The Tunnel Route

The Tunnel Route/Via de Bayona/Camino Vasco del Interior – A route linking the Voie Littorale to the Camino Francés via the old Roman road through the San Adrian Tunnel.

History. The route was used in pre Roman times as the main route between France and the plains of Alava in Spain.  The Romans built a roadway up to and beyond what is now the Tunnel of St Adrian high up in the Urquilla mountain range. In the early 13th century, this route started to be used by pilgrims arriving from France because of the danger of being attacked in the mountains at a time of great civil conflict.  By the 18th century, a new trade route was built and the Camino Francés had been revitalised and so the Tunnel Route became largely unused.

The Route. The historic Via de Bayona started in Bayonne, as its name suggests. However, for the specific purposes of this overview and its associated guidebook, the route starts in Hendaye, close to Irún, a border town in the northeast corner of the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. It and the Camino del Norte, form natural continuations of the Voie Littorale, the route from the Gironde (via Bayonne) to Hendaye.

It winds past fields and over wooded hills to Hernani and Urnieta before following the narrow, high-sided valley of the Rio Oria to Beasain.  From here, it becomes more and more rural as it passes via the ancient towns of Segura and Zegama.  It continues through woods up to and beyond St Adrian’s Tunnel, and descends to the plains of Álava Province before tracing its way along the Camino de los Romanos towards Vitoria.  The route continues from Vitoria, along rural roads and tracks, to Estavillo, where the route forks south for Santo Domingo de la Calzada (via Haro and the Rioja vineyards), and west for Burgos (via the Pancorbo Gorge) where both routes, respectively, join the Camino Francés.

Length.Approximately 200 km to Santo Domingo, or 260 km to Burgos.

Cyclists.Much of the route can be managed by bike. The CSJ have a small supply of a guide books to this route dated 2010, which is available at special request by contacting the office, and which contains tips for cyclists.

Terrain.The route has its fair share of tarmac surface to be trodden, particularly through Gipuzkoa Province, but there is also a fair amount of off-road walking. To Hernani, the route is quite taxing through the hills behind the coastline, but between Hernani and Zegama, it gets generally flatter as it traces its path along the Oria valley. From Zegama, you start the 8.5 km climb up to approx 1150m. It peaks 1km beyond St Adrian’s Tunnel before dropping down to Zalduondo and the gently undulating plains of Álava, which you cross to reach Vitoria-Gasteiz. There is easy walking as far as Subijana (to the south of Vitoria), after which point there are steep descents before La Puebla de Arganzón, and Briñas.  From here the route takes you through the vineyards of La Rioja to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The route to Burgos from Estavillo lies across the rolling countryside of the Province of Burgos, passing through Miranda de Ebro, the impressive Pancorbo Gorge, Briviesca and Monasterio de Rodilla, before joining the Camino Francés at Gamonal, Burgos.

Gateway at Salinillas de Buradón

Waymarking.The route to Santo Domingo is well marked by a combination of finger posts, yellow and black-painted angle irons and ground level pointers, as well as the painted yellow arrow. The route from Estavillo to Burgos is also well waymarked.

Weather and when to go.As in most parts of the coastal areas bordering the Bay of Biscay, there is always a threat of wet weather.

This applies particularly between Irún and the Tunnel, and the higher ground will certainly be snowed-up in winter. Accordingly, spring and autumn are probably the best times of year to travel this route.  However, this should not rule out the summer if the heat of the plains don’t bother you.

Where to stay.Pilgrim refuges have recently been established on this route and there are hotels, hostales agroturismo (chambres d’hôte) and the occasional fonda.  One or other of these can be found in or close to each of the main towns along the routes to both Santo Domingo and Burgos. In addition, local authorities run community youth hostels, some of which provide pilgrim accommodation.

Distinctive Features.Verdant hill country, superb panoramas (weather permitting), the Basque people and their language, txakoli (a fresh white wine with a very slight sparkle), local cider, the plains of Álava, the vineyards of The Rioja, and not least, the Tunnel itself. Although the route is one of the quietest Spanish routes now, there are still features of medieval pilgrimage visible along it - including ermitas and former hospitales.

Guide book.Please note the CSJ guide to this route has been discontinued but is still available at special request through the office.

Useful websites

http://santiago-compostela.net/tunnel-route/  In English, with maps and photo gallery.

www.caminosantiago.org,

www.caminosantiagoviadebayona.com

www.viabayonabureba.blogspot.com

www.camino-norte.co.uk  The homepage of Eric Walker, a CSJ 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.

Language.A knowledge of Basque is not necessary and while it is possible to walk this route without knowing any Spanish, it isn’t recommended! 

©CSJ

Confraternity of Saint James,
27 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8NY, United Kingdom.
Tel: (+44) (0)20 7928 9988
Company Limited by Guarantee, Registered no. 4096721 — UK Registered Charity no. 1091140
Founded in 1983 to promote the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela

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