The GR1 - the best bits

Kim asks:

I am taking my son on a hike for his high school graduation present before he starts college. He loves hiking and so do I . We have talked about doing the El Camino trail, but I am afraid it will be too flat for him and he doesn’t want a crowd or beds to sleep in every night (but I would appreciate a couple now and then). I saw your blog about your experience on the GR1. I thought it might be a better hike for us. I saw that you took 37 days to complete this hike. We were only taking about 2 weeks, possibly 3 if we can find the time. We are trying to leave somewhere around the end of May and return mid June. I am a flight attendant so we can adjust our arrivals and departures if necessary. Can you recommend what part of the trail we concentrate on so we could see the best of it in a shorter amount of time? Also, how many kilometers did you average a day? You are probably in better shape for walking than me, so we may be slower. I have hiked the Inca Trail and did fine with that. But that was only 4 days. One last thing, we speak very little Spanish. Will we need a guide or can we muddle thru it with a pocket translator and a GPS? Thank you for your feedback. Any information will be appreciated.

Kim - what a brilliant high school graduation present and a good set of questions.  I'm getting the same sort of questions from lots of people as they get serious about plans for 2017.

Firstly your son's comparisons between the 'Camino' and the GR1 are spot on.  The GR1 takes hikers through great scenery and visits some of Spain's most important historical locations.  The 'Camino' was designed to get pilgrims as quickly as possible to Santiago de Compostela, the medieval equivalent of Disney Land, and compared to the GR1 it's a motorway.
Parque Natural de la Sierra y Cañones de Guara,

Now the key question, which bit of the GR1 is the best bit.  This is a tough question but I have to accept inevitable as 'normal' people don't have the 53 days it takes to walk the whole route, not in a single year anyway.  For most people breaking the route down into smaller pieces or just doing the 'best bits' makes a lot of sense.
Loarre Castle

Ignoring the last three days and the triumphant approach to the Mediterranean, the GR1 can be broken down into three unevenly sized chunks.  The first chunk is in the west, from the start of the walk at Puerto de Tarna, through to Los Arcos.  The walking in the Cantabrian Mountains to the north of the Ebro Valley particularly in the Picos de Europa, is excellent.  The second chunk, from Los Arcos to Ujue (only 4 days), involves crossing flat arable countryside in Navarre. Those with little time on their hands could easily miss this bit out.  The third chunk through the foothills (
Prepirineo) of the Pyrenees passes through Aragon and Catalonia all the way to Besalú and includes some fantastic walking. Unfortunately, however, it will take most people around 30 days so choices still have to be made.

Leaving the abondoned village of Nazare
For those unfortunates who can only find a couple of weeks the first decision is whether to walk in the Cantabrian Mountains or the Prepirineo.  If forced I would choose the Prepirineo.  Its scenery is at least as good as the Cantabrian Mountains, and in terms of the thing that makes the GR1 special - the history - it's particularly rich.  My favourite bit (Section 5 in my guide) goes from Murillo de Gállego to Graus, takes 9 days and is packed with hilltop castles (including the world famous Loarre fortification) and abandoned villages. The scenery is amazing, particularly the stretch through the Parque Natural de la Sierra y Cañones de Guara, and will be completely empty in May  - the best month.  If you have more time then start at Olite and walk for 5 days through to Murillo de Gállego.

Ermita de San Miguel - another abandoned village
Kim I'm afraid I always turn the 'how far' question into 'how long'! In the mountains I find it's better to talk about time rather than distance because of gradient and the terrain.    My days go from accommodation stop to accommodation stop and can be as little as 5 hours or as much as 9.  If you're camping you can adopt a completely different itinerary but, because you will be carrying more gear, you might want to add extra time to my overall schedule.
More sheep than people

On language all I can say is that I managed to make myself understood and speak hardly a word of Spanish.  This is remote countryside and what locals remain there don't speak very good English.  They are however wonderfully friendly, very kind, have a great sense of humour and are absolutely brilliant hosts.  I'm a great fan of Spain, its food and way of life, and I'm sure you're going to have a wonderful time.

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