Anyone who has used handlebar mounted GPS navigation devices on a bicycle before knows that there are a few drawbacks such as a tiny screen and limited interactivity. Here's how we have changed all that!
While we have been offering Garmin handheld GPS devices, pre-loaded with our meticulously researched routes since the early 2000s, we always knew that there had to be a better way for cyclists to navigate a foreign route.
To tick all the boxes, the new devices would have to be water resistant, impact resistant and offer a much larger screen and superior interactivity - as well as great battery life and ease of use. A tall order! But after many seasons of testing different solutions ourselves and with our closest customers, we finally launched our SmartGuides in the end of 2018.
We use rugged, IP68 water & impact resistant Android smartphones running a spoken voice and visual cue navigation app, custom maps and our proprietary phone configuration.
From 2020 you get a SmartGuide on all our bike, bed and breakfast self guided bicycle tours, to make your day to day cycling experience even more fun, interactive and enjoyable.
A follow-up article to first person tour guide for cycling the Portuguese Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage route, by father and son team Rodrigo & Paulo:
Considering that this riding pilgrimage from OPorto to Santiago de Compostela could be a top event in one’s lifetime, I and my father, Paulo Fernandez, would like to give a suggestion here on how to make it more exciting and pleasant, based on what we described in the previous post issued in the Cycling & Rentals' Blog.
We identified that the ideal thing to do would be to cross this route in 6 days by bike. Just to recall, in October 2018, as we shared in the first contribution to this Blog, we did this route in 4 days, and we concluded at Nattrip that in a period of less than 6 days it would be quite physically stressful to fulfill this journey’s goal in such a short period of time.
We concluded so mainly because of the conditions of terrain and topography along the route, specially in some specific tough portions of it. For those who decide to make the route by bike, from OPorto to Santiago de Compostela there are harsh and physically demanding stretches. Thus, making the route in 6 days, in addition to the daily less physical effort, you will have more time in the places you pass, to enjoy and appreciate some of the attractions - which are many - along the entire official route.
So, below we try to present the tips of what to do, visit or know during the suggested planned 6 days of the bike pilgrimage from OPorto to Santiago de Compostela, via the Portuguese Central Way.
1st day: OPORTO - SÃO PEDRO DE RATES (~ 45km)
In the initial section during the 1st Day, leaving OPorto, as we said in the previous post, we will go through a very urbanized area with a lot of traffic on the roads, getting in our view uncomfortable riding the bikes. This context giving us no opportunity to pass there in a relaxed and enjoying way. The uncomfort covering the feeling of joy by crossing one of the most used routes throughout the history of western civilization. In this initial section of the Portuguese Way it is worth mentioning some medieval bridges that we cross, the city of Arcos, and its church. But the main attractions are, indeed, right in the beautiful city of OPorto.
It is very easy to find on the internet a large list of places to visit, depending on your available time and interest, before starting the bike journey to Santiago de Compostela. While in OPorto, we recommend to visit the Cathedral of the city, where our itinerary begins, and, if possible, go for tasting the famous Porto wines in one of the cellars in the neighboring city, Vila Nova de Gaia, right at the opposite bank of on the Douro river.
Therefore, we recommend to have some time in OPorto before beginning the rout and to keep, in this first day, the same initial stretch that we did in the 4 days work of validation of the route in October 2018. That is, you should follow from OPorto till Vairão or São Pedro de Rates, which are small and cozy little towns, in an already markedly rural area of northern Portugal, after leaving behind the very urbanized beginning of this stretch.
In Vairão it is worth stopping by and visiting the beautiful Monastery that exists on the site, besides the hostel next to it, where a nice conversation with the volunteers who work there seems to be always possible. After passing Vairão you can go a little further and stay at the nice and cozy São Pedro de Rates hostel at the end of this first day. There, in São Pedro de Rates, visit the existing Romanesque church.
Photo 1: landscape approaching Vairão village
2nd day: SÃO PEDRO DE RATES – PONTE DE LIMA (~42km)
Then, on the 2nd day after leaving São Pedro de Rates, you will go ahead and pass in Barcelinhos, cross the Medieval Bridge (14th century) and enter Barcelos, the city of the famous Portuguese rooster. After Barcelos, you will continue till Ponte de Lima, crossing its imposing medieval Gothic bridge over the Lima River. Ponte de Lime is where we recommend staying at the municipal hostel after making the stretch of this 2nd day. Mainly because the next stretch will be very harsh, crossing the top of Portela / Labruja mountain.
This portion of the 3rd stretch has very strong climbings for those who go by bike when approaching the top of Alto do Portela (Labruja), as we mentioned in the previous post. In Ponte de Lima there is a large and quite pleasant leisure area on the banks of the Lima river, very close to the medieval bridge. This recreation area is frequented by a large number of people, especially on weekends and evenings, and it is worthwhile staying there for a while. The nice and cozy public hostel in Ponte de Lima is also very close to the head of the city's medieval bridge, as soon as you cross it.
Photo 2: Leisure area in Ponte de Lima close to the medieval gothic bridge.
3rd day: PONTE DE LIMA – TUÍ (~35km)
On the 3rd day, you will pass in Rubiães, a small town high at the Portela mountain, where you can stay at the nice hostel there, to rest from the strong effort made, soon after overcoming the climb of the Alto do Portela / Labruja. But the ideal thing to do, in order to keep the planned schedule of 6 days, is to follow on this 3rd day beyond Rubiães, now going all the way down from the mountain to the plains and approaching the border with Galicia.
Then you will reach the city of Valença do Minho, on the banks of the river Minho. From Valencia, crossing the border by the bridge over the river Minho, you will enter Galicia, in the city of Tuí. Tuí is where we recommend staying at the end of this 3rd daily journey (the pilgrim hostel is behind the Tui Cathedral, very close to the bridge that crosses the river Minho). In Tuí we recommend visiting the Santa Maria Cathedral, next to the hostel, the Convent of Las Clarissas and the gothic church of Santo Domingo.
4th day: TUÍ – PONTEVEDRA (~55km)
On the 4th day the recommendation is that you ride from Tuí till Pontevedra, taking the rural variant in O Porriño, which we strongly recommended in the previous post on this Blog.
Arriving in Pontevedra, after crossing a beautiful forest right at the entrance of the city, we recommend staying in the cozy pilgrim hostel, which is just in the beginning of the urban area of this city (at the right, on top of a small hill, just after leaving behind the small forest). This hostel we have mentioned about it in the previous post, and we think it is worthwhile staing there to enjoy it. In Pontevedra we recommend visiting the Sanctuary of the Virgin Pilgrim (built in a Santiago’s shell shape) as well as the crowded Plaza de Ferréria.
5th day: PONTEVEDRA – PADRÓN (~42km)
On the 5th day, the mission is to ride your bike from Pontevedra till Padrón, and stay at the end of this daily journey in the pilgrim hostel there. In Padrón we recommend visiting Santiago’s Church.
According to legend, it was in Padrón that docked the ferry transporting the remains of the Apostle Santiago, from Jaffa in the Middle East (where he was beheaded) to the Iberian Peninsula, in the year 44dc. The stone - or ‘padrón’ – to which the ferry was attached when docked is placed under the altar of the Church of Santiago de Padrón. Therefore, it is mandatory for all pilgrims who follow the Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela to visit this church in Padrón.
6th day: PADRÓN – SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA (~25km)
On the 6th and last day of cycling by the Portuguese Way since OPorto, you will go from Padrón to your final destination, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Leaving Padrón early (no need to do it quite early, just start riding your bike around 8am), you will arrive at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with plenty of time this day to enjoy the final destination of this bike pilgrimage.
Arriving at Plaza Del Obradoiro, in front of Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral, we recommend going to the pilgrim's office (Oficina del Peregrino) to obtain your Compostelana and pilgrim certificate. You can go to the Oficina by bike, since there is place to leave the bikes there, so that you can queue with the other pilgrims who come there walking.
In Santiago de Compostela, if you would like to stay overnight in a pilgrim hostel, you have the options of going to the ‘Albergue Seminário Menor’ - Minor Seminar Hostel (Av. Quiroga Palacios, 2), for the ‘Residência de Peregrinos San Lazaro’ - San Lazaro Pilgrim Residence (Rúa da Vesada, 2) , or to the ‘Fin Del Camino’ Hostel – End of the Way hostel (Rúa de Moscova). The options of what to do in Santiago de Compostela on the 7th day are many, and you can make a personalized program of what you should visit, through internet consultations. However, we recommend that you do not miss the Pilgrim’s Mass, which takes place daily twice at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, at noon and in the early evening (19 hours).
Photo 3: Plaza Del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela
The tips we want to give here, which are permanently valid throughout the whole route, are to try and taste the cuisine and gastronomy typical of northern Portugal and Galicia.
In the north of Portugal from OPorto to Valença do Minho (on the border with Galicia) we have from the codfish dishes, dishes with other fishes from the region, as well as soups and broths. All of those always with the company of a good Portuguese wine, of the Douro or Minho regions. And of course, it is always worth finishing the meals with the famous Portuguese sweets.
After northern Portugal left behind, passing now through Galicia, we can experience as well the famous Galician food. From Tuí, crossing the Portugal-Spain border over the Minho river, until reaching the final destination in Santiago de Compostela. There we will have the opportunity every day to taste the seafood of the so-called 'Rias Baixas' (kind of estuaries where the sea encounters the fresh water from the rivers of the region). Such seafood is considered one of the best in the world, by the conditions of the existing ecosystem in the Rias Baixas. In addition, we have, to accompany these seafood dishes, the Galician wines produced in the regions of the Rias Baixas (mainly white wines are our favorites). We cannot forget also another dish of Galicia known worldwide, which is the "Galician broth".
In the region of Padrón and Iría Flavia, we have the also famous ‘pimientos de Padrón ’, that cannot miss the table (mainly in being there at Padrón). These peppers are consumed alone or as an accompaniment to other dishes (they are cooked only in olive oil and salt, in a pan or skillet). Either way you eat them, they are delicious. And it should be mentioned that you could feel your mouth burning a little, especially when you taste the most twisted Padrón pepers.
Photo 4: Pimientos de Padrón
Still regarding the cuisine and gastronomy of the region where you will be crossing by bike, we also have to say that, traditionally, the dishes of northern Portugal and Galician cuisine, in general, are high in calories. This is due to the long history of 'subsistence economics' of that region (historically and until recently - until a few decades ago- these regions were very poor, especially in rural areas). The cuisine also has this high calorie content due to the need for those who used to live there to have to eat caloric foods, in order to help combating the cold, which is very intense in winter time. But for you who will be spending energy cycling throughout the Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela, caloric meals are not at all a problem.
And so we finish the proposed program to cross the route of the Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela, by bike in 6 days. For those who propose themselves to do so, we hope that the information provided here may be of help. And we also hope that those ones could achieve their planned goals, taking advantage of the incredible and magical all through this route. Buen Camino!
By Rodrigo Fernandez
Founder of Nattrip Brazil Ecotourism and Adventures.
Cycling the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path is a wonderful and challenging endeavor and in order to enjoy it, and make sure that the original walking pilgrims can enjoy it, there are a few common sense things to think about as you ride to Compostela.
As more and more travelers discover the experience of cycling rather than walking the Camino routes, some of them chose to follow the well worn hiking trails, invariably riding past fellow pilgrims on foot. Naturally the hikers will be traveling at a much slower pace and it is simply good manners and good sense to consider their safety and yours, to make sure everyone has a Buen Camino - a good pilgrimage.
"I hiked the Camino and was appalled at the majority of bikers who approached from behind at high speeds with no warning"
Don't aim for Strava KOMs
Cycling the Camino de Santiago is not by any means a race and in fact you would miss out on so much of the experience by not slowing down to smell the flowers and occasional field of cows, that it would be a shame. It would also very much against the spirit of friendship on the Camino to zip down a bumpy single track trail or cobbled village, weaving through the unsuspecting pilgrims. Also remember that down-hills are much harder on walkers than uphills. If anything, offer to shuttle a weary pilgrim's heavy pack to the next Albergue!
Don't practice your Freeride skills on the trail
Some of the forest trails on the Pyrenees and in Galicia would be superb for some root-ridden enduro decents, only they are designated hiking trails... Graciously shared with cycling pilgrims by the hikers who began walking the Camino over a 1000 years ago. As a mountain biker myself, I have often been crazy to speed down the single track on my 29er, and I know we are both good for it - but that is not the point of the Way and I know this is a lifetime journey to be savoured by me and by everyone else.
Don't ignore lost, broke down or tired pilgrims
Sometimes where you are rolling at a fine pace, the last thing you want to do is slow down, let alone stop, but part or the Camino spirit is one of selflessness and willingness to give or help out. Just because you are hauling down the tarmac hairpins on your way in to Ponferrada with nothing but the warm wind in your face and a grin from ear to ear - not everyone in your team might be riding so happily. So take the time to stop and help and if needs be pedal back up the hill to help fix that blown out tire - or just to give a kind word of comfort; I can tell you from personal experience you will be much happier if you do!
Don't block Doors and Passage ways
At the end of a long days ride, you can be so tired you just want to lean your bike against the closest wall and grab a cold Aquarius. Just make sure it is not blocking a local's front door or path of passage for fellow cyclists, hikers or drivers. This can happen a lot more often that people care to imagine, I know: I have done so myself to a shepherd who was no doubt even more tired than I was!
Fit a bell to your bicycle
All our Camino bike rentals, rental packs and tours include a pretty handlebar mounted bell. Not only do they have a nice ring to them but they can keep you and your fellow pilgrims safer on shared trails and in the narrow streets of old towns and villages. If you are bringing your own bicycle to ride the Camino, make sure to fit a bell before you leave or certainly before you start your journey.
Make yourself known whenever you approach a walking pilgrim
No point in having a bell if you are too shy or forgetful to ring it to be heard! The point is to make your presence known before you pass the hikers, so if they are a little hard of hearing, let them know you are about to pass them by calling out some friendly heads-up words. As there are pilgrims from all over the world, I recommend using the timeless "Buen Camino" or Good Pilgrimage greeting!
Go slow when passing
To keep things safe, particularly when cycling on rough or technical sections of the Camino, it's best to slow way down when passing as you don't know when a hiker my decide to pull over for a rest, nor to which side. You won't know if they have headphones in or are hard of hearing so don't take a chance and just play it safe for both of you even after you have announced you presence.
Be a Goodwill Biking Ambassador
As you cycle the Camino you will start to feel the Camino "Vibe", a kind of kinship of fellow travelers on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Be a part of it! Help other bikers and hikers along their way and you help someone have a little Camino miracle with something as simple as a shared bar of chocolate or a plaster from your first aid kit, for a painful blister.
Can you think of more Camino Do's & Don'ts? If so, drop us an email and we will be happy to share your Camino words of wisdom here too!
By Martin Thompson
Avid Mountain biker, Bike Tourist & Founding partner at Cycling Rentals
A cheat sheet for first timers in the Spanish food capital
When eating out in Catalonia for the first time, it can be rather overwhelming. Expectations are high as this part of Spain is home to a multitude of Michelin starred restaurants and boasts some of the finest chefs in the World. Add to that the deep rooted traditions of the Catalan kitchen and its unique style and you have a rich and complex assortment of dishes and tastes awaiting you - But what do I order?
We have put together a concise list of the best traditional dishes from the Catalan region to look out for on menus:
Discover the rich cuisine of Catalonia and some of the best cycling in Spain on our Catalonia Girona Bike Tour.
Vanya is a part-time cycling guide and full time eater.
Our Catalonia self guided bike tour starts in Girona, which is as famous for its food as it is for the fine cycling in the surrounding area. If you haven't yet experienced what all the fuss is about with Catalan cuisine, here are a few places to start!
By Vanya Maplestone
Vanya is a part-time cycling tour guide with a deep affinity for Catalonia, having relocated from Australia 5 years ago, she now makes her home in the heartland of Spain's cycling Mecca.
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