I get plenty of chatter. It's why I value solitude, when I can :cool:
Well, that clarifies things. If you don't want to be around people, especially given the last couple years on your job in medicine, then the Norte is probably the best thing.

But let me make a couple of comments in the event there are other newbies reading this thread: I have walked now twice in June, once each in July and September. I have never walked in crowds. Are there more people after Sarria Of course, often large youth groups. I have passed them, and they have passed me--so walking near that "crowd" of youthful pilgrims lasted about 45 seconds.

Oh, and sometimes those damn youth groups sing! Not compatible with solitude, of course, but I found it glorious.
 
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I am loving all the wonderful suggestions and comments (including the different viewpoints), and definitely appreciate everyone taking time to reply.

It occurred to me that I kind of just threw my question out there, and gave a brief description of why I was asking it but didn't actually give any indication of what kind of a walker or person I am. Which may have given the experts here a better idea of the advice I was looking for...

I am 51yrs old, mother of four who works full time in the medical field in a stressful, mentally and physically demanding job. As you all know, the last 2.5 years have been pretty hard on those in the medical field. My method of survival during the tough times was hiking and exploring, and it became one of the best ways for me to "refill my cup". When one of my patients told me about the Camino, I knew I had to do it. But as I read about the different routes, I was drawn to the least commonly traveled routes. This is because I connect best, find the most peace, and work through that "snow globe" in my head the best when I can hear every bird sing, whisper of wind through the leaves, smell and taste and feel the water beside the path. This is not to say that I don't enjoy walking with a good buddy and talking through things from time to time, and I love meeting travelers from all over the world and hearing their stories and learning from them. I just don't want to walk next to busy roadwork, heavy traffic that emits gross fumes, or through densely crowded areas if I have a choice of avoiding them while also saving a little time. I also know myself well enough to know that one of the things that really annoys me is listening to constant chatter of a group and not being able to hear the birds, wind, etc. As I mentioned, I have 4 kids so I get plenty of chatter. It's why I value solitude, when I can :cool:

Definitely you should walk the Primitivo. It is made for you. And that is from someone who has walked multiple different Caminos.

The time frame is right (2-3 weeks), the setting is very beautiful countryside (every inch - it is across the mountains of Asturias into Galicia and on to SDC), there is very little road walking, there is a scattering of other pilgrims but not too many, there is good infrastructure, Oviedo, Lugo and Santiago de Compostela are absolutely fabulous Spanish cities, with cultural treasures galore, and deeply imbedded with Camino history.
 
Completely agree with @Kanga, as per my post #19. It really sounds just right for you.

I walked the Frances in 2011 and 2013. I walked the Primitivo in 2014 and again in 2019. Of all the routes I’ve walked, for me the Primitivo is the most akin to the Frances of a decade ago. And, just my opinion, a stronger camino ‘vibe’ than the Norte.

There had been an increase from 2014 to 2019, but not so much as to feel crowded in any way - until you get to Melide where the Frances and Primitivo merge. But as per my earlier post, there is an alternative if you’re concerned about the crowds. It didn’t bother me last time - sure there were A LOT more people from Melide, but it was a good lesson for me in acceptance and I met some lovely excited pilgrims in those last two days to SdeC. ☺️

Exciting to be preparing for your first camino. Enjoy 😎
 
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I've walked the CF five times and I've never, ever, walked among "large groups of people".
Different experiences.
Photos, from different years, different parts of the Camino Francés,in April and May 2014, 2015, and 2017. This gives you a sense of what it's like on the Francés, @hikermomma04.

20170524_095514.jpgArca de Pino-Santiago de Compostela (20).JPGSaria-Portomarin (54).JPGIMG_4345.JPG
TBH, I have plenty of other photos where there is no-one in the shot, but that's on purpose. I studiously avoid taking photos with other people, but on the Francés often that's impossible. So plenty of times there were many more people than this. Unless you want to walk later in the day - then yes, there are fewer.
In stark contrast to other less traveled caminos, where encountering someone along the way can be an 'event.'
 
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The focus is on reducing the risk of failure through being well prepared. 2nd ed.
The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
P1000582.JPGOn first reading, this is the antithesis of the camino – we just follow the yellow arrows. But we make a choice to walk, and we make a commitment to a path and a course of action and once we have made the choice, whatever happens as a consequence remains as our reality. We are the sum of our choices. That doesn’t prevent us looking back on what we might have done without a certain amount of regret, mixed with defiant acceptance that we are what we are, ‘Je ne regrette rien’.
 
Different experiences.
Photos, from different years, different parts of the Camino Francés,in April and May 2014, 2015, and 2017. This gives you a sense of what it's like on the Francés, @hikermomma04.

View attachment 140412View attachment 140411View attachment 140415View attachment 140416
TBH, I have plenty of other photos where there is no-one in the shot, but that's on purpose. I studiously avoid taking photos with other people, but on the Francés often that's impossible. So plenty of times there were many more people than this. Unless you want to walk later in the day - then yes, there are fewer.
In stark contrast to other less traveled caminos, where encountering someone along the way can be an 'event.'
Nope nope nope. Not for me
 
The one from Galicia (the round) and the one from Castilla & Leon. Individually numbered and made by the same people that make the ones you see on your walk.
Nope nope nope. Not for me
Fair crack of the whip. If you want solitary, then not the Frances for you. But you should know the photos are (1) at the top of the Sierra del Perdon, just after Pamplona, where everyone bunches up because they want to take photos with the metal statues across the top and (2) and (3) are both within the last 100km from Sarria to SDC where it is always and inevitably busy. Not what I'd call a fair representation.
 
Definitely you should walk the Primitivo. It is made for you. And that is from someone who has walked multiple different Caminos.

The time frame is right (2-3 weeks), the setting is very beautiful countryside (every inch - it is across the mountains of Asturias into Galicia and on to SDC), there is very little road walking, there is a scattering of other pilgrims but not too many, there is good infrastructure, Oviedo, Lugo and Santiago de Compostela are absolutely fabulous Spanish cities, with cultural treasures galore, and deeply imbedded with Camino history.
Completely agree with Kanga, the Primitivo would be perfect for you. We have walked a number of Caminos and in 2022 we walked the Primitivo for the first time. It is a beautiful walk, well described in the above post and you would be able to walk a full Camino.
Buen Camino.
 
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Not what I'd call a fair representation.
I've lost track of the number of times (in many other places including the meseta) where I could have taken worse. But didn't. In May 2019, I counted over 100 pilgrims going by San Anton in about an hour, after 1PM. It was astonishing. (I was staying there for the night and was curious what the numbers were going to Castrojerez.)
 
I have posted something along these lines in the past: When I opine, it is almost always with respect to first time Pilgrims. I would not deign to substitute my judgment about a Camino matter to a veteran Pilgrim. You know what you like and what you can do. That is almost always not the case with a first time Pilgrim--so, it seems to me we should be careful with newbies regarding our advice of where to walk, what to wear and what to pack . And this particular thread is a good example of that. This over-crowding hype is . . . well, it's hype. Other than post-Sarria, the Camino is not really crowded. There are times when there is a brief period of groups passing. But otherwise, seeing a few people in the distance behind you or in front of you can't be characterized as crowded. The Forum's mis-guided "the Frances is too crowded" meme has been around for years, and has become part of the Forum's collective wisdom.

Without belaboring it, which I am more than capable of doing, except for @hikermomma04 who has a specific situation in which she wants solitude, virtually everyone I've ever talked to or heard about, relishes the idea of seeing and meeting people from around the world.

Not to be hyperbolic about this, but the idea that we would encourage a first time pilgrim to walk the Norte, Miserabe, or another little traveled Camino is akin to recommending that they be sure to wear cotton socks in their high-top leather boots.

If you have never walked, and are not put off by seeing and and meeting other Pilgrims, the Camino Frances is the proper choice. Again, so I don't get completely clobbered, I'm just talking about the curious and excited soul who has read and heard about the Camino and wants to do it for the first time, and is intrigued by the anecdotes of people who claim their Camino as a rewarding and life-changing experience.

By the way @hikermomma4, if it is between the Primitivo and the Norte, the Primitivo will get you a night in Lugo--I was blown away by Lugo. Maybe the most appealing little town I have ever seen. One of those "I could live there places".
 
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To get back to the original question, I just don't see the Norte as being the answer for you @hikermomma04 . Even if you take the alternate routes, there is inevitably a lot of road walking, and walking on paved surfaces. Lots of people out for daily walks. And it just does not fit with your time frame.

Do have a look at the Primitivo.
 
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Here's a photo from the Meseta. If you can zoom in, you'll see that little black dot in the middle is a solitary pilgrim. If you zoom in real close you can see he is wearing a straw hat. That's me. Another pilgrim took the photo from the top of the hill, and gave it to me when he saw me a few days later. It didn't seem too crowded.CaminoMeseta.pdf
 
Fair crack of the whip. If you want solitary, then not the Frances for you. But you should know the photos are (1) at the top of the Sierra del Perdon, just after Pamplona, where everyone bunches up because they want to take photos with the metal statues across the top and (2) and (3) are both within the last 100km from Sarria to SDC where it is always and inevitably busy. Not what I'd call a fair representation.
Probably not representing all parts, but I’ve seen many other pictures similar to these of the CF. I’m not saying I’ll never do it, but it’s not
my first choice. For some, I’m sure it’s a perfect way to start.
 
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By the way @hikermomma4, if it is between the Primitivo and the Norte, the Primitivo will get you a night in Lugo--I was blown away by Lugo. Maybe the most appealing little town I have ever seen. One of those "I could live there places".
Sounds lovely! I’ll be planning a stop there for sure if I opt for the Primitivo. Thank you 🙏
 
I'm planning on doing my first Camino in September, but I only have 3 weeks off and want to do a rest day in a few different cities (because it's also my first trip to Spain). Long story short, I will probably have about 15-16 day to enjoy the Norte. I'm looking for recommendations of legs that are "not to be missed" as well as those that would be "ok to skip". I'm more interested in enjoying the hiking and nature experience than going as fast as I can and checking off all the boxes, so would rather take a taxi or train past the less spectacular areas and use my time to enjoy the best parts. Thank you!
Don't miss Irun to San Sebastian. Tough but well worth it in the Pyreness and coming int San Sebastion. San Sebastian to Zarautz also beautiful.I recommend all the cities (San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Gijon). No need to stay an extra day just overnight. Luarca was great but you can skip walk out of Santander and Bilbao. Just suburbs. Also didn't like Gijon to Aviles. Take a bus or a train. Other than that many "country walks." Llanes and Liendo were beautiful and the 5-6 days from Ribadeo to Compostela in Galicia were amazing. Buen Camino.
 
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It doesn't make you a monstrosity
Ah, it's the very act of travelling by bike that makes me a monstrosity for some on here. :)

@hikermomma04
At the risk of excommunication from the forum, aside from the Camino routes there are many long distance hiking routes in and around Spain. They are normally labelled as GR with a number after GR. Some Camino routes use part(s) of these.
There are also Via Verdes, usually old railway lines of varying distances between towns. With discretion, many of these provide an opportunity for some stealth camping.

It would be entirely possible to create the perfect (for you) hiking trip by hiking in different parts of the country for days at a time, linked together by bus or train. A few days along the coast, a few more in the "Spanish Lapland", some days in the mountains in Catalonia.......

This would be very different to travelling a traditional Camino route in the sense that infrastructure could well be significantly less and information may be harder to come across in advance. And of course, Santiago is not a destination (although, I suppose, it could be).
It would, I think, give a different perspective of Spain, too, away from the "Pilgrim experience".

Mountains, sea, seclusion, all could be found with a bit of research. Language would become more important. Self sufficiency, an essential.

It's interesting to note the hint of electricity in the air on this thread stemming from the idea of "real" or "true" pilgrims and pilgrimages. Nothing terribly explicit, but it's there.

Magical things can happen on the Camino. But in my experience it's the mindset that the Camino supports that creates the magic. It is always within us, we just needed to find a way to tap into it.

More heresy, but it is possible to develop that mindset away from the Camino. It's just more difficult.

That said, there is a lot to be said for travelling a well worn route that people have travelled for centuries and are travelling in common with us in the here and now.
And a lot to be said for day after day travelling by the same method and at the same pace. Psychologists can offer insight into how long we have to do something before it is a habit. The simple priorities of "Camino life" - find food, water and a safe place to sleep - can become ingrained and help us to be grateful for the simplest of things. A new habit.

We don't know how your patient described their Camino experience to you. Was it full of sights and beautiful, old towns perched on hilltops that draw us along and up through fields full of life? Were they tales of pushing ourselves to our limits in scorching sun or pouring rain and prevailing? Were stories told of evenings spent over a vino tinto with strangers and the freedom that comes from speaking openly and learning about people from far, far away? Was there mention of the great bond that can grow between people as they travel in the one direction over a long time? They hardly spoke of all the snorers or the very early, plastic-rustling risers, or the blisters did they? :)

Whatever it is, the Camino is not just another hike. It has levels.
I understand fully the desire to be alone and away from the madding (or maddening) crowd, but to actively avoid the other participants, especially as a first timer, is, I think, to lose one of the "levels" and one of the supports of the Camino experience.
Those other participants are not always pleasant or enjoyable company but we can learn a lot from them. And about ourselves.
(Some of them, of course, are great!)

If, and only if, trying to uncover all the levels of the Camino is one of your objectives I'd encourage you to keep that in mind in terms of your decision making. The quieter Camino routes will have advantages and disadvantages for that goal. Aware of the disadvantages we can work to negate them and take full value of the advantages.

I don't know if it's possible at this stage but I think that having done a bit of research talking again to your patient who has inspired you might be a good exercise. Perhaps patient confidentiality is an issue but many Pilgrims past, present and future are members of Camino organisations in their local areas. I don't know of anyone who has travelled who doesn't want to talk about it! :)

Good luck.
 
I'm planning on doing my first Camino in September, but I only have 3 weeks off and want to do a rest day in a few different cities (because it's also my first trip to Spain). Long story short, I will probably have about 15-16 day to enjoy the Norte. I'm looking for recommendations of legs that are "not to be missed" as well as those that would be "ok to skip". I'm more interested in enjoying the hiking and nature experience than going as fast as I can and checking off all the boxes, so would rather take a taxi or train past the less spectacular areas and use my time to enjoy the best parts. Thank you!
I’d recommend don’t miss any E9!!!
 
Don't miss Irun to San Sebastian. Tough but well worth it in the Pyreness and coming int San Sebastion. San Sebastian to Zarautz also beautiful.I recommend all the cities (San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Gijon). No need to stay an extra day just overnight. Luarca was great but you can skip walk out of Santander and Bilbao. Just suburbs. Also didn't like Gijon to Aviles. Take a bus or a train. Other than that many "country walks." Llanes and Liendo were beautiful and the 5-6 days from Ribadeo to Compostela in Galicia were amazing. Buen Camino.
Very helpful suggestions. Thank you!
 
A selection of Camino Jewellery
I'm planning on doing my first Camino in September, but I only have 3 weeks off and want to do a rest day in a few different cities (because it's also my first trip to Spain). Long story short, I will probably have about 15-16 day to enjoy the Norte. I'm looking for recommendations of legs that are "not to be missed" as well as those that would be "ok to skip". I'm more interested in enjoying the hiking and nature experience than going as fast as I can and checking off all the boxes, so would rather take a taxi or train past the less spectacular areas and use my time to enjoy the best parts. Thank you!
I absolutely recommend from Santander walking off the camino walk along the coast from the centre of town towards parque de la madelena... Keep hugging the coast a easy to follow spectacular walk. First night i stopped in san juan de la canal second night i made it to Boo de Piegalos. Then i rejoined the camino
I only met one other pilgrim couple over the two days. But lots of very helpful Spanish people out walking.

I did it alone as a solo female i was a little worried to start going off camino but my god i had the best time all by myself. So happy i did it. I urge you to try it
 
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@hikermomma04 if you skip bits you end up losing a lot waiting around for transport, and you also miss out on comradeship of fellow pilgrims, let alone the feeling of completeness that comes with an uninterrupted walk. My suggestion for a spectacular walk with some great Spanish towns and cities is the first part of the Norte, starting from Irun. The first day take the high route over the hill, it is spectacular, down into Pasajes St Juan which is rather like a Norwegian fjord, and on to San Sebastian, a beautiful Basque city with a reputation for fabulous tapas. Then a simply lovely walk on to Bilbao which is a fascinating, the prettiest of towns in Castro Urdiales, and on to Santillaner del Mar, said by some to be the prettiest town in Spain. That will take all your time.

But if you want the "Camino" experience - then the Camino Francés, starting in Leon and walking all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
I agree. The first part of the Norte is the best and gice yourself a couple of days in San Sebastian. Great city.
 
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I absolutely recommend from Santander walking off the camino walk along the coast from the centre of town towards parque de la madelena... Keep hugging the coast a easy to follow spectacular walk. First night i stopped in san juan de la canal second night i made it to Boo de Piegalos. Then i rejoined the camino
I only met one other pilgrim couple over the two days. But lots of very helpful Spanish people out walking.

I did it alone as a solo female i was a little worried to start going off camino but my god i had the best time all by myself. So happy i did it. I urge you to try it
Great advice. I’m taking notes 👍🏼Thank you!
 
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Id stick up some photos but it doesn't seem to allow me to do so here. Honestly it was the most spectacular part of my walk from irun to illanes.
You pass these amazing rock formations in the sea, as you progress from santander it gets better and better. Second day is stunning.
Its quite exposed though so i wouldnt do it in bad weather. And regardless of weather make sure someone knows where you are.
There are few opportunities to stop during the day so carry some food and water. And make sure your phone is fully charged

I thank @peregrina2000 for all the information she provided

Urros de Liencres
 
It seems I've offended a good number of pilgims with my question, unintentionally. I actually am not thinking of skipping entire stages, but rather small bits like industrialized, busy inner city parts that I have heard from other posters are not very interesting or relaxing (like taking a taxi or train a short distance to a nicer spot when walking it would mean walking down roads, past factories or beside heavy traffic). I'm definitely into the full experience of doing a camino, with varied experiences both in nature and in beautiful cities and I plan to spend every day walking pretty much the entire day. But as someone who frequently has to get my walking in around urban areas, I know that I prefer to skip that part if possible to go towards beautiful nature or quaint towns like Santillana del Mar or Oviedo. I also like to occasionally go off the beaten path to explore little things that catch my interest, before returning to the main route. In other words, I'm never going to be that person that has my entire route from Point A to Point B mapped out, with how many Km I have to walk every day continuously to meet that goal. It's just too rigid for me, and I know that my enjoyment of the Camino will come with being flexible. Unfortunately, the only part that isn't flexible is my time off, so I have to make the most of the days I do have which led me to ask this question. If I don't make it all the way to Santiago, that's ok because it just means I'll come back some other time to finish :) What is important to me is the experience, as it is to all of you. It's just how we define it that is a individual to each of us.
 
In response to your original query I would definitely undertake the Zarautz to Deba section, but take the detour through the Basque Coast Geopark, famous for its geological Flysch deposits. One of the most stunning coastal scenes I have encountered. It's a long day with some tough ascents so take plenty of water. Buen Camino.
 
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