CYCLING THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
By Mike Wells
Softback, Gloss Laminated
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
I’ve lost count how many cycling guides Mike Wells has written for Cicerone. However, I can safely say that this one is significantly different to all but that to London to Paris, and even that does not match the challenge. All the others have guided the rider from source to sea along one of Europe’s major rivers, such as the Rhone.
When I spoke to Mike about his guides he told me that he likes river routes because they generally start at the top of the hill and roll on down. Here he follows a route that begins by crossing the Pyrenees and heads into famously mountainous Spain.
The Camino de Santiago, The Way of St. James, Camino Francés – begins at St.Jean Pie-de-Port and follows the old pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. Immensely popular now, as in the past, the infrastructure for travellers is well established. To some extent, this begs the question, “Why another guide?”
Well, the route is phenomenally popular, both with pilgrims and recreational pedestrians and cyclists. Secondly, this is actually two guides in one. The ‘Camino Route’ and the ‘Road Route’, as the author differentiates between them, follow the traditional pedestrian route (with a few exceptions) and a parallel route almost entirely on asphalt. Ending at the same point each stage, the first is off-road orientated - tourer, gravel, cross, or trail bikes should do it - and the second suitable for all bikes. The choice is yours, given the advice at the start of each section in the guide, and, so long as you are not on a road bike, mixing and matching is made easy.
The road route comes in some 28km longer than the 770km ‘Camino Route’ and there are summaries of distances, ascent, and descent to aid planning. In addition, there’s all the usual information in the familiar Cicerone style. However, the author recommends supplementing the accommodation list with the regular updates provided by Les Amis du Chemin de St. Jacques (St. Jean Pied de Port) and/or the annually updated guide form the Confraternity of St. James (London). There’s a list of friends and confraternities in the appendices, along with lots of other contact details.
Even though the route is very well established and popular, things are competitive with new hostels and other facilities keeping prices low. Bike-friendliness is, Mike says, pretty much the norm – and there’s no shortage of bike shops, by the look of it. Popularity also means you may well come across pop-up cafes along the way.
Waymarking on the pedestrian route is legendarily thorough, but don’t expect anything like it on the road. Of course, the maps and route description are thorough, so there’s little chance of unintentional exploration.
So, pilgrim or recreational cyclist, the Camino is, with this guide, your oyster.
Downloadable route files are available.