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
John, what size tires did you use for your hybrid route? I am very interested in cycling this route in May 2019. Thank you.ReplyDelete
I'm going to blog about my bike in the next few days but the wheel tyre set up was 650b wheels with Hutchinson Horizon road plus 47mm tubeless tyres
good post.thank youReplyDelete
Hi John, I have just read both of your Ruta de la Plata journals and I have a number of comments & queries. Would it be possible to correspond by email?ReplyDelete
Feel free - email me on firstname.lastname@example.orgDelete
Hello John, I am looking at the Gradient too (I'm in B'ton) - do you have any long-term thoughts on the bike?ReplyDelete
Very pleased with it. Flexible bike, has been perfect for me. If you're in Brighton you should pop in and see Mark Reilly, he's a lovely guy. Tell him I sent you!Delete
Very excited that you're publishing these guides! When are they due out? I'm just back from cycling the Norte (having done the Portgues two years ago and the Frances in 2015) and I'm really keen to get my hands on a good cycling guide for the VdlP... There are some bits that the walkers' guides just do not prepare you for!!ReplyDelete
Not until late 2019 I'm afraid. The publishers have only so much capacity. Your right about the route being mixed, some great bits and some bits not so great. The guide will describe how challenging is leg is and point out the options. Must admit I fancy the Portuguese as my next challenge.
Hi there, Is your guide out? we are going next month and I would love to buy a copy.ReplyDelete
Early 2020, sorry it can't be any earlierDelete
Hi John. My husband and I are planning to cycle the Via de la Plata in mid-October. We have cycled the Norte and walked the Camino de Santiago (twice) and the Portugues. This time we have Bike Friday folding bicycles with e-assist. Cycling the Norte with our regular Bike Fridays a couple years ago convinced us that the battery assist would come in handy! I thought I found your blog that showed specifics for cycling along the N630 but can't seem to find it now. Any support you can offer will be greatly appreciated. We anxiously await your latest book! Thank you.ReplyDelete
I cycled the road version in 2017 with my wife along the N630 and the off-road version in 2018 - the link to the road version is as follows
Unfortunately the books not going to be out until 2020 but feel free to ask any questions and I'll try to help.
John, I am planning on cycling the VdlP in April 2020. Any chance your book will be published before this?ReplyDelete
That is the scheduled publication date - fingers crossed. It will be ready from my end.
Hi John, remember I contacted you last year about riding the Via from North to South; you're still welcome to join us. However circumstances dictate we depart from Santander on 30 September.ReplyDelete
@Craig & Marilyn; as above we shall also be riding the Via so we may pass en route. Are you riding north from Sevilla? BR Richard
Hi Richard. Our plans have us arriving in Madrid on October 16h and from there we will make our way by bus or train to the VDLP with our bicycles. We have until November 6th to ride/travel when we depart from Madrid to head home. (Olympia, Washington USA) Are you riding North to South or from Sevilla? We are not sure which way we'll ride. Depends upon the weather, etc. We are not sure where we'll begin (or end) - Leon, Astorga, on to the Santiago or up to San Sebastian. All choices are wonderful! Would be fun if we did meet up. What is your time frame?Delete
Also, we are riding parallel to the Camino with our road bikes. You?Delete
Hi Craig & Marilyn, three of us (me, brother & nephew) are riding from Santander to Sevilla then on home to Conil; we depart Santander on 30 Sept so we should be well south of Madrid by the 16th Oct. We're going to be a mixed bunch of road, gravel & MTB.Delete
You could do a nice loop from Madrid, along the Camino de Madrid to Leon, south on the Plata then back to Madrid via the Sierra de Gredos (For whom the bell tolls / Hemingway country) for example but there are plenty of options.
WhatsApp +447576648107 if you need a status update.
I'm just putting together the photographs for my guide - if your taking a camera I can always do with some more.
Would love to have joined you but I'm away in September. Have a great trip and send me some pics.
Craig / Marilyn - email me on 3skinnybikers at gmail dot comReplyDelete
Hi John, I was planning to do this ride in Autumn but hey ........ I am hoping for May 2021 but I will stay flexible. I have it in mid as a coast to coast and get a ferry home to Portsmouth - how did you arrive and leave spain. I have already done 2 versions of the Camino de Santiago so this is the natural next step - hit me up if you have any interest in cycling in Colombia which is my usual winter retreat but also Peru and Chile, good wishes, AlanReplyDelete
Nice to hear from you
As you'll see from my update to the blog I am deferring a decision on whether to do a May departure until February by which time we might know a bit more about feasibility in light of the pandemic.
Mixing road and off-road is the best way to see the route and its perfect for a gravel bike.
I've got to Seville in different ways but on my last trip I flew with the bike in the hold. On our first trip I came home via Santander and on my last trip via Asturias airport.
Send me an email and I'll add you to the group.
Best wishes John
Very wise! I got an update about this because I commented a couple of years back - and I did indeed end up riding the VdlP, in 2018. I absolutely loved it - blogged if you're interested in my take on it... https://katycamino.wordpress.com/2019/06/page/2/ I would do it again in a heartbeat.Delete
Nice to hear from you. If you're interested in another trip on the RVP than drop me an email and I'll keep you in the loop on discussions
Hi John, has your book been published or is it another casualty of 2020? Likewise we had to postpone a Camino ride until next year; hoping to ride the Camino del Norte and maybe cut across to El Primitivo. For internal flights Vueling seem to have a pretty good network between Sevilla & the north coast. BR RichardReplyDelete
It's a partial casualty, publication has been delayed with planned date now put off until Sept 2021. Very frustrating as it's all done from my end.
Hi John, I’m thinking about cycling La Ruta de la Plata from north to south this fall, starting in Sept or Oct. How do you think the weather would be along the route at that time of year? Alternatively, I’m not wedded to the route but would like to do a self supported bike tour in Spain this fall so if you have ideas about interesting routes better suited to fall travel, I’m interested in your thoughts. Thanks for the great trip reports, TerriReplyDelete
Hi Terri, weather should good until at least the end of October. Will be a bit wetter on the maritime side of the mountains but hot and dry for the rest of the route. Have a good trip, it's a great rideDelete
Hi Terri / John, my brother & I did this ride in October 2019 (journal link below) and the weather was great, probably the optimum time of year for this ride N to S. The weather in the south will be warm throughout October, November and in to December. However, as you will know, the weather at the moment does not always follow normal patterns (it's the middle of June and Andalusia is very cool at the moment) so plan for some extremes. As for other routes in Spain, well there are hundreds, all those Caminos de Santiago, Via Verdes, Vias Naturales, the Parques Nacionales but in Sept / Oct start in the north and work your way south. I'm hoping to do something similar this fall so stay in touch.Delete
BR Richard Palmer
PS I live in Cadiz, Andalusia
John and Richard, thank you both! John, I’m curious what you use for a GPS? Some Garmin model? I have yet to by one but want to before this trip.ReplyDelete
I use an app called ViewRanger (has all the Spanish maps) which I run on Android on a phone firmly attached to my bike with a quadlock.
I’ll check it outReplyDelete
Really enjoyed your description of cycling the VDLP. I feel inspired to give it a try. I have a question on travel logistics.
Assuming you took your own bikes from UK and flew to Seville, how did you return with them on reaching Gijon?
I've done Gijon back to the UK twice with bikes.
The first time we got a coach to Santander and caught the ferry back to Portsmouth. Spanish coach companies allow bikes in the hold underneath but Alsa, the biggest provider expect the bike to be wrapped in bag. You can buy the bag at the coach station.
The second time I got the plane back from Asturias airport. We wrap our bikes up in the big cycle UK plastic bags (available at Wiggle). Getting these bags on the plane is a bit stressful and sometimes a hassle but I've done it many times now and it somehow works. I posted the return bag to the hotel I was staying at in Gijon. At Asturias they insisted I wrap it again using one of those wrapping machines which actually worked really well.
There are specialist bike transport companies and they will do a door to door service. Essentially it involves sending you the box and you packing it. They will pick up at a destination in Gijon.
If all this is too much you can hire a bike and the company will deliver to you start hotel and pick it up at your destination hotel. Seem to remember it's about 300 euros per trip but haven't checked recently. I have details of a company if you're interested.
My guide book comes out next March by the way if you can wait.
Hi John, I’ll be pre-ordering your book after reading your blog.ReplyDelete
Just wondering if the book will come with gpx files to download of the sections?
Thanks for the interest, yes the book comes with all the necessary GPX files
Hoping to ride North to South late March 2022. I am taking a hybrid bike with panniers. It would be great to do part mountain bike route and part road, as I think too much of the N630 maybe a bit overwhelming and maybe needs breaking up a little!
The problem is which parts of the off road tracks are feasible for my set up and which will turn into a walking holiday. Just wondered if you had any thoughts on any stretches to avoid? I can always use google street view to see the start and end of the track but it can be a disaster in between.
No doubt your book would solve these problems. I did get in touch with Cicerone who said it would be published mid/ late March which would be a bit late for me. DO you have any updates at all?
Many thanks Richard
Most of the route is feasible with a hybrid bike with panniers but the definition of feasible will vary from cyclist to cyclist. The guide goes into a lot of detail about this and describes each section in terms of how difficult it is (generally not very) and how attractive it is. If you can't wait for the guide, my advice would be make sure you have the route on a GPS and make your choice on the basis of a good examination of the digital maps. The good news is that you are hardly ever that far from the N630 so you can get back it without too much trouble. Depending on what sort of winter they have in Spain the route could be a little wet in one or two places.
Expect to have a great time, it's a wonderful route
Hi John. I recently bought your book and I am delighted with it. However, I am torn between taking my beloved 1980s Raleigh Royal touring bike or renting one at the start in Seville when I do the Via in May this year. What is your preferred method for packing your bike? In the book you show it with the wheels off.I assume from that you didn't use a CTC bag (not that they seem to be available anymore)? Or did you put it in a cardboard box? Thanks in advance, MartinReplyDelete
Hi Martin - thanks for buying the guide and so pleased that you have found it helpful. On most of the trips I've done I've used the CTC bag but it's not without problems. I've never failed to get my bike to the destination but a damage free trip is not guaranteed and depending on the airport, you get varying degrees of hassle. I had a really tough experience coming back through Astorias where they made me pack it in security wrap (very robust solution but miles of plastic). When I use the CTC bag I take the front wheel of and use it, with my disc brakes facing inwards, to protect the rear derailleur.Delete
Funnily enough I'm just about to go out and pick up a cardboard bike box from my local bike shop. I used a cardboard bike box for the first time last year and although it involves a little bit more dismantling it's a more robust solution than a CTC bag and shouldn't involve hassle at the airport. One thing to avoid, I'm afraid, is bike courier companies. Because of Brexit there is no guarantee that your bike will get though customs in a timely manner - mine got totally stuck last year and I ended up having to hire bikes anyway. Based on my experience the lesson is to always take your bike with you on the plane. When you get to your destination at the end of your trip (Santiago or Gijon) you should be able to find a bike shop who will either give you another box or even back it for you.
If you decide to hire a bike than I would recommend BikeIberia, lovely people, and they will deliver a bike to you in Seville and pick it up where-ever you finish. If you use them please mention me.
Let me know how you get on.
Have always used cardboard bike boxes, never had any problems - also Correos provide a good "Paq Bici" service within Spain & Europe, unfortunately UK is no longer within Europe - snigger.Delete
So where are you off to now John, another Camino? I'm planning to ride El Madrid to Oviedo then maybe El Primitivo to Santiago this spring.
Less of the sniggers Richard some of us have to live with this post Brexit shit-show. I'm going to do the Camino Portuguese, writing another guide - Lisbon to Santiago on the central and then back along the coast. Can't take too long or I'll get deported.Delete
Should be fun & interesting and doable in 90 days, reckon the Portuguese is one of the better Caminos for riding; especially enjoyed the section from Santiago to Pontevedra. Will you be writing a journal on this Blog site?ReplyDelete
Not sure to be honest - I've got out the habit and it's a challenge to find the time when you're with other peopleDelete