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Camino del Norte or Camino Frances -- Some food for thought

Discussion in 'Camino del Norte' started by HuskyNerd, Jul 2, 2012.

  1. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    I've just finished my first Camino del Norte and, after two times on the Camino Frances, was interested to hear reasons why people chose to do their first camino on the Northern Route. I think there are some misunderstandings out there about the differences between the two, so I'm posting this sticky thread to open up a discussion about which camino is right for which pilgrims.

    In general, I found the two caminos to be quite different and I believe people should make a decision with their eyes open, based on what kind of experience they want. Many seem to choose the Camino del Norte because they believe it is less crowded than the Frances. That's basically true, but it's more complicated than that, and in my opinion there are other factors a person should consider prior to making a decision. So here's my personal list of pro and con issues about the two routes.

    Pros of the Camino Del Norte
    • Beautiful scenery along beaches and ocean cliffs between Irun and Ribadeo;
    • Fewer other pilgrims to compete with for albergue space;
    • There are some pretty great albergues, particularly the ones in Galicia like Gontan, Vilalba, Baamonde, etc.;
    Cons of the Camino Del Norte
    • If you believe the locals, there really are only two months of good weather -- July and August. Expect rain, cold, mud and wind in the other ten months;
    • The coastline of Northern Spain is prime tourist territory in July and August. Pilgrims are thrust into sometimes high-cost tourist areas where restaurant meals and even groceries are at tourist prices and few options are available for the classic menu del peregrino. Locals are most interested in high-spending tourists, not penny-pinching pilgrims;
    • Churches are almost always locked and there are few or none with a mass or special blessing for pilgrims. Just too few pilgrims to make it worthwhile;
    • Most albergues are municipal or private and there are few (the primary exception being Guemes) where the meal is prepared or where there are special services or devotions aimed at enhancing pilgrim community or spirituality;
    • Fewer albergues available, sometimes providing few options to shorten the sometimes long distances between overnights (example, Sebrayo, Guemes, Gijon, etc.)
    • Occasionally the albergues are actually youth hostels (example Colombres) or adult schools (example Portugalete) which are not open year round. That means they're not available to use at certain times of the year and pilgrims default to pensions or small hotels;
    • The Camino del Norte joins the Camino Frances at Arzua, which means that two of the most crowded days of the Camino Frances await del Norte pilgrims anyway;
    • A surprising amount of the del Norte is on pavement, usually small, quiet roads connecting tiny villages and scattered farms. There are relatively few days on gravel paths. Perhaps only a total of 20-30% of the entire del Norte;
    • Relatively few visible connections with its pilgrim past. Unlike the Frances and the Primitivo there is not strong documentary evidence of the original del Norte itinerary, so it has the feeling of being pieced together somewhat haphazardly in order to give the pilgrim a "nice hike" rather than to connect a pilgrim to a historical pilgrim experience as with ancient documents that describe the Frances and Primitivo routes;
    • Fewer pilgrims to enjoy, except in July/Aug when the del Norte booms with pilgrims, making it tough to get a bed;
    • Option to the Primitivo means del Norte pilgrims split into two groups taking two routes. This means you sometimes say "goodbye" to friends you've met along the way who are choosing to leave the del Norte for the Primitivo;
    • Way marking can sometimes be confusing or completely absent;
    • The most comprehensive pilgrim guides at present are in German and French. Our English guides have not yet caught up in quality.
    Pros of the Camino Frances
    • Beautiful inland scenery, including mountain ranges and the vast prairies of the Meseta;
    • A strong tradition of service to pilgrims, including "specialty" albergues that feature group meals, group worship/devotions, singing, foot washing, prayers, etc. (Sanbol, Puentetitero, Tosantos, Villamajor, etc etc).
    • Elements of a "spiritual pilgrimage" with features like the Alto del Perdon, Cruce de Ferro, Portal of Forgiveness, etc. and a strong connection with religious history and historical artifacts like pilgrim hospitals, etc.
    • Vast repertoire of literature about this pilgrimage from people like Paulo Coelho, Shirley MacLaine, stretching back hundreds of years to Americ Picaud and the Codex Calixtinus.
    • Historic churches are usually open (for a small fee) with a few exceptions (Astorga) and many times have a special pilgrim mass (Roncesvalles, Cirauqui, Arzua, etc. etc.)
    • Large choice of albergues, seldom requiring a pilgrim to resort to pensions and small hotels except in certain bottlenecks (Villamayor, Viana) and at certain times of the year;
    • Vast stretches on the Meseta that walk on 2000 year old Roman roads;
    • Omnipresent menu del peregrino in most every town, large or small;
    • Large numbers of pilgrims from many nations, making it easier to meet friends and create pilgrim camaraderie;
    • Great English-language guides, particularly the Brierley corpus;
    Cons of the Camino Frances
    • In the high season the Frances becomes crowded after Sarria, particularly in July/Aug when locals are on vacation and want to do the minimum walk in order to get their compostelas;
    • More pilgrims -- there are sometimes 300 or more pilgrims spread out over the day's 20 km walk;
    • Some trails have been "tamed," meaning they've been paved in concrete or are gravel tracks alongside auto roads;

    So which route should which people take? In my opinion the Camino del Norte is great for a person who loves the ocean and who does not mind many days of walking alone and sometimes in the rain. I find it to be more for the "adventurer" type who wants life a little more rugged and isn't really enthralled with a traditional spiritual or religious walk. I would suggest the Camino Frances is the preferred option for someone whose interest is spiritual pilgrimage, who enjoys being around people in addition to experiencing days of solitude, who is not in it just for exercise, and who wants the advantage of a good guidebook and a walk along a route that has its own legends and fables stretching back hundreds of years.

    If you've walked both routes please add your thoughts. Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012
    Josh unçu and El Condor 2014 like this.
  2. nathan

    nathan New Member

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    first of all, a big welcome back!

    great post as ever...and timely.My son is joining me this summer and with less than one month to go he propossed the arragon camino.
    I had all my planning worked out...but the lure of Jaca was too much for him to miss out on.
     
  3. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    I've seen pictures of Jaca and it looks amazing. Buen camino to you two!
     
  4. TravelingWilburns

    TravelingWilburns New Member

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    Hi !What a great post ( again ). I am unfamiliar with the Portal of Forgiveness. Where and what is that ?
     
  5. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    The "Puerta de Perdon" is at the Church of Santiago in Villafranca del Bierzo. It was set up to serve pilgrims who couldn't make it over the mountains and all the way to Santiago. By walking through the door they could receive a Plenary Indulgence for the distance they'd already walked. Sorry, this link is in Spanish: CVC. Camino de Santiago. Villafranca del Bierzo. Iglesia de Santiago.
     
  6. Juani56

    Juani56 New Member

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    Thank you this was very enlightening
     
  7. TravelingWilburns

    TravelingWilburns New Member

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    Hi again, I tried to click on "thanks" but received a error message. Would you suggest I contact the admistration ? But Thanks for the info and the link, even in Spanish, every little bit helps.Lyn
     
  8. Leslie

    Leslie Administrator

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    Hi TravelingWil,

    I saw your message and thought I would check by clicking on thanks and it worked ok - but there is one thing I am certain of after 6 years of building site - they never quite work as well as we would want.

    Thanks Sandy for such a great post - good to have you back.
     
  9. TravelingWilburns

    TravelingWilburns New Member

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    Hi again, I tried to click on "thanks" but received a error message. Would you suggest I contact the admistration ? But Thanks for the info and the link, even in Spanish, every little bit helps.Lyn
     
  10. Lipka149

    Lipka149 Active Member

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    What a memory !

    Starting at Molinaseca, the walk to Villafranca del Bierzo is the first of consecutive 30+km days, the second being the tough climb to O'Cebreiro. My son and I had decided to meet in VdB ... somewhere ... and I recall heading into town and looking for him at various plazas with no success. So I went back to the road that entered VdB and found a nice shady spot on the steps of a church to await him. I was a bit concerned, as our typical pace ensured he would always arrive at our destination before me and this was clearly not the case on this day.

    I sat ... and rested ... and ate some cheese from the day before ... and waited ...

    Along comes this guy and stops to ask me if I knew where I was sitting. Of course I answer, "Right here". No, no, he responded, do you know WHERE you are sitting. Now, I have just walked 30.7km (31.7km adjusted for height) and wandered about the town looking for Aaron and was not in the mood for guessing games, so I just shrugged and said no. This particular Camino angel just smiled and said, "Look it up." It was days later that I did so and saw that I had spent an hour or so resting, eating, and worrying in La Puerta de Perdon.

    Aaron eventually came wandering down the Way after a 6km "detour", i.e., he got lost. He was not happy.

    To this day, I wonder about the meaning of this. Not that Aaron got lost, but that I waited for him on the steps of La Puerta de Perdon. And why an angel came by to make sure I knew where I was waiting.

    It has taken me some time since then to realize that the message being communicated was one of Sacramental Reconciliation, and that an apology, REAL personal apology, consists of specifically and unambiguously acknowledging my error, convincingly expressing that I am troubled by my behavior, and listening respectfully and patiently to the response of the one I have offended.

    Since then, the revelation is one I have implemented with various degrees of success, depending on the sincerity of my own apology and the time it takes for that sincerity to sink in. Sometimes reconciliation takes awhile. :-}

    Thank you Lyn, for asking the question that brought back the memory, and to you Sandy, for bringing back the meaning. Much love to you both.
     
  11. Barbs

    Barbs New Member

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    Thank you so much for this information. I am preparing to do the camino in April and have been considering which route to take. This post has been very timely and helpful.
     
  12. Lipka149

    Lipka149 Active Member

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    I hear ya, man. Doing some programming on WordPress and experiencing the trials and tribulations. Makes me appreciate what you have done and how well it works !

    Ditto ... and ditto !
     
  13. unadara

    unadara New Member

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    Sandy
    As you know I am just back also. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the things you have written about. You, of course have made a great effort and put it all in list format for better comparison for people to help decision making. In my blog at the beginning I wrote there was no religious attachment, feeling about the Norte route. I changed my mind though. I was lucky to stay in Monasteries and attend vespers and night time services/singing, some of my fellow walkers knew the content being in the universal latin format and we allloved it. We attended some normal masses, you however got a great on with the "fireworks"!. I liked the school alberques also. I liked the sea but I have the sea every day at home so that would not be a decision factor for me.
    I would advise (risky) all prospective caminoists to walk the Frances first time, you get the connection, the spiritual attachment, the privilege of walking the ancient route. You can then bring that experience with you as you explore other options.
    I suggest to bypass Arzua, take the old route out of Sobrado and stay in Santa Irene, it is a great way of leaving a shorter 24km? day to walk in, and the private alberque in santa irene is so good I've stayed there twice!
    I will try and list any other ideas soon. Weather has to be a big factor, mud and rain are not for all (I know that from reading posts here), hard to get clothes dry too.
     
  14. sean

    sean Active Member

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    Hi Una,

    I plan to walk this route in late September, or early October. I hope to start in Irun and go as far as Santander.
    Do you have a list of the Refugios you stayed in? It is difficult to get info on this route.

    Many thanks,
    Sean,
    Dublin
     
  15. TravelingWilburns

    TravelingWilburns New Member

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    Hi Alan, What a nice stroll down Memory Lane for you. Thank you for taking us with you. I will surely think of you and your Camino Angel next year when I sit on the steps of La Puerta de Perdon ( eating cheese !).PLUS : I only discovered this forum a few months ago, but have sencerly enjoyed your enteries.I particularly love your quoat about "all who wander are not lost". You see...over twenty five years ago, I wrote a song called WANDERING MAN. It speaks of literally walking upon the land and the truths ( personal, spiritual and universal ) that can be found in such a simple act. I too believe all who wander are not lost !Again, I thank you for your posts and your participation in this great Camino Hang Out.From Alaska, Lyn
     
  16. unadara

    unadara New Member

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    Sean
    Tourist leaflets | Euskadi the pleasure´s all yours | Tourism Euskadi
    scroll down until you see the book but don't print it off, get it in irun.
    I think that earlier in this forum thread there is a list of all the useful sources but just for you! Stay in the Camino Assoc alberque in Irun, they will sell you an English language guide and a book of all accoms, these are available from the tourist info for free but I didn't get to visit there. Order online the CSJ booklets, you may only need part 1. For directions it is terrific, and it lists all alberques too. And it proved the best of the lot for detail in my walking group, the german guides have great road maps in case you want to keep on road etc but the tourist guide called The Northern Ways to Santiago shows roads too. I actually printed off this same guide from internet, brought it with me and chucked it first night in Irun. You can read Eroski and Mundicamino sites too.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012
  17. Lipka149

    Lipka149 Active Member

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    Ahh ! I cannot help but ask, in the most respectfully curious way ...

    WHY, EXACTLY, DID YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND ???

    Oh una, I am so looking forward to your answer !

    Wonderful advice. I would ever so much appreciate your insight on "the connection", the "spiritual attachment", and the concept of "privilege". Again, your thoughts would be something I would really enjoy reading !

    Many thanks. You are the BEST !!!

    Big hugs !
     
  18. unadara

    unadara New Member

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    Like many Caminoists I bring many thoughts from home with me on the way. At the beginning the route was so physically demanding I thought of little but the need to get dry, eat and sleep. On day 5 we made a supreme effort to walk an extra 6 kms to stay in the monastery at Ziorta. I had to be plied with "soberano" to agree to go on, at this stage we were 3. The young man from Portugal had already slept in the San pedro cathedral in Zumaia (it said in my guide book to ask?) and he was anxious to stay in any Monastery. I felt a great peace there and received a special blessing from the monk who fed us and looked after us. I felt different all day after this and let the physical effort go and be replaced by the spiritual calm (well, I tried). We slept in a convent in laredo and sang with the nuns. Attended matins in Cobreces where our small group became 5. The pilgrims who walked with me gave me many opportunities to practice patience, charity, tolerance and in return I got love and acceptance and peace.
    I know that to get a chance such as I got is privilege in multitudes!
    For 2 days I cried a lot, on the road, while eating, at night-my sister is very ill and I had been in touch with home, my friends let me cry and by some kind gesture later let me know they were there for me.
    There were many crosses/crucifixes/old churches/sites to be seen, at all of them I knew that others had been there before me, more importantly I knew that someone else was always there, for me and all pilgrims.
    Sandy says the Norte may be a more challenging walk for those who go on Camino for exercise, he is right. The exercise I have/am privileged to take is not only of the body but the soul, mind and spirit. Truly a connection with god, the past, the future and all possibilities lies there for all of us.
    :eek:
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012
  19. kkelley

    kkelley Member

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    Una, all I can say is "wow" and "thank you" for a beautiful and heart-felt message.
     
  20. Lipka149

    Lipka149 Active Member

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    I'm with Kaye on this, una. Wow, and thank you !
     
  21. sean

    sean Active Member

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    Hi Una,

    Many thanks for the information on Refugios. I am looking forward to the challenge and not too sure if my youngest son (22) has the drive to make this his first Camino. Time will tell.

    Again, Many thanks.

    Sean
    Dublin
     
  22. unadara

    unadara New Member

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    Oh Sean, we walked with 2 young men, one 23 Portugese, he loved it, other Swiss, on his annual hol, he also enjoyed all of it, tell your son the young people bring a great "element" to the Camino, they mix so well, have great energy and topics of conversation and never miss an opportunity to be sociable. I wish him all the best and both of you "buen camino"
     
  23. sean

    sean Active Member

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    Hi Una,
    Just going through back issues when I came upon our exchanges of August last. Conor, my son joined me in Santander and we bussed it West to continue from my finishing point before I had returned to collect him. He came full of the joys of Spring and was almost running on our first day out. (He had never once put on rucksack, nor boots prior to coming out to join me). Second day, he was looking around every bend for our finishing point for the day. 'Are we there yet, Are we there yet? I ended up having to carry his rucksack as well as my own. Next day, I sent him forward by train and I walked 35Km to join him. Next days, he was fine and went on to finish his Camino in Gijon. He really enjoyed the experience after he had become used to the daily slog. He promises to go back, but I do not know if it will be with me. He tells his friends that he felt like a 15 year old sheepdog from 'One man and his dog' as he trailed behind me each day. We had a great time together and share memories that will raise a smile, as long as we both shall live.
    Apologies for the late reply, many thanks for your help in planning my walk.

    Regards,
    Sean
    Dublin
     
  24. sean

    sean Active Member

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    Hi All,
    How fast a year has passed. I retired 2 weeks ago and fly today to Santander. Tomorrow I go to Villavicosa and walk the Primitivo to Melide. I then hope to return by bus to Villavicosa and finish the Camino de Norte. One month of bliss-hopefully, with a 2.5Kg pack. It's all go. Hope to meet some of you out there.
    Regards,
    Sean
    Dublin-for a few more hours
     
  25. sean

    sean Active Member

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    Hi All,
    A bit late in reply, but that is the way it gets with retirement-so much to do. I walked the Primitivo from Villavicosa in September. Villavicosa is just shy of Gijon on the Camino de Norte and is where the two routes divide. The Primitivo then goes through Oviedo and down to meet the French Way in Melide. It is without doubt the best of all of the Camino routes I have walked so far. The mountains are spectacular and there are not too many Pilgrims walking it. Parts of this route are very difficult with great gain and loss of altitude. There are plenty of good Refugios to stay in and some interesting places to see along the way. The route is not too well marked in sections but it does tend to keep you on your toes. I walked with some friends from Porto and Alaska and we did a few night walks in beautiful moonlight. Memories that will last forever. It is a shock to the system upon reaching Melide. It was main street on a fair day with Pilgrims. Hundreds of the poor buggers following each other in a line and running for a bed.
    I took the bus back to Villavicosa and continued the Norte. It is a horrible couple of days walking through mining and steel mill industrial sites. The dust and noise from the mills makes one wonder how, or why people choose to live right beside these horrible places. They must have a short life expectancy with the dust. You can hear the hammers pounding in the mills from 30 km away. The route does improve as you move away from the coast. In fact, there is little or no coast walking after Gijon. Again, upon joining the Frances it was Christmas Eve all over again. Queues outside Refugios for hours before they open the doors. The Frances seems to have no down time at all now. It was also very busy in April when I walked between Burgos and Leon. I had hoped to get some time next year and walk the complete route again, but am giving it a second thought. Maybe my decision to walk the Portuguese instead is being influenced by having walked with a Benedictine Monk whilst on the Primitivo. He is Hospitalaro in a monastery on the Portuguese Route and his duty is to look after the wine for Pilgrims.
    Overall September is a good month to walk. I had 2 days rain and certainly did not require wet gear or sleeping bag. Even in the mountains it was warm at night. My kit weight was perfect and caused no problem. Only problem experienced was with my boots. 100% waterproof in the rain in Spain but leaked like sieves when I came home. I think the dust had clogged the Gore Tex. Anyone got any ideas on how to overcome this problem, or prevent it happening? Reward offered-name and addresses for the monastery on Portugal.
    If anyone has queries on either the Primitivo, or Norte I would be glad to help. I have details on Refugios etc.
    Regards,
    Sean,
    Dublin
     
  26. rhernandez

    rhernandez Guest

    Thank you, Sandy. I've been contemplating which route to take for my first time (headed out there end of may 2015) and your pros and cons have helped me make my decision. I'm going to do the Camino Frances and then take a bus from Santiago de Compostela to check out Santander after the journey.

    Thanks!
     
  27. FluFin

    FluFin New Member

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    Thank you Sean for your post, it has been most helpful. I have some questions that maybe you could assist me with. Im conflicted as to which camino to take, this is my fist camino. I am more into the nature, landscape and adventure as opposed to history and religion. I wanna take the Del Norte. I am physically capable, but how's the weather in October? Is it busy? Any albergues available? Can i "stealth camp"? i am struggling to find adequate information on this route at this time of year. Any useful information or links would be greatly appreciated. Thank you>
     
  28. sean

    sean Active Member

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    Hi Flu,
    I have a list of the Refugios that were open when I walked in October. I have to dig the out but will pop them up for you. I know how it feels trying to get information on the not so popular routes, as I am struggling to get some straight forward info on the Levante at present. Everyone wants to sell you a book, most of which are useless. Pilgrims reports are the best form of updating the current situation on the routes and I feel we all should contribute when we finish a Camino and note changes that have been noticed during our walk. Guide books are fine but when they start heading towards million sellers, it becomes a bit of an Industry. Basic notes will get anyone by on most of the Camino routes and you should not need to be instructed as to where the next yellow arrow is located. That is my view and probably goes against the tide of Pilgrims fearing going into the unknown for the first time. This site provides more information to satisfy the uneasy Pilgrim than any guide book will ever do. So come on, where is the info regarding the Levante between Toledo and Zamora?
    Regards,
    Sean,
    Dublin
     
  29. sean

    sean Active Member

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    Hi Flu,
    These are the votes of the Irish jury on the Camino de Norte in October 2012.
    Irun; stayed in youth hostel for €25 which included breakfast. Not worth the money and was noisy, as it was being used as a student hangout also. Irun is a place without a soul and best avoided if possible.
    San Sebastian, Hostel La Sirena; Located at the end of the beach on the way out of town. Cost €12 which included breakfast. Nice place, nice town, except in pouring rain in October.
    Orio; Stayed in private Abergue €19 including dinner out of a microwave. Nice town, nice Albergue, nice microwave-rotten dinner
    Zumaia; €10 for a private Albergue which was fine. Agroturismo Santa Klara
    Deba; Albergue is basic at €5
    Markina-Xemein; Private house at €12
    Gernika; Youth hostel at €18;60. A bit difficult to get a place here but I succeeded. Good town with a lot of interesting history if you are not German.
    Bilbao; Stayed in the Colego Poeblico on the way into the city at €26;70 which included another microwave dinner and a good breakfast. Laundry facilities also.
    Pobena; Had a night of luxury in a hotel at €45. Actually, I could have swam out of the place it was so wet that day. Any thing just to get dry clothes on.
    Guames; A bit of a Holy Joe spot in the middle of nowhere. Sleep in wood cabins with a loud water pump running all night. Donativo
    Santander; A must stop on the Camino. Worth spending a day exploring the area and having a rest. Good restaurants. Try Las Arcos for Menu del Dia
    Polanco-Albereue closed so went to Camplengo. Bit of a Bates Motel about the place, as I was the only one staying with an elderly man and his son. Be careful in the shower Eh Eh Eh
    Comillas; Beautiful place at €5
    San Vicente de la Barquera; nice place at €13
    Serdio: Sports centre at €3 great food in the bar on the corner. Beer is not bad either. Fantastic thunder storm that night. Lovely mountains surround you.
    Llanes; Seaside summer town with everything closed. My son had joined me at this stage and we got a Summer Villa at €35 for the night. Casa la Guia-try it and bargain on the price
    Ribadesella: €12;50 nice location on the beach if you stop the Hospitilaro smoking in the reception. Fills the place. Some nice places to eat on the other side of the bridge
    La Isla-Heaven, and I don't care what it cost-about €5 Highlight of the walk with top notch coastline
    I finished here for the first attempt at the Norte. It is not an easy route at this time of the year and many places are closed. When I returned the following year, I started walking from Villavicosa and took the Primitivo route through Oviedo to Melide. I then returned to the Norte and completed it from my stop off point the year before. I did not take any notes of the places I stayed for the second half but it certainly did not have the scenery to match the stages between Bilbao and Villavicose. The Primitivo is by far the best walk I have undertaken in this area and would highly recommend it. Not a late October, or Winter walk.
    Hope this helps in your planning.
    Sean,
    Dublin
     
  30. El Condor 2014

    El Condor 2014 Active Member Donating Member

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    Thanks for a great post. I have done The Camino Frances twice. 2014 & 2016 . I am currently planning my 3rd Camino and Camino del Norte have crossed my mind a few times . After reading your post I may just do the Camino Frances again as I will be 69 yo.plus July and August is out of the question for me.
    Once again thanks for your post
     
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