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The Camino Vasco in Late July

Dave

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
First: Camino Francés 2002; most recent: Via Podiensis 2015
#1
I wasn't planning to walk the Camino Vasco, but circumstances shook out in a way that allowed me to squeeze it in before returning home. I'm really glad about this, as I've been curious about the route for a long time--I don't know how many times I've been at that route split in Irún, wondering about that other option! I had the CSJ guide saved as a pdf and I also used Gronze. The latter proved more useful, as the CSJ guide is quite outdated at this point, but I still appreciated the depth of detail offered by the CSJ guide in places.

The first stage (as per Gronze), from Irún to Hernani was a thoroughly enjoyable walk. Leaving Irún, pilgrims might find it more convenient to stay in the Albergue Martindozenea, which is right on the route as it departs the city. It's really striking how suddenly the transition from city to countryside happens--it's pretty much instantaneous after you cross the expressway. Almost 1/3 of the walk is off-road, and those stretches are really nice. The majority of the paved stretches follow minor country roads. I enjoyed Oiartzun as a spot for second breakfast, with its big, hulking church and pedestrian center, and then was particularly excited to find the Ermita de Santiago open (it was 25 July, after all!). There's a really striking painting of Santiago Matamoros over the altar. The views of San Sebastián from there were quite impressive as well--I hadn't anticipated that. Hernani was a happening spot, all the more so given that it was a holiday. The plaza is fantastic, with the impressive church positioned alongside an equally attractive Casa Consistorial.

Admittedly, the walk through the next two stages (Hernani - Tolosa, Tolosa - Beasain) is the Camino de Bike Lane, as you are effectively on paved road the whole time (with only the most fleeting of exceptions) and the majority of that is spent following a purpose-built bike/pedestrian track. There are some occasional industrial zones as well. That said, though, I still found a lot to like in this section, as the walk is often broken up by towns, and collectively it offers a great window into Basque life. While the Camino Francés and Camino del Norte also pass through the Basque Country, the Vasco hasn't been reshaped as profoundly by the modern pilgrimage resurgence, or by the tourist industry. As such, I felt like this was a much better introduction to the Basque Country, and I found myself repeatedly impressed by what I was seeing. (For that reason, I think Camino Vasco is the most appropriate name, given that it reflects what, to me, is the defining characteristic of the route.) The recycling/waste management system alone seemed particularly involved! Tolosa has a great pedestrian center and Beasain really surprised me. I knew nothing about the city before visiting and I loved the lively city center and the albergue's location, near the old mill in a park at the end of town, was fantastic.

Leaving Beasain, I ran into a little trouble. After crossing over the railroad and expressway, the route is supposed to turn left, but the route was cut off by a significant construction project. There were no detour signs, so I followed the main road out, past the Indar Company, and proceeded through the first roundabout. At the second, after speaking with a local, I turned left and proceeded up the GI-3560. Eventually, I intersected the Camino, turning right onto a footpath before the town of Olaberria. I have no idea how long that construction will continue to interfere with the route, but the project looked far from completion. I had a little bit of confusion in Idiazabal as well, as there's a sign at the entry to town indicating a left turn for the Camino or a right for the "trail." The GR waymarks actually proceed straight through that intersection, passing alongside the church, and then rejoin the Camino near the end of town, so I'm not sure what the "trail" marker was getting at. I may have missed it.

Segura's a fantastic old town and was an enjoyable spot for a rest. From there, the route splits, as Alan covered well in one of his posts below. I took both options, hitching back to Segura in between, and agree that the Zerain option is superior. Anything to avoid another bike lane at that point! I would feel entirely comfortable spending the night in Zerain instead of Zegama. The Zegama albergue gets the job done, but the environment in Zerain feels much more uplifting and I'd actually rather hit the uphill from Zegama a little later.

The next stage, from Zegama to Salvatierra/Agurain, is justifiably considered one of the major highlights of the route. I didn't find the ascent to be as strenuous as advertised--it was really limited to 4.5km of off-road hiking, during which there were a few flat stretches interspersed--but I'm not always the most trustworthy person when it comes to what constitutes a difficult uphill (I really like uphill). St. Adrian's Tunnel was a really fun moment, especially seeing it appear suddenly out of the clouds, and the well preserved old road behind it was a bonus treat. For me, that first kilometer after the tunnel was probably the most magical bit of walking on this route (rivaled only by one other stretch). There was one moment that gave me pause, when the waymarks split just before the downhill, with the GRs forking right (along with some yellow arrows), and other yellow arrows insistently pointing straight ahead. However, those arrows pointing right broke away from the GR soon after and then reconnected with the other arrows, so much ado about nothing. Later in the downhill, the Camino and the GR-25 sync up for a bit, before splitting when the Camino rejoins a paved road and the GR-25 remains off-road. If I were to do this again, I'd probably stay with the GR for the next kilometer or so, as it returns to the Camino again later. After all, the second half of this stage is entirely road-bound, so every little bit helps. It was a tough food morning for me, as the bar in Zalduondo is closed on Wednesdays and that was my only shot before Salvatierra, but I survived. The Salvatierra albergue is at the end of town, well-signposted just off the main road out.

Stage 6 spans some 28km to Vitoria, but if you want to visit Alegria along the way, as I did, it will be 31. Alegria has a nice center and a well-situated albergue with an hospitalero (at least when I was there) who is very eager to host pilgrims! He saw me in the street as I arrived and immediately flew into a flurry. When I told him I was just stopping for food, he whisked me over to his preferred bar and then told me that I was welcome to visit the albergue for a nap or mid-hike shower. I passed, but I appreciate the offer! Vitoria is a fantastic spot and I regret not having more time there. The walk into town was pretty easy--get on the left side of Avda de Bruselas and KSO. Every once in a while, there are stone scallop shells in the sidewalk. It's basically 3km in a straight line. The only tricky part comes at the end. Shortly after entering the old town, you turn R on c/Nueva Dentro. It's a mid-block turn, so it would be easy to miss, but there is a waymark in the sidewalk. The sidewalk waymarks in the center are excellent and reliable with one exception--there's nothing where you need to make your next turn, a left onto Canton de Santa Ana. After that, take the second right for the albergue, or third right for the Camino. The waymarks are once again reliable from that point on.

The route split happens soon after La Puebla de Arganzón. I took both routes. I'd love to be able to offer a clear verdict, one obvious "winner" that everyone should take. However, each option has some appeal. The walk to Santo Domingo de la Calzada begins with a very memorable stretch passing the walled town of Salinillas de Buradón and then one of the most striking and gorgeous views that I can remember. Shortly after Salinillas, you climb to the Portillo de La Lobera, and suddenly all of La Rioja unfurls beneath you. It's absolutely stunning. And for wine-lovers, Haro is the center of the Rioja wine industry. It dominates every bit of the city (which features a very pleasant albergue in a converted house).

Meanwhile, the walk to Burgos passes through the lively and pleasant Miranda de Ebro and features the other very memorable stretch of walking for me on this route, leading into Pancorbo. Between Ameyugo and Pancorbo in particular, the walk winds through big, craggy rocks and along the Oroncillo river. At times, the highway, the expressway, and the railroad also converge nearby, but instead of making it feel congested, for me at least it added to the drama. There's some very impressive engineering on display here, and the Camino follows footpaths on some creative trajectories in order to get through it all.

It's definitely a solitary walk. I saw four other pilgrims total during my time on it--one group of three Spaniards and a Dutch man who has walked almost all of the official Caminos. There is a surprisingly wide array of albergue options, making it very easy to divide up your trip in different ways (and thus avoid that one other pilgrim if you wish!). While they weren't all albergues de peregrinos, prices never broke 10 euros (Vitoria was 10, but it's a youth hostel and the facilities were excellent). Waymarking was excellent. Aside from the moments mentioned above, I never had cause for concern or doubt. There were a couple of places where new waymarks conflicted with old ones, but either way you'd be fine. There is a lot of road walking, especially in the first half of the trip. Given the abundance of GRs encountered along the way, though, and the hills lining both sides of the walk, I suspect that more alternative routes could be developed--something likely to happen if more pilgrims are drawn to the walk.

All in all, an enjoyable way to end my summer.
 

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SYates

Camino Fossil AD 1999
Camino(s) past & future
First: Camino Francés 1999
...
Last: Camino Inglés 2018

Now: http://egeria.house/
#2
Sounds really tempting, especially the solitary bit ;-) Buen Camino and Thanks for posting such a detailed account, SY
 
#3
Thanks so much for this report, Dave. I'm starting to enter that "flail around while you try to figure out next year's Camino" phase, and the Vasco is one of the ones I'm thinking about. If it weren't for all that asphalt....

Buen camino, Laurie
 

dd581

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
2016 Sep./Oct. - Camino del Norte (- Avilés) - Oviedo - Camino del Salvador (reverse) - Camino Francés (León - SdC) - Camino Inglés - SdC - Múxia - Finisterre
2017 Apr. Camino Portugues (Porto - SdC)
#4
Hola peregrinos!
Thanks for the impressions! I'm an the process of preparing another 2/3/4 weeks on the Camino (preferring the smaller ones, allready done the north one to Aviles, Salvador twice in both directions, primitivo, lebaniego y vadiniense, ingles, portugues and the french from Leon) and I probably will start with this one. Too bad, the night train from Paris isn't anymore. :(
What would you guys recommend as a continuation with a brief bus ride in between? Considering the invierno so far, but I'm open for any suggestion. I prefer hills though! :)

Buen Camino,
Denis
 

KinkyOne

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
#5
Hola peregrinos!
Thanks for the impressions! I'm an the process of preparing another 2/3/4 weeks on the Camino (preferring the smaller ones, allready done the north one to Aviles, Salvador twice in both directions, primitivo, lebaniego y vadiniense, ingles, portugues and the french from Leon) and I probably will start with this one. Too bad, the night train from Paris isn't anymore. :(
What would you guys recommend as a continuation with a brief bus ride in between? Considering the invierno so far, but I'm open for any suggestion. I prefer hills though! :)

Buen Camino,
Denis
You will definitely have some hills but more or less just on one stage where the tunnel of San Adrian is. Vasco del Interior (Irun - Sto.Domingo de la Calzada) and Via de Bayona (Bayonne - Burgos) aren't really hilly Caminos. But you could get some pretty deep mud on the way if there will be some rain.
 

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#6
Hola peregrinos!
Thanks for the impressions! I'm an the process of preparing another 2/3/4 weeks on the Camino (preferring the smaller ones, allready done the north one to Aviles, Salvador twice in both directions, primitivo, lebaniego y vadiniense, ingles, portugues and the french from Leon) and I probably will start with this one. Too bad, the night train from Paris isn't anymore. :(
What would you guys recommend as a continuation with a brief bus ride in between? Considering the invierno so far, but I'm open for any suggestion. I prefer hills though! :)

Buen Camino,
Denis
Hi, Denis,
Consider the Olvidado. It goes from Bilbao to Ponferrada. There are some recent posts in the Olvidado sub-forum. Look particularly for posts from @Sheffield James and @caminka. You could walk from Haro to Aguilar de Campoo and pick up the Olvidado there, using caminka's suggestions and following the GR of the Ebro a lot of the way. Or you could just walk the Vasco Interior into Santo Domingo, take a bus through Burgos to Aguilar and start the Olvidado there. You could of course go to Bilbao to start the Olvidado at the beginning, but you may not have time for that, and my own opinion is that the nicer part of the Olvidado starts at Aguilar. Lots of pavement before Aguilar, though there are some beautiful romanesque churches and some beautiful scenery. How can it not be beautiful since it goes through Basque country?

When you get to Ponferrada on the Olvidado, you could take a three day loop detour from Ponferrada through Peñalba de Santiago, which is one of the most beautiful walks I've ever done. Not high mountains like the Pyrenees or Picos, but very nice nonetheless. https://www.caminodesantiago.me/com...n-splendor-from-ponferrada-or-el-acebo.27697/
From Peñalba you could actually go to As Médulas and continue on the Invierno rather than return to Ponferrada. As Médulas is on the Invierno, about 27 km from Ponferrada, but the route from Peñalba to As Médulas is supposedly quite nice. On my list for next year, so I can´t give you any first hand info.

Buen camino, Laurie
 

dd581

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
2016 Sep./Oct. - Camino del Norte (- Avilés) - Oviedo - Camino del Salvador (reverse) - Camino Francés (León - SdC) - Camino Inglés - SdC - Múxia - Finisterre
2017 Apr. Camino Portugues (Porto - SdC)
#7
Thanks a load Laurie!
I already thought about the olvidado/viejo, but was concerned about the accommodations. Thanks a lot and I will head over to the appropriate subforum! :)
Buen camino!
Denis
 
Camino(s) past & future
Francais, Portugish, Norte, Primitivo, Aragonés , Inglés, Via de la Plata, Invierno, Via de Bayona
#8
You will definitely have some hills but more or less just on one stage where the tunnel of San Adrian is. Vasco del Interior (Irun - Sto.Domingo de la Calzada) and Via de Bayona (Bayonne - Burgos) aren't really hilly Caminos. But you could get some pretty deep mud on the way if there will be some rain.
Well, the stage Irun - Hernani was mountainous enough (and mudfy after the rain last night) for me. Managed to get to Tolosa where I rest up after a tough day. I have great help from your guide (with a little help from Google translator)
 

KinkyOne

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
#9
Well, the stage Irun - Hernani was mountainous enough (and mudfy after the rain last night) for me. Managed to get to Tolosa where I rest up after a tough day. I have great help from your guide (with a little help from Google translator)
Oh yes I forgot about this one... Sometimes I asked myself when walking who the hell put this road in vertical position :eek::D:p

Enjoy! It's nice Camino and people are very welcoming.
 

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