3 Days on the Camino del Norte

We decided to do a few days on the Camino del Norte path as part of a larger northern Spain road trip. We didn’t have enough time this trip to allocate to the entire Camino, which takes about a month. We chose the del Norte path since we were already planning to travel along the northern coast and this path follows right along where we had already planned to go. We really like the ocean and so we chose a few days on the trial which follow the sea fairly closely. There are also parts of this trail that are more inland. The days on the Camino del Norte are broken up in 12-18 mile days or 20-30 km on average. We planned on doing 4 days but ended up only doing 3. Mainly because we packed way too much and after 3 days of carrying our heavy packs we were ready for a change of pace.  Here are our recommendations if you are planning on doing all or part of the path and some lessons we learned.

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  1. Pack light, you need way less than you think you do. People always say that but it is so, so true. We knew we were packing pretty heavy but we hadn’t ever done something like this and just weren’t sure what our weight limit would be. We had 65 L packs and while they weren’t completely full of stuff they were much too heavy. What feels okay when you briefly put your pack on at home and walk around will start feeling very heavy after a few miles of walking. Most people we saw had under 40 L packs.
  2. Bring snacks- lots of snacks. Siesta is no joke. If you walk all day and arrive at your destination late afternoon/evening you may not be able to find a meal for several hours. While restaurants may be open, often the kitchen won’t be open for dinner until 8 or 9pm. There may be a grocery store in the town you are staying at but sometimes they close for siesta as well. We would recommend carrying some type of snack with you each day. If you don’t have anything when you start the day we would recommend stopping when you do pass a town with a restaurant or store that is open in the afternoon. Even if you aren’t hungry right then or even if you want to just push through and finish your day we would recommend grabbing at least a small snack to tide you over until dinner time.

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  1. Take a break during the day and take your boots off! The first few days we took a few short breaks but were worried that if we took our boots off we wouldn’t want to put them back on, or it would somehow feel worse putting them back on after a break. The third day we walked we came to a large beach during the second half of our day and decided to take a bit of a longer break to sit on the beach. We took the advice of a fellow pilgrim we had talked to and took our boots off. Our feet felt so much better the rest of the walk that day having had that break out of the boots. We saw lots of people who were doing the entire Camino who had hiking boots or shoes and more of a hiking sandal that was open toed. We didn’t have that option since we only did a few days but it definitely seems like a good idea if you are going to be walking for many days in a row.
  2. Bring clothes that dry quickly. Your clothes don’t have a ton of time to dry if you are washing them when you are done walking for the day and then you head out to start walking again in the morning. Even if it isn’t raining it may be humid or cloudy which won’t help things dry. Many of the albergues along the way don’t have laundry so you will be hand washing, ringing your clothes out and then hanging them outside.

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  1. Hiking poles are SUPER helpful. This path follows the coast and has a lot of hills. Hiking poles are very helpful at taking some of the weight off your feet and giving you more stamina to get up all those hills.
  2. Take time to talk with other pilgrims on the trail or people you meet along the way. Some of our best memories from this trip are thinking back on the people we met and talked to. Even though it may have been a brief conversation over lunch it’s just nice to be with other travelers and people of like minds.

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  1. Don’t be afraid to take a detour off the path. We took a few detours during our days on the Camino, all of which were to see some of the great beaches we had read about prior to our trip. Detours will make your day of walking longer but they can be worth it! There are footpaths along the coast that are easy to follow. These trails meet back up with the official Camino trail at some point so you can get back on track
  2. Know that there are buses that travel throughout the trail as well as train stops along the way. This is good to know in case you need/want to skip a day of walking or if you need an out like we did. We are not the type of people to say we are going to do something and then not do it to the fullest. We planned to do 4 days of walking but after 3 we just needed to stop. We will need to try the camino again some day, with much, much less stuff in our packs! Know that it is okay to be honest with yourself and that doing what you need is okay.

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  1. Do train ahead of time. We did not do much training and definitely didn’t do any training with our packs. We are fairly active people and we figured since we only planned on walking a few days on the Camino we would be okay. We are pretty busy at home, especially in the summer and we took this trip in September. So getting out for longer walks consistently just didn’t happen. We learned the hard way that being active and in shape is different than being prepared to walk all day with a heavy backpack on.
  2. Slow down your travel! This is probably the most important tip or lesson for us. This is actually a big part of what drew us to include a few days of walking the Camino in our trip. We tend to cram a lot into our trips because we want to see and do so much. We only have so much time in a given place and we don’t want to waste it. Walking forces you to slow down since there is literally nothing else to do except walk and take in your surroundings. You are walking to pretty small towns each day so when you reach your destination each evening there isn’t a list of things you must see and do in that town. The thing to do is to relax and take in the feel of the place you are in, to just enjoy it. We put our few days of walking towards the beginning of our trip to help get us into the slower pace and we do feel like it helped. The rest of our trip we did see and do a lot but we also took time to just be in whatever city or town we were in.

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  1. You will learn more about yourself and what is important to you. Another thing you hear a lot with the Camino but it is true! You have nothing but time when you are walking. Time to think, to dream, to plan, time to be with yourself or in our case with each other. We could tell how much this trip really changed us when we got home. We purged our entire house of things we didn’t need. We downsized our hobbies and other things in our life to allow us to focus on the things that are most important to us. Travel should challenge you and change you, on both of those fronts the camino certainly delivers!

If you chose to do the entire Camino or just a few days like we did hopefully these tips/lessons will help you. We would love to go back and try it again, packing much lighter so we can make it more than 3 days! Even though we didn’t do as well with the Camino as we had hoped it was still a good experience for us.

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Buen Camino to anyone heading out!

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-TFWYs

Asturias Spain

Asturias is in the central part of Spain’s northern coast. It is a less traveled area but has a lot to offer! We had initially planned to do a road trip across northern Spain. But then we were listening to a podcast about the Camino de Santiago and got inspired to look into that. In doing some research we quickly found the Camino del Norte path which happens to go along the coast just as we had already planned to do. We decided to take a few days in our trip and walk part of the Camino del Norte. We got a guide book which said the best views on the trail are in Asturias so that is where we chose to do our walk. From Bilbao we took the train to Colombres. From there it was a short 5-10 minute walk to La Franca. This is where we started our time in Asturias and from there we headed to Llanes, Nueva, La Isla, Villaviscosa, Gijon and Cudillero. Asturias is a beautiful area full of some awesome beaches and cute little towns, whether you are on the Camino del Norte or just travelling through the area by car or bus we would recommend stopping into some of these towns.

La Franca: This is a very, very small town. Not a ton to do here but if you are on the Camino it is a nice place to stop. There is a pilgrim restaurant with an open kitchen all day long. You don’t need to be a pilgrim on the Camino to eat here,  the big difference with this restaurant is that the kitchen doesn’t close for a long siesta. If you arrive late afternoon/evening you can get a meal without waiting until 8 or 9pm when most restaurants in the area open their kitchen. We ate at this restaurant for dinner. We ordered the menu de la noche and were surprised when they brought out two of the biggest steaks we have ever been served. The steak was a Austrias traditional dish called Cachopo. This dish consists of two thin steaks with ham and cheese in the center, covered with bread crumbs and fried up. It was delicious! You will see mostly locals in this town. We didn’t see any other tourists or pilgrims while we were here. We stayed at a traditional cidery which had rooms above; Sidreria La Casa Abajo. The rooms are nothing fancy but they were clean and if you are passing through for a day or two we felt it was a good option. The cider here was actually one of our favorites we had during our time in Asturias. The cidery did have a restaurant but the kitchen didn’t open until 9pm and we were starving when we arrived so we couldn’t wait. We did of course have a few glasses of cider there after dinner and the food looked really good. Cider is big in Asturias, you will see apple trees growing everywhere and every little town will have at least one sidreria/cidery. When you order cider in Asturias you just get a bottle or a glass of whatever they have, you don’t have a list of ciders as you would at a brewery or cidery in the U.S. A bottle is very cheap so if two of you are sharing it is definitely worth ordering a bottle, maybe even a second!

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Llanes: We stayed at a pilgrim albergue called Albergue La Casona del Peregrino. We had a private room with our own bathroom. There were also shared rooms for very cheap. We booked online ahead of time and didn’t have to show proof that we were on the Camino but definitely all the other people staying here were pilgrims doing the Camino. Llanes is a much bigger town than La Franca. There is more of a tourist, beachside town feel to it. There are plenty of shops and small cafés and restaurants. There is also a small beach in town and a port where you can walk along the waterfront. This would be a great town to base yourself in for a couple days. The town just has a great vibe! It is full of prilgrims, locals and other tourists from all over just there to enjoy a beach vacation.

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Nueva: Again a very small town. We stayed at Hotel La Casona de Nueva. There are a few options here for food but again kitchens don’t open until 8 or 9pm. You will be able to have a drink at most restaurants; they won’t fully close for siesta but limited food options until later on for dinner.

La Isla: We spent a bit more this night and stayed right on the water at Hotel Bahia. The room here was very nice and we had a great view of the beach! There is a restaurant at the hotel but it was closed for dinner the night we stayed. They did have a breakfast buffet available in the morning which had a lot of options. Food options for dinner in this town are limited. There are several small cafés along the water but several of them just offer drinks and small snacks. Again we were starving after a long day of walking so we had limited patience during our search for food. We ended up eating at the hostel that was right next to our hotel called Hostel El Furacu. They have a small bar where you can order drinks and food which they will bring out to you at outdoor tables by the water. The food was nothing special but we were starving so it did the trick! We were supposed to go on from here and walk the following day but we decided we had gotten a good feel for the Camino. We honestly packed way too much and were also tired of carrying our way to heavy backpacks all day. So we decided to take the bus the next day after relaxing on the beach here in La Isla for the afternoon. The beach here is quite long, great for a beach walk. There is also a small rocky outcropping which is an island at high tide but you can walk right now to it and climb all over the rocks at low tide. This town also doesn’t see many tourists so we were some of the only people on the beach that afternoon which was nice. From here you can take a bus onward as we did. The bus company doesn’t have a website so we actually found the bus schedule on google and used google maps to also find the bus stop. There is a stop right outside of one of the pilgrim hotels: Hotel Monte Y Mar. There is a small sign that says Bus. That is your only indication that there is actually a bus stop here.

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Villaviscosa: This is the only town where we booked our accommodations through Air B and B. The rest of these towns we booked our rooms through booking.com. Here we stayed in a small apartment just a 5-10 minute walk from the center of town. There was a festival going on while we were here so we wandered around that for a bit and then had dinner at Sideria LENA. This place was amazing! The food was great and the staff are great. It’s important to know that cider in this part of Spain is meant to be drunk quickly. They pour you a small amount and if you don’t drink it quickly they may dump out what is left in your glass when they come back around to pour you more. The waiters and waitresses here are very skilled at pouring the cider from very high up which helps it get fizzy. We did not know the proper way to drink the cider until our dinner here when our waitress made sure she explained the rules to us. We would highly recommend eating here if you are in the area. Again from here we took the bus to Gijon and then from there we rented a car for the rest of our trip around northern Spain.

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 Gijon: Gijon is a large city with plenty to do. We stayed right in the city center at Hostel Gijon. Our host was amazing! He gave us a map and a ton of recommendations for places to see and places to eat. He was super helpful and made sure we had a great time even though we were only there one night. We would highly recommend this hostel. Do be warned it is right in the city center so it was a bit noisy at night. We ate dinner at Ciudadela and would highly recommend it, the food was absolutely amazing! We spend our afternoon walking around the city and relaxing on the beach. The beach here is huge at low tide but at high tide it comes all the way up to the city wall leaving no beach at all. Gijon is a very walkable city. From the city center where we stayed it was easy to walk around and find all the major attractions.

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Cudillero: This is such cute little seaside town! We drove here from Gijon for a few hours in the late morning. It is a place that you will see a lot of other tourists but for good reason. The town is built up into the hillside. There are plenty of small, windy stairs up the hills. You can easily get away from the crowds by going up. We wandered by a local lady out in her yard who very kindly pointed us in the direction of a specific staircase leading to an amazing look out point with great views of the city. There are also plenty of small shops and cafes in town.

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Asturias is full of some really amazing beaches to check out along the way. Check out our list of top 10 beaches in Northern Spain for some of our highlights. Also we recommend downloading the asturplaya App to help you find even more beaches then what we have listed.

Top 10 Beaches in Northern Spain

The picos de Europa are also in this area, We admired them as we walked the Camino but didn’t get a chance to head up into the mountains. We have heard that there are plenty of great little mountain towns to check as well if you have more time in this area.

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-TFWYs