Camino de Santiago ( the Santiago Pilgrimage) de Compostela (Saint James Way) is without a doubt the most famous European hiking trail. This quite long pilgrim’s journey that can start at almost any place in Europe (you can start the trail in Poland, as well as from Luxemburg, for example) and all the trails connect in France and Spain, aiming towards a final destination that is the cathedral in the city of Santiago, Spain. Even if there was only one original way, nowadays, there are more alternatives and you always have always several paths to choose. For example, in northern Spain, there are two most common ways – the original way through continental Spain called « Camino Frances » (French Way) and its coastal alternative called « Camino del Norte » (North Way). Actually, it doesn’t matter which alternative you choose, as you’ll have an extraordinary experience. This article will inform you of what is available during the first part of the North Way, which is along the coast that leads from Irun to the well-known city called Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.
Bayonne - the town on the boundary
If you’ve decided to take the North Way of Camino de Santiago, you’ll start in a small town that lies on the boundary between France and Spain. This town is called Irun and it has a nice, quiet atmosphere. It’s an ideal place to start the journey and spend your first night on the road. You can ask for accommodation in a small and familiar lodging house called “hospital de peregrinos” run by the Pilgrim’s Association. Here you can get your pilgrim’s pass - this document is very important and you can’t hiking without it, as it serves as a proof of your pilgrimage. Everywhere you go, you have to get a stamp from local Camino de Santiago associations similar to the one at Irun. A completed pass is needed to enter the Santiago Cathedral at the end of the journey. However, even if you don’t aim to do the whole hike, it is very nice to have this collection of stamps as a souvenir. These stamps consist of a variation of the Saint James mussel that symbolizes the Saint Way. I ensure you that the more stamps you get, prouder you’ll feel of your journey.
Stunning nature and homemade food
Once you have this precious document, your journey can start. The first phase will lead you from Irun to the famous Basque city of Donostia - San Sebastian. You’ll pass through magical coastal hills and wild, green Spanish nature. Sure, there are a few hills to climb, but don’t get discouraged – once you’ve climbed to the top, you’ll be rewarded by stunning views of wild cliffs with a deep-blue sea on the horizon. If you’re lucky and the weather is sunny, the view can’t be more picturesque. In addition, for about three-quarters of the itinerary you’ll descend to an old coastal port that is split by a river delta into two parts: San Juan and San José. In the San Juan and San José River Delta is a nice, small village with stone buildings and very quiet square, where you can take a bit of rest. Sit at one of the tiny Spanish restaurants and order a glass of beer, a cup of hot coffee, or some good lunch – it is really worth trying. Just eat some of local sandwiches called « bocadillo », or pick one of their main dishes called « platos combinados » - combined plates composed of a piece of meat, an egg, fresh salad, and French fries. The food is homemade, copious, and really cheap – around 6 EUR. After such a pause, you’ll be ready to continue your journey to San Sebastian, which is just beyond the hill. Take a ferry to get to the other side of the delta and then climb the old stone stairs to get to the top. Walk through a quiet forested area before finally reaching your target city – San Sebastian.
San Sebastian - an animated Basque city
Compared to Irun, San Sebastian is a much bigger and more animated city. It is well known for hosting one of the most famous film festivals of the world – the San Sebastian International Festival – that takes place every autumn. In addition to its cultural richness, San Sebastian offers long, windy beaches ideal for surfing, as well as an old city centre with an impressive church and a lot of small, cosy cafés and animated bars. Sit in one of the cafés for a while and order yourself a cup of traditional Spanish hot chocolate, which is very dense – like melted chocolate. Then continue to the pilgrim’s lodging house called “Albergue de peregrinos de la Ikastola Jakintza”, situated at C. Escolta Real 12. This lodging house operates by donation only. Sure, you can stay here for free, but it is polite to leave at least a few Euros or US Dollars for the host association. After you take a bit of a rest, go back to the city centre and have a nice dinner and a glass of the local Spanish beer or cocktail. The night atmosphere of San Sebastian is very lively. You’ll experience here the real Spanish nightlife, where people standing in front of the bars with a glass of wine, eating some “pintxos” (small open-faced sandwiches), and talking. However, don’t stay out for a long time as the lodging house has a curfew of 10 pm. In addition you have to leave early in the morning to continue your hike.
In the morning stop by at a bakery and buy a breakfast to go – for example « cafe con leche » (coffee with milk) and the small pastry « bolleria » (a sort of Spanish croissant) or a small Spanish muffin called « magdalena ». Buy some fresh bread for the way and then hit the road with a zest and rising sun on your back. New adventures are awaiting!
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Hike from Irun to San Sebastian
The Saint James Way is surely one the most well-known hiking trails in Europe. This article aims to present you the first part of its Northern Way called in Spanish “Camino del Norte” that starts at Irun. The way will lead you through the stunning Spanish nature to the famous City of San Sebastian.
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