Q: My husband and I would like to take a cycling trip in Northern Spain. We would prefer to do it self-guided and do not want to pay the $2500 to $3500 per person that the major luxury operators charge. Basically, we just need route maps, reservations for camping or modest accommodations, and bike rentals. Any ideas?
Cuidado: tight turns on a Spanish mountain road
Deborah Martin, Santa Barbara, California
A: If cost wasn't reason enough to ditch the cycle tour groups, the fact that they all tend to travel the same two paths through northern Spain (Camino de Santiago and the Rioja wine country) means the infrastructure is already set up for cyclists, so it's easy to go it alone
Two good starting points for information are the Spanish Tourism office (www.okspain.org, 323-658-7188) and Amics de la Bici (34 -93-339-40-60, www.amicsdelabici.org), a bicycle advocacy group in Barcelona that can point you in the right direction for rentals, maps, and guide books. Since quality rentals are hard to find outside the big cities, you might consider getting your wheels in Barcelona and taking them with you on the train to your starting point. For the best route maps, go to the Centro Nacional de Información Geográfica (www.cnig.ign.es). (Note: you can use www.freetranslation.com to convert any of these pages to English.)
The single most popular ride in northern Spainwith good reasonis the St. James pilgrim route (Camino de Santiago). More than 1,000 years old, this path extends from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. If you start in Pamplona, it should take about two weeks. Mountain bikes are your best bet since the route is mostly unpaved. Along the way, you'll pass historical monuments dating back thousands of years. The scenery alone would make this a world-class ride, but the main appeal is the knowledge that you'll be traveling the same ancient roads used by the pilgrims of old. Needless to say, it's an experience you couldn't get at home.