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Riding the Vias Verdes of Northern Spain
by Bill Loch. posted 9 October 2017

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Bill Loch makes a stand for equality in cycling, as he and his wife Jennie tackle the gorgeous green lanes of Northern Spain

Nearly thirty years ago I was sent on a fleeting business trip to Northern Spain. Memories of the rugged coastline, the enchanting bays, the grandeur of Bilbao, and an outstanding lunch in Oviedo had always stuck in my mind.


So here we were on the Portsmouth to Santander ferry heading back for a road trip – but also with a plan to explore the Vias Verdes, or greenways, of northern Spain. In the back of the car we had two recently acquired hybrids – a Specialized Crosstrail for me and a KTM Macina Cross e-bike for Jennie.


They proved to be excellent companions on this type of trip. And for those of you who scoff at e-bikes, I have to say that they have transformed our leisure cycling. No longer am I frustrated when Jennie can’t keep-up – and no longer does she get knackered trying to.


With the KTM set on its lowest ‘Eco’ mode she gets a range of around 60 miles, is never off my tail and frequently glides past me on the hills. Changed days!

 vias verdes Spain

The view across the bay from our Santander hotel balcony was spectacular, but what really caught our eye were the excellent bike paths running around the waterfront and back in to the city (sad, I know). There and then we changed our plans and decided to explore the city centre on foot in the morning and then venture further afield on the bikes in the afternoon.


It was a great day and a relaxed way to ‘recover’ after 24 hours on the ferry. We followed the undulating paths around the bay, crossing the beach on a boardwalk at one point, and then discovered we could take the bikes on the foot ferry over to Padrena – which allowed us both to pay homage to one of our sporting heroes, the late and much missed Seve Ballesteros.


A few days later we repeated the city and coastal path day-out in Coruna, another spectacular city, and, a bit further into the trip found ourselves at Baiona on the Camino Portuguese Pilgrim’s route to Santiago.


This gave us some of the most stunning cycling we’ve had in a long time. Heading south out of Baiona the Camino is a dedicated cycling and walking path. For part of the way  it runs along the side of the coast road, but it often deviates to find its own way through the quiet seaside villages. For most of the ride, we pedalled high above the rugged, rocky coastline and the breaking waves – with the rolling Atlantic and clear blue sky in the background. It was the kind of ride that just made you feel good.

Fearing that the full 40 plus miles round trip to the Portugese border and back would be a bit too much for us, we turned back at the halfway point and then followed the path north from Baiona to take it a bit of the more developed coastal resorts. If we had the energy and inclination, it would have taken us all the way to the city of Vigo.


In between all of this relaxed coastal cycling, we had also started to explore the Vias Verdes. From the excellent website we had selected the Senda del Oso track in old mining country to the south and west of Oviedo. We set of with some trepidation, not knowing whether we would be able to find the start point, but our hearts lifted when we arrived at the designated hamlet of Tunon on the AS-228 and found a big sign, a car-park full of Sunday morning riders and a nice little bike shop and café.


The Senda del Oso route climbs gently up a steep sided valley and forks about two thirds along the route giving you two options. We chose to head up the short leg to Entrago, a round trip of about 28 miles.

The Senda del Oso route climbs gently up a steep sided valley and forks about two thirds along the route giving you two options. We chose to head up the short leg to Entrago, a round trip of about 28 miles.


The route was originally a narrow-gauge rail line used to bring the product of the mines down the valley. As a result, it was quite narrow in parts, but it wove gently through small villages, and woodland, delivering the occasional spectacular mountain views. The surface was decent – hardpack with a few rockier sections here and there. A few tunnels punctuated the climb, some well-lit but others not so – we were glad to have our lights with us.


We enjoyed a couple of long drinks at the bar at Entrago, before heading back down the hill, barely turning a pedal as we went.


Later in the trip, and based in the Rioja region, we tried another couple of Vias Verdes – the Tarazonica track from Tudela to Tarazona and the Rio Oja route from Casalarreina to Ezcaray. Neither delivered the rewards of the Senda del Oso, with long straight and flat sections across the plain – good for exercise and working of all the food and wine; but not for much else.


In future, we’ll concentrate on the more winding routes that you find in the mountains. The website lists well over a hundred tracks, ranging from a few kilometres up to 128km – so at least there’s plenty to choose from.

All photos credit Bill Loch 2017

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