This cycling tour follows the ancient pilgrimage trail across the rolling plains of Castile-Leon, once the historic seat of the Spanish Empire, over the mountains and into the more isolated and culturally independent Galicia.
Along the 250 km biking trail from Leon to Santiago we soak up the history of the region as we stay in distinguished and luxurious Paradors and we sample some of the best examples of Castilian and Galician food and wine.
Day 1: Leon
Accomodation: Hotel Real Colegiata de San Isidoro
From Madrid, we’ll travel by van through the Sierra de Guadarrama and over the fertile plains of Castile to the historic city of León, founded in 68 B.C. and home to the cathedral with the most beautiful stained glass windows in Spain. On the way, we will stop for lunch in Rueda, famous for its exquisite white wine, Verdejo. We’ll spend the late afternoon visiting the Cathedral, wandering around the winding, slate-paved streets of the Barrio Húmedo (renowned for some of the best tapas bars in Castile); and, before dinner, we’ll head to the Madres Carbajales convent to get that all-important piece of documentation that will record our pilgrimage – the Credencial del Peregrino.
Day 2: Leon – Astorga
Accomodation: Hotel Via de la Plata
We’ll start our trip winding westward through small towns whose economies, for centuries, were dependent on the pilgrims making their way westward along the Camino. Today’s riding is a good warm up for the next couple of days, as we go through the western plains of Castile towards the mountains that mark the limits between Castile and Galicia. Your hotel for the evening is the town of Astorga, famous internationally for the Archbishops’ Palace (designed by Antoní Gaudí, creator of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia), the Town’s Cathedral…and some of the most delicious chocolate.
Day 3: Astorga – Villafranca
Route: 59.7 km
Elevation: +805 m
Accomodation: Parador de Villafranca
Today we move from the rolling hills of Castile into the mountains that mark the beginning of the end of the Camino! Since it’s our first day of serious climbing, we’ll take to the road and ride to the highest point on the Camino, a gradual climb of 800 metres/2,624 feet (which also means a stunning twelve-kilometer descent to Molinaseca and through to Ponferrada!) After visiting the Templar Castle in Ponferrada, we’ll travel by van to the town of Villafranca del Bierzo, where we’ll stay in the renovated Parador of Villafranca, complete with indoor and outdoor swimming pools for the best respite from the trials of the road.
Day 4: Villafranca – Monforte de Lemos
Accomodation: Parador Monforte de Lemos
This stage of the Camino is considered to be the most difficult by Camino riders, who regularly share survival stories of how they managed to climb up to the peak of O Cebreiro. You don’t have to ride that section – the minivan is there for the less macho cyclists among us – and anyway, it’s worth saving your energy for the brake-burning 25 km descent that follows. After visiting the restored village and mountaintop chapel at O Cebreiro – spiritual home to the recent Camino renaissance – we’ll get on the bikes and enjoy the downhill ride into the hamlet of Triacastela. We’ll ride through (and visit) the Monastery of Saint Julian in Samos, then trace our way along backcountry roads through pine and eucalyptus forests, away from the main Camino route and pedal through to Sarria (where we’ll have our lunch break).
From Sarria we will transfer by van to our Parador in the charming town of Monforte de Lemos which is well-known for its regional red wine.
Day 5: Monforte de Lemos – Arzua
Accomodation: Hotel Pazo Santa Maria
Central Galicia is carpeted in dense pine forests and eucalyptus groves, which will provide shade as we trace our way through tiny hamlets spread along the Camino, many of which don’t have much more than a couple of inhabitants and a lot of cows!
Luckily Galicia is criss-crossed by country lanes, giving us the opportunity to get off the beaten path. We’ll discover some charming lanes that take us away from the crowds of the Camino along peaceful, picturesque routes with fabulous views and historical castle ruins. We’ll have lunch on the grounds of the Palace of Ulloa (made famous by Emilia Pardo Bazán, the doyenne of Galician literature). That night, we’ll stay in Arzúa, within easy distance of Santiago de Compostela.
Day 6: Arzua – Santiago de Compostela
Route: 36 km
Elevation: +523 m
Accomodation: AC Palacio del Carmen
Parador Option: Parador de Santiago GL
The final day of the tour is short but tough. We’ll bike the final kilometers through rolling countryside, past Lavacolla hill, where pilgrims would tidy themselves up before attending the Pilgrim’s Mass at the Cathedral. From there, it’s on to the Monte do Gozo, where you get your first glimpse of the end of the road: the Cathedral of Santiago. It’s a quick 4 kilometer ride into the center of Santiago itself, where narrow, winding streets reach the Praza do Obradoiro, home of both the Cathedral of Santiago and the Parador, the former Palace of the Catholic Kings. After visiting the Pilgrims’ Affairs office, where we’ll receive the coveted Compostela certificate (making us official pilgrims) we’ll have a farewell dinner and a walk though the lamp-lit streets of the Old Town.
Day 7: Departure
Whether your plan is to return home or continue your travels in Spain or elsewhere in Europe, Santiago is a great stepping off point. Its small but new international airport is very well connected to Spanish destinations and to nearby European ones like London and Paris. Flights out are generally very well priced for those who plan in advance. Meanwhile, for those of us who do not choose to part ways in Santiago, after breakfast, we’ll bid farewell to our Camino adventure and return to Madrid by van (7 hours). Our route whisks us through the mountains of southern Galicia, through Ourense and back across the golden plains of Castilla-León.
Hotel Real Colegiata de San Isidoro
Located in Leon’s historical centre, in the heart of one of the most outstanding Romanic complexes in the Peninsula.
Hotel Via de la Plata
This modern hotel was built in 2011, on the stones of the convent of San Francisco.
Its design gave priority to the space in the rooms, their equipment and the welcoming and contemporary decoration. The banquet rooms, in a separate building, are connected to the hotel by means of a walkway with double doors so nothing disturbs the rest.
Parador de Villafranca del Bierzo
At the entrance to Villafranca del Bierzo, town of churches, monasteries, convents and fine buildings, stands this Parador.
The leading tourist accommodation in the fascinating El Bierzo district. It is surrounded by mountains covered with cherry and fig trees, slopes dotted with chestnuts, poplars and small farms.
Parador de Monforte de Lemos
The historic site of San Vicente do Pino is located in the uppermost part of the town of Monforte de Lemos.
It is made up of the keep, San Vicente do Pino Monastery and the palace of the counts of Lemos, which houses the Parador de Monforte. The monastery dates back to the 9th century, although the current structure was built in the 17th century in the neoclassical style.
Hotel Pazo Santa María
The Hotel is a stately building whose origins date documented in the first half of the eighteenth century.
In 2005 began his rehabilitation, carried out with the respect and affection it deserves preservation of historical heritage but at the same time, progress has incorporated all the amenities. Pazo Santa María has 16 lovely bedrooms located either in the Pazo’s main building or in the annexes (small individual “cottages” with ground-level entryways leading to beautiful bedrooms with baths).
Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Catolicos
The Parador de Santiago, known as the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, is a blend of history, art and tradition, the dream of pilgrims and emblem of Santiago.
It is located on Obradoiro Square near the cathedral, creating an area of spectacular beauty in one of the most visited provincial capitals in the world. A stay at this Parador means a visit to a truly unique and exclusive location.