The Ruta Vía de la Plata gets a Guide

After a two-year Covid delay, the first English language cycling guide to the Ruta Vía de la Plata can be ordered from the Cicerone website. It's been a long time coming but I'm really excited - I think this is a special guide for what is a really special journey.

The journey starts in Seville and, from this splendid beginning, travels north through wonderful landscapes visiting a series of amazing towns and cities on a route that runs parallel with the Portuguese Spanish border.   Just north of Zamora and after crossing the famous Duero river, two options are offered. For cyclists seeking the full pilgrimage experience the first option heads west and ends up, via the Camino Sanabrés, in Santiago del Compostela. The second continues north and after visiting my favorite Spanish city, Leon, crosses the Cantabrian Mountains, stops off at Oviedo, and finishes at Gijon on the north coast. 

The Ruta has been in constant use since the Romans.  Its importance brought wealth to the towns and cities along its route, most of which are within a day's cycling of each other.    So after 4 or 5 hours cycling, a leisurely mid-afternoon Spanish lunch and a siesta, the evenings can be occupied with site seeing before rounding things off with people watching, beer and tapas. If you have any interest in Spanish History, the Game of Thrones, bagging world heritage sites, or just cycling and eating great food then this is the trip - it’s cycle touring at its very best.

Depending on whether you choose Gijon or Santiago del Compostela the schedule assumes 14 or 15 days cycling.  There are however lots of options and squeezing the trip a little, makes finishing it in a two week window more than feasible.

This is my fifth guide for Cicerone but my first cycling guide.  Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes and perhaps the most innovative thing I’ve done (pushed by the team at Cicerone) reflects this in the guide. What I’ve tried to do is provide information for the widest range of cyclists to follow a route that matches their own preferences.  The route itself makes this possible.  You can cycle from Seville to Gijon or Santiago del Compostela along well-graded empty roads perfect for road bikes.  This is because the Spanish national network (the N roads) has over the last 20 years been superseded by a new motorway and the N roads are, for the most part now empty.  At the same time, it is possible to go to the same destinations using the Camino routes which are largely off-road and suitable for cyclists who prefer a touring, gravel or mountain bike.   Much of the off-road cycling is amazing, providing intimate access to the wonderful and unique Spanish dehesa landscape, but some of it is boring or just plain difficult.  So for every day’s cycling, you can choose the off-road route or the road route or develop your own mix using the information provided to assess the attractiveness and difficulty of the off-road bits.

One thing I’m always asked about, whatever the route or mode of travel, is can you camp. Although I can usually provide a fairly general answer, it’s not based on a lot of knowledge and that’s because, unless I’m on a trip where someone else puts up the tent, I don’t do much camping. In Spain, especially as you’re cycling from town to town, the choice of accommodation is amazing and if you like staying in a place, castle or monastery or palace, this route provides lots of opportunities.

I’ve cycled all the road and off-road elements of the route to both destinations and if I have a personal preference it would be to include as much off-road as you have time for and to head for Gijon.  The destination choice is difficult because Santiago del Compostela is a lovely place but the final part of the journey is not as good as the Leon Oviedo combination and the ride along the Roman road over the Cantabrian Mountains is simply epic.

So at last, after a two year wait, the guide is now available.  It’s a great route and the guide I think will do it justice. 

Update - for more information on the route and guide why not listen to the Cicerone podcast

Camiño dos Faros - the world's best coastal walk?

"Walking the Camiño dos Faros", published in 2019, is my 4th Cicerone guide.  This article provides a background to the walk and why I think it stands out as one of the world's greatest coastal walks.

In December 2012 a group of six Galician hikers, friends since childhood, and two dogs decided to walk from Malpica to Fisterra; a 200km journey around the coast of northwest Spain. They wanted to create a route that stayed as close as possible to the sea. Like many Galicians, they love the traditional landscape, culture and way of life and devising the route was their way of inviting others to enjoy it.

The GR1 - 2018 Review

It's now 5 years since I first walked the GR1 - the Sendero Histórico, the subject of my first guide for Cicerone, but my memories are kept fresh by a steady stream of people who come back to me with appreciative comments.  Although fewer people attempt it than the Karnischer Höhenweg or Munich to Venice, the subjects of my last two guides, I think it's more of a once in a lifetime adventure.  Not only does it take 55 days it also crosses a challenging empty part of Spain.  It's a beautiful walk, not technically difficult, but you are "on your own" and making things work is very rewarding.

Six days walking along the Alpe Adria Trail

In July August 2018 walked for 6 days along a section of the Alpa Adria Trail. Apart from some crap information from the tour provider and a nasty reaction to a wasp sting we had a good time.

Christine has developed a deep interest in all things to do with the Italian Front in the First World War. It was initially triggered by a trip we made in 2005 along the Alta Via 1when we saw for the first time the extent of the wartime remains in the Dolomites. After two trips along the Karnischer Höhenweg (2012 and 2016), and helping me write a Cicerone guide to that route, she was keen to complete the experience with a visit to the Isonzo Front and a walk along part of the new Alpe Adria Trail.
Cables from a First World War Cable Car

The Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road 2018

The Ruta Vía de la Plata is an ancient route that traverses the heart of Spain from Seville in the deep south to Gijón on the north coast. It makes its way through fabulous, empty  and visits wonderful unspoilt historic towns. Some people walk it, usually as part of a pilgrimage to Santiago del Compostela, but it's better by bike - either on the road or off-road version, or by grabbing the best of both worlds: a combination of the two.

Setting off from  Seville
I first cycled the route in 2017 as part of a longer trip that included most of the Portuguese coast. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to write a Guide and Cicerone have agreed to publish it. This year I went back to Spain and, working with the Ruta Vía de la Plata Association, cycled the off-road version. The Association involves the towns and cities along the route and their support and help has been amazing.

The Karnischer Höhenweg - an English language guide

Cicerone have published my third guide  - “The Karnischer Höhenweg”. It is thinner than my first two!
The Karnischer Höhenweg

Day 25 Ruta Vía de la Plata - Gijón

So I’ve made it to Gijón and after 25 days cycling and more than 4 weeks in Spain emotions are just a little mixed. It's been amazing, the cycling, challenging at times, has been much better than anticipated, but it's great to get here and I'm now looking forward to getting home and putting on clothes that are different and clean.

Gijón is on the coast and, as far north as you can go, is a good place to end the trip. It's an interesting city whose hinterland of heavy industry, much of which has seen better days, contrasts with a huge and stunning sandy beach. It's where holidaymakers from Madrid head to in August to enjoy the food and escape the heat of central Spain.