Cycling along Spain’s north coast offers beautiful coastal views and towns, perfect cycling weather in the height of summer, and the opportunity to tackle parts of the Vuelta a Espana route.
Allan Kinley and his wife Laura took their bikes over to Santander last summer for a week of adventuring along the Bay of Biscay and loved it.
Challenging climbs and breathtaking views
Tarmac and off-road
When to go
Why is it Europe's best?
|'Amazing food. Amazing people. Amazing cycling.'
In the middle of July last year, Allan Kinley and his wife Laura loaded their road bikes into their car and drove down to Portsmouth where they got on a ferry and headed into the Bay of Biscay to swap British summer for Spanish sunshine.
Following the northern route of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail from Santander to Gijon, Allan and Laura pedalled over undulating hills and through the beautiful countryside for a week before crossing their finish line (shared with a stage of the Vuelta) at Gijon. The Camino is a well-trodden path and Laura and Allan had plenty of nice encounters with fellow cyclists, including two young priests with loaded panniers who cheered them up a hill.
The terrain, while hilly, is generally very smooth tarmac roads with some cycle paths and the potential for 'off-piste' exploring. This trip was only their second bike tour but they loved it so much that they're already all set to return this year.
Setting off from the port city of Santander, Allan and Laura got their legs going with their longest (33 miles) and greatest climbing (893 metres) day as they rode up to the medieval village of Santillana del Mar. In spite of what its name might suggest, Santillana is not, in fact, next to the sea but rather in the hills. So it is a climb to get up there but the good news is that it is also famous for making fantastic cider. There's surely nothing better than that to quench the thirst of a parched cyclist after a day in the saddle.
Day two saw the pair cycle along the coast to San Vincente de la Barquera via the seaside town of Comillas. Comillas is home to both a beautiful sandy beach and El Capricho; a beautifully quirky villa designed by none other than Antoní Gaudi. How's that for a little bit of culture along the way?
From San Vicente, Laura and Allan pedalled onwards to Ribadesella, stopping for the night in a convent-turned-military-school-turned-hotel in Llanes. Fishing is the main livelihood for the villagers and boats moor right in the centre of it. The food at each place they stopped was also delicious and Allan said that meals were one of the highlights. Of course, ordering in a foreign language always carries risks, though, and if you do head to Spain Allan would warn against ordering anything on the menu called 'angulas'. The dish sounds deceptively similar to 'goulash' but is, in fact, baby eels and Allan says that they're an acquired taste!
As they passed through Ribadesella, the scenery began to change and rugged rocky coastlines became sandier. They also cycled right past the Tito Bustillo caves. With well-preserved prehistoric cave drawings that earn it recognition as one of the most important Palaeolithic art sites in the world, the cave site is well worth a visit...but book in advance if you'd like to go! Tickets book up first and Laura and Allan missed out last year.
Back on the road outside of Ribadesella, Laura and Allan reached the apple-growing cider-producing region and their view was dominated by apple trees. The area was also historically interesting as being one of the last strongholds in the resistance against General Franco's regime. In spite of its ugly history, this stretch is one of the most beautiful of the ride as home to plenty of wildlife and nature reserves.
After a final night in Villaviciosa, Allan and Laura got back in the saddle for the final stretch - along the estuary - to finish at Gijon by crossing the finish line of a stage of the Vuelta.
Culture, great natural beauty and challenging but conquerable cycling routes all combined to make this a fantastic two-wheeled adventure. On top of that the motorists are friendly (what more could you ask for?) and the Atlantic breeze makes it the perfect place to beat the heat of central Europe in the summer. Que bien!