I didn’t know much about San Sebastián in Spain before going there for the first time last May. I knew that the city was well known for its gastronomy (San Sebastián is recognized for having the most Michelin-star restaurants per capita in Europe), but when I arrived there, I was surprised by the number of hikers I saw walking around the city. I quickly realized that this is because the Way of St. James passes through the city (the one called Camino del Norte that follows the North Coast of Spain to Santiago de Compostela).
And as I have a slight obsession for long distance trails (remember how I hiked the entire Rideau Trail last year), I decided to follow the Camino de Santiago for a few kilometres, taking the path that goes around Mount Ulia, east of San Sebastián.
Mount Ulia is well visible from the city, rising near the coast, east of Zurriola Beach. The trailhead to access it was harder to find though. I thought I would find it at the end of the boardwalk along the beach, but I had to turn back when I realized that the portion of the boardwalk at the foot of the mountain was closed for renovation.
It was finally by venturing into the Gros neighborhood of San Sebastián that I found a path leading to the mountain. The path eventually became a staircase, then a trail and I finally saw the first signs indicating that I was on the Camino.
Perhaps because I was overexcited (hey, I was walking for the first time on the famous Camino!), the climb up did not seem very difficult. Okay, the very long staircase at the beginning was a bit painful. But after that, the climb was gradual and easy. One last look at San Sebastián, then I headed east, following the trail under the trees of Mount Ulia.
The trail was rather wide and flat at first, but it became narrower and a little steeper as it started to follow the coast. I could occasionally glimpse the rough sea shattering on the rocks down below. Then a thick fog rose, completely covering the landscape. In other circumstances, I might have been disappointed, but the fog gave a particular aspect to the trail, almost giving me the impression of being lost in another world.
The majority of hikers who hike this trail from San Sebastián go to the coastal village of Pasajes, six kilometres away, and then often return using public transport. That was my plan at the beginning. But as the temperature began to worsen (the fog became even thicker, then it began to rain hard), I decided to alter my plans. Rather than continuing on the Camino towards Pasajes, I decided to leave the coastal trail and follow the path leading to the summit of Mount Ulia.
I thought that the fog would decrease once I was in the forest, but on the contrary, it seemed to me that it became even thicker. And if there were several hikers on the Camino, the path to the top of Ulia was completely deserted. Everything looked a bit eerie A perfect set for a horror movie (is it normal that I continued to find it beautiful and magical?).
The climb continued to be smooth and easy. I eventually reached the summit, where there is a restaurant and a park. There is also an observation deck from which, when the weather is clear, you can probably see the sea. But when I was there, I could hardly see the trees right in front of me.
The Mount Ulia trail makes a loop that eventually returns to the Camino after passing near the ruins of an old mill. The hike back to San Sebastián was more difficult than the hike up the mountain, as the rain made the rocks slippery. I was soaked from head to toe when I finally got back to town, but I was still very happy of having done this hike (furthermore, I now had the perfect excuse to warm up with a good cafe con leche!)
The Camino de Santiago is indicated by yellow arrows or white and red markings. The trail to Mount Ulia is indicated by white and green markings.
Mount Ulia :
Altitude : 243m
Trail (loop): 4-5 km
Access : Zemoria Kalea road in Gros neighbourhood