At the beginning of this month I decided to cycle 328km over hills and mountains in rain, wind and sun across one of the most beautiful parts of Spain. I cycled a part of El Camino de Santiago which is a famous pilgrimage ending in Santiago de Compostella. I decided to take it easy and just cycle from Bilbao in the Basque country to Gijón in Asturias, via Cantabria. All really beautiful parts of Spain with incredible food and cheap prices 🙂
The weather in the north of Spain is much more suitable for cycling in the summer than it is in Mallorca, where I’m based. It’s around 25 degrees in the daytime and a bit cooler at night but not too hot to cycle.
We began the trip in Bilbao and had a couple of days to plan the route and find some bikes! We tried to balance it out fairly equally to an average of 40km per day but there are always days where you do a little more or a little less or get lost etc. For me it honestly got easier each day that I cycled which surprised me, I thought I’d get more tired. Here’s our route set out with the amount of kilometres and we did:
- Day 1: Bilbao – Castro Urdiales 30km
- Day 2: Castro Urdiales – Santander 70km
- Day 3: (ended up having a rest day in Santander as we did extra the day before)
- Day 4: Santander – Santillana del Mar 30km
- Day 5: Santillana del mar – Colombres 45km
- Day 6: Colombres – Ribadesella 58km
- Day 7: Ribadesella – Villvaviciosa 43km
- Day 8: Villvaviciosa – Gijón 31km
Accommodation & Towns
We stayed in Various places, mostly albergues which are the typical cheap accommodation for El Camino. They are usually similar to a hostel and just a big room with many bunk beds inside. People usually go to sleep by 10pm and wake up between 5-8am :-O As walkers need more time to make it to the next destination. Basically, you won’t get a luxurious sleep but its enough to keep you going and as I said – cheap!
In Bilbao we just got an Airbnb room as we were just starting. The same at the end of our trip in Gijón, we treated ourselves to another Airbnb as our trip had finished and we didn’t want a 5am wake up after our celebrations. All of these places had a safe place to leave our bikes and the staff were pretty nice about it.
Here’s where I stayed in each place and what I thought of the albergue:
We stayed in Agua Spa which is a private albergue a little out of the centre of the town but a really nice calm, yoga spa hotel with a room downstairs for pilgrims. They offer a pilgrim dinner of 7€ or also breakfast for 2.50€. I thought it was a very nice place for the first stay and I was expecting worse. The room was very spread out and the beds were comfortable.
1. Santander Central Hostel is located fairly central and with friendly staff. They offer a 10% discount for pilgrims so in total it cost around 22€ (a little more expensive than an albergue). This also included breakfast which I always get excited about.
2. We had to move the second night as the hostel was booked up – remember that the big cities during summer, the accommodation is completely full. We even met a poor German girl who had nowhere to stay as she didn’t book before and arrived very late. So the second night was in an official public albergue, Albergue de peregrinos Santos Mártires, 12€ and pretty basic, no windows and lots of bunk beds. Might I add we had to wait 2 HOURS to get inside due to the sloth woman who was in charge of administration.
Santillana del Mar
Here we stayed a hotel/albergue Solar de Hidalgos which was a little different. It was a kinda creepy, kinda cool medieval house in the middle of the town (the town is very small and also medieval). I’m not gonna lie, the owner was a little creepy in my opinion, just a bit too complimentary/ touchy but anyway nothing more. We got our own room for just 16€ each which was a nice change and we could get a good sleep.
If you’re thinking about visiting this village you should remember that there’s really NOTHING there. Apart from the best Mexican restaurant in the world which we spend 5 hours eating and drinking in as it was raining outside. So we stayed in El Cantu which was a fairly basic albergue and cost 12€ per night. The rooms were pretty basic and not the best but it’s what you can expect from an albergue.
We stayed in Albergue Ribadesella which was about 19€ but a really lovely hotel literally on the beach. The price included breakfast and we were in a fairly good 6 bed room. At the time we went to Ribadesella (beginning of August) there was actually a really famous canoe festival called The Descent of the river Sella meaning they were parties all weekend! If you can time it right, I’d recommend staying during the festival and enjoying the electronic music concert and general crowds of drunk Spanish people with more sidre bottles than you can count.
This town wasn’t too big either but you can find some nice bars and restaurants to eat and drink in. We stayed in Albergue hostel Villavicisoa which was 15€ + 2.50€ breakfast and a pretty nice place. I was desperate for a pizza after a week without so I shamefully went to an Italian restaurant and afterwards to a hipster style bar to drink wine.
There are 3 options for bikes in El camino, you can either bring your own bike by plane/boat, whichever means. You can rent a bike on el camino(which means you will either have to go back to where you started or use a bike rental courier service). Or you can buy a bike there, and if you’re lucky, sell it in a second hand shop when you finish. This is what we did and it proved to be the easiest and cheapest option.
We bought a 200€ new mountain bike from Decathlon which worked really well and later returned it to a second hand store in Gijón for half the price.
No not this one… just playing 🙂
What to Remember
Roads – unfortunately you will end up spending most of your time cycling on a main road. But it’s honestly not that bad. The views are absolutely incredible, it’s hard to get lost and you will go much faster.
I didn’t notice so much traffic when we were cycling and there was usually a little space by the road to cycle on, the cars seemed pretty used to cyclists anyway. Maybe this will make you think about which bike to bring. We did cycle on el camino for parts of the trip but not as much as we thought we would. Sometimes the camino comes onto the road too.
Cycle in the morning in summer – Spain gets hot during summer, especially in the afternoons. It’s best to get going early in the morning before the sun gets too much. This way you’ll stay cool and also be able to relax and enjoy the afternoon in your next destination.
Camino Passport – Remember your Pilgrim passport!
Without it you will not get any of the discounts for the albergues where you stay and also who wouldn’t want a little book full of stamps to remind you everywhere you went in your trip?! You can get your pilgrim passport online or in tourist offices/albergues along the trip. (Note that tourist offices also give stamps!)
Bike accessories – Only a bike is not enough. You need tools in case you get a puncture/break down, you need a helmet, drinks bottle etc. Here’s what I think is essential:
- Water bottle
- Spare inner tubes
- Bandanna to go under helmet (sweaty heads aren’t great)
- Sunglasses (preferably cycling ones)
- Cycling gloves
- Waterproof jacket/ bag cover
- Pants with ass padding (oh my god it hurts after a few days, bring something to soften the pain)
- Bungees (your bags will probably fall off at least once)
- Pannier rack for the bike
- Bike pump
- Alan keys/general tools
- Portable charger – we used Google maps the whole time so battery was important
I actually didn’t even have proper pannier bags on my bike, I just attached my rucksack to the back of my bike with as many bungees as I could find. It slipped off a few times so it’s not ideal, but if you’re mostly on smooth roads it’s not so bad. If you can find pannier bags they would be better but if not bungees are enough.
Have you ever cycled el camino? What did you think of the experience? What would you do differently?
Next year I plan to go back and cycle the rest of the route from Gijón to Santiago de Compostella. I’ll keep you updated on what happens 😉