The Way of St James, Cycling the Camino #bikelist

Cycling the Camino, The Way of St James

#bikelist

Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) is a pilgrimage for all people at any stage in life. In 11 days, we cycled the 764km (475 miles) of the Camino Francés (French Way or Portuguese Way or Spanish Way  ) route. This is the most popular of the paths that lead to Santiago de Compostela. Our journey began in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France at the foot of the Pyrenees. The first day consists of climbing these mountains into Spain. Pilgrims come from all over the world and vary in their motivations for this journey. Along the way you’re bound to encounter unforgettable churches, masses, monuments, landscapes, and new friends. Buen Camino!

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Route

Camino Francés, the most popular of the various traditional pilgrimage routes collectively called the ‘Camino de Santiago’ that all end at Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. The Camino Francés usually starts in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, near Biarritz in southern France, reaching Santiago via the Pyrenees, Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, León.

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Distance

500 miles / 800km

Time to cycle

1–2 weeks

 

Surface

You can cycle either the walker’s route (99% cyclable, no gates or stiles; mix of shale, farm track, mud path) or the road route (which is the original route of Camino, now paved over; mix of busy major and quiet minor roads; the two routes run virtually parallel)

Bike required

Any. With a full-suspension mountain bike, or trekking bike, you can cycle all the walker’s route. On a fast road bike you can do the road route. On a hybrid or sturdy tourer you can take road options for mileage and speed, and pick the most scenic and smoothly-surfaced offroad sections.

Best off road sections

—Scenic but often rough: The ridge between Pamplona and Puente de la Reina.

—Remote feeling and not too rough: West of Burgos through Hornillos and Hontanas.

Accommodation

Plentiful pilgrim refuges and hostels, 5–10 euros per night. A very few begrudge or even turn away cyclists, but most happily accept them and have cycle storage.

 

When to go

March-April or October have decent weather and good availability of accommodation. In between it can be very hot, and convenient hostels often fill up early in the afternoon. Outside them, many places close and the weather can be unreliable, especially at altitude.

Is it hilly?

Yes, but not as much as you might expect. There are three big climbs: at the start over the Pyrenees, halfway through mountain villages such as Foncebadón, and shortly afterwards through the historic village of O Cebreiro. The highest point is about 1500m. West of Burgos is a vast plain. Away from those it’s undulating.

Signposting

Excellent. You could conceivably do it without maps or guides, though they’ll be useful of course. Within towns and villages the route takes you directly through the historic centres, marked by scallop shell symbols inlaid or embossed in the pavement. In between the stylised shell symbol directs you reliably. Cycle and walking options are well distinguished.

Atmosphere

Some vibrant big cities (Pamplona, Burgos, León) with big architecture. Countless delightful small towns and villages, all with at least a bar and a shop, many with pleasant markets and historic buildings. Remote-feeling only occasionally: civilisation (and main roads!) are never that far away.

Internet access

Good. Available in many bars, restaurants and hostels, even in villages.

 

20 highlights

  • Roncesvalles’s awesome historic monastery-refuge
  • Pamplona’s bull-running culture
  • Ridgetop views west of it
  • Eunate’s odd church
  • Puente de la Reina’s historic bridge
  • Cirauqui’s original Roman road surface and bridge
  • Free wine fountain at Irache
  • Parkland outside Logroño
  • Storks in sandstone cliffs at Najera
  • Hens in the church at Santa Domingo de la Calzada
  • Burgos centre
  • View from ridge overlooking Hornillos
  • Romanesque church at Fromista
  • Ancient bridge at Hospital de Orbega
  • Maragatos villages
  • Abandoned mountaintop village of Foncebadón and downhill after
  • Mountaintop village of O Cebreiro with ancient thatched huts
  • Descent after it to moved-and-rebuilt reservoir town of Porto Marin
  • Farming villages around Ligonde
  • Arriving at Santiago de Compostela