FSB Merseyside and Cheshire member Peter Kinsella, owner of Catalan restaurant Lunya and its little sister Lunyalita, recently completed Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. A keen cyclist, he embarked on the 500-mile journey by bike.
The Camino de Santiago was popularised in the 2010 film ‘The Way,’ starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez (his real-life son) as the protagonist’s son who died on the trail.
Many follow one of the numerous routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. For Peter, it was just as much about meeting the challenge – as well as his deep affection for Spain and its produce, which is a mainstay of his award-winning restaurant.
“Quite a lot of people do it for religious reasons, others for non-religious but spiritual purposes – it’s quite popular with middle-aged people who have lost a spouse,” said Peter.
“I did it to prove to myself that I could, that I could take on such a physical challenge at 55 – and I did it because I love Spain!”
“Cycling is great exercise but, to me, it doesn’t feel like exercise because I enjoy it so much. We wanted to do it by bike to keep our carbon footprint low, but also it was a way of visiting our suppliers.”
After flying to Bilbao, Peter’s party took the bus to Pamplona where they picked up their bikes, which were collected at the end of the trail courtesy of one of Spain’s cycling schemes.
Cycling the ‘French’ way – the oldest, most traditional route followed by pilgrims in the Middle Ages to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where tradition has it that the saint’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to be buried.
Along the route they stayed in local hostels, or ‘Alberges,’ built to provide refuge to the pilgrims, meeting many different people with wide-ranging reasons for making the journey.
“You meet people from across the world – from teenagers to octogenarians – so it’s a very inspirational thing to do,” added Peter. “There was a guy from Australia who was doing it for the seventh time.”
The adventure was not without incident. After just seven kilometres – but miles from a town and other people - Peter’s bike chain snapped and, despite his best efforts to fix it, it broke again several times more that day. Fortunately, he eventually found a cycle shop and had it repaired.
As it nears Santiago, the trail traverses the mountain region of Galicia – hard-going for the weary cyclists but also very beautiful.
“It was like being up in a mini version of the Alps,” said Peter. “It was difficult but also breathtaking, we looked into the valley and could see ahead as far as the eye could see, a wonderful landscape and a sense that we were at the top of the world after many day’s cycling.”
At the start of the trail other cyclists and walkers were few and far between, but towards the end large numbers of people traveling the various trails converged and made the last few miles together.
“That was when we really felt like we were part of something bigger. You all finish at the same place, the cathedral in the main square. It was a real buzz – and it feels great to rest your feet, if you’ve been walking, or somewhere else if you have been the saddle like us!”
Not that they spent all the time cycling. In addition to trips to visit suppliers, at the half-way stage Liverpool FC fan Peter managed to hop on a train to Madrid to watch his team triumph in the Champions league final. His children also flew out to visit Peter and his wife, Elaine, who joined him on the trip. Yet the joy of cycling such a beautiful route, free from the hustle and bustle of the restaurant, remained the primary focus.
“When you’re cycling you have to concentrate 100%,” he said. “That’s why I love it, you zone into a psychological state called ‘flow,’ where you don’t exactly feel empty but it’s just that all the clutter goes from your mind. In many ways it’s a bit like being a chef, especially in service. I actually came back really invigorated for work, although I didn’t think about being in work at all along the way.”
In addition to taking in many sights during the three-week trip, such as monasteries and Roman buildings up in the mountains, Peter’s visited numerous food and drink producers, including a cheese-maker and two vineyards in Rioja
“You get thirsty so thirsty when cycling,” he said. “We got to the first vineyard and they started the tasting immediately. We were just drinking the wine like water – I didn’t realise until we ended up going the wrong way down a one-way street! Luckily, we weren’t too far from our overnighter.”
Peter and his party enjoyed the trip so much that he plans to return next summer to take on a different route – the less-popular Camino del Norte, which follows the coast.
Although slightly shorter in distance, the terrain is even more undulating than the French route. Not that Peter is put off in the slightest by the prospect of tackling the Camino de Santiago’s mountains, back in his beloved Spain, once again.