From delicious bite sized pintxos in San Sabastian to the cultural hub of Bilbao, Alex and I thought that cycling from Santander to Gijon would be a wonderful way to explore the rest of the north coast of Spain.
Characterised by mild summer weather, historic towns and empty beaches, our 260km cycling trip was made memorable by a delicious food scene, the friendly camaraderie between other cyclists and the ridiculous number of hills encountered (that helps to bring about a great nights sleep!). Nine highlights from our cycling trip are:
Criss-crossing the Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage dating back to the 9th century. With a vast network of walking trails through France, Spain and Portugal, the goal is to reach a majestic Baroque cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. We cycled along a lot of the Camino and met pilgrims with the traditional shell hanging off their backpacks. Out of curiousity, we brought a pilgrim passport each with our first stamp in Llanes. As our goal was to reach Gijon only, we saved the passports for another adventure.
2. Eating our way through the delicious ‘Menu Del Dia’
The Menu Del Dia consisted of a starter, main, dessert, bread and wine for the brilliant value of €10 to €15 per person. It was vast quantities of delicious and authentic local food presented to two hungry cyclists after a days ride. The ease of picking from a set menu with included wine made the Menu Del Dia an absolute highlight each day. Fabada asturiana was a favourite, a rich Spanish stew made with white beans, pork shoulder and black pudding.
3. Encountering empty beaches everyday on route
Everyday we saw secluded, beautiful white sand beaches from our bikes. From dragging our bikes through the sand, to emerald headlands, to wild beaches framed by the dramatic Sierra de Cuera mountains, everyday we saw spectacular coastal scenery en-route. With hardly any tourists on route, it was far flung from the ‘Benidorm’ reputation of Spanish beaches.
4. Sampling the tastiest seafood ever at San Vincente de la Barquera
We dined at La Folia for the evening and it was the best Menu Del Dia we had on the entire trip! We started with the classic Fabada stew, which was rich, warming and punchy. This was followed by lubina la Espalda, a melt in the mouth seabass with toasted garlic. For dessert, we had the best cheesecake in the world. If you travel to northern Spain just once, go to La Folia for the homemade cheesecake!
5. The secret wetlands that you don’t expect to see on-route
We cycled through Oyambre national park which is formed by the estuaries of San Vicente de la Barquera and La Rabia. With sand dunes, brightly coloured green hills and abundant birdlife, the variety of scenery we encountered on route made great memories of the trip.
They often call the north of Spain the ‘green coast’ due to the mild summer weather encountered along the coast. The cool climate combined together with cycling make a great trip!
7. A cycling day so tough I couldn’t move after getting to the hotel (type 2 fun?)
The bike ride on our first day was meant to be 52km with 890m of climbing. I’m not sure how long it was in the end. We took over an hour trying to navigate out of Santander and made more wrong turns then we could count. After 6-7 hours of fairly hilly cycling, we could barely move after the first day! It was difficult at the time but a funny memory now, a classic example of Type 2 fun. Alex had to peel me away from the room to try get some dinner.
“Type 2 is a strange beast, because it isn’t actually fun at the moment. In fact, it feels much like suffering. It’s only after the event, and in reflection, that you come to realize you actually had fun.”
8. Nice drivers
When a car had to overtake us, the car would swerve on the other side of the road to do this. I’d never encountered this before! Normally in London my knuckles are white from gripping so hard, in fear of another BMW driver skimming my elbow. We encountered a few road signs that instructed drivers to allow 1.5M when passing a cyclist. This is the first country in the world where I’ve seen drivers respect this rule. It made for safe cycling and it was an incredible example of mutual respect between a driver and a cyclist (both road users, both trying to get from A to B!).
9. Quaint seaside towns after a days ride
According to Lonely Planet, Spanish tourists outnumber foreign visitors 4:1 on the north coast. From the cobbled medieval square of Santillana del Mar to the bustling harbour of Llanes, every town had a great street scene e.g. groups of locals sipping sidre (a local cider) or fishermen trading their catch of the day.
- Trip logistics: The trip was point to point, we had a one week break from our camper-van during this trip which was left parked in Santander.
- Accommodation: All our accommodation cost between GBP 15 to 20 per person. The hotel we booked were Hostelleria Miguel Angel in Santillana Del Mar, Alojamintos el Paramo in San Vincente, Auberge la Casona Del Peregrino in Llanes, Hotel Covadonga in Ribadsella, Hotel Coventin in Villaviciosa and an air BnB in Gijon. I’d highly recommend all these properties.
- Timings: Please remember that Spanish businesses tend to close for a siesta between 4:00pm to 7:00pm. We often started the day around 11:00am, cycled for half a day and arrived just in time for restaurants closing with an empty tummy! Try to leave a bit earlier to catch the lunch-time trade.
- Route Notes – We based the trip on Self-Guided Cycling on Spain’s Green Coast, a trip our company Exodus run. We just did a rougher version following the same route with no luggage transfers and cheaper hotels.
- Transport: We booked bus tickets for 15 EUR per person on the day from Gijon back to Santander with the bus company ASLA. The bus company take bikes on board, but you have to buy a bike bag for 12 EUR and remove the front wheel as well. The bus journey back was 2.5 hours.
- If you have any questions, please feel free to comment here or email me.