Jaizkibel was the first mountain I ever climbed but not the last. Before coming to the Basque Country, I had always been accustomed to city breaks and felt in need of a change. So I decided I would hike along the starting point of the Camino del Norte and climb Mount Jaizkibel which stands at 547m high and is considered to be the beginning of the Pyrenees. It was a trip I've never forgotten; in some ways a baptism of fire; but all in all, the beginning of my love for nature getaways.
Most people who climb Jaizkibel will start in Irun. But I decided to get off the train one stop early in the French town Hendaye. This is what I would recommend to anyone who decides to climb Jaizkibel. Yes, it involves a couple extra hours of walking but it feels more adventurous to have started your morning in the south of France and to have climbed up and over a mountain only to end up in a Spanish fishing village.
After walking along the coast at Hendaye, I arrived at the Bay of Txingudi. This is where the River Bidasoa acts as the border between France and Spain. I headed towards the nearest bridge, which meant walking along the Boulevard de la Baie de Chingudy in sight of hundreds of little boats dotted along the riverbank. I eventually came to a small bridge called the Puente de Santiago where I crossed from France over into Spain on foot. There is still a small line in the middle of the road where you can literally stand in both countries at the same time.
The walk from Irun to Hondarribia is another treat because of the colourful rows of traditional Basque houses you see along the way. And Hondarribia itself is such a stunning little town that I would encourage anyone to stay there for a night before going on to climb Jaizkibel the next morning.
From Hondarribia, you just have to follow the yellow arrows you see painted on streets. These yellow arrows are symbolic of the Camino de Santiago and will direct you from Hondarribia up the mountain and over to Pasaia. The climb is fairly steep but manageable. The higher you ascend, the more peaceful it gets until you are left with nothing other than the sound of the nearby ocean and the sight of horses living among nature as well as large birds of prey gliding above.
It was during the descent into Pasaia that my feet started to hurt but luckily I was heading to the perfect town for a rest. In Pasaia I drank a couple of cold beers by the river with views that felt like something from a dream. And that night, I would sleep in the Ermita de Santa Ana, a centuries old church that accommodates those walking along the Camino del Norte route who have just climbed down from Jaizkibel.
[Cover picture credit © Mikel Ortega]
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