The Way of St James – or the El Camino de Santiago – in Spain has been recognised as one of the most epic bike rides in the world. This is a mighty claim by the leading travel guide book publisher Rough Guides, especially given the many superb bike routes across the globe, but nonetheless we agree. The fabulous ancient pilgrimage route starts in the Pyrenean foothills and heads through mountains, medieval villages, towns and vineyards to reach the famous shrine of the apostle St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, close to Spain’s northwest Atlantic coast. While million of Christian pilgrims have walked the 500-mile Way over the centuries as they search for spiritual enlightenment, increasingly, the route has become the focus of cyclists. Riders might also come for the spirit lifting journey or perhaps to take on a challenge like no other to be found worldwide.
What's it like to ride the Way of St James?
Walkers and cyclists do not follow exactly the same route, although they do pass through the same towns and villages. The walkers follow the red and flashes of the GR 65 and the cyclists ride the minor roads alongside. These latter roads are often the original routes of the walkers from centuries before that have been covered in tarmac for vehicles. The entire route will take, on average, one to two weeks to ride, depending on your fitness levels and how many times you like to stop and be touristy at the many attractions en route. The route does include a number of hills but it’s not as tough as you might imagine for such a mountainous trail.
12 highlights of the El Camino de Santiago
- The sight of the beautiful high-rise Pyrenean mountains
- The stunning historic monastery-refuge of Roncesvalle
- The historic bridge at Puente de la Reina
- A free wine fountain at Irache
- The storks in sandstone cliffs at Najera
- The fabulous view from the ridge overlooking Hornillos
- Fromista’s Romanesque church
- The downhill section from the abandoned mountaintop village of Foncebadón
- Ancient thatched huts of another mountaintop village, O Cebreiro
- The Museo de los Caminos at Astorga
- Catching your first glimpse of the spires of Santiago, which is a UNESCO World Heritage City
- Sampling Galician “Pulpo Gallego”, which is octopus drizzled with olive oil and sweet paprika.
Ride a highlight section of the route
For a wonderful seven-day self-guided cycling holiday on the latter stages of the Way of St James, from León to the end point of Santiago de Compostela, check out our Cycling Camino France holiday.