Difficulty: Moderate, hard in places
Elevation gained: 823 meters
Elevation lost: 820 meters
What a beautiful start to the Camino del Norte and boy have you got to work for those views! I left the albergue in Irun, took a left up the hill and followed the arrows, there was plenty of them and you can rely on them solely if you needed to. In fact the whole day was really easy to orienteer with the arrows alone, I did not need to check my GPS at all once. I have included my wikilocs but it is a bit short as I ran out of battery near the end of my journey. The link to my wikilocs is here.
You follow the path which goes past a river and then starts going onward and most definitely upwards. There is a fountain a couple of kilometres in and is the only water point until Pasaje de San Juan, I’m sure you will still have plenty of water but its important to note.
So not too far after the fountain you will reach a fork in the path where you need to make a decision. There are 2 routes; basically one hard and one easy! The hard route definitely has the better views and is worth doing if your feeling up for it. If not then take the other route, I can’t say how pretty it is but I’m sure its still full of delights. Next time I walk this section (I want to take my man and dogs) I will walk the easier route so then I have done both.
Once this fork has forked off (Don’t be so rude Tamar haha) you go up the hill (If you take the alpinista route-which I did) and eventually reach some stunning coastal views. This was the first time, in the 6 months I have been living in the Basque Country that I felt like I was home. The sea is my home, no matter how inland I am living, in fact the longer I have been away from the sea, the greater the happiness. I had been away from the sea longer than I ever had in my life at this point, so it really was a powerful feeling.
So orientation wise, its really easy at this point with plenty of arrows and tracks and probably lots of pilgrams too. The camino takes you down a sharp turn just before Pasaje de San Juan. At this point I was walking with an elderly Portuguese man (we managed conversation with me speaking to him in bad Spanish and him speaking to me in Portuguese-somehow it worked!), we decided to take an alternative route through the woods and managed to skim off a couple of kilometres. But always follow the arrows if in doubt.
So eventually you reach Pasaje de San Juan or as my partner always corrects me ‘Pasaia’ because he is Basque and Basques are Basque-end of!! It is an ancient passage and has always been used for transport and access. It is now quite a busy, touristy and popular choice for a day out-especially among locals. You catch a boat for a very cheap price of 80 centimos across the water.
Once you have got off the boat it is time for the “steps of doom”, I coined that term as I feel it fits well. So you follow the arrows and then you come to the steps of doom and you go up and up and up and up some more. Just as you think you have got somewhere, you need to go up some more. Eventually you get to the top. It was at this point that I had a break on the bench and had a fuel reboost. Once my oranges and nuts were safe in my belly, I carried onwards.
You are then on a stunning coast path which reminded me off my own coastal path in the southwest of England-so I was happy. There is a fountain at this point to refill with water. Don’t do what I did and leave your walking stick at the fountain, then remember a few kilometres down the path. If it was any further I may have thought ‘bugger it I will buy a new one-I don’t need it anyway!’, but I went back to get it like the good girl I am-adding several kilometres on to my journey.
You stay on the coastal route for a good few kilometres and then it turns to a small road in the woods. There is a few Albergues dotted along this section should you want to rest up for the rest of the day-it is a long day so I wouldn’t blame you!
Now that Donostia is in sight, its just a question of going down to the city and (in my case) finding a place to stay. I stayed in a surfers lodge and not an albergue and I really do recommend it. The hostel I stayed in was on a street called zabaleta kalea (kalea is Basque for street). If you want to carry on out of San Sebastian just follow the beach and then you will see the arrows heading out of the city uphill. I don’t recommend this unless your turboman as its a long walk for anymore supplies after the city.
So now you are in the beautiful city of Donostia or San Sebastian (most Basque places have a Basque name and a Spanish name just to confuse you) it is time to enjoy a well earnt tipple and bite to eat! Que proveche!
THINGS TO DO IN IRUN
I caught the bus to hondarrabia and went for a stroll along the pier and then for some calamares and a glass of vino. To order wine just go up to the bar and say “Una cupa de vino del ano” they may ask if you want blanco (white) or tinto (red) so just say what you want. The bus stop is just up from the municipal albergue, infact you walk past the bus stop to get to San Sebastian. So head up the hill from the albergue and wait for a green bus. If you are unsure ask someone, say “yo necesito ir a Hondarrabia” and they should give you decent directions. Once you are in hondarrabia there is plenty to do, there are lots of bars selling tasty seafood and nice wine! Disfrutar!
THINGS TO DO IN SAN SEBASTIAN
You could quite happily spend several days in Donostia and not be bored, infact at one point I was thinking- shall I just stay here!!! Its a fantastic city, I love it there, and as a hillbilly Cornish maid, I am quite intimidated by big cities. I was not intimidated by Donostia at all, in fact I just wanted to jump straight in and stay there forever!
I went to the Catedral del Buen Pastor (the cathedral of the good shepherd) to get my stamp as I did not stay in an albergue the night before. It is good to note that you can get your pilgrim credential from there should you need it.
All along this coastline there is amazing swell to catch. You can hire surfboards and go out surfing in the sea from several hostels and hire companies.
PINTXOS AND VINO
Donostia is renowned for its good pintxos and boy you wont be disappointed, especially if you go between May and August when the seafood is in abundance. I recommend the white wine of Txakoli (Basque white wine made from grapes grown all around this area- infact you will see the vineyards on the next stage of this camino) with a racione of chiperones a la plancha.