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Roncesvalles, Spain: Hiking a Stretch of the El Camino

Summary. Located approximately 1 hour by car from Pamplona, Spain, Roncesvalles is a stop along the Camino de Santiago. Here, hike all or a part of the 24 km Roncesvalles-Zubiri stage, a trek that more than 30,000 pilgrims take annually. The trail is well-marked and easy to traverse. The landscape, at the base of the Basque Pyrenees, is gorgeous.

Our day started early with a drive in our rental car from Pamplona to Roncesvalles. This drive took us deeper into the heart of the Basque Country. Euskara, the Basque language, is unlike any other language. In fact, despite the Basque Country being sandwiched between Spain and France, there are no linguistic similarities at all between Euskara and the Spanish or French languages. My father, having grown up in Pamplona when Spain was under the dictatorship of Franco, did not learn the language as it was once against the law to speak it. It nonetheless survived and today, approximately 1/3 of the population in the area speak Euskara. In the rural areas such as the towns between Pamplona and Roncesvalles, you will find it widely used. The Basque are also genetically isolated, descended from Neolithic farmers. Part of the genetics include a red hair trait, which is where I get my red hair (no, I'm not Scottish or Irish).

Roncesvalles sits at 3,200 and is the start of one of the legs of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage that dates back to the 9th Century. The full length is approximately 24 km but for us, we did approximately 13+ km (8 miles) with my Dad picking us up in the rental car along the way.

The Camino de Santiago trail starts right in town, with a well-marked entrance. This mostly flat trail begins with a trek through unbelievably green cattle and sheep fields.

Sections of the trail is also forested. One of the nice things about Camino is that it is virtually impossible to get lost. Trail markers are frequently posted throughout.

This hike also highlights Baserri, the common Basque architecture of part timber, part stone buildings.

After our hike we stopped for a mid-afternoon lunch at a road-side restaurant and enjoyed some traditional Basque cuisine. Unfortunately, I did not note the name of the restaurant but there were several along the way to choose from and it was a nice way to enjoy some additional Basque culture after our hike.


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