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A Useful Link Route from Bilbao/Bilbo to the Camino Francés

Balmaseda - Ayuntamiento and Iglesia de San Severino
Villarcayo - Plaza de la Fuente

The route from Bilbao to Burgos is listed as an authentic Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim Route in the Guidebook 'Dos Caminos a Santiago". In this book, published by the Basque Government (Eusko Jaurlaritza/Gobierno Vasco) good descriptions are given for the first section of the route (35 kms), this goes from Bilbao up the valley of the Río Cadagua to the delightful small town of Balmaseda.

Most Spanish Pilgrimage Guidebooks are produced by one or other of the Autonomous Provinces, the route description stops when the boundary of that Province is reached. So it is with this route, the precise description of the route stops at Balmaseda. The next 135 kms is then covered in one short sentence;
'Los peregrinos a Santiago también lo (el Punte de Maza) cruzaron para por El Berrón, siguiendo la calzada romana, adentrarse en el Valle de Mena y así continuar por tierras burgalesas hacia Santiago' (Santiago pilgrims also crossed the Maza Bridge to go through El Berrón, to follow the Roman Road through the Mena Valley and over the lands of Burgos towards Santiago). Not much help there then.

Useful today for joining the Camino Francés if you are starting from Bilbao. Little pilgrimage infrastructure however, probably only suitable for cyclists, long stages and lacking in suitably spaced accommodation. The route given is that which a Scottish pilgrim and her companion cycled and found quite satisfactory and enjoyable, an abridged version of her report is given below.

Itinerary..... Bilbao, Alonsotegi, Arbuyo, Zaramillo, La Cuadra, Sodupe, Güeñes, Aranguren, Zalla, Ibarra, La Herrera, Balmaseda, El Berrón, Gijano, Entrambasaguas, Villasana de Mena, Irús, Bercedo, Villasante, Villalázara, Baranda, Gayangos, Villarcayo, Incinillas, Valdenoceda, Puerto de la Mazorra, Pesadas de Burgos, Villalta, Carnégula, Hontomín (seasonal), Peñahorada, Sotopalocios, Burgos

Itinerary (alternative, from ferry port) ..... Santurtzi, El Puerto, Muskiz, Sopuerta, Mercadilla, La Herrera, Balmaseda.

Places listed in Cerise have some accommodation (Not Pilgrimage specific)



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Extract from Scottish Pilgrim's Report.
Note ! ! ! Many roads have been upgraded since this report was filed, with some by-passing of towns and villages, this means that there are many places where the original roads can now provide a pleasant, traffic-free, alternative. If the list of places shown in my itinerary is followed rather than just blindly following the main road signs to Burgos you will be able to avail yourself of these older ways.

Day 1(34.38 km)Bilbao (Santurtzi) to Balmaseda
We arrived off the Portsmouth ferry into the port of Bilbao ( Santurtzi )…. On leaving the port we took the N-639 which is the coastal road. Do not follow the road into Bilbao but carry on along the coast road through El Puerto. Eventually the road turns inland and I am pretty sure it is signposted towards Balmaseda, I also think the road changes number from N-639 to N-634 (at roundabout, after passing under motorway-EW). In any case, once we had escaped the port and avoided the turn into Bilbao we had no difficulty finding the route. The road then goes under the motorway and eventually becomes the Bl-2701 (in Muskiz, signed to Sopuerta and Balmaseda-EW) which later joins the BI-630 into Balmaseda.
Balmaseda is a pleasant enough town with a tourist office..... We had booked our hotel in advance. .....Hotel San Roque..... a Moorish building with a wonderful courtyard. …... Balmaseda ..... worthy of some further exploration …...

Day 2 (53km at least lOOOm of height gain)Balmaseda to Villarcayo
This day was made easier by light rain and cloud cover for most of the day. The route is straight forward , although for a non major road fairly busy. Take the Bl-636 out of Balmesada this becomes the C-6318 until the N-629 is reached. Go along the N-629 for a short while and then turn off along the CL- 629 to Villarcayo.This is a hardish day with two passes at 750m and 780m. Villarcayo is a pleasant enough town on the river. There is a small tourist information shop near the main square. We stayed in the Hostal Plati. The people here were helpful and friendly and arranged for our bikes to be ready for us the next morning very early.

Day 3 ( 70km at least lOOOm of height gain)Villarcayo to Sotopalacios
…. This is a delightful if tough ride. Again the route finding is easy.The CL-629 is followed till it joins the N-232, this is a descent into a very beautiful gorge (Río Ebro EW). You then turn onto the BU-629 and you can see the Z's in front of you to climb up to a lOOOm and Puerto de Ia Mazorra. The road is very well engineered with magnificent views and a welcome bar at the Puerto de Ia Mazorra. You may think it is all over but after that you still have another 300 m to gain over undulating countryside to reach Villalta a deserted village. We stopped for another drink at Cernegula at a petrol station. The next village after this Hontomín, was the only place we saw with any accommodation along the road. We went further along the CL-629 till it joined the N-627 towards Burgos and stopped at Sotopalacios. It is not ideal as it consists of 2 hotels opposite each other on the busy Main road. ……… the hotel we stayed in Rio Ubierna was very good and the terrace at the back for lunch very pleasant.

Day 4 (11.81km 1.O3hrs ) Sotopalacios to Burgos to join the Camino Francés.

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© Eric Walker -25/02/2013