Los Caminos del Norte

The Coastal Route – Ruta de la Costa or Los Caminos del Norte. The route used by Christian pilgrims when Muslim domination had extended northwards and was making travel along the Camino francés difficult and dangerous.  Sections of it were also used by those who arrived by sea at one of the northern Spanish ports.  Much of the route follows the line of the old Roman road, the Via Agrippa.

We are encouraging people to try the this route as an alternative, even for a first pilgrimage, to the increasingly over-crowded Camino Francés.

Luarca, the harbour

Luarca, the harbour

The Route. After crossing the border from France, at Irún, the coastal plain is followed, usually as far as Galicia before turning inland towards Santiago.  The main towns on the route are San Sebastián/Donastia, Bilbao, Castro Urdiales, Santander, Ribadesella, Gijón, Avilés, Luarca, Ribadeo, Mondoñedo, and Sobrado dos Monxes, joining the Camino francés at Arzua.  Total distance from Irún to Santiago de Compostela 825 km (depending on route chosen).

Some pilgrims leave the coastal route at Villaviciosa to visit the largest Asturian monastery, and church of San Salvador (El Conventín), at Valdediós.  They then continue to Oviedo where they join the Camino primitivo to Lugo.

Terrain. Being parallel to the sea means that there are numerous rivers to be crossed with the attendant descents and ascents that this implies.  There are typically three places where one takes to a boat (ferry)  – at Pasajes, from Laredo to Santona and  from Somo to Santander.Great views in places but you are often not within sight of the sea for many kilometres.  There is more walking on tarmac than on the Camino francés, but some good walking sections that make the journey worthwhile.  Very peaceful in Galicia.

The church of St Peter ad Vincula, Cobreces

Waymarking. Overall it is good, especially in Galicia and the Basque country, but occasionally confusing in Cantabria and Asturias. Alternative routes for cyclists are often marked as ‘bici’.  On some coastal sections the usual yellow arrows may be found alongside the red & white bars of a GR Route (Sendero de Gran Recorrido).  Some areas very good and include the ceramic EEC type scallop shell on a small concrete post (moonlit).

Weather/When to go. The weather can be very changeable, ranging from a very good English summer to a very damp and cold English autumn.  Along the coast it is very unusual to find the very hot dry conditions that are encountered on the meseta.  From the point of view of the weather, any time from May to early October is optimal.

Accommodation.  Pilgrim accommodation is not as plentiful as on the Camino Frances but it is sufficient.  Quite a few places only open for the summer months so it is worth researching opening times if you are walking towards the beginning or end of the year.   In the height of the (short) summer season accommodation can be at a premium near some of the more popular places and you must be prepared to be adaptable. There are numerous campsites, many in Asturias with tent hire for pilgrims.  Often, the bus or train (FEVE) can be taken to an accommodation site that is a few km away from the busiest resorts.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao

What to see.  Some superb ecclesiastical architecture at numerous places; also some beautiful old bridges and other buildings.  Many exciting old town centres, often in some of the most unlikely places e.g. Bilbao, Hondarribia, Avilés.  A diversion into Oviedo is worth making, (good bus and train services from both Gijón and Avilés).  Some superb coastal and mountain range views.

Guide books.

  • Los Caminos del Norte, Eric Walker & Chris Lennie.  CSJ, London, 2013. 12 pp (introduction to routes and map). Available from our online shop.
  • Los Caminos del Norte, A: Ruta de la Costa, 1:Irún-Villaviciosa, Eric Walker & Chris Lennie.  CSJ, London, 2013. 96 pp. This guide covers the first half of the Ruta de la Costa, from Irún to Villaviciosa along the coastal route.  Available from our online shop.
  • Los Caminos del Norte, A: Ruta de la Costa, 2:Villaviciosa-Gijón-Arzua, Chris Lennie.  CSJ, London, 2015. 88 pp. This guide covers the second half of the Ruta de la Costa, from Villaviciosa -Gijón along the coast to Ribadeo, and its inland continuation via Mondoñedo to Arzua on the Camino Francés.   Available from our online shop.
  • The Camino del Norte – A Wise Pilgrim Guide to the Northern Camino, from Irún to Santiago de Compostela, Michael Matynka Iglesias, 2017.  This guide includes a wealth of practical information including a comprehensive accommodation directory listing hundreds of properties, including all albergues, and hotels, paradors, casa rurales, pensions, and camp sites. Also includes city by city information, large scale maps, elevation profiles, city maps, detours and alternative routes. This version covers for the first time specific information for pilgrims who are looking for albergues that offer group dinners and vegetarian options.  Available from our online shop.
  • The Northern Caminos Cicerone Guide by Dave Whitson and Laura Perazzoli 2013.  Guide for walkers to the Northern Routes in Spain: the Norte (along the coast), the Primitivo (through the mountains from Sebrayo and Oviedo) and the Inglés from Ferrol. Maps, photos and walking instructions. Historical and practical information.  Available from our online shop.

More details about all of the above from our Shop.

  • El Camino de Santiago del Norte, by Paco Nadel and Fundación Caixagalicia. El Pais/Aguilar. ISBN: 84-03-50228-1. €19.90. The guide covers the route as far as Villaviciosa and then turns inland to the Camino primitivo.   Can be bought at www.cervantes.com
  • Dos Caminos a Santiago, A lavishly produced reprint in A4 format of the old spiral-bound guide.  All the inaccuracies in the maps are still there but excellent for an overview with some good photographs.  Can be obtained free by writing to the Bilbao Tourist Office, Paseo del Arena, 1 – 48005 Bilbao, Spain.

Website www.camino-norte.co.uk  The homepage of Eric Walker, a Confraternity member and the author of our guide to the Camino del Norte. It includes some basic information about the pilgrimage, practical advice for those contemplating walking the coastal route, and detailed descriptions of all branches of this less frequented route to Santiago.

Pictures. For pictures of the Camino del Norte, visit our digital image gallery and the Pictures Pages of the Camino.

Discussion Forum. Visit the Camino de Santiago Forum to join in the current conversation.

Cyclists. Can be very good for touring cyclists. The first week in the Basque country is hilly but new motorway building means that there are some almost deserted parallel roads with extremely good surfaces.  There are a number of interesting off-road possibilities for all-terrain bicycle riders as well.

Castro Urdiales

Castro Urdiales

What’s it like ?  The first week in the Basque country takes you from the coast to a hinterland of hills and woods towards Gernika.  After Bilbao the route returns to the coast and is a mix of beaches, sea-side towns and the roads that connect them.  Between Aviles and Ribadeo (the start of Galicia) you are often near to or by the sea and there are few hills. At Ribadeo you head in land and the country becomes more undulating. The highest point of the route (710m) is shortly after the CSJ albergue at Miraz, and before the monastery at Sobrado dos Monxes. But it is easy to miss, as the slope is gentle and the point is not marked.

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