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Gear, favorite spots,etc. French route, Camino Santiago

newfydog

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Pamplona-Santiago, Le Puy- Santiago, Prague- LePuy, Menton- Toulouse, Menton- Rome, Canterbury- Lausanne, Chemin Stevenson, Voie de Vezelay
I wrote this up for a friend asking me about biking the camino. I found it in my computer and thought I'd post it here.


The route, bike and tires

I looked all over the web trying to figure out if the Camino was best on road or mountain bikes and what tires to use, and never found a decent answer. There are tour groups and road cycling groups riding the route and the paralleling roads who try to make a case for road bikes but I think it would be a big mistake to use anything but a mountain bike with full size mountain bike tires. The route is not difficult mountain biking, more often it is on a dirt road rather than a hiking trail. There is not much pavement, maybe 10% in the first half and 30% for the rest of it. It is a wonderful ride and it would be a shame to miss it by riding the roads. There are people who ride road bikes on paved alternative routes, but unlike France, where the roads are wonderful, much of the route is crowded with high speed truck traffic. We followed the walker's route 95% of the way, and only walked our bikes about 2 km in the entire trip.

I would use a 1.9-2.2 tire with small to medium knobs in the rear and a 1.9 mountain bike racing tire with side knobs and a smoother center in the front. The first year we had a 1.5 rear tire with road tread in the rear and a side knob front tire and bought full sized rear tires halfway through the trip. Last year we had mountain bike racing tires with very little tread and were happy until it rained, when we again bought some knobby rear tires.

Pamplona to Santiago is about 800 kms. There is a fair bit of up and down every day, even away from the mountains because every ancient town is on a hilltop for defense. It took us 13 days hauling camping gear and 11 days with lighter bikes. We didn’t bike all day and sometimes quit after lunch to be tourists.

Accommodations

One can do the Camino very cheaply staying in the church sponsored refugios. The refugios won't allow cyclists to stay until it is dark and all the walkers have arrived. Then they lock up at 10:00, just when the restaurants are opening! The upside is they are almost free.

There are many places to stay along the way in the 25-50 Euro range. The word Hostel is not like a youth hostel but rather translates to motel. Many bars and restaurants have nice rooms upstairs. The only time we have had trouble is on Saturdays, particularly if a wedding or fiesta is in town.

The Paradores are something worth splurging on. They are 90-150 euros but are fabulous. We stayed in Santo Domingo in a building built by Santo Domingo himself, and we stayed in Santiago in the oldest hotel in the world, a hotel built by Isabelle and Ferdinand for pilgrims in 1499. There is a Paradore in Leon which looks interesting.

I would not bring camping gear. When in France, we frequently find a nice campground in town and eat dinner at the fancy hotel. On the Camino, refugios have eliminated much of the demand for campgrounds so often the only camping available is off in the wild with no facilities. The first year we carried camping gear and used it some, but it didn't save us much money because there are many nice cheap places to stay. Last year just we carried very light bags, and had no trouble finding good accommodations along the way.

Guidebooks and tours
You don't much need a guide book, you just follow the trail, which is well marked by blue and yellow "concha" shells and yellow arrows, and in some places shows the wear of 1000 years of pilgrims. Our favorite guides are the ones with a lot of history rather than trail directions. A book with the phone numbers of the motels might be nice if one was riding during the busy summer months but in the fall it is nice to just stay where you want to stop.

There are a lot of tours offered but I don’t recommend them. This trip is just too easy to need a tour and they skip anything inconvenient for the vehicles.

Pilgrims passport

A pilgrim’s passport is a nice thing to have. All the bars and restaurants will stamp it and some hotels will give you a discount. One must have a passport to stay in the refugios. We got ours in LePuy but I know one can get them in St. Jean Pie de Port.


The Route

The first year we started in Pamplona but if one is in reasonable shape and has time the traditional start is in St. Jean Pie de Port. St. Jean is a nice town and the climb over the Pyrenees is beautiful. We rode the hikers route, much of which is paved, and even rode the trail through the grassy alpine meadow at the top. A road biker from Germany went with us and made it without destroying his rims.

From the ancient monastery at Roncevalles the route alternates between smooth graveled paths and some of the roughest trail of the trip. I would recommend leaving the trail for the road for much of the trip to Pamplona. Be sure to enter Pamplona on the trail, through the old town gate.

From Pamplona to Burgos the trail is nearly all dirt, up and down many short hills and really nice riding. Be sure to take the left fork past Estella to see the Monastery and Bodega at Irache. The Bodega offers the Fuente del Vino, the wine fountain where you can fill your bike bottles with free wine.

Coming into Burgos can be the worst part of the trip. The signs vanish and you get dumped onto a busy road. The arrows fork just after a large autostrade overpass. The left fork worked very well last year while the right fork was a mess the year before.

Forty-two hilly km. Past Burgos is the bar restaurant La Taberna in Castrojerez. (Calle Gral. Mola, 43 phone 947-377610). We stayed upstairs both years (30 euro) and the owners, Jesus and Tono are really nice and the food is good. There is a ruined castle above the town worth hiking around. They came out and hugged us goodbye last year.
From Burgos to Galicia cyclists realize how lucky they are to be on a bike. There are some long dry sections of good biking which would be a long lonely walk.

Sahagun is a nasty town where the locals stay up all night screaming obscenities in the street. Just past Sahagun the trail forks to an interesting but rough Roman road to the north and a smoother renovated trail to the south. The south trail has a nice quiet new bar hostel in Bercianos del Real Camino.

The old parts of Leon are very nice, I think more interesting than Burgos.

There are two routes from Leon to Hospital de Orbiga. The southern route is much nicer than the northern route, which is right on a busy road. Just don’t miss the amazing bridge at Orbiga, where the knights jousted. There is a good hotel right on the west side of the bridge. There is another fork leaving Hospital de Orbiga with the northern route being good for mountain bikers and the southern route not too bad but again near the road. The northern route is not on some maps, but it the trails rejoin just before Astorga.

The climb to the Cruz de Fer is the highest point. Many pilgrims bring a small rock from home to leave at the base of the cross, producing a true geologic wonder. We carried Oregon pumice, a rock light enough to float! The trail can be nasty but the road is very nice. Molinaseca is a great little town one the other side of the pass with few churches and at least 13 bars. Hostel Puenta Romana is new and right on the Roman bridge.

The best octopus in the world is at the Pulperia in Cacabelos, just west of Ponferada. I think there may be two Pulperias in town but the good one has a nice metal octopus sign and a good hotel right across the street.

The climb from Villa Franca del Bierzo to O Cebrero is mostly paved. There is a trail for the upper part but for a bike it is best to take the nearly abandoned road next to the trail. Pump the tires to road pressure this day! O Cebrero is interesting but a bit touristy and often in the fog. The descent to Triacastela will bring you to quieter cheaper places to stay.

The trail forks at Triacastela. The northern fork is the best ride of the whole trip. The southern route through Samos is supposed to be nice but on the main road. I wouldn’t miss the ancient roads to the north.

Sarria is a charmless, working class town, though the hotel Roma is nice with the best steaks in Northern Spain. Just before Melide is a nice place out in the country called Casa de las Samosas. The owner, Jesus, offers clean rooms in a massive stone building and a nice patio bar and good dinners.

From there Santiago is 75 km with 1440 meters of climbing, but the trail is great so it can be done in a day. Many pilgrims walk just the last 200 km so there are many places to stay towards the end of the trail.
If there is a Botefumeiro ceremony at the cathedral in Santiago go early and get a good seat!

Getting Home

Cars can be rented fairly cheaply at the Parador but unfortunately, you can’t drop a car off in another country. A pilgrims passport will get you a discount on a plane ticket in Spain. We rented cars but the train might be the best option.
 

Caminando

Veteran Member
Hmmmm....

Your comments about Sahagun remind me of Amery Picaud's comments about the people of various regions; I think he disliked and generalised about the Basque people.

Sarria is "charmless, working class town" - which is the criticism here? "charmless" or "working class"?
 

newfydog

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Pamplona-Santiago, Le Puy- Santiago, Prague- LePuy, Menton- Toulouse, Menton- Rome, Canterbury- Lausanne, Chemin Stevenson, Voie de Vezelay
As I stated, I wrote that up for a friend, and thought there might be some snippets of information for others. Would it be better if I were to not describe it as I experienced it? Or not share my thoughts? The original questions were mostly on bike and tire types, my write up seemed appropriate to repost in a forum on biking the Camino

I really didn't post it to see if people approved of my tone. My wife and friends are my source of what is politically incorrect so I don't seek help from internet forums on that. All the same, thank you so much for the comparison to great prose of Amery Picaud. I can only hope my observations last as long as his have!
 

Caminando

Veteran Member
newfydog said:
As I stated, I wrote that up for a friend, and thought there might be some snippets of information for others. Would it be better if I were to not describe it as I experienced it? Or not share my thoughts? The original questions were mostly on bike and tire types, my write up seemed appropriate to repost in a forum on biking the Camino

I really didn't post it to see if people approved of my tone. My wife and friends are my source of what is politically incorrect so I don't seek help from internet forums on that. All the same, thank you so much for the comparison to great prose of Amery Picaud. I can only hope my observations last as long as his have!

You're absolutely right to describe it as you found it, and to share your thoughts on whatever you like. Of course you dont seek approval of your tone; nor would I. I didnt mention "politically incorrect" in any way, so no help was being offered. Re: the comparison - think nothing of it.
 

newfydog

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Pamplona-Santiago, Le Puy- Santiago, Prague- LePuy, Menton- Toulouse, Menton- Rome, Canterbury- Lausanne, Chemin Stevenson, Voie de Vezelay
Ah, so it was you!

Perhaps you were just giving directions to a lost Perigrino at 4:45 AM, who was a bit hard of hearing.

I thought I heard a "P" but perhaps you were pointing at the flecha, exclaiming RUTA! RUTA! RUTA!
 

skilsaw

Veteran Member
I have heard the late night (early morning) yelling in Seville just before Santa Semana. Was told it was students wanting to justify a penitential attidude for the Holy Week parades.

But then, I have heard it after hockey and football games, and at universities at the end of semester.

These people must have relatives all over the world. Come to think of it... I have partied hard too.
 

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