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Santiago de Compostela Cycling Holiday

We are a couple in our late 60s who enjoy camping, hiking, cycling and other activities with a sense of purpose and adventure. Cycling in Europe was on our bucket list, so we decided to tick this one off this year. We searched the internet for cycling routes and decided that cycling the Camino Primitivo in Northern Spain would be a worthwhile challenge.

The Camino Primitivo (Original Way) is a pilgrimage route from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela (“Santiago”). Historically it is the route followed by pilgrims who travelled to see the final resting place of Saint James. Today there are many such routes to Santiago. The routes are signposted with scallop shells indicating the direction pilgrims should follow. People who complete the pilgrimage are awarded a pilgrim’s certificate in Santiago. In order to qualify for the certificate, the pilgrim must get stamps in a pilgrim’s passport. These stamps can be obtained in churches, restaurants, hotels and lodges along the way. To qualify for a certificate, cyclists must have cycled at least the last 300km of a pilgrimage route. We choose to cycle from Oviedo to Santiago. (315km)

The Primitivo route from Oviedo to Santiago is a scenic route through the province of Asturias, passing over the mountainous countryside to the relatively flat farmlands of Galicia and onto Santiago. After researching the route carefully, we realised that we would not be able to cycle the 300 km route on ordinary mountain bikes, so we did it on e-bikes. Don’t be fooled by e-bikes; you still have to pedal, as the battery only lasts so long! A reasonable level of fitness is required. We booked a six-day self-guided cycle tour that included bed and breakfast accommodation, bike hire, a navigation app, and daily transport for our luggage. Comprehensive trip notes were provided, and we studied the notes meticulously and made sure we were fully prepared.

After arriving in Oviedo, we collected our bikes, downloaded the daily routes onto our phones and obtained a pilgrim’s passport from the tourist office. The cycling route follows the walking route, and where this was unsuitable for cyclists, the cycling route reverts to tracks and secondary roads. The app provided us with the equivalent of pre-programmed Google map routes, and after a few wrong turns, we were on our way.

The route through northern Spain gave us the opportunity to see the beautiful scenery and experience day-to-day rural Spanish life. We took plenty of time to enjoy the views and sights along the way and stopped for lunches in the villages we passed through. The first night was spent in a castle in a place called Salas. We then cycled over a serious mountain pass into Galicia. We needed the fitness training we had done at home, and we were elated when we reached the summit. Another stop was in a small town called Fonsagrada on a festival day, where we watched traditional dancing in the town square. We had the opportunity to meet a diverse bunch of pilgrims in the hotels and lodges/albergues along the way. The evenings were spent exploring the villages and towns and sampling the local fare.

We felt a real sense of achievement when we completed our pilgrimage at the cathedral in Santiago. We joined many other pilgrims in the queue to get our pilgrim certificates. After a celebratory meal and a good night’s sleep, we attended a very moving Pilgrim’s Mass in the cathedral.

One more item on our bucket list can now be ticked off! We were realistic about what we could do physically and found a way to make our dream a reality. Meticulous planning is essential. We learnt that there is much out there for retirees if you just take the time to find it.

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