Wednesday, 26 July 2017

El Camino: Summary of the Portuguese Way

We started our spring walk in Porto, a gorgeous city of hills and brightly painted buildings with tiled murals and interesting shops and cafes along the Douro River. Worth at least two days.
Accommodations: Boutique hotel Oporto Near, a great combination of modern amenities and rustic elements not far from downtown.
Highlights:Old bookstore Livraria Lello. Clerigos Tower, Chapel of Souls, Sao Bento Railway Station. Sipping a drink along Cais da Ribeira. Port tasting on the Gaia side of the river.
Food and drink: Tapas. Flaming chorizo. Douro wine. Port. O Bolina and Taberna Manuel on opposite sides of the river. French toast at Majestic Cafe.
Stamp: Porto Cathedral
Suggestion: Walk from Porto to Matosinhos 8.4 km and stay there overnight.

Note: You need at least two stamps per day from Tui onwards to receive your final certificate in Santiago de Compostela. Most cafes, bars, churches and hotels en route will stamp your passport which must be obtained before you arrive.
Crossing the bridge in Matosinhos
April 28
Porto to Vila do Conde 24.7 kmTrain from Porto to Matosinhos. Walk across the bridge and down a long street to the waterfront. Turn right at the ocean front and walk along the sands and flowers and ancient shipbuilding villages with their brightly painted houses till you can't go any further.
Accommodations: Residencial Princesa Small older hotel, cheap, clean and comfortable. Excellent staff. Cafe next door for breakfast.
Food and drink: Tons of modern seafront cafes serving bocadillos and beer and coffee and ice cream along the route. Harbourfront restaurant for dinner. Octopus and risotto.

Stamp: Matosinhos Tourist Booth
Suggestion:Overnight at the small homestay "Sandra" at Vila you don't have to walk so far the first day.
Senda Litoral, the seaside path
April 29
Vila do Conde to Sao Pedro de Rates. 15.6 km
We turned inland at this point although you can continue up the coast. Interesting walk out of town, especially the old aqueduct which has been hacked apart so the road and train can go through. For much of this walk, the waymarking was removed so we used Google maps which took us through some quaint lanes by some gorgeous houses and even right through a farmer's field to the country roads and paths to the village of Rates- a small and very tidy agricultural village of whitewashed homes with a charming and deserted church filled with flowers. One long cobblestone street up the middle.
AccommodationsAlbergue, an interesting old building with a very friendly staff and laundry and kitchen facilities. By donation. Several large rooms. Everyone asleep by 9:30. So much snoring. SO MUCH.
Food and drink: Nondescript pizza. Fish and chip dinner. Bottle of Douro from the local shop. Cafe up the hill for breakfast.
Stamp:  This albergue had the prettiest stamp of the trip!

Suggestion: Earplugs or noise cancelling headphones.
April 30
Rates to Barcelos 22.9 km
A pleasant walk, mostly on the back roads, past very nice houses and some farms and vineyards to the quaint city of Barcelos which was having a blow out "Festa das Cruces". Originally a religious festival but now several days of live music, markets, folk singers marching through the lit-up streets and more frivolity.

Accommodations; Modern albergue. More snoring. Beds pushed beside each other so you might get someone of the opposite sex sleeping inches away from you with their garlicky breath or cranky shushing.

Food and drink  Francesinha at Taberna M. A huge Portuguese sandwich of bread, cheese, meat, cheesy sauce and some kind of gravy. An amazing beer.

Suggestion: Book a room in advance and you can get a very pleasant hotel room for a reasonable rate. 
Broom on the doorways
May 1
Barcelos to Balugaes 20.23 km
Lovely walk through farms and vineyards and small villages, over a Roman stone bridge on the Labruja River. The broom was in blossom everywhere, just spectacular. Almost every house was decorated with a spring of yellow broom on the doorway, an April 30 tradition dating back to medieval times to keep the evil spirits at bay.

Accommodations: Casas da Quinta da Cancela, an ancient vineyard turned into a boutique hotel. We were upgraded to the 4 room suite that included an antique piano, four poster beds, a shrine to the Virgin and lovely stone window seats overlooking the vineyard as well as a relaxing courtyard with kitchen access to the honour bar with 8 euro wines.
Food and drink: Vinho verde. Excellent full breakfast in the Quinta's farm kitchen.

Suggestion:The Quinta serves dinner. We did not know that so we went to the tiny cafe in "town". There, we tried the "green wine". Not really green, actually white or red-but fresh and frothy and still fermenting in the bottle.
View from our rooms at La Quinta
May 2
Balugues to Ponte de Lima 18.9 km
Far and away the most beautiful walk of the trip. Flowers, forests, birds singing. The broom flowering in the hills. The pathways of ancient stone. 
Wonderful. Ponte de Lima itself is a gorgeous small town along the river with wonderfully restored buildings and delightful cafes and fountains and music playing.

Accommodation:Boutique Hotel Terraco da Vila A charming room with a view in the centre of town.
Food and Drink: Sangria at a cafe on the square near the bridge, Tapas and the best lemon meringue pie ever at Taverna Vaca Das Cordas
Suggestion: Stay longer.

Ponte de Lima
May 3
Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes 16.4 km

This was the hardest day of walking as you must ascend a steep hill through a pine forest. The sap from the pines is being collected, possibly for use in turpentine manufacture. The walk is more of a scramble over boulders than a proper path ending in a clearing at an old forestry station where there are great views.

AccommodationAlbergue Constantino Large rooms. The owner will drive you into town to his restaurant.
Food and Drink: Stop for lunch and water at the last stop before you begin the ascent. Great small bar in a farmyard after you descend, right before the "town" where everyone stops to celebrate their climb. Pilgrim's menu of delicious soup and pan-fried trout and potatoes at the albergue's inn.
Suggestion: Take your time. It's a steep climb but very do-able. 
On the path under the pines
May 4
Rubiaes to Tui 23.4 km
A good day of walking through pretty countryside. Valenca, on the Portuguese side, has a charming 13th century walled city with lots of quaint shops and cool historical sites with good views down the river. Tui Cathedral is worth the stop. The area around the cathedral is charming with lots of shops and cafes.
Accommodation: Boutique hotel very close to the cathedral PensiĆ³n O novo Cabalo Furado  Really nice and quiet.
Food and Drink: Lots of restaurants and tapas places.  The most excellent Ideas Peregrinos, just down from the hotel, serves a great breakfast and sells some traveller's items.
Suggestion: Stay an extra day to see Valenca properly.
Early morning, Tui
May 5
Tui- Mos 21.5 km
An easy walk. Make sure to avoid the industrial area of O Porrino, which the guidebook calls a "soulless slog". The official path has been re-routed through parkland along a lovely river path. However many of the locals have removed the waymarking to direct foot traffic back to their cafes. You need to keep your eyes open through here!
Motion-activated shrine
Accommodation: Albergue Casa Blanca. A smaller and quieter albergue. Excellent sleep.
Food and Drink: The cafe across the street serves most pilgrims on the route. It's a very small place so everyone congregates in the same spot. Food was so-so but the visiting was good.
Suggestion: Mos is is a tiny town. If you can manage to go a bit farther to Redondela there is a nice old albergue there.
Under the broom
May 6
Mos to
 Arcade 17 km.
The walk was pretty at the start. Found a great cafe with a view for breakfast en route. Redondela is an interesting town with a few cool old buildings including a nice church, worth a good wander. Past the town you have to walk along the highway then down the hill to the ocean where the ancient town of Arcade lies. Once you get past the medieval bridge there are some interesting old stone houses. Very pretty. You will see many traditional horeos, elevated grain bins that are now a designated historic feature throughout the region.
View over the bridge from the cafe
 Accommodation: Highway Hotel San Luis Hotel A liitle over a km out of the town. Includes breakfast. There are other accommodations as you enter town which may be better.
Food and Drink: Great little bar just past the medieval bridge that serves light meals. Perfect for people watching. Arcade has renowned seafood restaurants and we ate a late and large dinner at Restaurant Veiramar
Suggestion: When the seafood platter says "minimum 2 people" it really serves 4.
Just past Arcade
May 7
Arcade to Barro  15 km
A nice walk through the old city of Pontevedra which has a great old city full of charming cafes where people don't get up until noon. A bit of this walk is along the highway but mostly through forest and village.
Accommodation: Portela Albergue is a deserted old elementary school next to a church. There is nothing else there. There is a beer fridge with 50 cent beers and wifi and laundry facilities and a chill courtyard to hang out in.

Food and Drink: There are two busy restaurants in the small town of San Amaro before you get to the albergue. The proprietors of the albergue cooked dinner for us. Spanish omelette, pasta with sauce, bread, salad and beer for 7 euros. Wonderful outdoor dinner with everyone sitting around the table outside. They provided breakfast for the morning as well.
Stamp: At the restaurants in San Amaro and the albergue.
A shared meal
May 8 
Barro to Padron 25.8 km  
A long walk today through some small towns and forest paths
Accommodation: Boutique Hotel A Casa do Rio (before Padron at Puentecesures)

Food and Drink: The food at the hotel hear sucked and it was pricey. Go into Padron or even the bar across the river
Suggestion: Go the extra couple of km to Padron which has lots of interesting sites and history.
Ulla River
May 9 
Padron to Picarana 12.3 km
A short walk with a bit of time in Padron which has a lot of cool things to see. Historic religious sights mostly. Then up through some farm land mostly paralleling the highway. The town here is mostly an industrial area with a few local bars and not much else. But we wanted to get to Santiago for the noon Pilgrim's Mass so that's how we timed it. There are more and more shrines and religious symbols as you get closer to Santiago.
Accommodation:Pension Gloriosa A large room, surprisingly quiet for its location. Our room faced the back with its fields and vineyards. A good place to rest up.

Food and Drink: Not much for food here. Pretty dull. There was supposedly a good bar/restaurant across the road but it was closed. 
Stamp: At the Pension Bar.
Oldest cross on the camino
May 10
Picarana to Santiago de Compostela 15 km  
Kind of a weird walk for the last bit.  First, along the highway in the dark and rain. Stopped for breakfast at a small inn. Then into the city which seems to go on forever. We took a shorter route that went through a park and through an old neighbourhood and over a big bridge and along some city streets. There are many bus tourists here. I guess there are many ways to make a pilgrimage. Lots of shops and cafes as befits a tourist destination.
In Santiago
Accommodation: Budget Hotel Plaza de Galicia. Our room had a wonderful balcony with a view over the rooftops.
Food and Drink:Great tapas at A Taberna do Bispo where we happily but unexpectedly met up with a Dutch couple from earlier in the trip.
Suggestion: Do not miss the Pilgrim's Mass at noon!  There are many other masses during the day but this is the one! You cannot take your pack or walking stick into the cathedral but you can leave it at your hotel or there is a left luggage area at the post office not far away. Stamp: Get your passport stamped at the official office. And get your official certificate saying you have walked!

Bom Caminho!

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