Via de la Plata and El Norte Caminos, Spain on a Bike Friday, June 2018


Via de la Plata and El Norte Caminos, Spain on a Bike Friday, June 2018

Over 90% of people who walk or ride ‘The Camino” in Spain do the Camino Frances or French Way across the central north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela.  But there is a large network of Caminos from all areas of Spain, Portugal, France and beyond.  I started in Seville in the south at the end of May.

I chose the Via de la Plata – the wide Roman Road as I found an excellent bike guide for it – in Spanish – but maps are universal and you soon work out the symbols for fords, bike shops etc. The other essential ingredient was a Credential de Peregrino for 3E – a passport allowing you to stay in the municipal and church supported albergues (v cheap but excellent hostels) along the route.

Seville is very bicycle friendly with bike paths along all their wide avenues and highways.  In May the Jacaranda trees are in full glory.

As I was travelling by myself I allowed a week at a language school in Seville to also get my bike together and ensure it was working well.   To make sure  I ventured out west 35km to a solar thermal farm.

Then I launched off on the 1000 km to Santiago de Compostela along quiet country roads, farm lanes and through wild flower strewn parks.   The Via de la Plata route is approx 1/3 dirt roads, 2/3 bitumen but the guide gives a full bitumen option.

The roads are very well signposted and the few drivers were very cautious and courteous.

After two dry years then a very wet winter the wildflowers were magnificent.

This French walker was resting as I came up to the ford.  As I balanced along the stepping stones, still getting used to the unwieldy extra weight on the back of my laden bike – he met me in the middle to help – so that all my precious lube wasn’t washed off.

Essie – my bike is a Pocket Crusoe Petite so I was restricted to under 10Kg extra – hence the smaller paniers and a light sleeping bag.

Over the old Roman bridge into Merida – my first rest day to explore the Roman ruins.

Spot Essie – shows the size of the aqueducts

The Camino has reassuring yellow arrows, but often they are subtly placed.

Via de la Plata and El Norte Caminos, Spain on a Bike Friday June 2018

Lovely firm single track through farm paddocks then out on quiet country roads leading into the mountains.

Enjoying fruit in a small village.  The mountain bikes and their gear look enormous next to mine.
Water fountains are regularly placed along the way.

The route took me through many almost abandoned stone villages and some having a partial revival.  Most villages had a bar that provided excellent coffee and a pilgrims meal – 3 courses plus wine and bread for < 10E.  This village had no shops, no bar but the hospitaleros were almost self sufficient growing food behind the albergue -pictured with his elderly father, and provided lovely meals.
Lavender along the road sides.
I think young hair dressers are similar to young bike mechanics – they just want to get out of school and start work…and avoid learning English……..At the bike shop you can just point to the problem and they can work it out.  At the hairdressers a few key words got the message across…”Soy bicigrina con casco”…….I am a bicycle pilgrim with a helmet… obviously I wanted my hair cut short to avoid helmet hair!   Getting foils added was a little tricky.
Leaving Salamanca took me through cereal farms with poppy lined roads.
There were no fences so the shepherds and dogs take the animals out each day to eat within strict areas.
All the fast traffic goes on the Autovias, often a National road will be running parallel with wide bike friendly shoulders and almost no traffic so quite safe to use if necessary.  To pass through the mountain ranges into Galicia (NW corner of Spain) I went on the National road up the mountain, and found it had a Pilgrim’s path attached safely within the long tunnel.  Once through, the camino took me winding off to the left through small villages and up over the top of the second mountain range with the autovia and national road tunnels below me.
The camino path in the heath covered Galician mountains was rougher – but I was not in a hurry and it was worth it for the scenery.
Lush Galician lanes
The ultimate goal for most pilgrims is the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.  To collect their Compostela and go to the mass with the giant swinging botafumeiro with its smoking incense.
I took a train back to Ourense (with bike folded in the luggage rack) and then an overnight bus to Irun which is on the NE coast just over from the French border.  This area was initially touristy near San Sebastian with a walking/bike lane along the coast.
Then it was lush and mountainous going up and down into seaside villages tucked into the coves.
Again along the farm lanes.  The north coast gets much more rain.
And quiet bitumen roads
Into Bilbao for another rest day taking in the Guggenheim museum, street dancing and wonderful food. Shirley, Essie, The Pup and his kennel (the Guggenheim)
Further along the river from Bilbao I came across this amazing bridge with hanging transportador
Fascinated I settled in the bar on the riverside with some exquisite pintxos (the tapas of the basque country) and a tinto verano to watch it go back and forth
Once over the river on the other side there was a wonderful walking and bike path taking you up and over the autovia and continued 12km to La Arena a beach town.  The albergue was in the next little pueblo Pobena.
Through the next mountain range to Laredo.

I had to work my way down and along the beach to the far end where a punt takes you across to the next town Santona – home of the finest quality anchovies.  The municipal albergue there was part of a new indoor sporting complex
I took a 2 day detour south off the camino to go 40km gently climbing 400m along the river in to Potes – the gateway to the alps Picos de Europa.  While the road was narrow, motorists were reminded to give cyclists a wide berth and they always did.
Early in the morning the alps appeared. 
I returned to the camino following the reassuring yellow arrows.
Through more abandoned stone villages to Oviedo.  All up I had covered 1800 km

My time was up so I caught another overnight bus south to Seville where the language school was holding my case.

Much  of the Via de la Plata passes through non-tourist areas and similarly the mountainous area of El Norte where very little if any English is spoken so some basic Spanish is necessary – but high school Spanish or an introductory travellers language course along with a smile and a smart-phone app will ensure you enjoy the delicious food, always have a bed to sleep in and get any repairs needed.

Story By: Shirley Proctor

7 Responses

  1. If you need more information on this great trip I had leave a comment and I should be alerted. I am in Australia

  2. Hi there. I’m so excited that I found your blog here. My husband and I are about to take off to ride the VDLP north to south starting we think in Astorga. We have new ebikes having traded our original Bike Fridays for NWTs. We don’t want to ride the original Jacobean route but rather follow it on small roads that parallel it. Any support or references you might have for us would be welcome. We’re so excited. We fly into Madrid and then will make our way by bus or train to Astorga or Leon, not sure. We have 3 weeks.


    1. Hi Marilyn,
      That’s pretty exciting. We would love to see pics of your ride or repost any blog entries you make on the trip. I don’t have any references offhand, but you might join our Yak forum list and see who could chime in your trip. Have a great time.

    2. The excellent guide (2nd photo above) I had is found at www. Called La Via De La Plata, Caminos Mozarabe y Sanabres en bicicleta by Valeria Mardones and Bernard Datcharry. When I googled and found the website I followed a link/or contact us and Bernard wrote back to me and told me how to order and pay via paypal and he posted it out to me. It has the camino marked in red and gives alternative quiet sealed country roads marked in green. It is very comprehensive with accommodation. It is in Spanish as I couldn’t find anything in English….but if you don’t have any Spanish learn how to use the free google translate app that you point your phone camera at and it translates immediately off line

  3. HI Shirley, just came across your stunning blog. We rode the Camino Frances in 2013, and are riding the Portugese (well from Porto to Finisterre) in June this year (2020). Seriously would love to ride the Via de la Plata for my 80th birthday.
    Hoping you are in Melbourne so we could meet to discuss. Otherwise just a reply to get things moving would be appreciated.

    1. Just found your entry. No doubt your plans were wrecked due to pandemic. I am in rural Victoria. Phone me on 54248374

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