A guide to cycling the Camino de Santiago in Spain: When to go, what to pack and how to prepare for your bicycle pilgrimage across Spain.
Cycling the Camino de Santiago can be a once in a lifetime adventure, and as such, to make the very most of your journey, here are a few suggestions from a fellow cyclist and perennial pilgrim to help you on your Way!
When is the best time to take a Camino de Santiago bicycle holiday? is a question we get asked a lot at Cycling Rentals and one that has many answers. It will depend on the route chosen, the specific section, as well as what you are hoping to experience on the route.
Generally, most pilgrims choose to travel from Spring to Autumn. The most famous route, the French Way or Camino Frances, for instance crosses very different regions, from the Pyrenees to Galicia, and the weather will change from region to region. Summer months can be very hot for cycling across the Meseta, the middle sections of the French Way, but if you are cycling the last section from Sarria to Santiago, temperatures won’t be as high; as you will be cycling in Galicia and its mild Atlantic climate.
Coastal routes such as the Portuguese Coastal Way, Finisterre Way and Northern Way are best appreciated in the Summer months, when seaside towns come to life.
If you are cycling in the Summer months, whether along the coast or inland, always make sure you bring essential items to avoid sunstroke such as hat, sunblock and plenty of water. You should also make sure you take breaks from the heat and avoid exposure to the sun around lunchtime, the hottest part of the day. We recommend leaving early in the day to get your cycling in before the sun can make your experience feel more extreme.
The popularity of the Camino de Santiago has increased over the past few years and you will encounter fellow pilgrims on the French Way route most months of the year, but particularly during peak season. If you are looking for a quieter experience, we recommend other Camino routes such as the Portuguese Way.
Winter months will be quieter on the French Way but the route will be more challenging due to the weather conditions. Mountain areas such as the Pyrenees and O Cebreiro are likely to get snow in the winter months; while lower areas can be wet and cold. In addition many cafes, restaurants and hotels may close during the winter months particularly in rural areas. Talk to the Cycling Rentals travel specialists if you are looking to travel on the Camino in winter and we’ll be able to advise you on your best options.
With the growing amount of Camino Rental Packs we dispatch, we thought a Camino specific cycle packing list would be very helpful! We update this list regularly and count on your suggestions to make it better and better. (Scroll down for a printable packing list).
The first thing to bear in mind with the Camino de Santiago is that you can essentially cycle the pilgrimage route any time of year - though our preference is for late spring, early summer or fall. Other times of year can be rather too cold or hot for comfortable cycling. Having said that, any time of year you choose to cycle the Camino, you should bear in mind that given the distance, elevation and natural micro-climates, the variation of the weather is something you must prepare for.
From the brisk mornings in the Pyrenees to the hot plains in and out of Leon, to the chilly heights of O Cebreiro and the possible rain showers around Santiago de Compostela, you will be exposed to a range of temperatures and weather conditions. With that in mind and because you don't want to pack too heavy (despite the 40 liter capacity of our Ortlieb panniers!), here is our suggested packing list - scroll down for a pdf to print-out and you can check items off as you pack.
1 x Bike helmet
1 x Cycling cap
1 x Sun glasses
1 x Clear lens glasses (or changeable lenses)
1 x Fingerless gloves
1 x Full finger gloves
1 x Cycle Shoes
2 x Padded cycle shorts
2 x Cycle Jersey
4 x Cycling socks
1 x Light Water-proof wind breaker
1 x Warm, light Fleece (makes a great base layer for your rain jacket on cold days)
1 x Arm warmers / sleeves
1 x Sunscreen - small
1 x Small first aid kit
1 x Small packet of tissues (for pit stops!)
1 x Shower cap (for your seat on rainy stages)
1 x Long sleeve "dinner" shirt / blouse
1 x Short sleeve "dinner" shirt or polo or blouse
1 x Long trousers / practical skirt / dress
1 x Warm, light Sweater or Cardigan
1 x flip-flops or light-weight walking shoes
5 x Underwear (rinse them out in the shower on rest days!)
1 x Compact toiletry kit (including hand-washing liquid)
Tools & Equipment
1 x Smartphone and charger
1 x Spare battery pack (Optional but great if you take a lot of pictures and video)
1 x Camera (or save space and weight and just use your smartphone)
1 x Multi tool
1 x Spare tube (and / or patch kit)
1 x Small bottle chain oil
Download your packing list right here:
If you have found any other items to be useful, or any listed items to be superfluous, get in touch and let us know!
You can get by on as little as €10 if you are buying your supplies in supermarkets and grocery stores.
A ham and cheese sandwich (Bocadillo con jamón y queso) or slice of Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish omelette with potatoes) and a soft drink will set you back 4-5€, for lunch in most small bars, coffee will be 1-2€.
Some cafes and bars do a Pilgrim's lunch menu, consisting of a starter, main course/entree, dessert, drink and bread for anywhere from 5-15€. These can be great value for the main meal of the day.
Be sure to refill your Cycling Rentals water bottle at fountains along the way - always look for the sign 'AGUA POTABLE' (Drinking water).
I would recommend quite a lot of cycling before going on the Camino de Santiago. It ranges from challenging mountain passes to flat stretches of farmland and to complete the distance in a reasonable time you must have had plenty of TIME IN THE SADDLE (TITS - hehe!).
Getting accustomed to long stretches riding just takes repetition and time. Start training a few weeks before you go. Try to ride 2-3 times a week in the months preceding your Camino, and if possible ride a few days in a row, so you become used to spending time on the bike, without sore saddle bones and start to find your rhythm. Test out any gear that is new, such as shoes, helmet and padded cycling shorts if they are new to you.
These tips will make your trip that much more enjoyable and you will finish your Camino in great shape with lots of photos rather than blisters!
By Martin Thompson
Avid Mountain biker, Bike Tourist & Founding partner at Cycling Rentals
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.
As you ride through Portugal, particularly the Alentejo and Algarve regions, you will see gnarly, reddish rather sculptural but ugly oak trees sporting large numbers in white paint on their trunks.
These are the Quercus suber, an evergreen Oak tree, dropping acorns and growing a thick bark that is commonly known as cork. It is the primary source of cork for wine bottle stoppers and a multitude of other uses, such as cork flooring and as the cores of cricket balls.
Portugal produces about half the world output of commercial cork! Here's a brief summary of the billion dollar cork industry in Portugal.
Cork Oak is native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa where it is well suited to this climate: An abundant and evenly distributed rainfall, short summer dry periods tempered by atmospheric humidity, very mild winters, clear skies and plenty of sunshine, very permeable, moist and deep siliceous soils.
A fascinating and important tree, Cork Oaks can support diverse ecosystems and for this reason are a protected species, with their harvesting process being heavily legislated and regulated in Portugal. The species, which covers approximately 8 percent of the total area of Portugal and constitutes 28 percent of its forests, grows best in the central and southern parts of the country where the largest stands supplying the greatest percentage of high-grade cork are to be found.
Every year from Mid May to Mid August, well-trained seasonal harvesters stage their harvest of the Cork Oak in Portugal. Once a tree is about 25 years old it can be harvested for its ‘virgin cork’ and then every 9 years after the cork ‘bark’ is harvested, and the year is marked on the tree with the last number of that year (ie. A tree harvested this summer will be painted with a 9). Portuguese law prohibits stripping the trees more than once every nine years in order to protect the species. 38 year old bark (roughly the third harvest) is when the bark becomes of high enough quality to produce wine stoppers.
The harvest of the height of the tree is determined by the diameter, if the tree is 1 metre in diameter, you can harvest three metres of the height of the tree. A Cork Oak lives for about 150 - 200 years on average meaning that it will be harvested about 15 times over its lifecycle.
After harvest, trucks carry the cork to plants to be stabilised and prepared for cork stopper and other production processes. First, the slabs of bark are pressed under concrete slabs for 6 months, the cork is then sterilized using a big boiler. Next, the cork is classified into quality grades for different uses, with experienced cork workers visually assessing the quality of the bark. Wine cork stoppers are made in the north of Portugal and then exported all over Europe. The residual cork wood can be used for flooring and building materials (see other uses below) but also a new market in cork-based eco-fashion has become a trend in recent years.
The European cork industry produces 300,000 tonnes of cork a year, with a value of €1.5 billion and employing 30,000 people. Wine corks represent 15% of cork usage by weight but 66% of revenues.
Of the producing countries, Portugal, plays an important part in the industrial utilization of cork, and so rightly occupies the foremost position. It has 500 factories, which employ about 20,000 workers, equipped with the latest machinery and utilizing the latest technological advances, enabling the industry to meet the demand for any product. This industry produces stoppers, discs, different types of floats, shoe soles, printing paper, cigarette tips, bath mats, table mats, hat bands, fishing rod handles, different kinds of packing. Cork wool is produced for cushions and mattresses and granulated cork employed chiefly as insulating material in ship-building, as a protective packing for fruit and eggs, and as tubing for plastic substances.
The Biggest Tree
Near the Portuguese town of Águas de Moura the Sobreiro Monumental (Monumental Cork Oak) is located, a tree of 234 years old, 16 metres (52 ft) tall and with a trunk that requires at least five people to embrace it. It has been considered a National Monument since 1988, and the Guinness Book of Records states it as the largest and oldest in the world.
Vanya is a part-time cycling tour guide, part-time food blogger/writer and full-time food savant. She also loves cork.
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.
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