HOW TO GET to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port with bike and come back from Santiago

The starting point of the Camino de Santiago is a picturesque town at the foot of the Pyrenees called Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port. The easiest way to get there is by taking the Ryanair flight http://www.ryanair.com/ from London Stanstead to Biarritz/Bayonne (the earliest one, as you have to catch a train to SJPdP from Bayonne) and at the airport witness team leader throwing your bike with all his strength onto the luggage belt. If you decide on this option, you have to take into account that depending on where you leave from there might not be a bike-friendly train to the airport meaning that they may not take unpacked bicycles. The Stanstead Express doesn’t take bikes unless they are packed, although if the worse comes to the worse you can try to ask a member of the crew who might take pity on you and give you the green light. Otherwise, you will have to travel to Stanstead Mountfitchet station at off-peak times (very important) and cycle from there to the airport. Your life will be much easier if you are traveling to Stanstead from the North of England – trains going to the airport from e.g. Cambridge are bike friendly and bike space may be reserved online, at the station, via Twitter or through Facebook (http://www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk/). If you prefer to travel by coach, again you have to talk with the chosen company as they have certain restrictions (http://www.nationalexpress.com/home.aspx, http://www.terravision.eu/).

Your next option is to travel with EasyJet (http://www.easyjet.com/EN/Booking.mvc) from Gatwick and this time observe with horror as your beloved bike is placed at the bottom of the loading trolley with all the other luggage on the top. Trains to Gatwick accept bikes although they still may surprise you at the last minute (“We don’t take bicycles today because there are the Olympics”). For unknown reasons adjusting existing transport services to other road users for the capital and surroundings is mission impossible. EasyJet also flies to Biarritz/Bayonne from London Luton.

Ryanair flies there from Dublin and Flybe from Birmingham and Southampton. There are direct flights between Biarritz and Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Geneva, Luxembourg, Brussels, Berlin and various French cities (Paris, Nice, Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg).

When you finally get to Biarritz/Bayonne take a map from the airport tourist information and cycle into Bayonne remembering that continental Europe drives on the right (more often than not I start my holiday cycling against the traffic). The route is 8 km, pretty easy and the railway station is just on the other side of the bridge. Although local buses don’t take bikes, a driver might take you to the station anyway just because you are doing the Camino. From Bayonne Gare, there are bike friendly trains to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port.

Train from Bayonne to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port full of backpacks and bicycles.
Train from Bayonne to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port full of backpacks and bicycles. Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

Another possibility and in my opinion much better, is taking the Eurostar to Paris. Just reserve your ticket and bring your bike unfolded and uncovered the day before to the Eurostar Despatch Centre in St Pancras. Show them your Eurostar ticket, pay 25 pounds and your bike will be sent to Paris that evening. If you like to travel with your bike on the same train then you have to reserve your space beforehand and pay 30 pounds (that may not be always possible, so check with Eurostar in advance).

From Paris Montparnasse, you have to take the TGV to Bayonne and from there the train to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port. Buy your ticket (two separate tickets – one to Bayonne and another to SJPdP) from the French train website https://en.oui.sncf/en/ and while buying the ticket choose the option “add bike”, then “non-dismantled bike”. For a small additional fee, you will be able to travel with your bike in a comfortable carriage. Print out the ticket or save it on your mobile phone.

From Bayonne take the train to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port SJPdP. If you don’t want to stay in Paris or Bayonne for the night you should take the first Eurostar in the morning and then catch the first midday train to Bayonne from Paris Montparnasse. Bear in mind that it takes some time to cycle from Paris Gare Du Nord to Paris Montparnasse (a lot of one-way roads on the way). The latter train station is also confusing at first – you need to take a lift to the TGV service to Bayonne.

A further option is to travel to Bordeaux and catch a train going to Bayonne. Ryanair flies to Bordeaux from Edinburg and EasyJet from Belfast, Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol. You can fly from Birmingham and Southampton (Flybe) and London (British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet). Dublin is served by Aer Lingus. Bordeaux Airport is linked with many other European cities.

For the return, the airport in Santiago de Compostela has Ryanair flights to London Stanstead and EasyJet to London Gatwick. Aer Lingus flies to Dublin.

There are numerous bike shops in the city where you can get a cardboard box for bike packing. If you prefer extra service, there is a shop Velocipedo(http://www.elvelocipedo.com/) on Rua San Pedro 23 that packs bikes in special transport boxes. It costs 25 Euros; they can also order you a special taxi to transport you and your bike to the airport (22 Euros). For 105 Euros (The United Kingdom, Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg, Italy, France, Austria, Germany; 130 Euros the rest of Europe; 145 Euros Sweden and Norway) they will pack your bike and sent it back home. They are friendly and speak English. The shop is open in the morning from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm and in the afternoon from 3.30 pm to 8 pm (Monday to Friday); on Saturdays 10 am to 2 pm only.

You can also cycle to the airport. Keep going straight the entire journey – leave Santiago by the wide street you entered it a few days ago (towards Monte do Gozo), cross the bridge over the new highway and take an old road to Lavocolla, the N-634. For the first part the road goes uphill, then closer to the airport there is a descent and ascent again (11.70 km, 1 hour cycling).

In the airport, there is a point with bicycle tools and they show dimensions that your packed bike can’t exceed (all the usual applies – taking off pedals, lowering handlebars and seats and taking off front wheels). There is also a point where your dismantled bike can be packed in a large basic cardboard box (17.50 Euros, cash only), however check in advance if the guy who runs the service is not sick or on holiday. In Santiago airport your bike HAS TO BE PACKED in cardboard box, otherwise they won’t let you on board.