I packed my rain jacket, scarf, gloves, sunglasses and suncream and checked the weather for the last time before heading for the airport. I was heading to meet my colleagues Ana, Sophie and Ciara for three days cycling along the Camino Frances. Excited was an understatement, I’m a recently converted cyclist having ditched my car for a greener alternative. It was time to test my skills on the Galician landscape. The weather forecast was patchy but we didn’t care. We spent our first night in Sarria, visiting local craft shops and getting our first taste of the Camino cuisine. Ana, who had walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino last year insisted that I tried Churrasco . I was glad I did!
We met for breakfast early on our first cycling day keen to hit the road. We had 46 km ahead of us, so time was of the essence. Leaving early is key so you have ample time to cycle at your own pace and enjoy the small towns and villages you pass throughout the day. After completing the long climb on on the way out of Sarria we stopped at a quaint little cafe for some freshly squeezed Orange juice. Just what the doctor ordered! We reached Portomarin in the early afternoon for some lunch and exploring then it was straight back on the road. The second half of day one was probably the most challenging of the trip. After leaving Portomarin we were met with a long but steady ascent into the Galician hills. The skies opened up and it began to rain. When we finally conquered the climb the sense of achievement was marvellous. All that was left now was to weave downhill toward our final destination for the evening, Palas de Rei. A warm shower, a good dinner and a chance to explore were our rewards for a great day of cycling.
The sun was rising over the green backdrop of The Camino as we set off on Day Two. Refreshed after a great nights sleep, we were raring to go. Pulpo was on the menu today, and where better to experience this delicacy than the town of Melide, which is famous for ‘pulperias’! The trail was very busy, and there was plenty of “Buen Camino” to go around. I won’t forget my first time tasting Octopus. The texture and flavour was so foreign to my palate, it took me a few bites to grow accustomed to it. I ended up ordering it again before the trip was over though, I think that says it all! The scenery was beautiful on this leg of the journey and a real highlight was the pretty medieval hamlet of Ribadiso. We arrived in Arzúa and picked up some creamy cheese before a visit to Santa Maria church.
We awoke to a beautiful red sky ushering to get on the saddle and attack day three on The Camino. This was our final stretch, 37 kilometres from Palas de Rei to the sacred city of Santiago de Compostela. The red sky soon cleared, giving way to a crisp sunny morning, perfect for cycling. We stopped to say hello to a couple of horses peering over a farm fence, and their owner approached with fresh Apples for all of the pilgrims that had gathered. OK I get it now, this is The Camino in all its glory! Spirits were high amongst The Camino community, and we met some familiar faces in Amenal at lunch. In the second half of the day the weather changed for the worse. But would we be stopped by a bit of rain? Not a chance! We had gotten used to our bikes at this stage and were picking up some serious speed on downhill sections. I must admit, the adrenaline you get from flying down a hill in the rain with a clear goal in sight is beyond exhilarating! We arrived in Santiago in the early evening and made our way to the Cathedral. It was time for that iconic picture and a group hug. Ana and Ciara attended mass and experienced the famous Botofumeriro, while myself and Sophie opted for tapas and local wine!
The last day of our trip was spent browsing the streets of Santiago. The independent gift shops were full of trinkets and we filled our bags with gifts for our families and some keepsakes for ourselves. We visited the Cathedral and marvelled at the architecture. An old man we had met on the trail entered the giant square in front of the Cathedral having arrived at the end of a long journey. A group of pilgrims beside us began to cheer him on his final few steps and the everybody stood and joined and in. 300 or so pilgrims in unison, celebrating his achievement. I’m not afraid to admit, it was an emotional moment for me! After our last meal together, sitting on a terrace in the sunshine, it was time to go home. We left Galicia with heavy hearts and fond memories. I can’t wait to get back and experience a different route to Santiago. I’ll let my fellow pilgrims fill you in on their own highlights below.
Ciara: “My main highlights of cycling the last section of the French Way were the chance to cycle through the scenic Galician countryside and the company of other pilgrims completing the walk or cycle and hearing their stories. The challenge itself of biking uphill and reaching Santiago de Compostela was brilliant! Our arrival in Santiago was special, and the sense of achievement that followed was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Sophie: ” One highlight of the French Way was I trying lolal delicacies like Octopus, empanadas, tortilla, Arzua cheese, and the multiple choice of tapas. I also enjoyed discovering the culture of the Galician Country. I loved spending some time in the city of Santiago de Compostella and walking around the old part of the town, getting lost in the small paved streets.”
Ana: “It was a great experience. The Galician culture, the food which won my stomach and the beautiful landscapes You meet lovely people during the Camino, share experiences and build strong friendships. But more that this it was a good challenge for myself, I discovered my physical limits and all that I can achieve. One of the amazing parts is arriving to “La gran plaza”. I can’t explain the emotion when you finally make it.”