In France, I bet you could easily guess the most popular tourist attraction. You are right if you said the Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel. Now you may be surprised that the second most popular attraction is not a lavish cathedral or grand museum. It is Cité de Carcassonne, the medieval fortress in the city of Carcassonne in the southern region of Languedoc-Roussillon. The impressive structure sits on top of the hill as it has for centuries. In fact, the site has a history of over 2000 years and predates Roman times.

Although, I refer to Carcassonne as a city, it looks more like a large town—quaint and laid-back. It has a population of 47,000 that swells during the tourist season. Carcassonne really consists of three sections. There is the fortified city and the adjacent “new” town. Across the River Aude is the old or lower town, La Ville Basse. While I enjoyed the old town, the main attraction is the medieval Cité de Carcassonne. It was built up over many years beginning in Roman times with the fortification completed in the 14th century during the 100 Year War. By the mid 19th century, the castle had fallen into disrepair to the point that it was set to be demolished. This caused a great outcry and eventually, the government saw the importance of the castle, not only for the region, but France itself. Cité de Carcassonne was significantly remodelled starting in 1853 by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc during an extensive operation that lasted until the late 19th century.

On a beautiful Summer’s afternoon, I was so lucky to be able to visit Cité de Carcassonne. The view of the castle from a downstream bridge over the River Aude.

Carcassonne Citadel France Languedoc Roussillon

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As I continued to walk the Camino del Norte from Olatz, I realized that I was getting progressively weaker during the hot Summer afternoon. The steep climb and heat zapped my energy. My periods of walking were getting shorter and my breaks longer. At one point, I laid on a nice, soft patch of grass under shade in the forest. Many pilgrims stopped to see if I was okay, and it was here I befriended an Italian pilgrim. Although he was much older than I was, he was also among the pilgrims in the best shape that I had seen. We would walk together at times over the days ahead.

I left my last post, On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, Ermita del Calvario to Olatz, outside the bar in Olatz. Now, let’s continue as the Camino leaves Olatz with about 300 meters of sometimes steep climbing ahead. Please make sure you carry water past Olatz, as when I walked, there was only one drinkable fountain along the way.

Olatz road Camino del Norte Gipuzkoa

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Donkeys! Yes, I said donkeys. I could never get enough of them on the Camino del Norte. They always seemed so friendly and gentle. On a day like this when I was struggling in the hills west of Deba, they also brightened up my spirits. And believe me, as I started to weaken in the heat of the day, my spirits really needed to brighten fast.

I left my last post, On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, Deba to Ermita del Calvario, near the small church, Ermita del Calvario. If you’re struggling or want an easy day from Deba, there is an albergue nearby (at the time of writing). About 20 kilometers with some tough climbing is awaiting you before Markina. From Ermita del Calvario, the Camino follows this road.

Road Ermita del Calvario Camino del Norte

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When I think about the Camino del Norte, the stretch between Deba and Markina-Xemein always comes to mind. This wasn’t the Camino Francés that was relatively tame for days after the initial climb through the Pyrenees. Between the two towns is over 25 kilometers of steep climbing, 3 altos, and numerous ups and downs. There were few facilities, and after misjudging my water needs, I found myself lacking in the afternoon. After walking 42 kilometers the previous day, my out-of-shape body was really tired, and my energy waned. And while the previous day was warm, this day was downright hot!

The stretch is very peaceful and pleasant through forest and farmland, and has some beautiful views early on. Please don’t take it lightly though, as it will feel like 35 kilometers for many pilgrims. Carry enough water and energy food, and take it slowly if needed on the climb from Deba. Fill your water at Olaz and carry extra. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to stay the night at the albergue west of the Ermita del Calvario.

I left my last post, On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, Itziar to Deba, at the municipal albergue after a long day. I started a little late and stepped out to this fine view over the town of Deba (formally Deva). Tourism and sevice industries along with more traditional ones such as fishing and farming are important to the town’s economy. The municipality of Deba has 130 hamlets scattered and we’ll visit a few of them along the Camino del Norte.

Deba Gipuzkoa Spain Camino del Norte

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While I had seen a few dogs and donkeys being led to Santiago de Compostela by their owners, I didn’t recall seeing a pony. When I met the beautiful pony in the hills West of Zumaia, I wondered what it would be like for us to walk side-by-side to Santiago. No, I wasn’t going to open the gate and let the little guy out, but if he jumped the fence and said “Let’s go to Santiago,” I would have considered taking him along. I think our walk would have been quite enjoyable, however, it would have certainly made finding accommodations more difficult and probably cost me a fortune in food!

If I can get serious now, I will emphasize to always carry lots of water along these quiet or more remote stretches of the Camino del Norte. Drinkable water is not always available and it may cause you problems depending on the heat or where you are. I learned my lesson on the next day.

I left my last post, On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, Zumaia to Itziar, on the outskirts of Itziar. First, let’s take one more look at the pony and say goodbye before continuing.

Cute Pony Basque Camino del Norte

 

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With daylight and my energy dwindling, I continued to climb the hills between Zumaia and Deba. If I can make one recommendation: make sure you have enough time and energy when you leave Zumaia. Ahead, there is almost 15 kilometers with about 450 meters of cumulative elevation gain, and only one albergue at the time of this writing. Of course, I didn’t pay attention to my own advice. I was looking ahead to the next day which would also be challenging for walking and finding accommodation West of Deba.

I left my last post, On the Camino Del Norte in Zumaia, Spain, on the outskirts of Zumaia. Now let’s continue to this peaceful scene of grazing sheep overlooking the Cantabrian Sea. If you like peaceful scenes, you’re in for a treat along this stretch.

Zumaia Farm Sheep Camino del Norte

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