forests

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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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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On a sunny day like this one, the circular route of La Caldera and El Topo in the north side of Tenerife offers some of the most impressive views of the valley and the volcano.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Starting at the Parking of La Caldera (or at the nearby bus stop) at already 1200m altitude, the path is well signalised through a yellow and white mark. There are common sections with a GR route (which you’ll recognise by the white and red mark). PR stands for pequeño recorrido (distances between 10 and 50 km) while GR stands for gran recorrido (distances over 50 km). You might want to leave the latter for a day you’ve packed to stay in a mountain hut somewhere!

Following the wide path at the beginning, you already get a chance to see one of Tenerife’s landmarks – Los Organos (meaning, literally, the organ pipes). As of landmarks, it’s probably one of the most hidden ones – only best to be seen when doing this loop trail. They are massive pillars of rock stretching about 100m – 150m high, resembling a Church’s organ pipes.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

After only about 2km, the forested trail starts to climb evenly, sometimes allowing for a gaze at the impressive volcano: El Teide, which at 3718m height is the highest mountain in Spain.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

The path climbs into a forest of laurisilva and pines. Forests of laurisilva are one of my favourites worldwide – they smell great and look magical, as if taken after a fairytale. This section is a continuous climb of about 550m height difference over around 3km.

At the top of the climb, the trail becomes narrower, with rock formations on your left and a barranco (or gorge) on your right. While most of the trail transcurs through forested paths, it occasionally brings you to these exposed cliffs. But don’t worry – usually fencing, handrails and cables are provided for safety.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Here, you can feel (and touch!) the humidity in the ground. Everything around you is a strong green.

But green landscapes are there for a reason: it rains quite often. In fact, this part of the island is often set in clouds, fog and sometimes, heavy rain (something you’ll need to take into account before starting your day hike!). We were aware of the weather predictions (95% chance of rain), but still ventured into it for two reasons: a) weather forecasts in Tenerife aren’t always right and b) we had rain capes anyway.

This was where the trail became misty.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

I can hardly see the team leader anymore…

Although the clouds took away some of those great views over the valley, I liked their mysterious effect. I’m also convinced that clouds bring cold colours such as greens and blues alive!

And just as the weather forecast had predicted, after the foggy clouds, there came the rain. I didn’t mind though – most of the time, it was just a refreshing drizzle (although those that started a bit later that day were caught pretty badly by a proper rain storm). Most of the time, the weather in this area is better early in the morning and gets worse around 2pm – 3pm. At that time, we were already having a massive lunch next to the fire. Talk about good timing!

Practical Information

Route: La Caldera – Ruta del Agua – El Topo (circular / loop trail)
Elevation gain uphill: 777m
Elevation gain downhill: 777m
Length: 14 km
Duration: 4.5 hrs approx.
Difficulty: Moderate (steep climb and occasional narrow paths)
Wikiloc: La Caldera – Ruta del Agua – El Topo Hike

Click here to go to all my hiking adventures.

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

There are many ways in which travel can go wrong.

You may realize you’ve left your passport at home only when arriving at the airport. The accommodation you’ve booked is nothing similar to what you had expected. You got food poisoned the day before an 8 hour car ride across sunny Mexico. Maybe you were confident that your skin could do with sunshine in Buenos Aires… and yet you got seriously sun burned on your first day in the city. Or maybe your summer festival gets partly cancelled due to extreme wind conditions and a threatening fire.

True stories.

However, it might as well have been something much simpler: an unexpectedly long lasting rain shower in the middle of a full day hiking adventure.

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

That was the case of our hiking trip in Igmarsö.

We were warned a few days in advance. Even 5 days before the trip, my mobile weather widget announced showers on saturday afternoon.

Showers. – I thought – We’ll be hiking in fields and forests. I’m sure we can find shelter for those few rain drops.

After a two and a half hours boat ride, passing hundreds of islands, we reached Ingmarsö – one of the comparatively larger islands in the Stockholm archipelago. We were warmly greeted by our local guide, who patiently waited at the dock and offered us two very convenient rain jackets.

As we began our walk our walk, we quickly understood that we weren’t at an ordinary place – Ingmarsö, which is 10 kms long and only 1 km wide, is populated by not more than 150 people all year round. There is one grocery store, conveniently located at the docks. Locals walk or ride small 4×4 carts to get around and rarely take the ferry to Stockholm – our guide hadn’t been back for over a year’s time. It was clear to me that living in the Archipelago is something a few heart, independent and very hard-knocking souls can do.

It started raining more violently – so our guide kindly invited us to have lunch at her home, which wasn’t that far away from where we were.

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

When I think of the Stockholm Archipelago, I think of red-burgundy wood houses surrounded by high contrast green. As we approached our guide’s home, I couldn’t believe the authenticity of what we had in front of us. It was all I had imagined… and more. Piles of wood were stocked next to the house for the cold days (which were plenty). And from the porch, a plain view over the water and neighbor islands. From inside the house, emerged a man (our guide’s brother) who was kindly preparing an abundant hot lunch.

We chatted over food, coffees and deserts. About Sweden, Latin America, life choices and learning to listen to one’s heart. Our guide was, during the rest of her time, a life coach that helps people find their vocation. Who would have thought that our rainy hike through Ingmarsö would teach us such great life lessons!

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

After the lunch break, we continued our way east to reach the point in which we would have to row to Finnhamn. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all about adventure. But rowing in heavy rain was probably a bit too much. We arrived at the next island soaked wet and cold, and still had more than an hour walk until we reached the island’s hotel. I couldn’t be more thankful for that cup of hot tea.

It might have not been the most convenient time to hike weather wise (I do wonder how Igmarsö looks like with a shiny sun and people jumping in the sea) – but it was a great insight into rural life in the Archipelago. Plus, I’m quite sure I’m now one step closer to not noticing the rain any more, british style!

Practical Information

Route: Ingmarsö and Finnhamn (Sweden). I wish I knew the route, but it was partly trail-less!
Elevation gain uphill: practically none
Elevation gain downhill: practically none
Length: around 7 km
Duration: 2 hrs (a bit more if you count in the rowing!)
Difficulty: Super Easy, like – there’s no excuse, really.
Tour guide: Stockholm Adventures

Have you ever had a weather catastrophe during your travel plans? How did you get over it?

This is a continuation of my day hiking from Belalp to Riederalp, in the Bernese Alps. Don’t miss the first part of the 14 kms hike!

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At the time I placed my feet on the suspension bridge, adrenaline sarted to rush through my veins. I was walking on a gridded floor, and 80 meters beneath, the Massa river carried freezing meltwater coming straight from the glaciers.

As I approached the center of the bridge, I took a moment to admire the landscape. Impressive mountains on both sides, a furious river rushing below, and Europe’s largest glacier appearing in the back of the narrow valley.

20110823-094538.jpgMy view to the left.

20110823-095537.jpgMy view to the right.

After we had crossed the suspension bridge and climbed up a sandy path, we reached a small lake, the Gruensee (in english, Green lake).

It was surprising to read that, only 80 years ago, this area was still covered under the Aletsch glacier.

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What a difference has global warming made.

It’s scary to think that, in only one year (from 2005 to 2006), the Aletsch glacier lost 100 meters. According to scientists, the glaciers are retreating at an average rate of 3% per year – based on this rate, it is highly probable that our grand children won’t get to see Europe’s glaciers. Bloodcurdling, right?

When we entered the forest, we were greatful for the shadows its old trees were creating. Hiking at 2,000 meers altitude hadn’t been as refreshing as we had initially thought!

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The Aletschwald (in english, Aletsch Forest) stretches on the northern slope of the Hohfluh and Moosfluh mountains, beween 1,600 and 2,200 meters altitude and collects some of the oldest trees of Switzerland. Tests have shown that the swiss stone pines located in the forest are at least 600 to 700 years old!

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But it wasn’t only the flora that rewarded us for the (challenging) walk up to Riederfurka. Besides for enchanted trees and a variety of mushrooms, we were lucky to pass close to a pair of curious alpine ibex.

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After 3 hours of continuously walking uphill, we finally reached civilization – a pretty little hotel in Riederfurka, with breathtaking views over the forest, the glaciers and the path on which, one by one, exhaused but satisfied hikers emerged from the forest. A perfect place to rest ones feet, drink cold water and do some serious hikers watching.

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It took us 20 minutes to arrive to Riederalp, from were we took the cable car to Moerel – the closest train station. However, we couldn’t leave the swiss mountains without one last whim:

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A Valisian platter with local dried meat and cheese!

Practical Information

Route: From Belalp to Riederfurka (around the Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland)
Elevation gain uphill: 475m
Elevation gain downhill: 479m
Length: 14 km
Duration: 4 – 4.5 hrs (including admiration stops!)
Difficulty: Moderate
Wikiloc: Aletsch Glacier. Note that this loc goes past Riederfurka further to Bettmeralp.

Hiking in Aletsch, Switzerland

The weather forecast promised a sunny weekend with temperatures reaching over 30C and so we decided to escape into the Bernese Alps, in the swiss canton of Valais. Having our doubts about the cooling effect that 1,500 meters difference in altitude could produce, we thought it would be best to reach towards the source of all freshness – a glacier.

20110822-094511.jpg

Switzerland has more than 1,800 glaciers, starting at just a few meters up to 23 kms length. The Grosser Aletschgletscher (in english: Great Aletsch Glacier) is the longest glacier in Europe and made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001. It covers more than 120 square kilometers of the Bernese Alps, which is considered to be the largest glaciated area in western Eurasia.

Some people would choose to jump into the lake – we chose to hike around the Great Aletsch Glacier.

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Our hike started at the Belalp Hotel, which is a 20 minute walk from the cable car station and rests right on the edge of the Aleschbord. From there, we hiked down a steep path down to Aletschji. During most of the 2.5 hours down, we had a breathtaking view over the glacier. Frankly, I could get tired of looking at it. At some point, I started to feel anxious, following an internal debate on whether I should or should not keep on taking pictures every 2 minutes and risk missing the last train to return home that day. I couldn’t resist myself, and decided that this risk was worth taking.

We came across some of Valais’ Blackneck goats. Their forequarters are black and their hindquarters white, and have long wavy hair. Aren’t they extremely cute?

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Every time we could, we drank and cooled our skin with glacier water – it taste so pure and refreshing!

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After descending 500 meters, we reached a 124 meters long suspension bridge that runs across a 80 meter deep ravine. Underneath, the Massa river flowed, charged with freezing water coming straight from the glaciers…

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As the title suggests, I’ve divided this post into two parts – one for each side of the Massa River. Please click here to move on to part II