Time flies. It’s 10 years since I first walked the GR1, the Sendero Histórico, a 53-day walk across northern Spain. Given everything that has happened since 2013, particularly in the last 3 years, some of the research I did for my first Cicerone guide, might need revisiting.
The guide: The GR1: Spain’s Sendero Histórico, reflects my preferred style of walking and involves going from place to place and sleeping in a bed at the end of each day. This approach works particularly well in Spain because accommodation is cheap and relatively plentiful. It’s also great fun and although hit and miss, never less than interesting. Whether it’s a bar with rooms above or a luxury hotel in a converted castle, the memories associated with the places you stay can be as sustaining as the scenery you walk through.
If you prefer to sleep in a bed and enjoy someone else’s cooking, finding somewhere to stay can determine the length of each walking day. Because the GR1 travels through remote countryside, often previously populated but now empty, finding somewhere to stop for the night can be a challenge and occasionally involves some long days. When I originally did the research I constructed a 53-day itinerary that allows a walker (defined as someone with a lot of spare time) to walk from one side of Spain to the other, stay in a bed each night, and only have to leave the trail three times. Not having to mess about with taxis and buses; making a leisurely start and straight onto the trail; finishing the day by walking to your destination, and immediately drinking a well-deserved beer, are one of the many things that makes the GR1 special.
Over the last 8 years, since publication, lots of people (100s not 1000s), have used my guide to help them on their journey across northern Spain and a number have provided feedback. When opening a GR1 email, I’m always nervous about updates on accommodation because, in certain places, a closure makes things difficult and a lot of closures would threaten the viability of the route for my style of walking. The key thing to check, therefore, is whether the accommodation listed in the guide is still in business.
Recently, on a wet weekend in March, I worked through the guide to check what’s still there and establish whether you really need to take a tent with you to complete the GR1. Good News! The GR1 still works for non-campers and despite Covid shutdown and some closures, you can still walk it and stay in a bed each night. There are changes and, section by section, these are described below.
Some general things first. There is an important distinction between a casa rural, usually private accommodation in a holiday home and an auberge, hostel or hotel. In Spain, particularly in a non-school holiday period, casa rural owners are often happy to rent a room just for a night, sometimes in an otherwise empty house. Casa rurals are used in the guide when there isn’t an alternative, as managing access with a private owner is more painful. Secondly some of the accommodation is seasonal and if you start your hike before April might be closed in places where there isn’t a choice. Thirdly accommodation sometimes shuts on a Monday - as in many parts of Europe if people work on a Sunday they expect to have the next day off. These places will sometimes provide a bed but no restaurant.
Section 1 - 6 days from Puerto to Tarna to Reinosa
Section 1, crossing the southern flank of the Cantabrian mountains and skirting the Picos de Europa, is one of the most dramatic parts of the whole walk. It’s an all-year-round destination for hikers (expect snow until March) and its attractions have kept all the accommodations open. This includes the hotel in the tiny village of Salomon which provides the only accommodation at the end of the first day. In addition, a new hotel has opened at Prioro, the Albergue de Prioro, so walkers no longer have to find a room in a casa rural.
Section 2 - 7 days from Corconte to Berantevilla
Section 2 introduces the dramatic limestone escarpments and meseta which feature on much of the walk. While there is more history, evidenced by castle ruins and lovely Romanesque churches, finding somewhere to stay is more challenging than in Section 1. The main changes are two new hotels at the day 1 destination Pedrosa de Valdeporres,(the Hotel El Rincon and the Hotel Rural la Engaña, (which means not having to stay in the language school) - and the closure of the Los Perrichicos and the opening of the Hotel El Amparo de Narcisa at Oteo. Accommodation wise the final two days of the walk are just as difficult as in 2013 with off-route accommodation needed in Mirando de Ebro.
Section 3 - 6 days from Berantevilla to Olite
If I’m honest, this is my least favourite section. The first 4 days to Los Arcos are excellent, more dramatic limestone ridges, but the last 2 days from Los Arcos to Olite which, despite interesting little towns, cross a boring agricultural landscape. Accommodation is also a little difficult. The watermill, the only place at Peñacerrada, is still providing accommodation, but the Golf Hotel at Bernedo has closed, so the casa rural listed in the guide are the only places on the route. If this doesn’t work there is plenty of accommodation a Laguardia about 7kms to the south. At Santa Cruz de Campezo there is new hostel-style accommodation at the Aterpe Kanpex Hostel and all the other accommodation is as described in the guide.
Section 4 - 5 days Olite to Murillo de Gállego.
Long-distance walking inevitably involves swings and roundabouts. If Section 3 had its shortcomings these are more than compensated for in Section 4 which somehow combines stunning landscapes with beautiful towns. Accommodation in a casa rural still has to be found at the hilltop town of Ujué but a new hotel, the Beragu Hotel, has opened at Gallipienzo Antiguo, another lovely town, almost abandoned but now coming back to life. This means you can split the 35km walk otherwise needed to get from Ujué to Sos del Rey Catolico creating a 6 rather than a 5-day schedule. The accommodation options have also improved at Biel, reached on day 4 (or 5 if you have split Day 2) with the new Casa Rural Las Lezas. There is plenty of accommodation at Murillo de Gállego but it is seasonal and a lot of hikers suggest going a little further and staying at the atmospheric Refugio de Riglos named after the famous red limestone cliffs.
Section 5 - 9 days Murillo de Gállego to Graus
If Section 3 was my least favourite, then Section 5 definitely comes out on top. Another remote section with fabulous scenery it adds the additional feature of a series of abandoned villages whose population seems to have cleared out overnight sometime in the 1960s. In planning a trip, the key thing to remember is that at least some of the accommodation is seasonal and somewhere to stay all the way through before April could be difficult. Specific changes are: the closure of the Albergue A Gargale in Bolea in Bolea, the day 2 destination, so you have to stay at the restaurant, the Casa Rufino (or the pilgrim hostel); the closure of the Hostal Migalon at Arguis on Day 3, so you now need to stay at the seasonal Hotel El Capricho, just down the road and off the route; and the closure of the UGT centre at Ligüerre de Cinca to overnight visitors with Casa A Chaminera (just down the road) the best alternative.
Section 6 - 9 days Graus to Gironella
Section 6 again combines remoteness with towering limestone cliffs, dry limestone plateaus and narrow limestone gorges. Apart from one hotel at Sant Lorenc de Morunys (a town that has three other hotels) all the accommodation identified in the guide is still open for business. This includes the lonely Masia Messanes reached on day 5 - it's lovely but I can’t understand how it survives, so please check. Also the Masia el Pujol reached on Day 9 is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Section 7 - 10 days Gironella to the Coast
Section 7 includes three different landscapes: the first is the tailend of limestone landscape of the previous three stages; the second, after Ripoli, a landscape dominated by the pinnacles of long-extinct volcanoes; and, the third, after Banyoles, involving just two days of walking, the coastal plain. The stage includes some really interesting historic towns with Besalu competing with Sos del Rey Catolico for the prize of the most stunning town on the route. In terms of accommodation the Fonda Alpens reached on Day 2 has closed and if you can't get into a casa rurals in the village try the Casa de Portavela further along (although the website says a minimum of 2 nights) or organise a taxi for some of the trip to Ripoli. At Sant Joan de les Abadesses a new hotel has opened, the Hotelet de St. Joan, providing a welcome alternative to the youth hostel. At Orriels the very swanky hotel has closed so consider heading south for 3km to Hostal Can Maret (access could involve bushwalking!) or sticking to the trail for another 7km to Camallera and staying at the Pensio L’Avi Pep.
Many thanks to Daniel Harris who walked part of the GR1 in 2022 - the photographs in the blog are his
For a recent GR1 trip report please go to Joost's website