Starting the Camino Del Norte, Hendaye to the Irún Albergue

January 22, 2013 — 12 Comments

For those of you who choose to walk the entire Camino del Norte, the Northern Way, of the Camino de Santiago, you are in for a very exciting journey to Santiago de Compostela. It also can be grueling and frustrating at times, and I’ll cover those aspects in later posts. The Camino del Norte begins in the city of Irún, Spain on the Basque Coast. Getting to the starting point is another matter and I’ll focus on the beginning of my Camino del Norte. I flew into the closest international airport at Biarritz (BIQ), in the southwest of France. From the airport, I boarded the bus that takes passengers first to Saint-Jean-de-Luz. After a change of buses, there is a short ride to Hendaye which is just across the river from Irún. I believe the total travel time was about 40 minutes and cost about €3. If you have time, I really recommend visiting Biarritz, Bayonne, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

On this post, I’ll focus on the first few kilometers of the Camino del Norte to the albergue in Irún. I had some confusion trying to find the albergue because it was not on the Camino. I hope to make that easier for you, and not add to your confusion. I stayed for two nights in Irún and walked the first few kilometers of the Camino del Norte twice.  I also had one train ride to the downtown.

If you choose to take the train from Bayonne, you will end up here, at the Gare de Hendaye. If you take the bus from the Biarritz airport, your stop is across the street.

Hendaye railway station clock, glass, building, Camino del Norte

 

The Eusko Tren station is just to the left of the Gare de Hendaye and takes you into Irún. There are only two stops until the downtown area. You can learn from my mistake on the only time I used the service. I ended up one stop past the downtown and had a long walk back. If you have time…

Hendaye Eusko Tren Irun Spain Camino del Norte station train, building

 

I suggest that you walk the beginning of the Camino del Norte. From the Eusko Tren station, look to your left for a ramp that leads to this bridge that crosses the Río Bidasoa, parallel with other bridges. It’s no longer used by vehicles but will likely have pedestrians and possibly pilgrims. The vehicle bridge will be on your left and obvious. We’ll get there soon. Ahead, is the border marker between France and Spain.

Bridge Hendaye Irun Spain Camino del Norte, River, railing, border marker

 

 

Border Marker Hendaye Irun, Camino del Norte metal, emblem

 

Facing Spain, these railway bridges are on your right. You can see the sign for Renfre, the Spanish state owned operator of passenger and freight trains. Did you know that Renfre is an acronym of Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles? Renfre was created in 1941 when the trains were nationalized.

stone, Railway Bridge Hendaye Irun Spain Camino del Norte, Renfre, France, River

 

Colorful flowers growing from stone in the pier of the bridge. I’m not too sure of the age of these bridges, but I’d imagine they predate the railway by many years, if not centuries.
Flowers, Bridge, Hendaye, Irun, Spain, Camino, del Norte, stone, river

 

Here’s me at the end of the bridge. The arrow points the way to the start of the Camino del Norte.

Randall St Germain Irun Spain Camino del Norte, author, blogger

 

This sign is on the near side of the bridge that has vehicles. Here, we’re on the Puente de Santiago and the beginning of a new journey. Again, I really recommend walking to this spot as I was surprised how many pilgrims just took the train to the downtown, and skipped the first few kilometers of the Camino del Norte. Although the kilometers shown is 830, I’m more likely to go with the modern guidebooks that suggest the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela from this point is actually closer to 860. The Camino del Norte ends in the town of Arzúa and joins the Camino Francés, 40 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela. Whatever the case, by the time I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, I felt like I had walked 1000 kilometers.

Puente de Santiago Irun Spain Camino del Norte, sign, Rio Bidasoa

 

The morning of my first day on the Camino del Norte had overcast skies and rain. The Camino followed along an arm of the Río Bidasoa. This was bustling with people when I walked during the sunny afternoon two days earlier. On this morning, it was nearly deserted.

Rio Bidasoa Irun Spain Camino del Norte, clouds, River, walkway, trees

 

One of the scenic and ancient canals.

Canal Irun Spain Camino del Norte, water, railings, clouds, buildings, walkway

 

Ayuntamiento de Irún or the old City Hall. Taken from the Colon Ibilbidea that the Camino joins, and then follows through the downtown.

Plaza, City Hall, Irun, Spain, Camino del Norte, clouds, buildings, grass, flowers

 

 This is the Plaza del Ensancheon during the sunny afternoon.

Bandstand Plaza, Irun, Camino del Norte, people, buildings, flowers

 

The 17th century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Juncal, or Church of Our Lady of Juncal.

Iglesia de Nuestra señora del Juncal Irun Spain Camino del Norte, Church, stone, Bell tower

 

Please excuse the glare. This is the quiet downtown on the rainy morning.

Downtown Irun, Camino del Norte, glare, trees, building

 

This wonderful statue of Luis Mariano is along the Camino in downtown Irún. The Basque tenor and actor found fame with his version of La belle de Cadix, The Beautiful Lady of Cadix. Mr. Mariano was born in Irún in 1914 and passed away in 1970.

Luis Mariano, Statue Irun, Camino del Norte, man, chairs, flowers, bronze, sidewalk

 

Eventually, you will cross a long bridge over many railway tracks. I stayed at this pension for a night. The albergue only allowed stays of one night maximum (even though I had a slight injury and asked if I could stay longer). Although simple and overpriced, this accommodation was clean and safe.

Pension, railway tracks, buildings Irun,  Camino de Santiago

 

After the railway overpass, look to your left for one block along the Estación Kalea. This is the Iglesia de los Pasionistas, one of my favorite churches on the Camino del Norte. It’s well-worth the short walk for a closer look.

Iglesia de los Pasionistas, Irun Spain, Camino del Norte, Dome, church, clock

 

Iglesia de los Pasionistas, Irun Spain, Camino del Norte, Dome, church, clock

 

The Colon Ibilbidea ends at the railway overpass and joins Fuenterrabia Kalea. One block from Estación Kalea, where you first saw the Iglesia de los Pasionistas, there is a street to your right, that leads down the hill. I don’t remember any markings but this road is Lekaenea Kalea. If your guidebook doesn’t show the albergue clearly, you can use this map. Alternately, you can follow the road above the railway tracks, and take the first left and then the first right, or walk to the roundabout and back up the hill for a half block. I hope I didn’t confuse anyone, but if you follow the map to “B,” you should be fine.

 

PLEASE NOTE: I apologize. I’m not sure what happened but this map no longer works. I will fix it but in the meantime, please disregard. Streetview is still working :)

Map

View Larger Map

 

This is the Google street view looking down the hill. You want to continue left at the building in the center, and take the first right afterward.


View Larger Map

 

 Look for the bar, Kilkar, on your right, and follow the sidewalk down the hill.

 downtown Irun, Camino del Norte, streets, cars, buildings

 

Half a block past the bar is the Irún Albergue de Peregrinos. The beds are on the second floor with an overflow room on the ground level.

Alberque, sign, Irun, Camino del Norte, Camino de Santiago, building

 

The Albergue de Peregrinos in Irún was a little tricky to find and I trust you will manage better than I did.

Alberque, Irun, Camino de Santiago, entrance, door, sign

 

The beginning of every journey is an exciting one and I hope you can walk at least part of the Camino del Norte one day. Please join me on my next post, On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, Irún Albergue to Guadalupe, as I will bring you along on an exciting journey on the Camino del Norte. We have just started :)

If you have my book, Camino de Santiago In 20 Days, or have ordered it, I really appreciate your support. It’s also out on Kindle and Kobo. My Goodreads and Amazon pages have reviews and more information. Please share this post, and thanks for your time.




About Randall St. Germain

Randall St. Germain, author of Camino de Santiago In 20 Days, is a middle-aged Canadian Boy who is passionate about nature, photography, hiking, music, and self-improvement. After the death of his mother, he chose to walk the famous pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago, across the north of Spain, despite knowing little about it. He certainly didn’t plan to write a book until the latter days of his Camino. Similar to walking the Camino, writing and publishing a book was a learning experience. It was also very rewarding, and part of his ongoing journey. Please join him as he takes you along on his journey in Camino de Santiago In 20 Days, and on his blog Camino My Way.

12 responses to Starting the Camino Del Norte, Hendaye to the Irún Albergue

  1. Peter Pfliegel March 18, 2013 at 2:41 am

    What about the compostela on this route? Had you got it from that Albergue de Peregrinos?

    • Yes Peter. The albergue in Irún had the pilgrim passport available. I would recommend not to arrive too late in the day during the summer, especially if you want a bed.

  2. Peter Pfliegel March 18, 2013 at 2:44 am

    One more question: Can we expect a ‘Camino del Norte in … Days’ book?

    • Peter, I haven’t written much yet. I promised myself I would never release another book without an online platform and the support of a publisher. I’m working on my platform now. Now if I could find a publisher… :)

  3. Randall…Okay, so here is or story. We hiked the Camino Frances in 2011, beginning at St. Jean Pied de Port, France. Intended to hike it again this September (leaving September 2) with a friend who wanted to hike it. Sadly, he was just hospitalized and cannot go. So….now we are stuck with doing the same hike again (which we could do but were repeating it for his benefit), hiking in another country, or trying a different route in Spain. I happened upon your site. Would you be willing to write with us to help us decide. We are flying into Paris, will leave Sept. 2, arrive in Paris September 3, and were going to catch a train to Bayonne. It looks like we can catch the train from Bayonne into Irun and hike that route. Is this a longer route into Santiago? We have allowed a lot of time (last time took us 32 days to walk the 500 miles) with the intention of going on into Finistere. We have options. I am going to download your book into my Kindle but thought I would hear your initial comments.

    • Pat, I fully understand your need to “explore” and try out a new route. Besides, the Camino Francés, I can only give you advice on the Camino del Norte. As for walking, the del Norte is much more difficult with numerous ups and downs most days, rougher trails, and less alberques. It also has its charm and beauty much of the time, and I definitely recommend the route if you have time and are able. If you walked the Francés in 32 days and intend to walk the entire Camino del Norte, then I would guess you would take about 40 days, barring any injury. Now there are “cheats” and shortcuts around some of the hills or mountains and many pilgrims take advantage of buses and trains. If you don’t mind, you can make your trek easier and take less time. Thanks for stopping by and purchasing my book. All the best and Buen Camino :)

  4. Hi Randall,

    I walked the “Camino Francés” starting on September 11th, 2014. I did read your book and I
    thought you were very courageous to do it in 20 days. You wanted to do it and you finished it.
    Well, I want to walk the “Camino del Norte” in 2016, but I had a great difficulty with the ascents with the “French way” but was able to finish it.
    After different comments read, I’m worried that it will be too hard for me. Do you consider this “Camino” very difficult? Very much more than the previous one? Are there very steep climbs? I am 60 years old now and would love to do it.
    Love your photographs.
    Thanks

    • Hi Marie. Thanks for reading my book. I hope you enjoyed it. I’d appreciate a review if you have time. As for the del Norte, it is an incredible walk. However, it is also more challenging in terms of greater number of hills, steepness of hills, and overall roughness of paths. There is also an issue with the lesser number of albergues and bed in them. This should only be a concern in the summer and if you like to walk late into the evening like I do. Make sure you have an up to date albergue guide. Also, carry extra money, in case you need a hostal or hotel room. There is also a serious issue with the lack of waymarks in Asturias that I hope has been addressed by now.

      As for age, I don’t believe it means much. One of the most fit pilgrims that I met on the del Norte was well into his 60s. You know yourself better than I do. There are a lot more injuries on the del Norte that affect pilgrims of all ages and fitness levels. For a while, I thought I would lose a little toe. There is a book in German that gives you ideas to skip some of the more difficult portions, either by walking, bus, or train. I don’t read German but you may be able to find it online. You can also check out here: http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/los-caminos-de-santiago/del-norte/ to get an idea of what you are in for each day. I walked the entire del Norte in 24 days and it really beat me up. I’m glad I did it though. Now, if I can only finish it on this blog…
      Thanks for stopping by, Marie. I hope that helped. Buen Camino :)

  5. Hi there,-I happened to surf a little online + came across your interesting blog,- thank you it is clear and informative! I live in Norway + have done the frances twice, the via d l plata last year + now I am planning to do the c d norte. My question is: could you estimate,- roughly what percentage of the c d norte is on tarmac? Maybe silly question,- but I was surprised how many kilometers I walked on tarmac on the via de la plata,- mainly due to ongoing roadworks + my boots are made for rough terrain and not the autostrada….!! There is very little information online or generally on the amount of tarmac-walking,- so I would appreciate your opinion on this. Bay the way we have a wonderful “camino” here in Norway,- it goes from Oslo to Trondheim,- just 560 km’s…
    Buen Camino

    • Hi Ernest. Thanks for finding my blog. I apologize that I’m not further along on the del Norte on my posts. I have a lot happening now and it’s difficult to keep up. It’s not a silly question as I believe the amount of walking on tarmac or hard surfaces is underestimated and a surprise to many new pilgrims. I haven’t walked the Via de la Plata but have the Francés. Comparing the del Norte to the Francés, there is a lot more of what I would consider “hiking” on the del Norte. There are rougher rockier, and steeper trails that are only present on a couple of days on the Frances. Having said that, there is also long stretches on pavement or tarmac that I couldn’t imagine walking in full hiking boots, especially in the summer. As for the estimate, it is difficult to say. Don’t hold me to it, but I’m guessing about 40% on pavement. I always recommend wearing good hiking shoes and not boots on the Camino. If it’s wet, you’ll have more difficulty on the del Norte though. Just have to be careful. I like to keep my gear fairly light but everyone is different. Thanks for the info in Norway. I’ll check that out online. I hope this helps. Have a safe journey. Buen Camino :)

  6. Mariska Dijkstra May 12, 2015 at 3:44 am

    Hello Randall,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences on your blog. On 21 mei I’ll travel to Biarritz to travel the Camino del Norte, together with a friend. This friend said the route starts in Saint Jean de Luz via Irun and so on. I am supposed to look for the walking route between Saint Jean de Luz and Irun. But.. I cannot find this information and am quite convinced that the route starts in Irun and my friend is confused with Saint Jean Pied de Port. However, my friend is currently at a survivaltrip in Sweden, so I cannot ask him. :) What I would like to ask you: is it worthwile to walk from Saint Jean de Luz to Irun? And if so, is there a name for this route so I can look for a map? Or should we better take a bus to Hendaye and start in Irun like you did?
    Thanks for your time and reply, kind regards, Mariska

  7. Mariska, I hope you have a safe journey on the Camino del Norte. As for your starting point, the route starts in Irun at the sign on the bridge shown on the photo. It’s near the train station in Hendaye. There is a Camino that travels from Bordeaux through Biarritz, Bayonne, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, but I assure you that the Camino del Norte will be challenging and long enough. Still, I recommend visiting those three beautiful Basque French towns but there is a bus that links easily between them and the Hendaye train station. One of the buses travels along the coast for a while between Hendaye and Saint-Jean-de-Luz which I enjoyed. You can easily spend a half day in each town, but may want to limit yourself, especially if walking the next day. All the best and Buen Camino. Thanks for stopping by :)

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