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Camino del Norte: San Sebastian to Bilbao

Camino del Norte Stage 1: San Sebastian to Bilbao

Overview

The Camino del Norte (a.k.a. The Northern Way) offers a truly authentic pilgrim experience. Compared to the Camino Frances, the route is quieter, much more challenging, and a lot more rewarding. The Camino del Norte goes along the green northern coast of Spain from San Sebastián in the Basque Country, through Cantabria and the Asturias and reaches Ribadeo in Galicia. From Ribadeo, the Northern Camino heads inland, taking pilgrims across the forests and farmlands of rural Galicia on its way to Santiago de Compostela.

On this itinerary, you will walk the first stage of the Camino del Norte from San Sebastian to Bilbao, passing through charming seaside villages and then into the mountains. Starting in the charming San Sebastian, you will walk along the beautiful coastline of northern Spain before heading inland to the green mountains of the Basque Country. Stop in the historic town of Guernica, made famous by Picasso, and continue through historic towns and villages before finishing in Bilbao.

The Basque Country is renowned for its cuisine, its pintxos and some of the country’s best chefs, so that this Camino walk will be an unforgettable gastronomic experience.

Highlights

  • The city of San Sebastián – a genuine gastronomic mecca with several Michelin-starred restaurants
  • Magnificent coastal landscapes and picturesque villages
  • The city of Bilbao and its Guggenheim Museum

Click to view map

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San Sebastian

San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque) is known for its beautiful beaches and stunning architecture. It is a stunning and chic seaside city, as well as a paradise for foodies. Stroll down the Playa de la Concha and treat yourself to one of the city’s many Michelin-starred restaurants.

Day 2: San Sebastian to Zarautz | 20 km

After your overnight in San Sebastian, you will follow the Camino route as it leaves the Bay of Biscay and winds along the coastline through beautiful pastures and gentle hills. You will see the Roman Church of San Martín de Tours before passing charming coastal villages. You will finish today in the beautiful seaside town of Zarautz. Make sure that you try the local Txakolí wine!

Day 3: Zarautz to Deba | 23 km

After your night in Zarautz, you will move inland along a quiet rural road before arriving in Getaria with its lovely harbour. After Getaria, the path enters farmlands and passes the harbour town of Zumaia. Today’s section finishes in the lovely seaside village of Deba.

  • Walking for the day: 23 km, 5 hours
  • Accommodation: Rural farmhouse Arriola Txiki or similar in Deba

Day 4: Deba to Markina | 23 km

After spending the night in Deba, your Camino trail leaves the coastline (you will reach it again in Bilbao) as you will head for the mountains. After crossing a river, the path climbs quickly into an area of thick vegetation before it reaches the chapel of El Calvario. The narrow footpath (GR-121) passes through several charming villages on the way before reaching today’s destination: Markina.

  • Walking for the day: 23 km, 5 hours
  • Accommodation: Rural house Casa Ikestei or similar in Markina

Day 5: Markina to Guernica | 23 km

Today the trail follows a quiet country lane, crossing the river in Bolibar before rising to the medieval monastery at Zenarruza. From here, the trail keeps climbing through sheltered woodland to the top of Gontzegarai and on to the hamlet of Gerrikaitz. After passing the Hermitage of Santiago, a sharp descent leads to a small river and the historic town of Guernica, made famous by Picasso’s masterpiece.

  • Walking for the day: 23 km, 5 hours
  • Accommodation: Hotel Gernika or similar in Guernica

Day 6: Guernica to Lezama | 21 km

You will leave the town of Guernica and soon pass the hermitage of Santa Luzia Zallo, shortly before climbing towards a road. From here, a cobbled path continues climbing to the village of Morga, where you will begin a sharp descent through the hamlets of Goikolexea and Larrabetzu and once again enter woodland before reaching today’s destination: Lezama.

  • Walking for the day: 21 km, 4-5 hours
  • Accommodation: Hotel Rural Matsa or similar in Lezama

Day 7: Lezama to Bilbao | 15 km

Today the path will take you through farmland to the town of Zamudio, the Roman church of San Martin and the Tower of Malpica. From here, there is a gradual climb to the top of Mount Avril, where your efforts will be rewarded with stunning views of Bilbao and the valley below. As you enter the suburbs of Bilbao, you should visit the delightful Basilica of Our Lady of Begoña. Your walk reaches its final point in the Plaza de Unamuno, in the old quarter of Bilbao. Bilbao (or Bilbo in Basque) has reinvented itself in the past 30 years, becoming host to some of the best art exhibitions in the country at the impressive Guggenheim Museum. Explore Bilbao’s old town with its quaint taverns and taste a few of the amazing pintxos!

Day 8: Departure

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading back to the airport. We also highly recommend that you book an extra night in Bilbao to fully experience this vibrant city.

What to Expect

Accommodation

Accommodations on this tour include a mix of welcoming rural houses and comfortable tourist hotels located close to the Camino route. You will always have a private room and an en-suite (attached) bathroom. The accommodation places have been carefully selected for their location, atmosphere and/or unique services. Extra nights can be booked at any of the accommodations along the way.

Click to view default hotels

Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal or higher value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation.

Meals

Breakfast is included (usually a simple buffet breakfast/coffee and toast/bread/croissant) on all days. When no restaurant location is available on the route, lunches and snacks should either be bought from local shops, or packed lunch can be pre-ordered from your hotel the night before. Where no dinner is included, most places serve hearty pilgrim menus – you can get a 3-course dinner including wine and water for about GBP 10-15 pp.

Difficulty & terrain

This walk is graded moderate and includes walks of up to 21 km (5-6 hours) a day with some steeper ascents/descents, so a reasonable level of fitness is required. This route can be challenging for those with little walking experience (read more about difficulty grades). The Camino Del Norte follows a mixture of farm/dirt tracks, minor roads and footpaths. The route is marked with yellow painted arrows, but please take care at intersections. There are sections on the route where you will divert to follow the red and white stripes of the GR routes. There will always be other walkers around in case you are looking for help. We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. We will provide you with maps, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime.

When to go

This trip is available from mid-March till mid-November, but the best months to visit are April – October. The weather in Northern Spain is very varied. In general, you can expect pleasant temperatures for walking of between 19°C and up to about 26°C in the summer months. As you will be walking near the coast for much of this walk, you can expect some rainy days, particularly in spring and autumn. The flexibility of self guided walking holidays means that there are no fixed dates, and you can start your trip on any date during the season.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

Click to view travel options

By plane

Our recommended airport for this tour is Bilbao. The alternative airport is San Sebastian.

By train or bus

From Bilbao, you can easily take the bus to San Sebastian with ALSA and Movelia. There is a regular shuttle bus (line A3247) between Bilbao airport and Bilbao bus station (stop name: Termibus, every 30 min). See www.aena.es/en/bilbao-airport/public-transport.html.

Inclusions

Included

  • 7 nights in private en-suite rooms
  • 7 breakfasts
  • Maps
  • Pilgrim pass
  • Luggage transfers from hotel to hotel on all walking days (1 pc up to 20 kg per person)
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers
  • Lunches and dinners, drinks and snacks
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses
  • Local tourist taxes & entry fees (payable on the spot)
  • Any items not explicitly listed as included

Options, extras & supplements

  • Supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room / single use of a double room
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)
  • Extra nights

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