The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way if St James, is a hiking and biking trail that cuts across Northern Spain along the French Border. This trail is popular with off-road bicyclists, hikers and trekkers. There are several spurs and directions to take on the trail, including starting along the French border and finishing in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The trail is a historic pathway used for more than 1,000 years by pilgrims heading to the various religious monuments and retreats along the way. Today, modern “pilgrims” bike and trek to find outdoor adventures in one of the most scenic areas of Western Europe. As a modern “pilgrim” expect to take 21 days to finish the Camino, unless you really want to crank big distances each day, in which case, expect to finish in 10 to 14 days.
DepartureWhen travelling the French route, you can set out from either Roncesvalles or Canfranc. Leaving from Roncesvalles is the easiest as it is nearly all downhill for the first few kilometres. Head for Larrasoana out of either village. This leg of the journey is approximately 30 kilometres and introduces you to the wonders of the region and the trail. Enjoy the shade, as much of this leg is under shade providing trees lining the trail. Pamplona is not too far off, making for a nice side journey should you wish to see where Hemingway first wrote about the “Running of the Bulls”. The first real town you pass through on your way is Espinal, about seven kilometres from the trailhead. Here, there is a small cafe that caters to “pilgrims” and serves coffee and pastries. Be sure to stop, have a coffee with cream and enjoy talking with the locals. There are bicycle parts shops in the town where you can buy inner-tubes and basic tools.
Larrasoana To PamplonaTake this leg on the second day. This is a short leg, and that is a good thing, as you want your strength and energy when you get to Pamplona. Pamplona deserves a full visit as it is steeped in history. Get ready for a long climb up and out of Larrasoana. If you are like most pilgrims, you end up staying at the Pilgrim's Hostel on the outskirts of the city. Leave your backpack or bicycle at the hostel, under the watchful security of the hostel staff. Walk the route where the bulls are released each year in Pamplona. Watch you wallet as security is lacking around the albergue. The Pamplona Cathedral is near the hostel and is well worth a half-day trip to explore.
Pamplona To Puente la Reina
Hike or bike through countryside and suburbs on this leg of the path. This leg is much more urban than others, and gives a great portrait of life in Northern Spain. The route is approximately 23 kilometres. After you pass through the small suburb of Cizur Menor, get ready for a tough uphill slog. The reward for the ascent is a stellar 360-degree view of the valley. As you keep going, the scenery begins to change from rolling hills to farm fields and flatlands. At the top of the Alto del Perdon there are several statues erected over time by the pilgrims en route to their religious destinations. Keep your eyes open for a colourful old English gentleman around here. He is a fixture of the trail and sells inexpensive and very cold soft drinks to weary pilgrims.
Puente la Reina To EstellaThis day is a short one, and one of the more uneventful along the pilgrim’s way. Cruise through wheat and agricultural fields. Check clothing each night and give yourself a thorough check for ticks as they are prolific in this region. Don’t let this give you pause, just plan ahead and inspect after each day. This is one of the sections you may just want to blaze through and try to cover should you wish to make the entire trail in less than one month’s time.
The next few legs may be combined to make good time. Over the next few legs, pass through many agricultural fields and rolling hills.
Najera To Santo Domingo de la CalzadaAfter making your way through the fields and crops of the last several legs, this is where it starts to get interesting again. Out of Najera you are faced with several different spur trail options. Do cross through the dense pine forests to Azofra for great breakfasts and some of the best coffee found along the trail. The scenic spur is the main trail that follows the N120 straight down to Santo Domingo. Go to the Santo Domingo de la Calzada Cathedral and see the indoor chicken coop. This is erected for the “miracle of the birds” and is a “must-see” for the Camino.
Astorga To Rabanal del CaminoNow you are on the final leg. You have gone up and down, in and out and through the various ecosystems and regions of Northern Spain. This is the pay-off, the finale. Expect plenty of tree cover as you make your way up and through the Leon Mountains. Much of the route now is old, broken asphalt. Take care in this part of the trail as there are many local village dogs that are used to barking and begging pilgrims for food.
Once you get into Rabanal de Camino, go to the pilgrim centre to receive your official Certificate of Completion, a badge of honour suitable for framing. Find a list of hostels for pilgrims where you get your certificate, then settle in for a well-deserved rest in the town.
Preparation & GearThe Camino is long and has its hills and climbs, but an average cyclist will have no problem finishing. Prepare for the trail by biking at least four to five times a week, going out for two to three hours on your long days.
Pack a lightweight sleeping bag liner to use at hostels or inns along the way, ensuring you have clean bedding. Always bring lots of extra water and snacks along the trail. The sun is fierce in this area, so bring sunscreen, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts.