Cycling the Portuguese Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage route, with Rodrigo & Paulo. A first person account and travel guide for cycling the Way of Saint James, starting in Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain:
We had planned to go through the route of the Portuguese Central way in 3 days, from 27 to 29 October 2018. We settled with Cycling Rentals to receive the bikes (in boxes sent by a courier) to our Hostel in which we stayed overnight when we arrived in the city of Porto, the day before the planned start of our journey. Similarly, we would just have to return the bikes, leaving them at our final lodging location in Santiago de Compostela. These hostels/lodges where we stayed at the beginning (Porto) and at the end of the planned route (Santiago de Compostela) have to be affiliated with Cycling Rentals. And so we did.
But the conditions of various stretches of the route were quite harsh, beyond our initial expectations. So we only managed to complete the course in 4 days. Nevertheless, it was quite exhausting to complete the entire course, even in a 4-day period. The ideal for those who want to make the Portuguese Central way, in less time than walking, so as not to be so physically challenged as we were, and to enjoy many of the attractions along the way, is to travel the entire path from Porto to Santiago de Compostela by bike in around 6 days. On foot this same route is done, more commonly, in 10 to 12 days.
Porto -São Pedro de Rates
On October 27th, we started our journey to Santiago de Compostela in the hostel where we stayed, without worrying about going to the Cathedral of Porto to start the journey. We recommend not to start the journey to Santiago de Compostela as we did, as this may bring difficulties in the first KMS when leaving the city of Porto to find the indicative signs typical of the Camino de Santiago (yellow arrows and shells). Thus, the ideal start is always at the Cathedral of Porto, and then go following with attention the indications of the Portuguese way, through the yellow arrows and shells.
On this day we went until the village of São Pedro de Rates, where we stayed overnight in the cozy local hostel (Albergue de São Pedro de Rates). Just before this village, we went through the beautiful monastery of Vairão, where there is also a hostel that seemed very friendly (Pilgrim's hostel of the monastery of Vairão), and that may be also an interesting alternative, in case you decide to stop a little before arriving São Pedro de Rates.
São Pedro de Rates -Rubiães
The next day, October 28th, in the morning, we left São Pedro de Rates towards Rubiães, a long journey that day. The scenery is quite distinct from the one found on the previous day, because the urban areas found in the previous stretch were replaced by rural areas, through trails of land, often with many stones and irregularities of the terrain along the trails.
This stretch has moderately uneven terrain in general, but has a particularly high one at the end of the stretch (Alto do Portela - Labruja). The journey at this stretch also becomes more interesting, as we cross through an essentially wine-growing territory (producer of grapes and wines).
The ascent of Labruja, for those who are making the Portuguese Central way on bike, is especially harsh (when passing through there, we could not avoid associating the name with the term in Spanish 'La Bruja '-the Witch!). After overcoming all this stretch from São Pedro de Rates, it is an immense joy to find the hostel in Rubiães, which is also very comfortable and welcoming.
Rubiães - Pontevedra
From Rubiães onwards the next day, October 29th, we had a challenge to travel another great distance to Pontevedra. We passed through Valença do Minho (last city of Portugal) and Tuí (first city of Galicia), on the banks of the river Minho, which we crossed to leave Portugal and enter the territory of Galicia.
After passing through Tuí, we proceed to O Porriño. In this city there is an alternative itinerary (which we strongly recommend!) by a natural grove called As Gándaras, by the left bank of the Louro River, which avoids the industrial polygon of O Porriño, the largest in Galicia, with heavy traffic, buzz and pollution (visual, sound and air).
After passing through Redondela further forward, we finally get to Pontevedra, to finish the long journey of this day. Throughout this day, the unlevelling is moderate and the route follows alternating the asphalt of local rural roads with trails of land and gravel, passing through beautiful woods and bordering streams with crystalline waters. The hostel of pilgrims of Pontevedra is at the entrance of the city, and is very large, with good accommodation and welcoming.
Pontevedra-Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Finally, on the last day of the journey, we left Pontevedra towards the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Passing by Caldas del Rey, we went towards Padrón. Padrón is a locality of high cultural and historical interest, along with Iria Flávia, which is aside, and was founded by the Romans during the occupation of Galicia to explore the large amounts of gold found there at that time.
This whole last stage is simpler to accomplish and presents only small undulations, always following the national road N-550. This final stretch is largely made on asphalt and urbanized areas, with the mention of the moderate and progressive uphill in the Milladoiro, which required a lot of effort because we already had enough accumulated fatigue from the journeys of the previous days.
By Rodrigo Fernandez
Founder of Nattrip Brazil Ecotourism and Adventures.
Girona province is the training ground for many cycling teams and individuals alike. Find out why the cycling capital of Catalonia needs to be on your biking list!
In some ways it is a shame that Girona is lesser known than Barcelona, its Catalonian neighbouring city only 40 minutes away, but perhaps that is what makes it such a wonderful discovery - when you make it.
If you want to explore more than Barcelona's well worn tourist traps, the medieval old town and the wider Girona province will surprise and delight. If you are already considering a visit to the less frequented Catalan metropolis, read on, you will find more than enough reasons to get in now before the word gets out!
1. The Cycling
Home to many current (and retired) pro cyclists, this area has everything you need for endless riding pleasure, here you will find mountains, rolling hills, epic seascapes, lush apple orchards, even volcanic craters. Home to some very famous climbs, Girona province is the training ground for many cycling teams and individuals alike. Professional cyclists like Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma), Dan Martin (UAE - Team Emirates), Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (CCC-Liv) all call the Girona region home, and for good reason, the area is busting with challenging climbs and long, rolling, quiet roads.
Three famous climbs near Girona:
Stats: 10.1km, 3%, 344m, Category 2
Mare de Déu del Mont
Stats: 18.5km, 5%, 919m, Category: HC
Stats: 10.7km, 7%, 742m, Category 1
2. The Costa Brava
For more than 50 years, holidaymakers have flocked to the Costa Brava, drawn by its perfect summer weather, golden beaches and multitude of attractions ranging from the Dalí Theatre and Museum in Cadaques to the Greek and Roman ruins at Empúries. While overdevelopment has tarnished some of the pristine coastline (the resort of Lloret de Mar accommodates 200,000 tourists at its summer peak), north of Palamós it takes on a quieter, more authentic feel and golden sands give way to the rocky, rugged landscape of cliffs, inlets and hairpin bends that gives the Costa Brava its name: the “rough” or “wild” coast. Here, a collection of small towns (Begur, Tamariu, Palafrugell, L’Estartit, Aigua Blava, Llafranc) have retained their Catalan charm, each set on a sheltered cove and often boasting a rustic seafood restaurant where the day’s catch can be enjoyed fresh, cooked over the coals.
3. The Food
A mecca for foodies with 20 Michelin stars in the province of Girona, you can eat some of the best food in the world here. El Celler de Can Roca is a restaurant in Girona, opened in 1986 by the Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi. It was first located next to their parents' restaurant Can Roca, but moved to its current location in 2007. It has been received warmly by critics, and holds three Michelin stars. In 2018, El Celler de Can Roca stood at No.2 in the World’s 50 best restaurants, having earned the number 1 spot twice in its history. This year (2019) one of the Roca brothers, Jordi, is opening a chocolate factory and 15 room boutique hotel in Girona’s Plaça de Catalunya.
You can also visit their ice-cream shop, Rocambolesc, on Carrer de Santa Clara, a quirky space resembling a mad scientist’s lab. You can sample their unique flavours of ice cream (Baked Apple or Mandarin, Passionfruit and Orange Blossom sorbet) or take a tub home to enjoy at your own pace. After your ride from L’Estartit through endless Medieval villages you could probably indulge in a Panet, a brioche bun filled with your favourite ice-cream and toppings, toasted shut in their custom made toaster oven.
While it's the exceptional cycling that brings you to Catalonia and the Girona region, the famously original and irreverent Catalan cuisine is equally impressive. If you can’t get a booking at El Celler De Can Roca (currently a 12 month waiting list!), read this short article, to try one of the other equally innovative and unique Catalan cuisine hotspots.
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.
Going to Andalucia in southern Spain is like stepping back in time. Much of the rich, quintessential Spanish identity is deeply rooted in this part of the country. Classic Spanish clichés such as Flamenco, cold gazpacho soup and bullfighting all come from in this part of the country.
In Southern Spain you can ride our Andalucian Adventure taking you from Cordoba to Granada through fields of sunflowers, endless olive tress and snowcapped mountains.
Seductive Flamenco, flowered patios, twisting 'old town' alleyways and magnificent cathedrals and palaces highlight your stays along the way. You'll be able to visit the timeless monuments to the Moor's magnificent culture including the breathtaking medieval mosque in Córdoba and the ethereal Alhambra Palace in Granada.
Córdoba has always been my favorite of the 3 great Moorish cities in Spain - Sevilla and Granada bring the other two. It has an intimate charm to it that immediately seduces you. Being smaller than the other two is part of it. Everything is near or around the Mosque and is within easy walking distance. You can clearly see the vestiges of the 3 great religions nestled side by side- Jewish, Moorish and Christian, not to mention, 4 great civilizations - Roman, Visigoth, Moorish and Christian.
A good time to visit is early May when you will catch the Fiesta de Los Patios, where the Cordobese people open their house to the public and you can see close up the beautifully tended, lush, vibrant gardens contained inside the central patios of homes in the Jewish quarter and throughout the Old Town.
Along the route you’ll visit a famous olive oil mill in Baena run by a family who own around 100,000 olive trees. Olives are hand-picked to prevent bruising, then pulped in ancient stone mills. Núñez de Prado is one of the few operations in Spain that uses this traditional pulping method, and is famous for its flor de aceite, the oil that seeps naturally from the un-crushed olives.
Priego de Córdoba
From Baena, you will ride south following the edge of the wild Parque Subbética hills, to Priego de Córdoba a town famous for its quiet beauty and home to some of the most stunning Baroque churches in all of Spain. Priego is also home to a recently-renovated Moorish castle, whilst the town’s oldest neighbourhood, Barrio de la Villa, perches on the top of a cliff from where truly humbling views of the Subbéticas Natural Park can be enjoyed.
A dish local to Priego is Revuelto de Collejas, a green vegetable similar to silverbeet or spinach, scrambled with eggs and garlic, often served with jamón. Look out for it on menus at La Pianola Casa Pepe or in the Hotel Zahori Restaurant.
On the way to Granada:
Your ride now takes you through the very wild and sparsely inhabited area of the northern Granada Province. Many of our participants consider this the most beautiful ride of the trip. Pause in Montefrio for a photo at the National Geographic Lookout, and then have lunch at the lively terrace of Jomay bar in town.
Your last day of biking as you ride toward the fabled Moorish city of Granada. Finishing in Fuente Vaqueros at the Garcia Lorca museum where you can learn about the astonishing life (and death) of Federico García Lorca, Spain's most beloved poet.
The Andalucían Adventure is best taken in April/May or September/October. Contact us for more information and pricing.
Vanya is a part-time cycling guide who has been to Andalucía more times than she can count on one hand. Lucky for her, she loves tapas, rolling hills and olive trees.
Every February, in deepest, darkest Winter, restaurants all over the Catalan countryside load up their grills with a rather unusual vegetable and churn up huge bowls of rich, Romesco sauce, to host a fun food fiesta known as the Calçotada.
Calçots are not unlike a large, fat spring onion, which when grilled over hot coals soften and become sweet and sticky. The centre of the onion slipping easily from its blackened outer layers is then dunked in garlicky romesco sauce before being dropped vertically into the mouth for a fun and tasty food tradition enjoyed by Catalan families and visitors alike, every winter.
It is quite the sight. Salsa Romesco, is a special sauce made from dried red peppers, nuts (usually hazelnuts and almonds), garlic, vinegar and olive oil that is typical of Tarragona, the region where this tradition started.
At a real Calçotada, a 3-4 course menu is usually served, looking something like: a cream of artichoke soup or pan con tomate (coca bread rubbed with garlic and tomato), Butifarra (Catalan sausage) and Crema Catalana (the Catalan's version of Creme Brulée), with a pile of Calçots as the main event.
It is simple fare but is generally an excuse to gather with friends and family on a Sunday, drive out to a country restaurant, eat a lot and laugh as you get covered in charcoal, and start to smell like fire and onions.
Recently passing through Tarragona on our way south from Barcelona we stopped off for a Calçotada before we left the Catalan region. As plant based eaters we opted for a 'Teja' (roof tile) which is a piping hot pile of calçots served on a hot terracotta roof tile to maintain heat as you work your way through the lot.
You are provided with a Calçotada kit when you order, containing a bib, plastic gloves and extra napkins – all of which you look at wondering how on earth you could need so much stuff for a few grilled onions, but need them you will.
It is messy, hilarious fun with the added game of seeing who can eat the most calçots. Siestas afterward are unavoidable and you will potentially not eat for 24 hours following your Calçotada, so they are quite the memorable experience if you find yourself in Catalonia in Winter. And we highly recommend that you do.
The Most Famous Calçotadas in Catalonia
Address: Carrer de la Font F, 14, 43813 Masmolets
Telephone: 977 60 59 60
Restaurante El Rodavi
Address: Av. Can Nicolau, 47, 43881 Cunit, Tarragona
Telephone: 977 94 39 54
Hours:1-4pm; closed Monday
Hostal Restaurant Grau
Address: Pere el Gran 3, Santes Creus, Tarragona
Telephone: +34 977 638 311
Hours: 1-4pm; closed Monday
Font Les Planes
Address: Carrer Vallvidrera a Sant Cugat, 08017 Barcelona
Telephone: 932 80 59 49
Hours: 9am – 7pmSunday to Thursday; 9am-11:30pm Friday & Saturday; closed Tuesday
Address: Carrer Gran de Gràcia 57, Gràcia
Telephone: +34 932 187 370
Hours: 1-4:15 & 8:30-11:45pm; closed Sunday & Mon. evening
Make your own Calçotada at home!
Want to try calçots but can’t make it over to Spain before the season ends? Try this pasta sauce to get the flavour of a Romesco sauce (the best part of the Calçotada is the sauce!) and taste a little bit of Catalonia right in your own kitchen!
Cycling Rentals Smoky Romesco Pasta Sauce
Serve with your favourite pasta shape or some zucchini noodles for a low-carb option.
-Vegan, Gluten Free.
Written by Vanya Maplestone
Vanya and her husband Enrique are part time cycling tour guides, and full time eaters. They take photos of food, their bikes and pretty places. See their plant based recipes at www.wonderlandfood.online and follow them on Instagram: @Wonderland_Food & @Wonderland_Locations
Although it's always been politically charged, the northeastern region of Catalonia is arguably Spain's finest cycling destination - and arguably not Spanish!
Written by Martin Thompson
With a language that long predates Castilian Spanish and a rich heritage of cultural and political power through the ages, the Catalan region in the north east of the Iberian Peninsula has plenty to offer to cycle travelers, beyond the upheaval of recent events.
From the snow capped peaks and foothills of the Pyrenees to the pine clad shores of the Mediterranean sea, Catalonia boasts a stunning range of idyllic scenery and superb riding conditions. The numerous secondary roads and exquisite cycling trails make exploring the region by bicycle immensely enjoyable and rewarding.
With sufficient variety of terrain to suit every type of cyclist, the only real difficulty is choosing the best route for your limited travel time and that is why we have worked so hard to put together a bike tour of our very favourite province in Catalonia: Girona. Home to dozens of professional cyclists and racing teams, the Girona province has all of the finest Catalan attributes - great scenery and route options, through ancient villages and monumental landscapes from the ocean to the mountains. Could a cyclist dream of any more??
Aside from the phenomenal cycling conditions, aprés riding activities are just as delightful, as Catalonia offers some of the very best cuisine in the western Europe - yes, I would say they even give the Italians a run for their money! World class wines and superior accommodation put the finishing touches on this remarkable part of Spain and will have you not wanting to leave. But when you do, you will no doubt come back for another ride!
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