Camino del Norte

In June 2015, I ventured on a 3-week solo hike along Northern Spain starting in Irún (Basque Country) and finishing in Oviedo (Asturias). This is the third post in my Camino series – click here if you missed the first and/or second post!


On my 16th day, I kicked-off in Serdio (Cantabria) at 7:45 AM (which, admittedly, wasn’t even that early) and arrived in Llanes (Asturias) more than 12 hours later. It was, without any doubt, my longest day on the Camino (which also made it one of the hardest ones). But looking back, it’s also the one I remember most fondly.

Maybe because I didn’t rush it. Maybe because I did it my own way – stopping to take a photo or going off the official route whenever I wanted. Or maybe because I had the perfect combination of solo and social time.

Although probably what really made my day was having a baby goat following us along the way.

Asturias (Spain)

I walked slow and took in as much from the landscape as I could. Eventually, my Camino family split for the day and I found myself in a not-so-well-marked coastal area on my own – doubting my own orientation skills. Soon enough, though, I saw Klaus (do you remember him?): at that point, I knew I was at least going in the right direction.

Asturias (Spain)

Asturias (Spain)

Shortly after, I was caught up by two Germans doctors and an English girl – with whom I explored hidden caves (how cool is that?) and had one too many sidras (cider) in Buelna. Later in the afternoon, outside a tiny market in Pendueles, I met a Spanish peregrino who soon became my companion for the rest of the afternoon to Llanes.

I walked about 38km on that day. I fell on my face when trying to climb a passage and got caught under drizzly rain. I never felt so much pain in my feet and honestly doubted I would ever get to Llanes in one piece. Ultimately, I almost cried when I was informed that the entire city of Llanes was booked out that night (and we were suggested to continue walking! another 5km! are they crazy?).

But somehow, it all worked out. I found a hotel room (the very last one) – and even got a pilgrim discount. I was on some kind of tiredness-fuelled energy high that even got me out of that lovely room to have more celebratory sidra that night. While I shared my pictures of caves, rugged coastlines, green hills and bird-eye view of Llanes I kept on thinking to myself: wow, I actually did it!

Asturias (Spain)

So it’s no surprise that I decided to take the next day off walking. Or at least, off long-distance trekking – as, for some reason, I just couldn’t sit still. After wandering through the streets of beautiful Llanes (above), I headed off along the coastline to the next small town with an albergue (Po). And then, on to the next one (Celorio).

Playa de Po, Llanes (Asturias)

Concejo de Llanes, Asturias (Spain)

The entire Concejo de Llanes has an incredible amount of beautiful natural beaches surrounded by luscious green hills. I’m determined to return to Llanes next summer for a longer period just to spend more time exploring the coast!

Asturias (Spain)

The walk to Ribadesella on day 18 felt surprisingly easy! Granted, there was hardly any hight difference and the path was a rather balanced mix of road and trail – leading through small villages, grassy fields and great cultural sights (such as the above of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores in Barro).

My favourite bit of this day was, without doubt, the entrance into Ribadesella through the colourful old fishers town of El Portiellu.

El Portiellu, Ribadesella (Asturias)

El Portiellu, Ribadesella (Asturias)

My Camino family split in Llanes – so at the time we reached Ribadesella, only 3 of us were left. You would think that having to say goodbye to people you’ve only met 2 weeks ago would be easy, but when you’ve been through hell and heaven on the Camino, your relationship to those around you is intensified.

As my deadline and destination goal was approaching as well, I felt a bit blue (for the lack of a better word).

On the 19th day, we walked roughly 20km to Colunga – a big part of it along the Camino Real, which covers the local beaches and surrounding hills. It was a beautiful day to walk – not too hot, not too cold (although the latter had never really been the issue, really!).

Signage Camino del Norte, Spain

Asturias (Spain)

While sitting in a beach café in La Isla with Sara, we overheard a group of women discussing the disappearance of a female pilgrim on the Camino Francés earlier this year. We were both aware of this event (in fact, Sara had packed a pepper spray can in her backpack), but it didn’t stop us from going solo. Nor did it stop many other female travellers we crossed paths with over the past 3 weeks. It made us realise that there hadn’t been a moment when we felt in danger.

Yes, terrible things happen sometimes. When walking on a less-frequented paths, I was always alert and intuitive and usually knew how far/close the next group of pilgrims were. And by doing this, I always felt safe.

Asturias (Spain)

On my last day as part of (what was left of) my Camino family, we walked 18km to Villaviciosa – the apple capital of Spain. Yes, there was certainly lots of cider!

Villaviciosa, Asturias (Spain)

We reminisced about the many stories we collected along our Camino and remembered all the people we had met. We promised to keep in touch (thanks, Facebook!) and to always remember this experience.

As my final Camino day arrived, I was equally excited and sort of heart-broken. I actually didn’t really want this adventure to end! Soon after leaving Villanueva, I reached the point at which the Camino divided in two parts: on the right, it would continue to Gijón along the Camino del Norte, and on the left, it would route towards Oviedo – the start of the Camino Primitivo.

Towards Oviedo, I came across de impressive pre-romanesque Monasterio de San Salvador de Valdediós (below).

Monasterio de San Salvador, Asturias (Spain)

After the Monastery, the path went uphill to Alto de la Campa (photo below) – constantly allowing me to peek over the Valley from different angles.

I had heard that, on the Camino Primitivo, signs were less frequent and sometimes a bit confusing. True – In fact, I even came across conflicting signs! But somehow, with a bit of intuition, I didn’t get lost on this rather solitary path. During the whole day I only came across 2 fellow pilgrims, so I guess most of them decide to continue along the Camino del Norte to Gijón instead!

At Vega del Siero I hopped on a bus with one of the wisest pilgrims I had come across with: a french retiree who who had already walked over 1000km starting in France. She reminded me of how personal the Camino is:

There’s really no right or wrong way of walking it. No age, belief or physical requirements. There’s no minimum distance and no real schedule (but the one you build up in your head). And there’s nobody to impress or feel judged by (but ourselves).

Alto de Campa, Asturias (Spain)

That afternoon, I arrived in Oviedo without much of a plan but to walk through the old town, explore every inch of the city and eat local bonito del norte a la plancha (below) before saying goodbye to the Camino (for now!).

Oviedo, Asturias (Spain)

Bonito del Norte, Oviedo, Asturias (Spain)

Catedral de Oviedo, Asturias (Spain)

Have you been to Asturias in Spain?


My Camino: notes and snapshots of Basque Country (Spain) is the third post of my Camino series:


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In June 2015, I ventured on a 3-week solo hike along Northern Spain starting in Irún (Basque Country) and finishing in Oviedo (Asturias). This is the second post in my Camino seriesclick here if you missed the first post!


I had been on the road for 8 days and was in serious need of a good night sleep and a long hot shower. I had survived the hardest bit (or that, at least, I kept on repeating to myself). As long as I had a good night sleep, I could be back climbing hills and mountains.

I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in a design pension in the heart of Castro Urdiales. It was Friday night and the city was buzzing with live and laughter. Not that I saw any of it – I was soundly asleep.

Castro Urdiales, Cantabria (Spain)

After spending 12 hours in bed, I was ready to explore Castro – its beautiful cathedral, lively old town and port as well as its beaches and natural pools. I wasn’t ready to leave yet. This would be the place I would stay for two nights. It never felt wrong – in contrary, it was incredibly right in so many ways. This extra time allowed me to recover from my lack of sleep, heal some rough patches on my feet and just spend the rest of the day on the beach!

Then, on the tenth day, I was back on my foot.

Cantabria (Spain)

Some days felt longer than they seemed to be on paper. I never had a proper GPS tracking my position, but I am pretty sure that our walk from Castro Urdiales to Laredowas significantly longer than the 30km stated in the Guidebook.

This day, I learned about the many different things can that make a long hike more entertaining: singing (musicals, if possible), finding shapes and patterns, stopping to talk with other pilgrims and locals, creating photo themes, petting every animal that accepts your affection, and getting off the regular path every now and then to see what’s up that hill / down that road (and figuring out how to find your way back to the Camino after that!).

At the end of the day, I had a myriad of photos taken fom unlikely angles and suffered from a funny limp (I might or might not have occasionally skipped to the soundtracks of Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz – while carrying over 12kg on my back). But hey, it was a gorgeous walk!

On day 11, about half of the time we walked from Laredo to Güemes, we were barefoot digging out toes into the sand. It felt like heaven to my feet (and my eyes, too!). 

Laredo, Cantabria (Spain)

Cantabria (Spain)

The other half, however, was spent on asphalt – which (specially on hot days like these) felt like hell. At the end of the day, we were rewarded with one of the most inspiring stays on the Camino del Norte: a night at La Cabaña del Abuelo Peuto

Here, we learned about the life and work of Ernesto Bustio – who is well known throughout the Camino del Norte for his hospitality, generosity and sympathy.

Note: You can read more about here: Ernesto Bustio, peregrino de la vida (in Spanish).

Oh, and we also met his adorable dog!

Güemes, Cantabria (Spain)

On the next day, we walked from Güemes to Santander, which was a rather easy 15km hike – mostly along the coastline. This time could have been rather uneventful day – but, instead, it turned into one of my favourite ones for two reasons:

This beach…

Cantabria (Spain)

… And this coastline.

Cantabria (Spain)

We made many stops along the way – and even went swimming! (I’m blocking out the fact that the water was probably on the same temperature level than, say, England *shudder*).

On the next day, we made our way out of Santander to Santillana del Mar. Now, you may remember that, in the Basque Country, I made a few executive decisions to skip small bits that weren’t particularly beautiful. Well, I kind of wish I had done it here, too – but when I realised I was in the heart of the industrial outskirts of Santander, it was too late.

Thankfully, our arrival at Santillana del Mar made up for the otherwise a bit dull walk. The medieval village is filled with half-timbered houses and stone-built mansions that meet on the centric cobblestone streets. Yes, it’s touristy – But hey, it’s pretty, too. It reminded me a bit of Peratallada (Catalonia)!

Santillana del Mar, Cantabria (Spain)

This night, on day 13, we stayed at what soon was referred to as our Castle – a renovated 16th century palace set in the heart of the village, converted into a private Albergue called Solar de Hidalgos. You guys, totally worth it!

Anyway, by now I realised that I’ve never given much detail about my Camino family. Admittedly, to any outsiders, we were a rather unlikely tribe. Nomads, teachers, students, hippies, believers – you would say we would easily run out of common topics, but it never happened.

One of the best things about being part of a little Camino tribe is that we all put our different skills together to benefit the entire group. As luck would have it, one of the guys used to be a tourist Guide and has an insatiable interest in history and volunteered to tour us around Comillas after we had settled in.

Comillas, Cantabria (Spain)

Comillas, Cantabria (Spain)

My 15th day was scheduled to be another long one: 29km from Comillas (Cantabria) to Colombres (Asturias) – However,things don’t always go as planned.

That’s part of the beauty of the Camino de Santiago: even though it’s good to have a plan, it’s good to ditch it, too.

Cantabria (Spain)

Cantabria (Spain)

As we arrived at the charming and friendly town of Serdio and met other peregrinos we had been bumping into every other day, we took the unanimous executive decision to change plans and stay in Serdio instead. It was well worth it – even if this meant walking an extra 9km the next day!

This was, of course, before checking out next day’s itinerary!

Note: Even though my 16th day started off in Cantabria, the majority of the time hiking was spent in Asturias. If you don’t want to miss the next part, just pop you email below and each new post will magically appear in your inbox – and voilá!

Have you been to Cantabria in Spain?


My Camino: notes and snapshots of Cantabria (Spain) is the second post of my Camino series :


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I never thought I would be the kind of woman that would venture into a 3-week hike across unknown territory on her own. I don’t have a particularly good sense of direction, have never carried a large backpack more than from a train station to a hotel and didn’t know one thing about first aid.

Irún, Basque Country (Spain)

In fact, I wasn’t entirely aware of the situation I had gotten myself into until I landed in Irún (my starting point) and began to look for the Camino way marks. Camino Guide in hand, I walked up and down the main roads looking for Camino sign posts. It took me a while to realise that the directions are sometimes marked with a shell on the pavement. Other times, they’re yellow arrows (on walls, trees, pavement, buildings, etc). And only a few times they’re actual sign posts that read Camino de Santiago.

Ha! Nice one. At least this got me to be extremely alert during this trip!

Pasaia, Basque Country (Spain)

On my first day on the trek, though, I got lost. In heavy rain. And wind. And fog. 

I wonder how many times I had told myself to quit that same day. I would arrive at Pasaia (pictured above), take a bus back to Irún, a train to Madrid and a flight to Tenerife. I would spend the next 3 weeks reading thrillers in a hammock – I assured myselfBut, after sitting down in Pasaia for lunch, I picked myself (and my drenched boots and clothes) up and continued walking.

That night, I stayed at a Twelve Tribes community which was, hands down, one of the most curious experiences I had on the Camino.

San Sebastián, Basque Country (Spain)

San Sebastián, Basque Country (Spain)

Walking on your own might sound daunting (maybe even scary), but I felt it was empowering. It has definitely given me more independency and self-sufficiency, and it has allowed me to follow my own rhythm: stopping to take photos, drink coffee or just take off my boots and put my feet in the air. When I walked on my own, I didn’t have to give anyone any explanations.

The first pilgrim I met was Rahel (Switzerland), in a popular café in San Sebastián overlooking one of the city’s beaches. Meeting her was a turning point: I had set off convinced that I wanted to walk the whole way alone and here, on day 2, I realised that maybe I actually wanted some company. Sometimes. 

And then I decided that the Camino was going to be a great excuse to be my extroverted self (whenever I wanted!).

Locals always greeted me back with a smile and a “Buen Camino”. Day trippers stopped by to ask where I started and where I was planning to go and often even added some local insight (like, which GR route offers better views!). And many pilgrims I met on the way became an integer part of my experience. There’s no doubt about it: the Camino creates a special bond and camaredie among those who walk it.

One of the nicest gestures anyone can do for a pilgrim? Give him some free water refill and maybe even some shade. I found this one on my second day, on Mount Igueldo just passed San Sebastián. It was 28ºC and I’m eternally thankful.

Pilgrim love in Basque Country (Spain)

Some days, I decided to follow people. I didn’t do this because I felt unsafe or have a stalker side (promise). No. Instead, I figured that following someone would make me speed up my walking. You see, at the beginning, I had a tendency to stop way too often – which in turn led me to be the very last pilgrim arriving to the end of a stage.

There’s definitely a plus to following the right kind of pilgrim (the kind that has done this or other Caminos before): less chances of getting lost and higher chances of going an alternative more scenic route. On my third day, I followed Klaus (Germany), and got to see this amazing view over Zarautz (he definitely knew what he was doing!).

Zarautz, Basque Country (Spain)

More than one pilgrim I have met on the trek has told me that you don’t lose weight on the Camino del Norte. Now I know the reason for this: pintxos, txacolí and patxarán. Now, I know from a lot of other pilgrims who left the Basque Country without even trying a txacolí (regional write wine) – but how? How did they fight the urge to drop their backpack and go hopping from winery to winery?

I made it a mission to have a txacolí the night after walking through Getaria wine region (below).

Getaria, Basque Country (Spain)

Not all days were along the coast  though – Some paths allowed me to explore the basque countryside.

My fifth and sixth hiking days (Deba – Markina Xemein – Guernica) were definitely the most physically challenging – but the landscapes were well worth it! At first, I couldn’t believe that I was still in Spain. I had never seen such clean, organised roads and farms outside of Switzerland. Even buildings that seemed abandoned were picturesque and well cared of.

Basque Country (Spain)
Basque Country (Spain)

Monasterio de Zenarruza, Basque Country (Spain)

On the fifth day, somewhere between Deba and Markina Xemein, I met what would become my Camino family. While I was having a great time meeting people individually, it was nice to be able to form a small group and challenge each other to push through the hardest times on the way. I’m honestly not sure I would have made it from Deba to Guernica in 2 days if it wasn’t for them!

Guernica, Basque Country (Spain)

The hike from Guernica into Bilbao was a long one. It didn’t help that we actually only found our way out of Guernica at 9:50 AM (who knew arrows become oak tree leafs in this city?).

It was also one of the hottest days on the Camino (I’m pretty sure temperatures reached +33ºC!), which isn’t fun unless you’re lying in the shade at the beach with an ice-filled cocktail in your hands. In the afternoon, I took the executive decision to take a bus for the last bit of the walk and reward myself with a glass of cold txacolí in Bilbao

I only felt a tiny bit guilty.

Bilbao, Basque Country (Spain)

The Basque Country was certainly the region with the hardest terrain – But those ups and downs paid off well when offering some of the best views on the trek. It also made me appreciate the flatter days way more than I did before. The hike towards Castro Urdiales, for instance, was an easy and beautiful transition from Pais Vasco into Cantabria!

Also: I’ve still not learned to walk between cows without feeling observed. Can you?

Cows on the Camino del Norte (Spain)

Have you been to the Basque Country in Spain?


My Camino: notes and snapshots of Basque Country (Spain) is the first post of my Camino series:


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A few months ago one of my favourite bloggers, Jess, introduced me to the concept of virtual coffee dates who, in turn, learned about this from Amber (don’t you love how far word spreads through the internet sometimes?). Anyway, these virtual coffee dates are meant to be a way to have a personal life catch-up. I love this concept! 

So grab your beverage of choice and lets meet for coffee like old friends (would you like some milk and stevia?). 

If we were having coffee right now

If we were having coffee right now… I would tell you that I have just returned from my three week hike on the Camino del Norte. I’d show you the state of my feet after walking over 430km and we’d laugh about my ridiculously impossible tan lines. I would tell you about the wonderful people I met on the way (my “Camino Family”), show you my favourite photos of the trip and try to convince you to get on board next summer!

Asturias, Spain

If we were having coffee right now… I would ask you what I should pack for my upcoming 3-leg trip to Miami Beach, New York City and Iceland – Aaaahh, how am I going to fit my boho chic, cityscape and outdoorsy styles in one bag? Despite all my years of travel and of being a professional planner, I’m still not a good packer. I might or might not have forgotten to pack my pijamas on more than one trip, oops…

If we were having coffee right now… I would tell you that I’m now officially an International MBA Candidate at IE Business School in Madrid, and will be starting this September! I’m beyond excited to have been admitted to my perfect fit school and can’t wait to meet my super diverse and fun classmates and crack our brains working on some kick ass cases.

If we were having coffee right now… I would tell you that I had never felt as fit and healthy as I do now. I’d probably call it the Miracle of the Camino, but… it’s really more than just exercising. Since early May, I have made a conscious effort to significantly reduce my carb intake – and I just feel way lighter and less bloated! I’d tell you about my addiction to home-made Zoodles (yes, it’s a thing), celeriac fries and matcha tea. Dear god, does this make me a hipster?

Ensalada de pulpo, Tenerife, Spain

If we were having coffee right now… I would confess that I’m equally excited and scared about my doing the Langavegur trail in Iceland this summer. I mean, it kind of sounds like my wildest dream: lava fields, glaciers, hot springs, volcanoes and mountains – all in just 55km (34 miles). But… crossing (sometimes deep and violent) glacial streams, spending days under rain and possibly snow, and sleeping in a tiny tent trying to heat up pre-made food sounds, well, challenging. I keep on repeating this to myself:

“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.”

– Seth Godin

If we were having coffee right now… I would tell you that I finally registered for a Digital Photography course in New York this month! You would remind me of all those times I had told you how much I’d been yearning to improve my photography, but life and work seemed to always step in my way. I know, I know – I can’t believe it’s finally happening either!

New York, USA

If we were having coffee right now… I’d show you my new about me page and ask you what you’d think about it. I always get nervous when I change one of the big pages on my blog. I worry about technical issues, about my photos and my writing – does it work? does it look good? is it light and fun? I would also tell you that I’m considering a few more changes around here – like possibly integrating a Frequent Q&A section and writing some articles in Spanish (my mind just needs a rest sometimes). There’s so much to ponder right now… Help! What would you do?

So, anyway, what’s new in your life?

“When in doubt, just take the next small step.”

– Paulo Coehlo, The Pilgrimage

Hiking in Tenerife

Me, contemplating what next

Putting one foot in front of the other and taking the next small step is something I’ve been doing a long time. It’s no secret that hiking is one of my favourite things to do when I travel. It’s also one of my favourite things to do on weekends. There’s something about it that just feels so liberating!

I love the way walking the trail frees me from all those mundane distractions. This clarity and the incredible and unexpected landscapes that I discover are the main reasons why I love trekking. 

So, after months of wishing, planning and asking a million questions on the Camino de Santiago, I’ve finally made plans to begin my own pilgrimage.

What is the Camino de Santiago?

Symbol of the Camino de Santiago

Source: Flexitreks

The Camino is a pilgrimage route that has existed in Spain since the IX Century, when the remains of Saint James Apostle were discovered to be buried in Santiago de Compostela. peregrinos (pilgrims) travelled to Galicia from all over Europe to see it.

Nowadays, there’s an entire network of routes coming from all over Europe to converge at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The most popular way, the Camino Francés (or French Way), was declared the first European Cutural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987 and inscribed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1993.

Camino de Santiago routes in Spain

Source: Mundicamino

While The Camino has been the subject of many books and films, its popularity probably  increased dramatically after the release of Emilio Estevez’s film, The Way, in 2012. Last year, almost 250.000 pilgrims walked reached Santiago – roughly 65% choosing the Camino Francés.

Not me though. 

I’m doing the Camino del Norte, or Northern Way – see red route in the map above.

Out of all the routes – why the Camino del Norte?

While significantly less-travelled and more challenging than others, everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that the landscapes are worth the challenge. Starting in Irún (a small town in Gipuzkoa, Basque Country), the trail follows the rugged northern coast of Spain, combining coastal walks and mountain hikes.

Camino del Norte

Source: Flickr 

The entire route from Irún to Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) is a +800 km (roughly 500 miles) trek, which most people complete in between 30 and 40 days. The thing is: I don’t have so much time available on one go (in fact – not many people do!), so I’m planning to complete my pilgrimage in smaller episodes.

This time, I’m planning to trek from Irún to Oviedo (roughly 490 km – or 300 miles). This might seem irrational at first: Why not start somewhere halfway to Santiago in order to reach the final destination? First and foremost, Because I’m stubborn – and really really want to, eventually, do the whole thing. But also because it’s summer, and I am excited about seeing more of the Northern coastline – maybe even dip my battered feet into the cold Cantabrian Sea.

After all, the Camino is not so much about the destination, but about the journey!

Camino del Norte

Source: Flickr

One of the many things that I love about the Camino is that there is no right and wrong way of doing it. Some people walk the entire +800 km in one go, while others complete theirs by going back year after year. Some stay at albergues and camping sites, others book hostels and hotels on the way. Some go solo, others go in groups – heck, there are even organised tours in case you can’t convince your friends about the fun in walking +20 km per day but don’t really want to do it on your own, either.

Why I’m walking the Camino

People walk the Camino for many reasons – and they’re certainly not always religious. I’ve got many little reasons to walk it. I do it for the challenge and the adventure; to get out of my comfort zone. I walk for the solitude; for the opportunity to unplug, appreciate the present moment and gain some perspective. But then, I also walk for companionship; to meet new people on the road.

I am really looking forward to spending the next 3 weeks thinking of nothing else than taking the next small step!

During the trek, I will be sharing live updates on Twitter and Instagram (PS: are we friends yet?), so follow along!