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Matt's bike report

William Marques

Staff member
Taken from Santiago Bicicleta

"Any adventurers out there thinking of riding the Camino del Salvador? Anyone
even heard of the Camino del Salvador? (It goes from north from Leon to
Oviedo.) I ended up riding it last summer, and then on to Gijon and Aviles. I
haven't seen any English-language accounts of this route aimed at cyclists, so
I've typed up a trip report and have posted it in the Tour Reports section of
the Group.

If you're thinking of this route, give it a go. I certainly enjoyed it.

The Camino del Salvador: North from Leon to Oviedo, Gijon and Aviles by mountain bike
An ill-timed stomach bug meant I didn’t even start last summer’s (2010) planned ride from France over the Pyrenees and on to Burgos. So with the few days left to us, a friend and I decided to ride the “Camino del Salvador” from Leon to Oviedo, and then on to Aviles via Gijon. I’d wanted to try this since they marked out the route two or three years ago. But while there are some excellent walkers’ guides to the route (e.g. http://www.csj.org.uk/CamSalv2010.pdf), I haven’t seen any English-language notes for cyclists. So here are my thoughts for anyone considering this relatively little-known stretch of the Camino network.

Is it worth it? Yes. And (a bit) no. We enjoyed it greatly. The scenery’s terrific, you’re away from the crowds, and some of the riding is really challenging (in a good way). But the off-road route isn’t designed for bikes, and there are some sections where you’ll be carrying your bike, let alone pushing it. If you’re a reasonably experienced mountain biker, and if you’ve done the Camino Frances and/or the Camino del Norte and are looking for a new challenge, give it a go.

What to combine it with? Assuming that, unlike me, you’re not based in Leon for the summer holidays anyway, you can combine the Camino del Salvador with other routes to/from Leon and/or Asturias. The Leon-Oviedo stretch provides a link-up between the Camino Frances and the Camino Primitivo; while carrying on to Gijon and/or Aviles links up with the Camino del Norte. If you’re riding the Via de la Plata in full (i.e. not diverting to Santiago), Leon to Gijon is the final stretch. I’d advise against cycling it in reverse: the climb from Asturias to Leon is crushingly steep even on the main road.

Road or trail? Trail, where possible. Some sections of the route are along quiet-ish asphalt roads anyway. But the ride over the mountains from Pola de Gordon (Leon) to Campomanes (Asturias) offers a clear choice of road vs. trail. I’ll be honest: the trail is tough. But it’s good and in parts great. And the main-road alternative over the mountains isn’t much fun, with lorries thundering past. If you don’t want any off-road riding, I wouldn’t choose this Camino in the first place.
Equipment? MTB with chunky off-road tyres. With lights. Front suspension a must, rear suspension unnecessary. Don’t even think of taking a hybrid on the trails: this is mountain-biking, not cross-country.

Preparation? Research the route well, better than we did. The route is marked, but not nearly as thoroughly and clearly as the Camino Frances. And there are more alternatives to choose between. Whatever happens, you will find your way to Oviedo and beyond. But reading and printing the various internet sources (and maps) beforehand will give you the best thrills/scenery for your pedal-stroke. The CSJ website is probably the best place to start.

Markings? You see the odd yellow arrow. But from Leon city to the provincial border with Asturias, there are wooden marker posts with arrows on showing “Camino de San Salvador Leon-Oviedo”. Once in Asturias there are low white stone markers with embossed scallop shells. In Asturias (unlike on the rest of the camino), you go in the direction of the scallop’s hinge, not its open fan. Don’t forget this!

Distances? We averaged about 70km per day, with a bit less on Day One. If you’re off-roading all the way, you may struggle to get to Oviedo by the end of Day Two. But that needn’t be a problem: there are plenty of places to stay once you get to the foot of the mountains after crossing from Leon to Asturias.

Weather? We had great and typical summer weather: hot and cloudless in Leon; then a bit murky with intermittent sun in Asturias. But remember: the weather almost always changes radically from Leon to Asturias, within 2km on the road, so don’t make assumptions; and these are serious-no-mucking-about-mountains, so getting lost in low visibility or poor weather is no joke. If the weather closes in, take the road. I wouldn’t suggest cycling this route outside summer: you’re riding past ski stations, after all...

Accommodation? There are plentiful hotel/pension options in Leon itself and in Asturias from Pola de Lena onwards. The CSJ site and others have details of the refugios that exist. But for the overnight stop you’ll need at the end of Day 1, I can’t recommend strongly enough the guesthouse El Embrujo in Poladura de la Tercia (http://www.toprural.com/Casa-rural-habi ... 338_f.html). Good price, comfortable, pretty, and a warm welcome. Call ahead to book. And book dinner too: we had a fantastic no-choice six-course meal with wine and coffee for 13 (thirteen!) euros each. There isn’t anywhere else to eat in the village in any case.

Eating? Half the point of riding this route in the first place. Lots of good honest local food, with no ‘menu peregrino’ rubbish to detain you. Meat, cheese and the like in Leon. More fish and seafood-oriented in Asturias. If you can cycle after a lunchtime ‘fabada’ (Asturian bean stew with chorizo, black pudding etc.), I salute you. You can eat well and at a reasonable price in Oviedo, but it’s harder than elsewhere on the route: get out of the old town to do so; my local contacts tell me that up near the train station is good (it’s not far).

Drinking? Public water fountains at regular intervals, though less so in the mountain stretches between Pola de Gordon and Campomanes. Even so, there are fountains in Buiza, Poladura de la Tercia, and Arbas del Puerto (on the N630, just before the pass at Pajares). Wine in Leon, most definitely cider (sidra) in Asturias. As my riding companion observed the morning after: beer is an energy drink. Wine is an energy drink. Sidra is most definitely not an energy drink.

Day One: Leon to Poladura de la Tercia
Morning: follow the wooden Camino de San Salvador markers all the way. We left Leon by the normal route (Cathedral then San Marcos), then a few km north by road to Carbajal. Then 15km of excellent single/one-and-a-half track mountain biking to Cascantes, repeatedly climbing and descending the ridge that runs parallel to the river Bernesga. Only one short very steep climb that can’t be ridden (don’t miss the marker, it’s just after a ford). Then a mix of quiet roads and trail via La Robla to La Pola de Gordon. We had lunch in the latter.
Afternoon: fairly gentle but steady on-road climbing 5km to Buiza. Then the fun starts. You could take the relatively easier trail north-east from Buiza to Villasimpliz, and then the main road (N630). But that would be a shame. Instead we took the trail due north from Buiza, following the wooden markers and signs to Rodiezmo. The scenery’s spectacular, the isolation splendid, and the riding uphill and hard. There are sections too rocky and/or steep to ride, but not so many as to ruin the fun. The marking is pretty good. After about 4km or 5km you reach the summit amidst heather and rocks. From there, a steep but wide-enough and definitely rideable track drops down all the way to Rodiezmo. Half-way down the descent, the wooden markers take you off left on a narrow single-track around the ridge, breaking the descent (much mentioned on the websites). DON’T take this turning on a bike. We did. The single-track is too precarious to pedal on, and we ended up first riding with one foot down (in the gorse bushes), then pushing (while walking through the gorse bushes), and then finally carrying our loaded bikes through gullies and gorse and over barbed wire and electrified fences. And all in sight of our destination: there just wasn’t a rideable path. Far better to continue the descent straight into Rodiezmo, then take the quiet country road 3km along the valley to Poladura.

Day Two: Poladura de la Tercia to Oviedo
Morning: it can’t take 2 hours to cover 5km, can it? Oh yes it can. From Poladura you have two choices to get to the pass at Pajares: take the country road 6km east to Villamanin, then 12km up the N630. Or do what we did, and follow the wooden markers 200m west on the road out of Poladura, and then due north into the mountain meadows. The ‘path’ rears up steeply, and is more or less rideable for the first few hundred metres. Then some pushing along a thin fence, past a water trough that looks like an old bathtub . And then: nothing. You’re standing in a beautiful mountain field, with no route markers in sight, and no idea how to cross the rocky mountain ridge high above and before you. I’ll give you a clue: follow the contour up and round to the right, and you’ll see a line of lighter vegetation traversing right to left up towards the rocks. Get on to it, and manhandle the bike up it. As you approach the rockface, you’ll spy a small yellow arrow painted on it. Semi-incredulously, you climb towards it and find a gap to climb through. And then the gradient slackens, and with some riding and some pushing you reach a barbed-wire fence and the summit, with Busdongo and the N630 far down in the valley below. From there, you follow the trail left, reach a stone water-trough, and push the bike down to a rideable double-track path. Here you can go up and left, towards more rough terrain to the pass at Pajares. Or ride down and right to Busdongo, then cross the railway line and ride the final 3km or so on the N630 to the pass. On the advice of a local farmer we bump into half-way down, we do the latter, and are pleased to do so.
I’m torn on whether to recommend the off-roading described above. It was more mountain-pushing than mountain-biking. But the scenery was spectacular, and there were never terrifying drops in front or to the side of us. My only regret is that we spent so much time looking for where to go that…
We then decided to cut our losses by freewheeling 19km down the N630 to Campomanes. With a hotel reservation awaiting us in Oviedo, we probably did the right thing. But there definitely is an off-road alternative west of the N630, accessed by turning left either at the first gravel-trap on the N630 or in the village of Pajares. Somehow you reach the village of San Miguel del Rio, then Llanos de Someron, and then down to meet the N630 at Puente de los Fierros. I don’t know whether there are unrideable stretches on this route, and if so for how long. But from our vantage point freewheeling down the N630 on the other side of the valley, it looked a lot of fun, and much prettier than the lorries on the N630. (There is a camino route to the east of the N630, but forget that on a bike.) One day I’ll return…
Afternoon: from Campomanes to Oviedo mostly by quiet country roads (albeit not far from the motorway), following the scallop shells. Definitely worth the short detour to the ?10th century pre-romanesque church of Santa Cristina de Lena, between Campomanes and Pola de Lena. Then through Ujo to Mieres, a proper-sized town. From Mieres the stiff climb of El Padrun, on what my mother-in-law (herself Asturian) tells me used to be the main route into Oviedo, but now traffic-free with the motorway tunnelling its way out of sight (and earshot) through the hillside. Then an equally steep descent into Olloniego. After Olloniego another steep ascent, longer than it looks, to and beyond Manzaneda. And once finally at the top, a roll down into Oviedo and the easily-spotted spire of its cathedral.

Day Three: Oviedo to Aviles, via Gijon
Morning: This isn’t the Camino del Salvador any more, but we wanted to make a trip of it, and to end up in my mother-in-law’s village by the sea near Aviles. So rather than go straight to Aviles, we double the distance by visiting Gijon first. Leaving our cheapo hotel in the centre of Oviedo, we rode up, and up, and up to the pre-romanesque monuments/buildings of Santa Maria del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo, on the edge of Oviedo itself. Not my first visit, but they’re beautiful and not-to-be-missed. Especially as by chance we hook up there with the red and white markings of the Via de la Plata, which take us on traffic-free footpaths all the way to Lugones. There, sadly, we lose the markings, and instead follow the fairly quiet AS-18 all the way to the outskirts of Gijon. Into the old town, ride up and down the beach promenade, and great menu del dia in one of the old town’s sidrerias.
Afternoon: from Gijon to Aviles we’re on one of the well-marked main camino del norte routes, and ride past and alongside fellow pilgrims in numbers for the first time since Leon. It’s a well-travelled route with much written on it, so if you’ve read this far, I won’t detain you any longer…

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Rebekah Scott

Camino Busybody
Year of past OR future Camino
Many, various, and continuing.
A wonderful read, a great adventure on one of the finest Camino paths there is. I cannot imagine pushing a bike up that mountain after Poladura de Tercia!! Thanks for posting this.

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