Why this route?
There’s no standard End to End route across Spain. However, the route from Cádiz, on the south coast, to Gijón, on the north coast, is a good candidate. It follows the historic Vía de la Plata, one of the various ancient pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela.
The VdP became the N630 highway, which runs all the way from Seville to Oviedo. In the last few years, the N630 has been bypassed by the A66 motorway, which runs parallel almost all the way. As a result, the N630 is a wide, well-graded, smooth-surfaced highway with virtually no traffic for virtually all of its length.
It’s a road cyclist’s dream. If you like the idea of a full day’s fast, pleasant riding, followed by a drink and meal in a historic main square and inexpensive hotels, this is for you.
Route in detail
You can see the full, detailed route on ridewithgps.com. It’s split into ten days of cycling, and on this version, each day begins and ends in a Plaza Mayor or equivalent.
Details at a glance
Distance 650 miles
Goes through Cádiz, Jerez, Seville, Monesterio, Mérida, Cáceres, Plasencia, Salamanca, Zamora, Benavente, León, Oviedo, Gijón
No of days From seven full days (90–100 miles per day) to fourteen easy days (40–50 miles per day)
Start point Cádiz’s old fortress sits at the end of a short causeway and provides a suitably jutting-out place to start. However, the town is a peninsula, and the only land cycle access is either along a busy motorway-like road to the east of town or a gravel track parallel to it, both of which add an extra 20km.
The recommended way to leave Cádiz is by the regular ferry that departs from the ferry next to the railway station across the bay to Santa Maria, and continue cycling from there.
Finish point The lighthouse on the headland northwest of Gijón provides a suitable endpoint-feel. The promenade by the eastern beach in the centre, right by the Old Town, is another good place for triumphal completion selfies.
Traffic Mostly very quiet indeed, except for a few stretches outside big towns such as Cáceres, and the section between León and Oviedo (where the A66 is a toll road) which can be busy. But even then there’s a wide shoulder, and Spanish drivers in general are very considerate and pass wide – it never feels dangerous
Surfaces Mostly very good smooth tarmac on the N630; a few mildly worn stretches. The back-road sections of this route are mostly excellent or good, with a few worn stretches. It’s suitable for all road bikes.
Climbs and descents Few climbs or descents, most of them very gradual. The only really notable ascents are:
(1) up to Monesterio on the N630;
(2) the back road up to 1100m south of Salamanca;
(3) the long climb up to 1350m on the León–Asturias border (which is followed by 1000m of fast descent); and
(4) El Cordal, a noted 500m racers’ climb and descent just south of Oviedo.
Refreshment on the road There are many sections of up to 20km or so between villages or towns (or unclosed petrol stations). In those places however there’ll always be a cafe or bar for refreshment.
Drinking water fountains are common in villages and towns – it’s fairly easy to find refilling points for your bottles. Just look for the central plaza or square.
Getting there One way is to fly to Seville (the airport is an easy, flat ten-mile ride from the centre – see the route) or Jerez (easy cycle access again) and get the train to Cádiz. Whichever airline you fly, you’ll have to dismantle your bike and put it in a bag or box, though, which is a bit of a faff.
Another possibility is to fly to Gibraltar, cycle the Rock, and cycle to Cádiz – here’s a route suggestion. British Airways allow you to take your bike as your checked baggage, so can work out cheaper than ‘budget’ airlines, which will charge you £50 or more to take your bike.
Getting back There’s an ALSA coach from Gijón to Santander or Bilbao (3–4 hours, bikes accepted if bagged, small extra fee, make sure you include bikes when booking) from where there are flights to the UK. Bilbao airport is an easy 10 miles / 16km ride from the centre.
Getting there and back plane-free It’s possible to get down and back by train but rather cumbersome – see the excellent seat61.com train info website for information.
Another possibility is to take a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander and link to the start and end points by coach or train within Spain, but again it’s very time-consuming.
Things you’ll need In theory, lights and reflective vests for a few tunnels on the N630 north of León. Helmets are compulsory outside towns in Spain.
Spare inner tubes are easy to find in road bike sizes, but harder in larger sizes such as 700Cx35. If you have wide tyres it’s best to bring inner tubes with you.
Bike shops Only in the bigger cities on this route.
Food and drink Spain is a great place to eat out. Head for the Plaza Mayor and explore the surrounding old-town streets. There’ll be plenty of inexpensive options.
A menú del día will cost something like €10–€20 and include two generous courses, a light dessert, bread and a drink such as wine (usually a bottle between two).
Tapas will cost from €2–€5 or so; larger portions more. Many places will give you free tapas with drinks – in León they might even give you tapas (in the form of cake) with your morning coffee!
Beer is a little less expensive than in the UK but with far less variety – all lager, basically. If you’re on a budget, head for a branch of 100 Montaditos, where you can get a half-litre of beer for €1.50 and small filled rolls for €1.
Wildlife Lots of storks, clacking away in their nests (pic) on top of churches and telegraph poles. Many birds of prey wheeling around on the thermals.
Winds The prevailing wind is westerly, but it varies so much according to area and season that it’s hard to generalise. Whichever way you do it, you’re likely to get a mix of mild headwinds and tailwinds through the trip.
Weather Chilly in winter, very much so at altitude. Spring and autumn are good cycling weather – mostly warm and sunny. Summer can be very hot, especially in baking Extremadura. It does rain in Spain, though not as much as England!
(1) Fish and chips in the old town of Cádiz, the city that claims to have invented it
(2) Drinking sherry in Jerez, home of sherry
(3) Riding into the centre of Seville and visiting its many splendid buildings
(4) Mérida’s Roman remains, and the storks on the old aqueduct
(5) Cáceres’s central square and medieval town
(6) Cycling into Salamanca, the Oxford of Spain, across the Roman bridge
(7) Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, Spain’s finest
(8) León’s tapas culture
(9) The amazing mountain views from the top of the León–Asturias pass and the 20km of downhill afterwards
(10) More awesome scenery on the tough climb up El Cordal and the hurtle down the other side
(11) Bean stew and extravagantly poured cider in Oviedo’s ‘Cider Alley’, Bulevar de la sidra
(12) Finishing by the beach at Gijón, a great city to eat out in
(13) Breakfasts of chocolate con churros
(14) Restorative coffees from tiny local cafes en route
(15) Post-ride drinks in any town’s historic Plaza Mayor
(16) A delicious, local menú del día
(17) Very courteous drivers
(18) Paradors, the luxury hotels in historic buildings, if you want to splash out
(19) Good weather