This is a guest post from one of our tour operators, Live Love Ride. Their tour, the Camino de Santiago: From Porto to Santiago de Compostela cycles the coastal Portuguese Camino de Santiago, a well-known pilgrimage route in Spain and Portugal.
The Camino de Santiago (known in English as the Way of Saint James) is a network of pilgrimage routes leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great. The shrine is located in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Legend tells us that the remains of St. James were transported from Jerusalem to Galicia after his death. And later discovered in the 9th century in a field where the imposing Cathedral now stands.
Since then, devotees from all over Spain and Europe have made the pilgrimage to pay homage to the apostle, turning Santiago de Compostela into one of the Catholic world’s largest pilgrimage destinations. In Portugal, the Way of St. James gained importance in the 12th century with the founding of the Portuguese nation, and again in 1325 when the Portuguese Queen Isabel – the “Holy Queen” – made a pilgrimage to Santiago following a route very similar to the one that is marked today with yellow arrows.
“From the 12th century onwards, the flow of pilgrims into the northwestern part of the peninsula established not only spiritual connections but also cultural and economic ties, human bonds that political borders have never been able to break.”
Over the years, the Camino de Santiago became more and more popular. The tides of pilgrims began to arrive from all corners of the world and with this fervor, fraud and forgery also multiplied. The Church feared that the walker’s sacrifice to atone for their sins would become a kind of playful venture, spiritual motivations cast to the wayside. This is why the Archbishop of Santiago decided to establish certain requirements to obtain a certificate – the Compostela.
The granting of the certificate was limited to those pilgrims who reach the Apostle’s tomb on foot, by bicycle, or on horseback. And only if they have completed the last 100 kilometers (62 miles) on foot or on horseback or the last 200 (124 miles) if done by bicycle. (Note: Make sure to get a stamp twice each day, as proof of having completed the itinerary without skipping any stages.)
The Camino today
In the present day, the Camino de Santiago is more than a pilgrimage. It is a unique experience and trip of self-discovery, made by thousands of people from all over the world, either for religious, spiritual, sportive, or touristic motives – or a combination thereof.
Our favorite route on the Portuguese Way departs from Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, and follows the coastal Camino. Cycling the coastal Camino offers a perfect balance between the physical challenge of overcoming such a journey, the natural beauty of the landscape, the culture and history of the region, and the true experience of communion amongst all the people that walk or cycle the Camino.
While 94% of pilgrims choose to walk to Santiago de Compostela, approximately 5% prefer to cycle it. And so do we! This itinerary has more than the required 200 kilometers (124 miles) to attain the Compostela certificate. And while you cycle and enjoy the Camino, we take care of everything else.
Cycling the Way will take you by the medieval and Romanic cities of northern Portugal’s Minho region and the Galiza province of Spain. It’s an experience of self-discovery or spiritual contemplation, as well as a great way to taste the region’s hearty and delicious food. The seafood along the route is delicious and often served with fresh local produce. Along the Way, there are plenty of cafes, restaurants and strategic “Pilgrim stops” where you can refill your water bottle, grab a snack, or just take a quick break in the shade.
Riding along the Atlantic Ocean, the coastal Camino has a great balance between daily distance and elevation – with just under 49 kilometers (30 miles) per day and an average of 620 meters (2034 feet) of accumulated daily climbs. Once in the town of Redondela, Spain, the coastal Camino merges with the central Camino and they become one all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
The best time of year to cycle the Camino
One of the most common concerns travelers have is the best time of the year to travel. However, it is not possible to provide “the best time,” mainly because the reasons for this choice are usually personal and/or professional. Aside from one’s own preferences, the seasons of the year offer different characteristics for consideration.
The vast majority of Pilgrims (93%) choose to travel the Way between April and October, while the remaining 7% do the Camino between November and March. The months of July and August are “preferred” by the largest number of walking pilgrims, but we don’t recommend cycling in what are the hottest months of the year. During the day, temperatures from 35 ºC (95 ºF) to 40 ºC (104º F) can easily be reached. If you really must cycle the Camino during July or August, take a look at the weather forecasts as your departure approaches, so you may be prepared. The use of sunscreen is vital for a more comfortable trip, as well as drinking plenty of water during the rides. Consider cycling in the earlier hours, avoiding the 11am to 4pm period.
If you prefer to cycle in peace and tranquillity, the early spring months have a smaller number of Pilgrims and tourists. Doing the Camino in the springtime allows you to see the first flowers of the year in good weather for cycling. Although the earlier you go, the higher the chances you’ll have a rainy day or two. From the second half of September to November, weather conditions are normally more stable than in spring, making it another great time of the year to cycle the Camino.
Hoping to have you with us on this adventure, all is left to say is Bon Camino! Or… Good Way!