The Camino de Santiago has hundreds of routes, all eventually leading to the great Gothic Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, where legend holds that St. James is buried. Far and away the most well known of the Camino routes is the Camino Frances. It extends 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.
Probably the two most well-known of the alternative routes are from Le Puy in France, and Camino del Norte (‘The Northern Route’).
The Northern Route is renowned for both its spectacular beauty, as well as its difficulty. It runs from Bayonne (although most begin in Irun) near the France-Spain border, along the northern coast of Spain, eventually reconnecting with the Camino Frances in Arzua, 40 miles from Santiago de Compostela. It passes through San Sebastian and the Basque country, as well as Bilbao. Pilgrims face stretches as long as 38 miles in which there is no albergue.
The Northern Route is gaining popularity as more pilgrims finish the Camino Frances, but desire more adventure on the Camino de Santiago. For this reason, more albergues are popping up along this route, which should entice even more pilgrims–a virtuous circle. I heard about the Northern Route the last two years, while on the Camino Frances. But I never imagined I was going to do it. However, all winter long the possibility of a new adventure on the Camino haunted and beckoned me. And sure enough, here I go this August on this treacherous, but scenic path, to Santiago de Compostela.
Bill Walker is the author of The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago (2012). He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail (2008), as well as Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail (2010). Walker, who is just shy of 7-feet tall, is now working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.