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
|Cycling through the Dehesa
If you follow my blog you’ll appreciate that although I've done a lot of hiking, I've come to appreciate the joys of long-distance cycling relatively late in life. Taking my bike off-road on an 1800 km trip through remote countryside was a challenge, possibly a little foolhardy, but it all went well and exceeded my expectations. I had enjoyed the road trip last year so much that I doubted whether it could be bettered, but the off-road version added another dimension.
|Roman arch at Capara
To enjoy cycling you have appreciate the physical rewards of being on a bike, which I sometimes think of as a healthy version of skiing. I always accepted that, compared to hiking, it involves a compromise in terms of the places you can get to. The big takeaway from this year's trip is that for certain types of landscape the compromise is not nearly as big as I thought it was. Cycling through the Dehesa on the southern part of the route or the Meseta on its northern part was just wonderful and I got to see so much more off-road than I did on-road.
|Wide open spaces on the Meseta
The other big takeaway is that road and off-road cycling in this part of the world are complimentary. The two routes: one which follows a totally empty national “A” road with a great surface; and the other, which follows the old pilgrims' route, are never far apart and, providing you have the right bike, are interchangeable. There are stretches of the off-road route that are so good that they justify a trip to Spain in their own right, but there are also stretches that are just average and the road route provides the ideal alternative, particularly if you want to make it to the next town in time for a late Spanish lunch (arriving at 3-30 is just fine).
|The world's longest Roman bridge at Mérida
|Roman engineering - the aquaduct at Mérida
The towns and cities along the route are not just lunch stops; they are exciting destinations, with a list of UNESCO world heritage sites as long as your arm. Not all cyclists will be interested in seeing some of the best examples of every style of Spanish architecture but most will appreciate a couple of hours wandering around a compact historic town centre. If you’ve had that late lunch, all you need to do then is find the main square, the plaza mayor, get a table outside, order a beer and tapas and watch the world go by.
|Bike is best
The guide will take a while to write and produce and it won't be on the shelves until 2020. As well as describing the road and off-road routes, it will identify a recommended hybrid version, the version I suspect most touring cyclists will choose. Recognising that a number of cyclists will want to follow the pilgrimage route through to Santiago del Compostela the guide will describe the Camino Sanabrés, a 350 km optional excursion that leaves the main route and heads northwest into Galicia.
|Journey's end at Gijón
2020 is a long time to wait, but in the meantime have a look at my daily accounts at what happened on the trip in 2018 - a warts-and-all exposé of my adventure. The links, a long list I'm afraid, are listed below. If you want to find out what the road-trip was like follow the link to the 2017 trip. Finally for a more polished version of the 2017 trip go through to the Cicerone Extra article
Day 1 Ruta de la Plata - off road - El Real de la Jara
Day 2 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road to Zafra
Day 3 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road to Mérida
Day 4 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road to Alcuescar
Day 5 Ruta Vía de Plata - off road to Cáceres
Day 6 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off-road to Grimaldi
Day 7 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road to Plasencia
Day 8 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road to Béjar
Day 9 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road to Salamanca
Day 10 Ruta Vía de la Plata - off road to Zamora
Day 11 Camino Sanabrés - off road to Tábara
Day 12 Camino del Sanabrés - off road to Puebla Sanabria
Day 13 Camino Sanabrés off-road to A Gudiña
Day 14 Camino Sanabrés - off road to Ourense
Day 15 Camino Sanabrés off-road to Lalin
Day 16 Camino Sanabrés to Santiago del Compostela
Day 17 Camino Sanabrés - back to Ourense
Day 18 Camino Sanabrés - back in A Gudiña
Day 19 Camino Sanabrés - Mombuey
Day 20 - Camino Sanabrés back in Tábara
Day 21 - Ruta Vía de la Plata - Benavente
Day 22 Ruta Vía de la Plata - Leon
Day 23 Ruta Vía de la Plata - Pola de Lena
Day 24 Off-road on the Ruta Vía de la Plata - to Oviedo
Day 25 Ruta Vía de la Plata - Gijón