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 Pilgrims resting with a view of the coast on the Northern Way of Saint James.

The Northern Way

northern-way-camino-coast

The Cantabrian Sea and the nature of northern Spain are the stars of the Northern Way, which reaches Santiago de Compostela through the regions of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. This pilgrimage route became popular centuries ago, then became less prominent, but has seen a revival in recent decades thanks to its beautiful scenery, with the sea always nearby. In fact, may know it as the Coastal Way.

 Stage 1 of the Northern Way of Saint James in the Basque Country

Basque Country

Approximate distance: around 175 kilometres.Recommended stages: 8 or 9.Irún is the starting point of the Northern Way in Spain, which runs through the Basque Country until the ninth stage begins in Portugalete (Bizkaia) heading towards Cantabria. This stretch of the Northern Way of Saint James may be the furthest inland, but even so, it offers lovely sea views in places like Zarautz and the ports of Getaria and Zumaia. The large cities of this part of the route are Donostia-San Sebastián and Bilbao, worth a visit for exciting attractions such as La Concha beach in San Sebastián, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. You’ll also love the more rural atmosphere of little villages like Gernika-Lumo and Markina-Xemein.The route crossing inland Bizkaia province is one of the most rugged and hardest going on the Camino, with mountain paths and beautiful, peaceful forests.

Left: detail of a sign / Centre: Views of Getaria, Gipuzkoa / Right: Barn in Orlíz, Vizcaya

You’ll like:- The traditional feel of a path through natural settings, meadows and lonely farmhouses.- The views of fishing villages like Hondarribia and Zarautz from the mountains overlooking the Cantabrian Sea.- The lively streets and meals of pintxos in Bilbao and Donostia-San Sebastián.- Discovering in Itziar one of the most venerated religious sculptures of the area, its black Virgin. World Heritage sites to visit: there are two on this stretch of the Northern Way. One is the prehistoric cave of Ekain, part of the Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain collective site. The other is the Vizcaya transporter bridge (Getxo).Main stops on the Northern Way of the Camino in the Basque Country: IrúnDonostia-San SebastiánZarautz – Deba – Gernika-Lumo – Lezama – Bilbao - PortugaleteMore information: The Northern Way in the Basque Country

 Stage 2 of the Northern Way of Saint James in Cantabria

Cantabria

Approximate distance: around 170 kilometres.Recommended stages: 7 or 8.In Cantabria, the Northern Way follows the coast of the Cantabrian Sea closely. The route includes historic fishing villages and ports like Castro Urdiales, Laredo, Santander, and San Vicente de la Barquera, and even heritage destinations like Santillana del Mar and Comillas.This part of the Camino is easy to walk, with plenty of stretches of road and track. All of the towns on the way are perfect if you want to stop for a rest by the sea, especially if you can sample the local seafood. Iconic local products include anchovies from Santoña and velvet crab from Noja.

Pilgrim crossing the beach at San Vicente de la Barquera, Cantabria

You’ll like: - The seaside atmosphere of lively fishing villages where you can enjoy the most traditional seafood dishes. - The grand houses with wooden balconies and the cobbled streets in destinations like Castro Urdiales and Laredo, reflecting their medieval origins. - Discovering the inspiration of Gaudí when you visit El Capricho in the Art Nouveau town of Comillas. - Walks along the elegant bay of Santander, enjoying the contrast of the peaceful beach, the modern Centro Botín, and the penguin habitat in La Magdalena marine park. World Heritage sites to visit: the outstanding Altamira Cave in Santillana del Mar. To ensure its conservation, access to the original cave is heavily restricted, but you can visit the Neocave in the Altamira National Museum and Research Centre, which reproduces it exactly. In Cantabria you can also visit six more caves, part of the Cave of Altamira and Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain World Heritage site. These are the caves of Chufín, El Castillo de Puente Viesgo, Las Monedas, Hornos de la Peña, El Pendo, and Covalanas. Main stops on the Northern Way of the Camino in Cantabria: Castro UrdialesLaredoSantoñaNojaSantanderSantillana del MarComillas More information: The Northern Way of Saint James in Cantabria

 Stage 3 of the Northern Way of Saint James in Asturias

Asturias

Approximate distance: around 280 kilometres.Recommended stages: 9 to 11.The Northern Way continues through Asturias along rural and mountain paths, always close to the sea. From Llanes and its stunning beaches, like San Antolín and Gulpiyuri (a curious inland beach away from the sea), to Cabo de Busto, in Luarca. A route with lush nature, charming fishing villages, and two sophisticated cities with plenty to see: Avilés and Gijón. The final stretch reveals two more exceptional towns: Cudillero and Luarca.

 Left: Indiano house in Llanes / Centre: Pilgrim on the coast of Asturias / Right: Niemeyer Centre in Avilés

You’ll like:- Discovering the Romanesque art and picturesque Indiano houses of Asturias. Fine examples of Romanesque include the churches of San Antolín de Bedón (in Llanes), Santa María de la Oliva (in Villaviciosa), and San Juan (in Mandi). You can see the houses built by Indianos, returning emigrants with money, in Llanes, Colombres, Pendueles, and other towns.- A constant connection to nature is typical of Asturias. You can see it on the Camino as it crosses the green valleys, but also in cities with places like Paseo de San Pedro in Llanes or Cerro de Santa Catalina in Gijón.- Stopping to share a bottle of local cider and eat some of the local dishes: hearty stews like fabada, the popular and nutritious cachopo, and delicious desserts like frixuelos or rice pudding.- The surprising, avant-garde Centro Niemeyer in Avilés.World Heritage sites to visit: three prehistoric caves in the World Heritage site of Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain are on or very near the Northern Way in Asturias and can be visited. They are Cueva del Pindal (in Ribadedeva), Cueva de Tito Bustillo (in Ribadesella), and Caverna de la Peña (in Candamo). And if you stray from the route a little and go to Oviedo, you can see the most important examples of the pre-Romanesque art of Asturias, also declared a World Heritage site.Main stops on the Northern Way of the Camino in Asturias: LlanesRibadesella – Colunga – GijónAvilésCudilleroLuarca.More information: The Northern Way of Saint James in Asturias

 Stage 4 of the Northern Way of Saint James in Galicia

Galicia

Approximate distance: around 220 kilometres.Stages: 8 to 10.The route through Galicia begins in Ribadeo and runs through the north of the region to Santiago de Compostela, passing through beautiful natural spaces such as the biosphere reserves of Terras do Miño and Río Eo, Osco y Terras de Burón. The little villages scattered across the landscape are full of pretty churches and pazos (country estates). The heritage city of Mondoñedo was once the capital of Galicia, but there are also interesting things to see in Sobrado dos Monxes, Ribadeo, and Arzúa. The end point of the Camino, Santiago de Compostela, is also its best reward. You should plan to spend at least a day enjoying the end of your pilgrimage in this lively city.

Left: Lighthouse in Ribadeo / Centre: Pilgrims in a forest in Galicia / Right: Octopus dish

You’ll like: - The mysticism which is often present in the natural settings and the small, picturesque villages. In Galicia, they say “Brujas, haberlas, las hay” (Witches, there are some) and there is a traditional drink sometimes prepared after dinner in a sort of ritual which is sure to make an impression. To try it, ask for queimada.- Discovering nature and wildlife wherever you go. For example, as you go down Serra da Cova da Serpe, you’re likely to spot squirrels, rabbits, and partridges. With a little luck, you might see a fox or a wild boar, and if you look up, hawks. When you leave the pine forests, you’ll find herds of cows along the way.- The local food and drink of Galicia, especially its seafood, cheeses and wines. You’ll want to try the desserts too, especially Tarta de Santiago. A stroll around the food market in Santiago de Compostela will show the dazzling array of available flavours. - The joy of the most special moment on the Camino: reaching Santiago de Compostela and visiting the cathedral. The squares, the market, the cobbled streets, the tapas bars… Santiago de Compostela is one of those destinations where time flies.

 A pilgrim with a view of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

World Heritage sites to visit: The Camino de Santiago itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The nearest World Heritage site to the Northern Way is the city wall of Lugo (in fact, it’s on the Primitive Way). Also, in A Coruña you can see the only Roman lighthouse still in use, the Tower of Hercules.Main stops on the Northern Way of the Camino in Galicia: RibadeoMondoñedo - Sobrado – Arzúa – Santiago de CompostelaMore information: The Northern Way of Saint James in Galicia

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