Camino de Santiago by campervan and bicycle (I)
Total distance: 600 km aprox
Accommodation: free parking lots, campsites, pilgrim shelters
Activities: mountain biking, sightseeing, surfing, gastronomy
This new adventure by Chilicampers will take you from Lisbon, Portugal, all the way across the country, northbound to Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. You may have guessed it: we embarked on the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, on its Portuguese version. There are many different approaches to one of the world’s most famous pilgrimages: the French Way, the Northern Way, on foot, horseback, and several other options. We chose to take our mountain bikes and a Volkswagen California as a support car. In a three people team, one would drive while the other two cycled, swapping positions after every stage. Also, since Lisbon and Santiago de Compostela are more than 600km apart and our time was limited, we chose to do only the best stages –according to our book guide: the great El Camino de Santiago Portugués-.
The good thing about hiring a campervan in Spain is the amount of different destinations that can be reached in less than one day’s ride. After a 14-hours trip from Barcelona to Lisbon, our trio met at the Portuguese capital, and following an inaugural bacalhau à brás (grilled cod) and a glass of Porto wine, we set out to find a proper place to park our campervan in Lisbon. A quiet, free car park next to the port proved to be a hassle-free solution, ideal for an early start the day after.
Day #1: Lisboa-Alverca do Ribatejo
It really would be a pity to leave Lisbon without enjoying it in broad daylight. Even in the middle of winter, this shining city invites the visitor to get lost into the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto, climb the seven hills and visit the modern Parque das Naçoes, among many other pleasures. And, of course, if you’re serious about doing the Way of St. James, don’t forget to request your Credencial or pilgrim’s passport at one of the city’s many churches. We did so at the Lisbon Cathedral, in front of which we had a team picture taken and we set out to Alverca, the first stop in our planning. This first stage provides a pleasant ride through the cobbled streets of Lisbon followed by a smooth transition to the countryside of Vale do Tejo (Tagus Valley), after having crossed the Parque das Naçoes, site of the 1998 World Exposition. 30km later, Alverca do Ribatejo is a rather unwelcoming city -industrial-like and with few attractions other than the aerospace company OGMA, which is based there. Don’t you worry though! This is but the beginning, and things will only get better. After a comforting meal, head for the Bombeiros Voluntários of Alverca (volunteer firemen) for a voluntary shower. Weird as it may sound; because of the scarcity of pilgrim accommodation in this section of the Way of St. James, you can resort to local firemen stations for warm shower, and a dorm to spend the night! However, thanks to our fantastic Volkswagen California, the sky is the limit regarding sleeping spots. A picnic area off the town of Azambuja (tomorrow’s departure point) will be our resting place tonight.