Today I allowed myself a lie-in. After-all, the buffet breakfast didn’t start ‘til 8am and I didn’t want to get to Salamanca too early. I had done my research the night before on where the bike shops were in the city and knew they wouldn’t be open until 10am.
My stomach needed an all-you-can-eat breakfast, and I made the most of everything that was available, and stuffed more in my pockets for the journey.
As I walked out of that hotel towards my bike, I was wired. I had drank 9 espressos in one hour. I was itching to go!
Unfortunately, my bike wasn’t. I could no longer change gear, and even this short (12km) ride in to Salamanca was a real effort with just the one gear.
Sightseeing in Salamanca
Salamanca was the main city I wanted to see on the Via de la Plata. I had read about this UNESCO World Hertiage City, its famed Plaza Major and its two cathedrals. I covered 3km and saw a lot in just 30 minutes of touring Salamanca.
I even saw someone flying a drone with a GoPro fitted underneath, over the cathedral, and was able to get this aerial view by watching on his iPad.
I spent two hours in the bike shop. Although the guy in the shop couldn’t speak English, we conversed with the help of Google Translate, and though my bike had some pretty specialist/niche components, this guy was an absolute pro. I recommend Con2Pinones to anybody passing by!
Salamanca to El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino
Leaving Salamanca from the bike shop, I had no idea where to pick up the camino, but I knew the first 35km followed the N-630 north to El Cubo.
I despised this first section. The terrain was neither flat nor hilly. The weather was neither warm nor cold. And the camino followed a long, straight road that was neither quiet nor busy. I was frustrated and bored. It was midday and normally by now the sun would be blazing but today the sun was intermittent and a regular breeze put a chill through my body. I needed my sleeves and windproof gilet.
To spruce things up a little I decided to venture well away from the camino. If you’re ever riding the Via de la Plata, I would encourage you to make your own way from Salamanca to Zamora. I guarantee you will see more!
I stumbled across some old underground houses. They were derelict but showed evidence that they were perhaps still used. I followed a disused B-road to El Cubo and stopped for a warmed up tortilla in a café. The sun was high now and I was warm. I could have stayed in that garden all day.
El Cubo to Zamora
The ride to Zamora was equally as uneventful. The going was easy and gently descended in to the city. Like Salamanca, Zamora is another of those places I was keen to see. The architecture was stunning, a real mix of Roman and Visigoth with some stunning views of the Rio Duero. But after losing so much time getting the bike fixed, I felt compelled to press on and bid ‘adios’ to the city.
Zamora to Montamarta
Zamora was the first city I experienced with comprehensive signage to exit the city via the camino. The section started very well, passing through a lovely wooded area, then on to a designated tarmac cycle path, but then due to some construction work, things got really tricky.
I had read about this section (from a walker’s point of view) and knew if I blinked I would miss the diversion, but I got lost, then I back-tracked but the diversion around the works was impossible for a bike. I had to take a huge detour around Zamora and I wasn’t happy.
Montamarta to Riego del Camino
After a café solo in Montamarta I had a surge of energy and enthusiasm. This section was a complete mix of some of the most wonderful trails: wide gravel tracks, slightly undulating and very fast – heaven on a cyclo-cross bike. But this was countered by extensive construction works for a new motorway. This meant that pilgrims were forced to use a busy road – and the works had also forced the closure of the main motorway, forcing all traffic on to this single carriageway. At times, it was really scary. Lorries whizzing by is not fun.
The Ruins of Castrotorafe
While planning my Via de la Plata, I had read a little about Castrotorafe, but it didn’t seem that too many pilgrims mentioned it during their walks. Even the VdlP mobile app fails to mention it.
Castrotorafe is an old monastery dating back to 11th or 12th century. It is housed within a walled enclosure occupying an area of almost 5km². Within these ruins lies a castle and loads of ruined outhouses. The place is in really bad shape, and despite a sign nearby listing famous visitors (even Nelson Mandella was on the list!), it seems that it doesn’t see a lot of visitors.
If you do the Via de la Plata, you MUST stop by Castrotorafe!
Riego del Camino: A Strange Place
Riego del Camino is an odd little village. All of the houses appear to be derelict at first sight, but they are habited. The albergue was of the poorest standard I stayed in during my camino, and the local bar is perhaps one of the strangest places I had ever visited. I probably had no reason to feel apprehensive, but Riego del Camino is the only place where I felt vulnerable during my whole time on the Via de la Plata.
In the albergue was cheap (5 Euros) and had the usual mix of pilgrims; German, Portugese, Spanish, Dutch, and two very annoying Aussies. I took me ages to settle to sleep on the top bunk of a rusty, creaky old bed.
Once I finally managed to get to sleep, I was woken up. I had been sleep-walking! Apparently, I was standing on top of the bed, arms outstretched feeling the wooden beams of the ceiling, shouting “Peregino, are you OK? Do you need any help?”