One of the world’s great pilgrimages, the Camino offers everything a travelling cyclists could ask for. Amazing food and wine is standard, historic accommodation and ancient towns line the route, and taking part in something that has captivated people for centuries makes the experience all the better.
In case you don’t know it, the Camino, or Way of St James, is an ancient pilgrimage walk to the grave of St James, one of the Twelve Apostles, in Santiago, Spain. There are various routes that can be taken to Santiago but the most popular is the Camino Frances which starts just over the border in France.
The trail was popular one thousand years ago and after a recent resurgence popular again with hundreds of thousands of people completing some or all of this ancient passage each year. Most travel by foot, but there are others on horse, some drive to take in the famous sites along the way, and an estimated 10% travel by bicycle.
While the Camino is largely considered a walking pilgrimage I think it is also one of the great bicycle trails in the world. And for anyone who likes throwing a leg over their trusty two wheeled friend it may just be better to ride than walk.
The Camino has everything that a travelling cyclists could ask for. Towns are well spaced for meals, water, and accommodation. The food is amazing and there is always a lot of it. Wine is ever present and an important part of meals. The hotels are a great mix of historic and modern, simple and luxurious. Ancient towns line the route. To me nothing is better than lounging on a sunny afternoon in the plaza of a historic town, a view onto the ancient cathedral, restaurants spilling out onto the cobbled square, a smooth wine in hand and great company to laze away the afternoon.
How much time do you have?
The Camino Frances is 800km and takes at least 41 days for most people to walk. Can’t get away for that amount of time? Easy, ride a bike and do it in less than half the time. You still experience the Camino, have a great time in Spain and if you think you might like to walk it someday when you have more time you’ll have a good idea after cycling if coming back for a long walk is your kind of thing.
Some would say you miss out on the camaraderie that walkers experience. Pilgrims who are walking do tend to get to know those around them who walk at a similar pace and will often see the same people day after day. On a bike there is camaraderie with your fellow cyclists. If travelling with a tour group there are likely to be many people in your group you don’t know and these become your Camino comrades during your time on the trail.
You can do as one gentleman did on my last Camino: stop and talk to all the walkers. His mission was to meet as many people as he could and that he did, stopping constantly to talk. He was always the last to arrive each day but he had some great stories to tell!
A more leisurely pace
You can take your time when riding as the distances are never too long. You decide how you want to treat each day. Sometimes I ride a little quicker and get to the next overnight stop by lunch, sit in the town square and enjoy a long long lunch, then explore the town. Other days I take all day to ride the easy distances and really take in everything or enjoy the many alternative routes.
When on a bike you have more opportunity to take some of the alternative routes that are possible along the Camino. While the Camino has a defined official route there are many scenic routes which take you away from the main trail and through more remote areas and natural landscapes. There are fewer walkers and some beautiful scenes to behold on these detours.
For the history buffs there are countless churches, monasteries and other ancient buildings to enjoy but not all of them lie on the Camino. Being on a bike means that a couple of extra kilometres won't break you, while for walkers extra kilometres are usually avoided.
There are sections that would be boring to walk
You can move a bit more quickly through the less interesting parts on a bike. The Masetta would be a long couple of days walking, while on a bike I really enjoy this section as we move through it in a day, have time to stop in the few towns along the way and have no difficulty sourcing food and water which is an issue for walkers.
There is a surprising amount of the Camino on roads, where the modern world has followed ancient paths and put down bitumen for transport. Walkers often find themselves walking on footpaths or tracks right next to roads. While cyclists can actually enjoy these sections of smooth riding, walkers are dreaming of getting back to the small dirt tracks that are great for both walkers and cyclists.
Your fellow pilgrims
Some people think that cyclists are annoying to the walkers. In my last Camino which took in 550km of cycling, two people of the many hundreds or thousands I passed ever expressed any annoyance. One person thought we should have bells on our bikes (the Spanish-owned, Camino specialist bike hire company we use does not put bells on the bikes because they think it is against the spirit of the Camino) and the other was probably just having a bad day.
If you treat the trail as the domain of the walkers and make it your duty to pass them safely and with grace you'll have a great relationship with everyone. We always slowed to walking pace and called out “hola” and “gracias” along with a “buon Camino” as we passed. Some we stopped to chat to. It was all very pleasant and proof that with respect cyclists and walkers do mix.
I may go back and walk the Camino one day, but it will be when I can take a few months to do it. Many walkers are on a schedule and don’t have time to stop for rest days in places that they find they like. They get blisters and other injuries but need to press on to keep to their schedule. When the time comes that I can spend a few months walking with no real schedule, it will be the time I will walk. For now a two week leisurely bike ride is the perfect way to experience all that the Camino offers and rates as one of my favourite bikes trips in the world.
Jason and Pedal Pedal rode Spain in 2016 on a fun two week cycling along the last 500km of the Camino. If you are interested in a trip like this please use the contact page to get in touch.
Islands of Japan
We return to Japan for an encore of our impressive tour of Japan. Two weeks of cycling, food and experiencing the best of Japan. Ride up a volcano and relax in hot springs on this fully supported cycling tour.
30 Sep-12 Oct 2019