Scores of wayfarers come here to unload their burdens, relieve their pain, or find some elucidation in a mixed-up world. We joined them for a short while to simply walk between the coastal cities, beach towns, and small fishing villages on the Basque Coast of Spain.
Setting off from the French border, pilgrims travel through this region on the Northern St. James Way, an arduous cross-country footpath to Santiago de Compostela. Our walks over long stretches of this ancient and well-worn trail passed sandy beaches, fertile vineyards, geologic wonders, and scenery befitting a mythical television series.
Our own abridged camino began by crossing the border with France. Here, traveling between Hendaye on the French side to Hondarribia on the Spanish side only involved a short ferry trip across the Bidasoa River.
After stepping off the border ferry, a long day’s march led us to the provincial capital city of San Sebastian on La Concha Bay. San Sebastian is a resplendent coastal city with a lively historical center and sublime urban beach, ideal for soothing our tired feet at low tide.
From San Sebastian, the next day’s walk connected us with Orio, our home base for the month. With its labyrinthine medieval quarter of steep cobbled streets leading down to its port, Orio is typical of the small fishing towns that we found all along the coast.
Continuing from Orio, our third day-hike passed through the beach town of Zarautz and wine country village of Getaria to the famous film location of Zumaia. Zarautz, just over the hill from Orio, is a popular summer holiday and surfing destination with the longest beach on the Basque Coast of Spain.
Linked with Zarautz by a two-mile shoreline sidewalk is the former whaling center of Getaria, now surrounded by vineyards producing a refreshing fizzy wine called txakoli (cha-koh-lee). In Getaria, we also found the birthplace of Juan Sebastian Elcano, the first person to sail around the world.
After a picnic lunch and chilled glass of txakoli, our own relatively infinitesimal land-based expedition led us to the picturesque city of Zumaia. Famous for its scenes from the popular Spanish movie “Spanish Affair”, it is also where Daenerys returns to Dragonstone in the opening scene of Season 7 of HBO’s television series Game of Thrones.
The vertically tilted beds of lime and sandstone that characterize Dragonstone are known by us geologists as flysch. Out of Zumaia, our fourth day-hike followed the fantastic Flysch Route, where pages of rock record 60 million years of earth history.
Where the flysch abuts an austere rocky promontory, we found San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a small forbidding island connected to the mainland by a narrow stone bridge. It is here that the creators of the Game of Thrones found the ideal location for their castle of Dragonstone.
At San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, we concluded our journey by climbing the 241 steps to its crowning 10th century hermitage. In accordance with superstition, we rang the church bell three times and made a wish. It is our resounding hope, that someday, we can return here to continue our pilgrimage on the Basque Coast of Spain.
Feature Image: Stone bridge and 241 steps at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Blogger’s Note: We dedicate this post to our friend Wayne Lewis who passed away this week after a long illness. He will be missed terribly, especially by his loving and devoted wife JanAnn. Goodbye Wayne our old friend. Rest in peace.