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.
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…
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.
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.
Here’s me at the end of the bridge. The arrow points the way to the start of the Camino del Norte.
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.
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.
One of the scenic and ancient canals.
Ayuntamiento de Irún or the old City Hall. Taken from the Colon Ibilbidea that the Camino joins, and then follows through the downtown.
This is the Plaza del Ensancheon during the sunny afternoon.
The 17th century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Juncal, or Church of Our Lady of Juncal.
Please excuse the glare. This is the quiet downtown on the rainy morning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Look for the bar, Kilkar, on your right, and follow the sidewalk down the hill.
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.
The Albergue de Peregrinos in Irún was a little tricky to find and I trust you will manage better than I did.
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 as I will continue bringing posts from the Camino de Santiago, the French Way, the Northern Way, and soon, the Camino Finisterre (as well as other places).
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