The final day of the trip surprisingly built a lot of tension first thing in the morning for me. I had a lot of energy when I got up, which was a first, but my attention turned to how I was going to get to Santiago. Following the trail though every village and town, or follow the N- 547 and miss some of the villages and tradition were my two choices, and I went for the latter. My companion wanted to go the traditional way, but I was so nervous about potentially crashing, that I decided it was best to follow the main road, so we agreed to meet each other in Santiago and go our separate ways for the day. An unusual idea, but we both felt confident that we would make it to Santiago and have a well deserved beer no matter what.
I Left Palas Do Rei rather quickly, but it is a pleasant town, but not much to see, as it’s more of a market town. The road leaving town was effortless and it’s not long until you are in the English-looking countryside again. Saa is the village where the road climbs for the first time, but the good thing about this road, is that you are descending more on the whole. The Camino which the hikers take, goes south of Saa to Ponte Campana, Casanova, Porto de Bois and A campanilla before reconnecting the main road at O Coto. O Coto is also where the border into the Province of A coruña is, the same province as Santiago, and is guaranteed to give you an extra boost.
Melide is the next major town on route, and for a cyclist, this is worth stopping at. The Camino is always around 500m or so to the left of the main road, but it reconnects for a period here. It’s just 15km from Palas, but it’s a lot bigger and if you take a detour through to the church you won’t be disappointed. It’s also the place where the Camino Primitivo, which Starts in Oviedo, joins the main Camino Francés. The oldest cross in Galicia is also situated here surprisingly according to all the guides. I didn’t stay long and motored onto the next stop, Arzúa.
The Camino can take you south to O Carballal, or to O Cerallo via the N- 537. I chose the latter and Starts to get hilly again through river valleys most of the way to Arzúa. There are also no Hostels until you reach Boente, where the Camino crosses the road into the forest and you get to see the Igrexa de Santiago de Boente. If you stay on the main road, it’s a lot quicker and you miss nothing for when the Camino connects again some 4km later. The next stretch is more suitable for cyclists, but I continued on the main road. According to Rafael, who went the traditional way, if you follow the traditional route via Castañeda, you are on tarmac the entire time up until the routes cross again. I partially regretted not going that way as Rivadiso was a place he highlighted a lot on this stretch.
Arzúa is just another 3km away by this point, and the Camino and the N-547 are side by side for the next hour or so. I stopped here for the stamp, and continued for what seemed like forever on the same street, until finally towards the end, you connect with the old quarter which is tiny, but worth a visit. It’s also the point where the Camino del Norte, which starts in Irun connects to the main Camino. Like Melide, Arzúa is full of hostels and is often the point where walking pilgrims stop in preparation for their final two days. Progress was dependent on whether it was staying dry or not, and as you can tell in my pictures, it was grey all day, and the rain was holding off until 25km to the end.
The Camino Is practically alongside the N-547 until the last 12km with some climbs until Santa Irene. There, as with the whole trip some well wishers were pushing me on up a hill. You are not spoilt by the number of Hostels lining up this stretch of the road every 2 or 3km to make sure you don’t fail. The end of the main road confused me a lot. The yellow arrows disappeared and I ended up at a roundabout which connected to a motorway. However, there is a sign pointing you to the Camino a couple of hundred metres back which takes you onto a beaten tarmac path alongside the main road. You also realise that you are tantalisingly close to Santiago when you realise you are passing its’ airport along the way.
I followed the road around the airport until it diverted to San Paio then I was met with a sharp climb up a small hill and through an underpass up to one of the last parts of the Camino that was a dirt track, or in my case, mud because of the rain. There are a few villages on the way, notably Lavacolla, which has an impressive church leading down the hill, and Vilamaior, the last notable village on the camino which has a Hostel and bar, and beautiful stone houses. By this point, I was getting rather soaked and I couldn’t see any sign of the legendary city just yet. The tension and excitement was just building more and more.
The road lead to San Marcos the last point before Santiago, and annoyingly, the road was still showing some climbs and the valley was opening up, but I still couldn’t see anything. Another couple of kilometres later, you see a large monument on Monte Do Gozo, which had views of the countryside, but the clouds were so low I couldn’t see anything. More importantly, the Camino finally started revealing its prize, Santiago! the more you start descending the hill, the more of the city you started to see. and I knew that I was so nearly there, so without hesitation, I crossed the bridge to the outskirts and followed the signs on foot and entered the city.
The next objective is getting to the cathedral, and the best thing about following the Camino here, is that it that the pavement is very distinct, with cobbled walkways almost the entire time. About 15-20 mins of walking and on the Rua de San Padro, you finally see the spires of the cathedral for the first time. You enter the old quarter once you enter the Porta Do Camino and the city has well and truly transformed into something special by this point. The signs keep directing you though the narrow streets until you see the back of the cathedral, then to the Praza Do Obradoiro Which is the place all pilgrims wither at the knees at. The yellow arrows disappear, the iconic façade of the cathedral bears down on you and the rush of all kinds of emotions hit.
However, there’s still one task left to do, get your Compostela. The Oficina Do Peregrino is your final destination, and it was a little difficult for me to find. I searched all around the square, until I saw a signpost for the place around the other side of the cathedral on Rua Villar. It’s worth noting the the office has since moved to the north of the Praza Do Obradoiro on Rua das Carretas. The old office is now a consigna or storage room, but the feeling and authenticity of receiving the Compostela and final stamp on your booklet is one that put an everlasting smile on my face. My friend Rafael made it to the office 10 minutes after I did, which sweetened the moment.
There are a huge number of places to stay and rest for the best nights sleep of your life, and some people will try and promote their hostel in the centre to stay in. They may try and overcharge you for the night, and people are usually desperate enough to go for it. We found a place about 10 minutes walk from the cathedral for 10€ for the night at the time, called Albergue Acuario, though I understand prices have gone up since our visit. All I can say is that you are more likely to get good price if you are outside the ring road of the old quarter.
Leaving Santiago was a moment where I felt determined to come back and visit. The only ways you can travel with your bike is by bus and not by train, or if you are far enough away, by plane. A bit of a shock that you can’t get a train with your bike given how many people travel here. But people at the bus station are extremely helpful and help you with getting from A to B in the quickest way possible. One thing you will get good at in Spain is wrapping your bike in plastic, because that’s the only way to get it on board.
This was the first ever cycling trip I had done, and it’ll always be the most memorable. Words can’t describe emotionally how I felt, all I can say is, it’s a moment that you will never forget or replicate even if you repeat the Camino de Santiago. You only lose your virginity once. I initially felt like there wouldn’t be more trips as my body was ruined, but I caught a bug, cycling bug that is. The Camino de Santiago, from León has been ticked off the list. 341km in 5 days.