Basque Pyrenees to San Sebastian
The true heart of Basque cultureBack to Routes
A little morning mist
Approaching San Sebastian
Mary admiring pretty Pasaia
Meadows and hills
A quiet day in Pasaia
The sheltered bay of San Sebastian
Basque architecture in Elizondo
This was without question the best walking holiday we've had. The countryside was stunning, the walks demanding, the people friendly and the food and drink - always important - were top notch. A mixture of lush countryside, small villages and then the busier coastal towns all contributed to a delightful holiday.
The local rep was quick to get in touch and there if needed. We did all the walks, no shortcuts, and were very glad that we did. This one will be hard to beat!
Amanda Parker, Clitheroe, UK - September 2019
We loved the fantastic and varied scenery, the wide paths and lanes, the oak and chestnut forests, the green pastures, the very neat and well-kept villages and houses, and the friendly people throughout. Excellent food with delicious salads and Basque tomatoes.
Edward Burner, Sevenoaks, UK - September 2019
Honestly, we completely loved the holiday. I am slightly biased as we got engaged and so it will be remembered as the best holiday ever for me, but I can't think of a better place for it to happen. It was perfect.
I loved the fact that we started in such beautiful, quiet villages, untouched by tourists and that as we walked the scenery changed from rural hillsides and tiny villages to beautiful coastlines and bigger cities. The thorough organisation on your part made everything so easy, so that we could just enjoy the beautiful views without worrying about anything else. Thank you so so much!
Heather Stirling, Edinburgh, UK - June 2019
The notes were perfect... probably the best I've ever come across on such a trip. I had to make a couple of deliberate mistakes just to check the GPS was working, as I never veered off course.
The scenery was varied and stunning and the villages all seemingly untouched. The route was great at avoiding roads. The people in the region were so friendly too.
James McEvoy, Surbiton, UK - June 2019
The route was truly wonderful, both in substance and in layout. Aznar was fabulous. He went out of his way to help us in every way possible.
We never felt we had to hurry. We just savored every moment of this memorable experience.
Bruce and Jacquie Parker, USA - June 2019
My friend and I had an outstanding adventure in the Basque Pyrenees. On Foot Holidays provided the framework for us to simply enjoy walking through the beautiful countryside without worries. Our accommodations were interesting and comfortable, meals delicious after a long day of walking, and support staff available at any time for questions/weather reports/check-ins.
We had never done a walking tour before and found the self-guided navigation challenging and fun. GPS was essential to ensure we kept on track, but the written instructions were very good and literally our moment-to-moment guide on the route. The scenery was memorable, even on our one rainy day, and the peaceful serenity was rejuvenating.
Anon - May 2019
We loved the peace and quiet. It was a very spiritual experience and rewarding accomplishment. I loved having conversations with the locals and hearing their stories.
One of my favorite experiences was our encounter with the horses. We were able to get quite close to some. I also truly enjoyed the day we hiked the French side of the Pyrenees. The vistas were out of this world. And hiking the ridge to San Sebastian was awesome.
Holly Gendron, Santa Barbara, USA - April 2019
We enjoyed the variety of accommodation. The options to vary walks were great.
Aznar was outstanding! He communicated with us regularly, his advice and suggestions on things to see, do and experience, and places to eat was fantastic. Undoubtedly the best we have ever had - and we've done several self-guided holidays.
Ann Sherry, Fairlight, Australia - April 2019
This was a memorable and wonderful trip which I would recommend highly. Having never been on a walking tour before, it was a new kind of adventure and challenge. The walking was just right for us, about 10 miles a day using some of the shortening options, and I enjoyed the navigating challenge.
It was so peaceful and quiet on the trails... we met very few people en route but lots of Basque ponies, cows and sheep. It was fun to discover where our accommodations would be each night and we enjoyed speaking to local people whenever we could (in Spanish). They were all so friendly and happy to tell us about their home.
Susan Saperstein, USA - April 2019
At a glance
The Basque Pyrenees and San Sebastian 8 night version - the full walk, with easier and harder options. (No Fri/Sat starts unless staying 2 nights in Ziga.)
How much walking?
Full days: 13-24 km per day, 4½-6½ hrs walking
Using shortening options: 12-17 km per day, 3½-4½ hrs walking
To the Atlantic and San Sebastian
Of our two walks in the Basque region of northern Spain, this is the true centre of Basque culture – the well-kept villages of the western Pyrenees, for centuries protected from incursion by the mountains.
Furthermore it is a border zone, with French influences strong, particularly between Bera and Hondarribia. Be prepared for an incomprehensible language (though Spanish, French and even English are widely spoken), and an outgoing friendliness resulting from the pride of being born Basque.
You will experience some extraordinary village architecture, unspoilt farming country and wild ridges, great views into both France and Spain, and the satisfaction of arriving at the sea, and taking a small boat across the water to Hondarribia, a town with an incomparable old walled centre. Then, for the hardy, a triumphant long ridge walk to San Sebastian, a city you have to visit, and best approached from our cliff-top walk.
Important note: Our routes assume one night only in San Sebastian, but there is more room/hotel availability if you are able to spend two or three nights in this popular destination, so try and build in extra nights here if you have the flexibility.
Walked by On Foot staff: Simon and Mary
REVIEWS: For independent walker reviews of this route submitted to the Association of Independent Tour Operators visit AITO.com.
TRAVEL ADVICE: To find the latest travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for UK citizens travelling to Spain, click here. Citizens of other nations will also find it useful, but should always check their appropriate local agency.
COVID-19 SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: Please read our summary of current regulations.
- Authentic Basque culture in gentle countryside
- A generous-hearted people
- Traditional unspoilt village architecture
- Impenetrable language interpreted with laughter, but a good mix of French, Spanish and English spoken
- Beautiful ridge walks with views for miles around
- San Sebastian – City of Culture, and La Concha beach (Europe’s best beach according to TripAdvisor)
This route features the following characteristics and interests: Coast, Mountains, Villages and farms, Birdwatching, Drive to route
Extra nights en route in Bera, extraordinary Hondarribia and of course the City of Culture (and "Pintxos") San Sebastian
Practise your Basque
“Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the bakers’? I need a loaf of bread and a pint of milk” translates as “Barkatu, ezin esan olerkarientzako bidea? Ogi polita eta esne-pintxo bat behar dut.”
But don’t worry – the son or daughter will oblige with some perfect English (or at least French) and invite you for a coffee if you have time?
How much Walking?
Using shortening options: 12-17 km per day, 3½-4½ hrs walking
The first three days walking are largely unsigned so care needs to be taken to follow the route notes and maps carefully. After this the route is mainly on GRs and well signed. Highest point on route: 1,075m (Mt. Alba). Some narrow paths with drops may worry the acrophobic (avoidable by choosing shorter options).
Medium-hard/hard: Average cumulative uphill stretches (CUSs) 820m (430m-1035m) per day.
Medium: CUSs 490m (430m-585m) per day using shortening options where available, including some taxi transfers (local supplement)
GPX file available for handheld GPS or smartphone App for complete route.
Important note: Times given for each day are walking times for an “average” walker and exclude stops. “CUSs” stands for “Cumulative Uphill Stretches” and measures the aggregated ascents in each day, expressed in metres of climb. See “Walk Grading” for more information.
When to go?
The Basque Pyrenees are at their best in the spring (late April-June) or September. The second half October can be misty, restricting the views. Summer can be hot and busy, particularly in San Sebastian – July and August are not possible for this reason. Single night stays in San Sebastian at weekends can be problematic so avoid landing there on weekends and holidays if you don’t want an extended stay there. N.B. Avoid San Sebastian from 18 until 26 September 2020 – it’s the Film Festival and hotels are incredibly expensive.
Please note: date ranges shown are for a ‘normal’ year. While Covid-19 restrictions remain, please contact us to discuss your plans and availability.
Rainfall and temperature chart for Elizondo
Day 1 - Arrive in Ziga
Arrive in pretty Ziga, a small village with great views of the Baztán valley. Your comfortable hotel will welcome you with a good (if late by non-Spanish standards!) dinner to prepare you for tomorrow's first walk.
Day 2 - Ziga to Elizondo
Today begins with a gentle uphill walk out of Ziga. Enjoy mountain views and the Baztán valley before descending to Irurita, the perfect place for a lunch stop. If time allows, don’t miss the chance to have a coffee and taste one of the chocolate specialities at the pastry shop on the square. After lunch, the route continues through the traditional villages of Gartzain and Aristegui, and the day’s walk ends in bustling Elizondo, the capital town of Baztán valley. (4 hrs, 13½km, CUSs 430m)
Alternatives: None – except to ride with the luggage.
Day 3 - Elizondo circuit
Your adventure starts in earnest today with a fabulous circular walk. There are three options – easy, medium and the main route for hardy walkers who want to reach Alba’s top (1075m), with superb views. All start by following the GR11 so navigation is quite straightforward and birdwatchers are in for a treat too (kites and griffon vultures aplenty). Return to Elizondo by following shady woodland paths and visiting the little villages of Gartzain and Ariztegi on the way. (5¾hrs, 21¾km, CUSs 1035m).
Alternatives: Without Alba: (4¾hrs, 15km, CUSs 485m). Easier option: (2¼hrs, 11km, CUSs 450m)
Day 4 - Elizondo to Erratzu
Leaving Elizondo behind, this morning you will climb the hills above the Baztán valley before descending to the remote valley of Iñarbegui, with views across to impressive Mt. Auza. Then follows a pretty gorge (you can take a detour to visit the Xorrokin waterfalls) before the walk takes you into Erratzu, where you will stay. A shorter, easier version follows the longer for 4km then winds northwards, gently descending through bucolic farmland to pretty Erratxu. (Main route: 4¾hrs, 16½km, CUSs 725m, short route: 4¼hrs, 12km, CUSs 585m)
Alternative: None, except to ride with the luggage the whole way. Organise this the night before with Aznar.
Day 5 - Erratzu to Etxalar
A lovely day full of contrasts. Climb up to the ridges, visiting pretty Urrasun and Zuaztoi along the way before joining the GR11. Then cross meadows, farms and oak and beech woods, with views to truly savour. Leave the GR to descend gently to Etxalar, probably the most beautiful village of the whole trip! (5¾ hrs, 22½ km, CUSs 820m).
Alternatives: If you prefer a more gentle day, take a taxi lift (paid locally – €10) to Otsondoko pass and join the GR11 after a gentle climb. (4¼ hrs, 16¾km, CUSs 550m), or just miss the first 2½km, to the main road at Arribiltoa (5hrs, 19km, CUSs 820m).
Day 6 - Etxalar to Bera
Start the day with a lung expanding climb out of Etxalar. At first in oak woodland, you will soon be enjoying views across to two valleys before reaching the Lizaieta pass, on the border between Spain and France. Those seeking more of a challenge will choose to bag Ibantelli for its 360 degree views but if you prefer a gentler walk just keep walking along the GR11. The walk ends in Bera, where you will enjoy a very comfortable hotel. (4½hrs, 15½km, CUSs 800m, or without Ibantelli just 3½ hrs, 13¼km, CUSs 500m )
Day 7 - Bera to Hondarribia
A day of many parts! A long climb up at the start of the day is richly rewarded by some fabulous ridge top walking – don’t shirk the peaks either as, on a clear day, you can see for miles around. For a while you straddle the Spanish/French border – literally having a foot in each country. Then you very definitely enter France for the afternoon and only re-enter Spain when you take a little boat from Hendaye to Hondarribia (one of Spain’s most historic towns) where you will spend the night, having first sampled its restaurants and cafés. (5½ hrs, 20km, CUSs 900m)
Alternatives: If you would like to shorten the walk and lose all of the early climbing organise with Aznar the evening before, a taxi to the Ibardin Pass. Pay locally, ~€15. (4 hrs, 16½ km, CUSs 410m)
Day 8 - Hondarribia to San Sebastian
The walk starts with quite a pilgrimage up to the Guadalupe sanctuary (worth a quick visit) before ascending further to the impressive Jaizkibel coastal ridge, with views for miles. Then descend dramatically into Pasaia, an authentic sailing and fishing village from the Middle Ages and the ideal place for a coffee or beer stop. A short boat trip takes you to the other side of the harbour where you will then continue with a gentle coastal walk into beautiful San Sebastian. Congratulations! (as designed 6½ hrs actual walking, 24km, CUSs 1030m, or easier off-ridge option 24 km, CUSs 790m)
Alternatives: Shorten the walk by travelling with the luggage as far as Pasaia – leaving 8km, 2¼ hrs actual walking, CUSs 415m).
Depart from San Sebastian
…or, better, stay a day or two longer to enjoy this former City of Culture, masquerading as a seaside resort with two great sandy beaches, and self-proclaimed “pintxo capital”.
ARRIVING BY AIR
The best airports with European flights are Biarritz (France) and Bilbao (Spain). Intercontinental flights use Madrid, followed by an internal flight to Pamplona (nearest to the start) or San Sebastian (Hondarribia).
Pamplona – 17:00 for local bus (not Sundays) to Elizondo, 19:00 for pre-booked taxi (supplement) the whole way.
Biarritz – 19:00 for pre-booked taxi transfer (supplement) c. 1¼ hrs.
Bilbao – 13:30 for local buses (2) via San Sebastian, or 17:00 for pre-booked taxi transfer (supplement) c. 2¼ hrs. Also possible to take bus to San Sebastian and then taxi transfer from there to start.
Return flight earliest:
Bilbao – 9:00 am (after regular shuttle from San Sebastian)
Biarritz – 13:00 (ditto)
Flight information can change rapidly and not all flights run daily. Please do check directly with the airlines’ websites or Skyscanner (see below) before finalising any booking with us. Do not book your flights until we have confirmed that we have provisionally reserved accommodation for you.
For up-to-date schedules and flights from all airports check Skyscanner.
ARRIVING BY TRAIN
Nearest railway station:
Start: Pamplona or Hendaye/Irun – pre-bookable taxi to first hotel included in price from Hendaye/Irun, supplement from Pamplona
Finish: San Sebastian
Sample journey by rail:
Via Paris: TGV Paris Gare Montparnasse to Hendaye. ~5 hrs. Or travel via Lille and Bordeaux to avoid Paris.
Via Madrid Charmartin: Direct train (c. 2 per day) to Hendaye. ~7 hrs.
From San Sebastian to Paris: Take the 37 min Euskotren from Sebastian Amara to Hendaye (every 30 mins), in time for the 9:19 TGV (not Saturdays) to Paris Gare Montparnasse. ~5½ hrs.
From San Sebastian to Madrid Chamartin: Some direct trains (most require one change). ~6 hrs.
We suggest thetrainline.com for times, ticket booking and other information.
ARRIVING BY CAR
You can park in a quiet side street at any of the three potential start points, then return to your car at the end by taxi (small supplement after netting off saving on initial taxi).
Getting to the start of the walk
The first hotel is in the village of Ziga (or Elizondo or Erratzu), and the last in San Sebastian. Transfer times and methods are suggested for Pamplona, Biarritz and Bilbao airports below. For train arrival transfers see below.
PAMPLONA AIRPORT (or train station):
Outward: Short taxi to centre then bus (not Sundays, best 13:15 or 19:30, 45 mins), plus taxi to Ziga if required (small supplement), or pre-booked taxi the whole way (supplement)
Return: Best via Bilbao if returning to Madrid
Outward: Taxi only, pre-booked (1¼ hrs)
Return: Airport bus from central San Sebastian 4 times daily, or pre-booked taxi (supplement)
Outward: Hourly shuttle to San Sebastian, then bus to Elizondo (plus short taxi ride if staying at Ziga, pre-booked (small supplement), or pre-booked taxi transfer the whole way (supplement) c. 2¼ hrs)
Return: Hourly shuttle from San Sebastian (1¼ hrs), or pre-booked taxi (supplement)
If coming by train – a pre-booked taxi from Irun/Hendaye is included in the price (supplement for weekend/holiday starts). We can also pre-book a taxi to meet you at Pamplona station (supplement).
Full transfer advice, including timetables, is provided in your Walkers’ Pack. Contact us if you would like additional pre-booking information. For taxi prices see “Prices”.
Where You'll Stay
The accommodation here is charming – family run, well-kept and often very historic. As you reach the coast the hotels become more sophisticated, and in Hondaribbia and San Sebastian you have a real choice between good value rooms and some substantial upgrades (a Parador in Hondaribbia and the august Hotel Londres in San Sebastian, directly overlooking the main beach.
Important: as this is a very rural area, we need advance warning of any special dietary requests so that we can advise you appropriately. Special diets may be difficult to cater for.
Night 2 & 3
Simple but spacious accommodation in a restored 19th century house.
Night 8 (Upgrade)
A gracious sea-front hotel to finish your holiday.
Ziga – Zigako Etxezuria (Dinner, B&B)
Excellent rural hotel with lovely rooms and a pretty garden.Website
Elizondo – Hostal Trinkete Antxitonea (Dinner, B&B)
Simple but spacious accommodation in a restored 19th century house.Website
Arizkun – Zilbetinea (B&B)
Traditional house, cheerfully decorated with works by local artists.Website
Etxalar – Mikelestonea (Dinner, B&B)
A comfortable village house with garden, with meals in bar/restaurant close by.Website
San Sebastian – Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra (B&B)
A gracious sea-front hotel to finish your holiday.Website
Total 8 nights in double/twin room, 7 breakfasts (room only in San Sebastian) and 5 evening meals, taxi from Irun/Hendaye station to first hotel*, luggage transfers between all hotels on walking route; full Walkers Pack with route directions, maps, transfer and background information; local telephone support.
*Mon – Fri starts, supplement for weekends and holidays
All prices are per person unless otherwise indicated, and are based on a standard booking in May. Prices may vary seasonally and a fixed price will be given to you before you commit.
Single Room Supplement (SRS): From £250
Lone Traveller Additional Supplement (LTAS): From £205
Large Party Saving (LPS): Groups of more than 2 people (on an identical itinerary, on the same booking and booked at the same time) – discount of at least £35 per person
Maximum party size: 12 (some accommodation variation needed for groups of 6+)
Extra nights possible throughout the route: Contact On Foot for ideas and prices
Further nights at end of holiday in San Sebastian: Prices vary with season, hotel/B&B/Pension, room type and length of stay. Contact us
Taxis from/to airports/train stations: Possible (Biarritz, San Sebastian, Pamplona only). Contact On Foot Holidays for prices
Sending Walkers Packs to addresses outside the UK: £10-£40 (per pack, location dependent)
Arrange locally: Local train/bus/taxi as required
Our local team
Aznar Fernandez de Pinedo
Aznar was born and grew up in Bilbao, where he soon developed his love for nature (he is a keen naturalist), hiking and the rural environment in general. He studied Business and has worked for many years in multinational corporations in the IT sector, living in both Barcelona and Madrid. But in 2014 he decided to change his career to work on what he loves most.