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Guidebook to the Camino del Norte (Northern Caminos) pilgrim route through northern Spain to the sacred city of Santiago de Compostela. Includes stage-by-stage descriptions to the Camino del Norte (800km), Camino Primitivo, Camino Ingles (116km route) and the Camino de Finisterre, and provides advice, information on pilgrim hostels and more.
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This guidebook is a meticulously detailed yet handy companion to walking the pilgrimage routes that lead through northern Spain to the sacred city of Santiago de Compostela, with stage-by-stage descriptions to four routes: the Camino del Norte, the Camino Primitivo, the Camino Inglés and the Camino de Finisterre.
Santiago de Compostela, whose cathedral houses the relics of Saint James, was one of the three major centres of Catholic pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, along with Rome and Jerusalem. There was no single route to Santiago; the trail began at one's doorstep. But as pilgrims approached Spain, many converged on a handful of particularly popular routes, known historically as the Caminos de Santiago, or Way of St James.
The Camino del Norte is an 817km five-week coastal route from the town of Irun, near the French border. This route follows relatively flat terrain through quiet coastal villages. It is the most heavily frequented of the Northern Caminos, attracting two or three times as many pilgrims as the Primitivo.
One alternative is the Camino Primitivo, which splits off from the Norte at Sebrayo, near Oviedo, for the next 355km. This route cuts inland through the Cordillera Cantabrica and includes some significant ascents and descents.
The second alternative is the Camino Ingles, a five-day 116km-route from the city of Ferrol on the north-west coast. A much shorter route, this camino is still long enough to meet the requirements of the Compostela – that the last 100km of your pilgrimage to Santiago is completed on foot.
For many modern pilgrims, the walk does not end in Santiago de Compostela. Instead, they are drawn still father to the west, as far as the land will permit. They walk the Camino Finisterre, a three-day extension route from Santiago to the west coast.
Although the Camino Francés is often referred to as the Camino de Santiago, it is actually, along with these Northern Caminos, part of a network of routes. As the Francés is so popular, however, the Northern Caminos offer ideal conditions. They are popular enough to offer sufficient facilities, clear waymarking and a community of pilgrims, while plentiful cheap accommodation along the way means no need to race for a bed.
Stage 3: Reader Andrew shares that in summer 2017 the route changed in part towards the end of this section. He writes, "the path after Leiro is very different and does not include a stop by Bar Julia. The final stages are probably the same but the route did look new, the way markers were quite pristine. I used an app to log the route and the new one takes you through Leiro on the DP - 0150. It then takes you off the road and onto a wide dirt track uphill for several miles. It takes you past the Encoro de Beche. This is a reservoir. It has toilets and a camping area. You then get back onto the road and route takes you under AP9. You follow the road and then go off onto a path through woods to Vao. You then go across countryside which is mostly heathland and some woods. This takes you eventually to a side road and onto AC542. Here you find the Bar Casa Avelina on Avenida Travesas in Veira.
"You then walk down the AC 542 alongside an electricity plant. You then turn left opposite the road to the Castro das Travesas Hill fort. You go down the track past a chicken farm. This conforms to your instruction "After 400m, near farm buildings, turn right..." etc. This gets you to Brumas."
Stage 4: Reader Andrew also shares news on a route change entering Santiago: "It diverges at the Hotel Castro. The route takes you through some woods at the back of the hotel (the hotel has an honesty bar for pilgrims). It then takes you parallel to the Estrata Porrino Redondela. On the other side of the road is a wood processing factory which is huge. You then walk through the back of an industrial estate, past a large cemetry and into the suburbs of Santiago. The route takes you into Parque de Fermin Bouza Brey and along Avenida de Xoan XX111. We lost the route in terms of way markers but were so close that it did not matter."
Camino del Norte, Stage 25: Vilela's Albergue de Peregrinos is no longer open year-round. Instead, its opening season is less clear, as it operates now primarily as an over-flow space for Ribadeo's small albergue, primarily in the summer. Before leaving Ribadeo, make sure to confirm that Vilela's albergue is operational.
The Authors are putting update for this guide straight onto their own website. They can be found at;
|The story of St James|
|The Northern Caminos: yesterday and today|
|Along the routes: different cultures|
|Choosing your camino|
|When to go|
|Preparation and planning|
|Being a pilgrim|
|Getting there and back|
|Other local facilities|
|Waymarking, route-planning and maps|
|Using this guide|
|The Camino del Norte|
|Stage 1 Irún to San Sebastián|
|Stage 2 San Sebastián to Zarautz|
|Stage 3 Zarautz to Deba|
|Stage 4 Deba to Markina-Xemein|
|Stage 5 Markina-Xemein to Gernika|
|Stage 6 Gernika to Bilbao|
|Stage 7 Bilbao to Pobeña|
|Stage 8 Pobeña to Castro-Urdiales|
|Stage 9 Castro-Urdiales to Laredo|
|Stage 10 Laredo to Guemes|
|Stage 11 Guemes to Santander|
|Stage 12 Santander to Santillana del Mar|
|Stage 13 Santillana del Mar to Comillas|
|Stage 14 Comillas to Colombres|
|Stage 15 Colombres to Llanes|
|Stage 16 Llanes to Ribadesella|
|Stage 17 Ribadesella to Sebrayo|
|Stage 18 Sebrayo to Gijón|
|Stage 19 Gijón to Avilés|
|Stage 20 Avilés to Soto de Luiña|
|Stage 21 Soto de Luiña to Cadavedo|
|Stage 22 Cadavedo to Luarca|
|Stage 23 Luarca to La Caridad|
|Stage 24 La Caridad to Ribadeo|
|Stage 25 Ribadeo to Lourenzá|
|Stage 26 Lourenzá to Gontán|
|Stage 27 Gontán to Baamonde|
|Stage 28 Baamonde to Miraz|
|Stage 29 Miraz to Sobrado dos Monxes|
|Stage 30 Sobrado dos Monxes to Arzúa|
|Stage 31 Arzúa to Santiago de Compostela|
|The Camino Primitivo|
|Stage 1 Sebrayo to Pola de Siero|
|Stage 2 Pola de Siero to Oviedo|
|Stage 3 Oviedo to San Juan de Villapañada|
|Stage 4 San Juan de Villapañada to Bodenaya|
|Stage 5 Bodenaya to Campiello|
|Stage 6 Campiello to Berducedo|
|Stage 7 Berducedo to Grandas de Salime|
|Stage 8 Grandas de Salime to Padrón|
|Stage 9 Padrón to Cádavo Baleira|
|Stage 10 Cádavo Baleira to Lugo|
|Stage 11 Lugo to As Seixas|
|Stage 12 As Seixas to Arzúa|
|Primitivo–Norte link: Oviedo to Avilés|
|The Camino Inglés|
|Stage 1 Ferrol to Pontedeume|
|Stage 2 Pontedeume to Betanzos|
|Stage 3 Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma|
|Stage 4 Hospital de Bruma to Santiago de Compostela|
|Alternative start: A Coruña to Hospital de Bruma|
|The Camino Finisterre|
|Stage 1 Santiago de Compostela to Negreira|
|Stage 2 Negreira to Olveiroa|
|Stage 3 Olveiroa to Finisterre|
|Appendix A Route summary tables|
|Appendix B English–Spanish–Euskera glossary|
|Appendix C Suggestions for further reading|
|Appendix D Useful sources of information|
|Appendix E Index of principal place names|
|Start||Irún RENFE station|
|Finish||Albergue La Sirena, San Sebastián|
|Difficulty||terrain: 5; waymarking: 3|
|Albergues de Peregrinos||Irún, Pasajes de San Juan/Pasaia Donibane, San Sebastián|
The Camino del Norte’s first stage may also be its most spectacular, offering incredible views of both land and sea. From Irún, there is a walk through a wetland park before the route climbs to the Guadalupe Sanctuary. From there, pilgrims are advised to take the high-level route, which follows a ridgeline high above the Bay of Biscay, passing Neolithic dolmens, medieval towers, and castle ruins before descending to Pasajes de San Juan. A small passenger boat shuttles you across the port. More uphill awaits, leading over another ridge before ultimately – and impressively – San Sebastián appears below.
All facilities; RENFE station. Albergue de Peregrinos at Calle Lucas de Berroa 18-1 (donativo, 48 beds, kitchen, breakfast, opens 1600 April–September, credenciáles). Many other accommodation options, including Albergue Juvenil Martindozenea (17.30–22.30€, includes breakfast, other meals available, kitchen, @, Avda Elizaxto 18, 943 621 042), Pensión Bowling (singles 30–50€, doubles 40–60€, Calle Mourlane Michelena 2, 943 611 452), Pensión Los Fronterizos (singles 30–35€, doubles 40–55€, Geltoki Kalea 7, 943 619 205).
The Camino del Norte’s starting point, Irún, lies across Río Bidasoa from French Hendaye. As a border town, it has been a frequent site of diplomatic wrangling. Franco and Hitler met across the river at Hendaye rail station. In exchange for Spanish support, Franco demanded significant territorial promises, none of which Hitler was willing to concede. Hitler was bored by the talkative general and skeptical of Spanish military capability; Spain thus remained neutral throughout World War II. However, the dissolution of Franco and Hitler’s relationship came too late for Irún, which had seen its historic core obliterated by German bombers (at Franco’s behest) during the Spanish Civil War. Because of this, most of Irún today is modern.
Take soft right on the main road, Hondarribia Karrika. Keep straight on through a roundabout. After 600m, turn left onto a single-lane road, leading into a park. Turn right on a footpath after 1.7km. Leaving the park, turn left on a road and then fork right. Turn left at a T-junction and then fork left. After 1.3km, fork right onto a gravel road. Fork left for the Aterpetxea Goikoerrota (private albergue), 17–19€, includes breakfast, 943 643 884. Proceed 600m to
Bar behind church. Fountain water is not potable.
This small 16th-century church offers sweeping views of the Bidasoa valley. When nearby Hondarribia was besieged in 1638, the Virgin of Guadalupe supposedly protected the town for 69 days. Every 8 September, the townsfolk visit this sanctuary to commemorate her.
Throughout the rest of this stage, camino-specific yellow arrows and GR-specific red/white stripes frequently overlap, sometimes following the same trails and at other times splitting. Both lead to San Sebastián; the GR is often more spectacular and, not coincidentally, longer.
Turn left uphill on a dirt road. After 200m, the camino splits, with a sign informing ‘Alpinist pilgrims’ to keep straight on, and all other pilgrims to turn left. The low-level alternative is described below.
For the recommended route, keep straight on, up a very steep ascent, following red-and-white stripes along a footpath. While the route is certainly challenging, this brutal first climb is not representative of the more undulating walk that follows. After 1km, reach the first of Mount Jaizkibel’s five (formerly six) towers, built during the 19th-century Carlist Wars. Proceed along the ridge, passing additional towers and an ancient dolmen. After 3.3km, reach the ruined Fort of San Enrique atop the mountain. Descend through brambles and pine trees, then join the GI-3440 highway after 4.1km.
For an easier walk, turn left when the route splits after Santuario de Guadalupe onto the dirt road. Keep straight on, with views of the Spanish interior and frequent tree cover, for 5.1km. Turn right and proceed for 4.2km, ignoring the marked left to Leto. After 1km, join the GI-3440 (and the higher route). This route is 600m longer than the high-level option.
From the GI-3440, fork left onto a single-lane road. After 2.7km, descend steps into Pasajes. Arrows provide an alternative approach towards the albergue.
Bars, restaurants, pharmacy. Albergue de Peregrinos Santa Ana (donativo, 14 beds, opens 1600 March 28–October 11 (in 2015), 618 939 666), Lodging Txintxorro (double 36€, Lezobidea 2, 943 510 083).
Originally two towns, Pasajes and San Juan were founded between 1180 and 1203, and unified in the 19th century. A prominent port for centuries, Pasajes hosted the Spanish naval fleet, the Escuadra Cantabrica, for 400 years and built part of the Spanish Armada. Victor Hugo lived in house #59, near the plaza. The 15th-century Parish Church of San Juan Bautista features a Baroque retablo and the image of Santa Faustina Martir, a gift from Pope Leon XII.
Soon after Bar Itxasondo, take the small pedestrian ferry across the port (60c/person). On the other side, the camino splits again. The recommended route turns right, following the promenade to the coast. Turn left and ascend steep steps to the old lighthouse. Take a footpath until turning right onto Faro Pasealekua. Alternatively, it is possible to turn left from the dock, following San Pedro Kalea through town. Turn right up stairs, pass the cemetery, and join Faro Pasealekua, intersecting the other route later. The distances of these two options are roughly equivalent.
At 2.6km from Pasajes, turn left onto a footpath and proceed 1.6km. Then, the route splits again. Turn left to follow the yellow arrows on a direct approach (or fork right with the red-and-white waymarks to hug the coastline). Staying with the yellow arrows, turn right after 1.1km into a parking lot, cross it, and veer right onto a footpath. Proceed 1.4km to San Sebastián’s outskirts. Join Calle Zemoria and descend the steps. Turn right on Calle Nafarroa, and then left along the beach promenade. After 800m, cross the Puente de Zurriola and keep straight on for 600m across the peninsula. Rejoin the promenade and proceed 1.8km. Near the end, turn left on Calle Satrustegi, then fork left on Paseo de Igeldo. Keep straight on for 300m to the Albergue La Sirena in
All facilities, RENFE and EuskoTren stations, Central Bus Station located on Pio XII Square, small airport near Hondarribia. Seasonal Albergue de Peregrinos (donativo, 50 beds, opens 1600, July–August only, credenciáles, Calle Escolta Real 12, 943 427 281), Albergue Juvenil La Sirena (13.50–19.80€, kitchen, breakfast, @, W/D, Paseo de Igeldo 25, 943 310 268), Albergue Juvenil Ulia, located on the route before the descent into San Sebastián (54 beds, 13.50–16.80€, kitchen, meals available, @, W/D, 943 483 480), Kaixo Backpackers Hostel (singles 30–70€, dorms 30–42€, kitchen, @, c/San Juan 9), Pensión Loinaz (singles/doubles 50–80€, triples 75–105€, quads 90–120€, W/D, @, Calle San Lorenzo 17, 943 426 714), Roger’s House (18–20€ low season, 40€ July–November, c/Juan de Bilbao 13, 943 433 856). Many other accommodation options, but book in advance. Internet access possible at Harkochat (c/Fermín Calbetón 36–44) and Puerto Internet Locutorio (c/del Puerto 13).
This is one of Europe’s most stunning beach cities. Probably founded by Basques, it later hosted a Roman fort and a monastery before becoming a Navarrese military stronghold. Frequent conflicts between France and Spain left a mark on San Sebastián. The most serious threat came in the Peninsular War, when Napoleon’s forces took the town and the Duke of Wellington besieged it for two and a half months. The British finally broke through and celebrated by looting the town for a week. Ultimately, only two churches and 35 houses escaped this clash; the population was halved. San Sebastián has been burned to the ground a dozen times over its history, and thus most buildings date from the 19th century. The oldest section of town, the Parte Vieja, can be found beneath Monte Urgull.
San Sebastián’s most impressive sights are natural ones: two fantastic beaches and prominent hills. The larger beach, Playa de la Concha, is capped on its west side by the Miramar Palace. Meanwhile, the Playa de la Zurriola is flanked by the hill Monte Igueldo, with a great park on top (tired pilgrims can ride the funicular). The other hill, Monte Urgull, preserves a rich history, including the Castillo de Santa Cruz de la Mota (1530) and a British cemetery from the Peninsular War.
Human-made highlights include the 19th-century Catedral del Buen Pastor, a Neo-Gothic structure modeled after Cologne’s cathedral. Built out of sandstone, it has three large naves and a 75m tower (M–Sa 0800–1230 and 1700–2000; Su 0900–1200). The Church of San Vicente (1507) is a fine Gothic structure with a striking retablo. The Basilica de Santa María del Coro has a long history, but its current exterior is more recent. A legend states that the Virgin del Coro’s image was in the church’s choir, but a lazy clergyman, tired of the uphill climb to reach it, decided to steal the image. However, he was immobilized as he tried to leave the building. The Naval Museum shares the history of Basque seafaring (Calle Paseo del Muelle 24, T–Sa 1000–1330 and 1600–1930; Su 1100–1400). Finally, the Museum of San Telmo, located in the 16th-century Dominican monastery of San Telmo, contains a number of golden murals documenting Basque history. The museum also includes three works by El Greco and Rubens (T–Sa 1030–1330 and 1630–1930; Su 1030–1400).