Pilgrimage on the Basque Coast

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.  

Camino Orio

The Northern St. James Way to Santiago de Compostela

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.

Hondarribia Es

Crossing the border to Hondarribia

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.

San Seabastian low tide

Walking San Sebastian’s La Concha Beach at low tide

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.

Orio boats

Fishing Fleet in Orio

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.

Zarautz from SB

Zarautz from Santa Barbara Hermitage

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.

Getaria coast road

Getaria’s txakoli vineyards and shoreline sidewalk

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.

Flysch 1

Zumaia’s San Telmo Hermitage

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.

Flysch 2

The Flysch

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.

SJdG 1

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

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.

SJdG Joe

Ringing the bell atop San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

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.


Two pilgrims heading toward Santiago de Compostela


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.


16 thoughts on “Pilgrimage on the Basque Coast

    • Thanks, Marty. If you find a bottle of txakoli, it must be poured from a height. In my next post, I have a photo that will show the technique. Cheers! – Joe


  1. Beautiful, so much to explore in this area. Brian and I were going to walk “the Camino ” last month, but family matters held us back. We hope to walk it next year. So sorry to hear about your friend that has passed away, lovely tribute to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gilda. We really appreciate your consideration and condolences. I really hope you get that chance to walk the camino. Walking to Santiago would be such a worthwhile and fulfilling experience. I was so impressed by the dedication and camaraderie of the pilgrims that we met during our day-hikes. Without fail, they all greeted us with a smile, and a friendly “Hola” or “Buen Camino”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m enjoying your journey immensely (probably not as much as the two of you, though)! That wall in your first picture is amazing… I admit that, for a moment, I thought, “wait, they are in China now???!!!. We are currently streaming the third season of the Game of Thrones so it will be a while until we get to the return to Dragonstone but I’ll keep your images in my mind until then. I hope your wish came true after you rung that bell!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was reminded of the Great Wall of China too, Janis. I appreciate that the creators of Game of Thrones used real locations for their sets. We also found a couple additional locations in the city of Girona during our month in Catalonia. Spoiler Alert! On top of the island here, they replaced the hermitage and its bell tower with an ominous computer-generated castle.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How gorgeous! I can’t believe you got to take such a beautiful walk, following the path of those on the pilgrimage. I had never heard of that before. One of the many things I love about your blog (aside from the gorgeous photos) is how much I learn about countries I have yet to visit. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The walking is heavenly here, Ann. The entire walk from the French border to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is about 500 miles. Since the 9th century, people carrying a symbolic scallop shell on their backpacks have come from all over the world for about 40 days to complete the pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostle St. James. Imagine hiking 10-15 miles every day for six weeks straight! We were content going out for the day on the pleasant and well-worn trails.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen it either, Dave. I only got interested when I discovered during my travel research that several scenes were shot in the parts of Spain on our itinerary. Some of my friends back home (along with most of the world) watch the show, and I thought they might enjoy seeing the locations. I watched the clips of Dragonstone, and it was pretty cool to see it in real life.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know that visiting a place because it was in a TV show is kooky. When I found out that it also had some interesting geology, it became a “must see”. Now that is just plain nerdy.

      Liked by 1 person

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