The idea of walking the Camino was in my thoughts for several years so that together with Monica and Silvio we decided to start perhaps from the less beaten path: the Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela in the Central variant.
Our Path is the Central Path, distinct from the Coastal Path which meets at the Central in Valenca. The Pilgrims who chose the Camino della Costa were not very enthusiastic both for the lack of hospitality and for the long asphalted stretches. Above all, it should be pointed out that the route is still inland and the view of the sea can only be had in some stretches, the coast being very jagged, with deep inlets.
Before the departure we get the so-called “Credential”: a “Card” necessary to be accommodated in the Hospices, to receive the certificates of our passages in the various stage points of the route and to obtain, at the arrival in Santiago, the “Compostela”: that is the certification of the Camino percorso (n.b: to obtain the Compostela you must have covered at least the last 100 km before Santiago if on foot or the last 200 km if by bicycle).
Departure for Lisbon
By Ryanair flight from Pisa we arrived in Lisboa and then three hours transfer by train (from Lisbon airport you can easily reach the train station by taking the underground and getting out at the “Oriente” stop), we reach Oporto on September 19th where we treat ourselves to a day as tourists – be careful: in Portugal, arriving from Italy, you have to set the clock back one hour. (Oporto is a beautiful city that deserves to stop at least one day for the visit and… to taste the Port and the Cod).
The Portuguese Way to Santiago
Early in the morning we take the Metro, get on the red line and get off at Vila do Conde (this stop is made both by the Espresso shuttle-metro – which does not make all the stops – and by the ordinary one and is located right near a big shopping centre): in this way we avoid all the traffic leaving this big city.
Portuguese Walk Central – MAP
1a Tappa – 21 Septembre – from Porto to S. Pedro de Rates. 20 Km.
Just outside the metro we head towards the shopping centre and, following the directions of google maps, we reconnect to the Camino reaching it at Giao (about 5 km of road). We refresh ourselves with a stop at the bar in Giao where we meet other pilgrims who will accompany us for several stages during the week: a nice German couple with a Filipino friend.
After about one kilometre, the route leaves the busy road and enters the eucalyptus forests, which are very common in this part of Portugal (it is a non-native plant but imported from Australia by a missionary at the end of the 19th century).
We then cross the Romanesque stone bridge over the Rio Ave. We begin to notice how frequent the yellow arrows indicating the route are: many, always appreciated, certainly an excellent voluntary work of many associations who love the Camino.
We also appreciate the fact that the roads in the woods, usually dirt roads, in Portugal are very often paved with porphyry cubes, a stone which is abundant in this area. We continue to Ponte Arcos and Sao Miguel de Arcos. On internal paved or paved roads we arrive in Sao Pedro de Rates.
Following the signs, always perfect, 600 meters later we arrive at the Hospice, in the village, adjacent to the Museum of Peasant Art. The Albergue is held by the Volunteers (very kind) and allows the reception of 32 people in 3 dormitories with bunk beds, with very large spaces, kitchen, living rooms, laundry, courtyard. To eat we appreciate the menu of the small but excellent restaurant in the village. The Romanesque church is very beautiful.
2° Tappa – 22 Septembre – from S. Pedro de Rates to Barcelos and Tamel. 27 Km.
Our Portuguese journey to Santiago continues the following day with the intention of arriving at the new Hospice in Tamel, about 10 km beyond Barcelos (which is only 16 km away).
Departure at 7.45 am with dirt tracks in the woods. Stop for breakfast after about 10 km (we are struck by the fact that, in every bar or refreshment point where we stop for refreshments, the toilets are always very clean – unlike in Italy!). After the gentle climb to Pedra Furada, a long, gentle descent towards Barcelos begins, partly on a wide, paved road and porphyry roads, partly inside eucalyptus groves and in a very urbanised countryside. We reach the outskirts of Barcelos (Barcelinhos) and then cross the Romanesque bridge over the Rio Cavado.
Before entering the historical centre we stop for lunch in a small bar that offers cheap “pilgrim menu”. We then continue through the city: the cathedral is very beautiful, with its majolica-covered walls depicting sacred history. In Lijo, at an intersection, a bar (the only one after Barcelos) awaits us, which we take advantage of for the last stop before reaching the Hospice.
From now on many signs give us directions to our destination, but not the distance. We arrive at the Albergue di Tamel in the late afternoon, next to the Town Hall and the Church, after an uphill route, quite tired and thirsty. The Albergue da Casa da Recoleta de Tamel is new with parquet floor, automatic lighting, digital kitchen, large spaces, etc..
The hospitalero, also here, is very kind and does its best to accommodate, in some way, all the pilgrims (we are in greater number than the beds available). We have a large dinner in the restaurant, the only one (and the owner is well aware of this, given the somewhat abrupt manner), right in front of our accommodation.
We advise you not to arrive late at the Hospice: in Tamel there are no other overnight stays!
3rd stage – September 23rd – from Tamel to Ponte de Lima. 26 Km.
Departure at 7.45 a.m. Once past Alto de Portela, the route continues downhill on asphalt and porphyry, among pergolas, cornfields and eucalyptus woods; the route is always perfectly signposted with yellow arrows.
Everywhere the grape harvest is in progress and as we walk, the unmistakable scent of must reaches us! Two sources at the Quinta (farm) of Ribeiro and also at the Church of Vitorino dos Piaes; here we stop at the excellent Bar Viana (we deviate 100 mt on the right, at the crossroads) well supplied also with food, where they put the stamp on the “Credential”.
Continue on the usual mixed route, going up to the top of Albergaria, and then downhill to Ponte de Lima. Here and there we are struck by the fact that in this area of Portugal the “cultivation” of chestnuts is well practised: beautifully cared for and fenced chestnut groves accompany our journey! We meet a young pilgrim girl who, alone, marches in the opposite direction to ours; we ask her where she is going: in Fatima, she answers us. The Camino is also this!
Ponte de Lima
The arrival to the city is delighted by a nice path along the river, shaded, full of people who take advantage of the beautiful day (even if a bit windy) for a walk.
Once in the centre, we cross the long medieval bridge and we find ourselves in front of the Hospice, which opens at 3.30 pm. The rest of the pilgrims, little by little, arrive and settle down waiting in line, lying in the small square. When they arrive, the hospitallers explain the rules. The rooms are spacious and new, renovated; modern kitchen, living room and also internet. 40 places in two large and beautiful dormitories, on the top floor, in the attic.
For dinner we take advantage of an excellent Osteria (Gaio) right in the centre, which makes typical Portuguese cuisine. It is full of “locals” and we trust them. We will be very satisfied.
4th Leg – 24th September – from Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes 18 Km.
Departure at 7.30 am, almost together with a German friend travelling alone (very nice, great walker and great beer taster). We start a path on a dirt road, among vineyards, crossing the motorway several times; we continue stopping at an old bar for a rich breakfast: “Casa Veiga”, in Arcozeto.
Now begins a beautiful path in the woods, dirt or cobblestones, uphill to the Alto de Portela Grande (h. 390 mt). Often we find piles of porphyry stones in which the pilgrims’ inspiration has been indulged. Frequent the collection of resin, using plastic bags fixed to the trunks of the trees.
The descent is gentle and without noticing we arrive at Agualonga where we find the first warnings of the hotel 2 km away. Along the dirt road that precedes the Hospice there are several possibilities of accommodation (B&B, rooms to rent etc).
The Albergue, on the other hand, is located in Rubiaes, shortly after the village. It is new, a pale pink building (renovated primary school), overlooking the paved road. Excellent rooms, large, well furnished, recently renovated, kitchen, living room, garden, with 34 bunk beds.
For dinner we use a restaurant (Bon Ritiro) about 100 mt afterwards. Not far away there is also another restaurant, Costantino. Here we find the first signs and signals of the Via Romana XIX.
5th Stage – 25th September – from Rubiaes to Tui. 20,4 Km.
This is the last stop on Portuguese territory of our Portuguese Path to Santiago. We were fond of this landscape, although the next stops are in Galicia, a well known Spanish land. Departure at 8.00 am, after breakfast. The route immediately comes out of the asphalt, between the fields, with cobblestones.
We cross a medieval bridge, the villages of Pacos and Arao until we reach the outskirts of Valenca, the last Portuguese settlement. Here, after passing through the wide city outskirts, we visit the old town, surrounded by walls, and the medieval fortress.
We then reach the bridge over the river Minho which acts as a border: a long bridge, pedestrian, road and railway. After a while we are in Spain and we update our clocks (one hour ahead).
In Tui (Galicia) we treat ourselves to our first “bocadillo” washed down with a beer (it’s 3 p.m.); when we reach the Hospice, near the Romanesque Cathedral at the top, on the hill, everything is full. After booking a cheap hotel 30 minutes walk from the historic centre (Cruceiro do Monte), we treat ourselves to a visit to the Cathedral.
From now on, in place of the yellow arrows, we will find the pilastrini with shells that bring back the kilometres that are missing in Santiago.
6° Tappa – 26 Settembre – da Tui a Porriño. 17,6 Km.
This time, since it will be one of the shortest stages, we leave around 9.15. After a first part among the fields, the route then runs along the motorway, on an asphalted chimney but well protected by a fence (like a cycle path).
We are now marching in a beautiful natural park: “Gandaras de Budiño“. We cross the bridge das Febres, over marshy and unhealthy waters (perhaps hence the name).
At about 8 km, in Ribadelouro (at the exit of the Park), there is a refreshment point; the path now winds out of the natural park, on the edge of a small town, and then throws itself back into a cool eucalyptus wood; the wood alternates with beautiful vineyards: here the owners, intent on harvesting, have taken care to leave the pilgrims passing through, deposited on fence walls, inviting pine cones of black grapes.
So we almost don’t notice that we have reached the industrial outskirts of Porriño. The path is long and rough, but on the other hand there is the safety of a continuous pavement; so the chimney runs well and in practice we find ourselves, after crossing a long and endless public park, in the town of Porriño: a lively, modern and industrial town.
We do not stop at the Hospice, located just at the edge of the park and before the entrance in the centre, but we immediately look for a pub where we can refresh ourselves: along this stage the refreshments are scarce and we are very hungry. The night rest, instead, is guaranteed by booking some rooms (pleasant and very cheap) through Booking.com (Pension Mosende).
7° Tappa – 27 Settembre – da Porriño a Redondela. 16,7 Km.
The route is asphalted from the beginning, sometimes on the national road 550, then starts a slight climb up to MOS, where we pass in front of the hotel [16 places]. We continue uphill to Santaguino where, in a rest area, we find a Roman artefact: an ancient Roman milestone.
We now continue on a gentle descent. In the distance we can sense the presence of an airport (of Vigo) for the bustle of aeroplanes.
Then we arrive in Redondela: the Albergue is in the centre, in an old tower, very characteristic. The hospitalera, a young girl, is very categorical and rigid: for reasons of decorum you can’t spread your clothes on the terrace or at the windows; only inside the bathrooms, which are new and very beautiful. Also the rest is nice, there are some rooms used as a museum, a library, a living room converted into a conference room. Kitchen, although small. Coin operated coffee machine.
The city is pretty, hospitable, modern with gardens, the river, and – unusual – the railway that runs between the two hills above the city. As befits Galicia the weather is uncertain but it doesn’t rain.
8a Tappa – 28 Settembre 2017 – da Redondela a Pontevedra. 18,4 Km.
The Camino begins along the national road 550 and continues along this road for a few kilometres; then it climbs among small aggregates of houses and small villages; finally it enters a forest of pines, oaks and eucalyptus trees.
The route is simple and pleasant. We pass through Xesteira and Arcade to Pontesampaio where we cross the estuary of Rio Verdugo (here, on the narrow medieval bridge, reminiscent of the Napoleonic battles in Galicia – year 1809).
Then we continue with a new climb, in a very particular stretch of wood, on a cobblestone cobblestones with very large pieces, very old, so that we can see the signs of the wheels of the carts. The possibility of water supply is scarce. At the end of the wood you cross uncultivated fields and vineyards until you reach Pontevedra. Pontevedra, of Roman origin (Pontus Veteri), is located on the Via Romana XIX; it is a beautiful city of more than 85.000 inhabitants.
It has a very interesting historical centre, to which it is obligatory to dedicate a short visit (Church of S.Francesco, Cathedral, Town Hall, remains of S.Domenico and the Church of the Madonna Pellegrina). The city allows a look at the ocean. The Pilgrim’s Hospice is next to the station and has large spaces; modern and equipped, 56 places in two large dormitories, very beautiful, wide, with a large lawn.
9° Tappa – 29 Settembre – da Pontevedra a Caldas de Reis. 24 Km.
It is easy to get out of Pontevedra, excellent signaling. After about 5 km of the Camino you reach a junction with a diversion to the Portuguese Espiritual Way along the ocean (this is a variant about 100 km long, suitable for those who only have a week’s time available: arrival in Vigo by plane; by train to Pontevedra to start and, from here, the Camino to Santiago);
Our Camino, instead, proceeds as planned on the Via Romana XIX; a beautiful road, always in the middle of greenery; you can feel the annoying traffic noise due to the motorway a few hundred meters away (parallel to the Camino).
After about 12 km from Pontevedra you reach the village of S.Amaro where there are several bars for breakfast. From here we continue along a route that is more asphalted than anything else, even if there is no traffic, with slight differences in height; we finally reach Caldas de Reis, a thermal town, where we have opted for half board at the thermal hotel (50 euros with use of the thermal swimming pool) instead of the Ospizio del Pellegrino (which is very poor here).
10° Tappa – 30 Septembre – from Caldas de Reis to Padron. 18,3 Km.
A quiet route that alternates – among chestnut, oak, pine and eucalyptus woods – with vineyards. Unfortunately, for a long stretch, this chimney also runs along the motorway and traffic noise can disturb our serenity.
We pass through small villages; in San Miguel de Valga we find a civil protection truck that provides assistance to pilgrims: we only take advantage of their saddle (stamp) on the pilgrim’s card. We continue on a mainly asphalted, but not trafficked, ground, arriving in Padron by secondary roads.
In the Cathedral is preserved the hypothetical stone (“Petronum”) that would have given the landing place to the boat carrying the body of St. James and that gives the name to the city.
The Ospizio del Pellegrino is located near the Convento del Carmen; we prefer to sleep in a recently opened structure (Albergo Cruces de Iria), a few metres from the church Santa Maria de Iria Flavia, an ancient Romanesque church of the XI century; excellent Galician dinner at the restaurant O Curro (it is recommended to taste the small, characteristic peppers called “pimientos de Padron”).
11th Stage – 1st October – from Padron to Santiago de Compostela. 24 Km.
Last stop. The destination is now near; it is a real emotion. We would like to sip the steps slowly but at the same time we can’t wait to arrive.
We pass among the usual houses, pergolas, paved streets, eucalyptus groves; we arrive at Angeira de Suso and Picarana. We pass the sign for Teo’s hostel, continue over the Romanesque bridge over the Rio Tinto and arrive in Milladoiro. The climbs are light. Suddenly the city of Santiago appears in the distance.
As the crow flies, the city is very close, but there are still about 7 kilometres to go: we feel as if we never get there. To avoid the motorway junctions the Camino describes tortuous and not direct routes (which almost make you get impatient).
Finally we are in the historic centre; the last few hundred metres, aiming at the spires of the cathedral, we almost run through the crowds through the narrow streets of the centre.
We arrive in Piazza dell’Obradorio at 4 p.m. The main entrance is closed for restoration works and it is not possible to appreciate the gothic façade with its wonderful Portal of Glory by Maestro Mateo. It is not allowed to enter the church with our backpacks, so we deposit them in a storage room located in front of the cathedral pinnacle with the clock.
After visiting the Cathedral, we go to the Pilgrim’s office to receive the Compostela (parchment in Latin that attests the Camino and that is delivered only to those who travel, if on foot, the last hundred kilometres before Santiago).
We find an endless queue, so we give up for that day with the intention of coming back the morning after the opening of the office.
We attend the Pilgrim’s Mass at 6 p.m. where we were lucky enough to witness, at the end of the ceremony, the use of the Botafumeiro (a large censer weighing about 50 kg, used to spread incense in the cathedral: it is one of the largest incense burners in the world; the rite is fascinating and the spectacle not to be missed).
We find accommodation in a room rental a few meters from the Cathedral (San Pelayo, decadent environment but excellent for price and location). We recommend not to miss the opportunity to have lunch or dinner at “Casa Manolo” and “Milongas”.
For those who still have time and energy at their disposal it is possible, with three days of further walking, to reach Finisterra (a place where pilgrims, in ancient times, collected the shells that attested the completed Camino); Finisterra can now be reached by organized trips by bus from Santiago (from Piazza Galizia, a few hundred meters from the Cathedral).
The Portuguese Central Route
Arrival in Oporto (where our Camino begins) is easy, by plane or train from Lisbon or Vigo. The 230 km route is very particular, a bit different from the other Jacobei fireplaces and not for this reason less fascinating, even though it often covers asphalted stretches (even if not very busy).
Perhaps it would be ideal for those who start walking, because the route is not yet very busy, the Hospices are good and almost all new and well organized (cost 5\6 Euro for the overnight stay).
There are also various occasions of private reception or even – sometimes – firemen (Bombeiros) in the Portuguese section.
The stages are short and the route frequently passes through inhabited areas, with easy refreshment and rest. The people are welcoming, kind and friendly, prodigal in pointing out, in doubt, the path; often they cross rural environments but characterized by a flourishing economy, based on corn crops, vineyards, breeding. There were no difficulties with the language.
Life is cheaper in Portugal and when you cross the border, in Galicia, you can feel the difference in prices (however, Galicia, in this section, is characterized by a post-industrial economy: you can see that it has been crossed by the crisis and has a more decadent appearance).
The signalling of the Camino in the Portuguese section is remarkable, with many yellow arrows, recently painted; in Spain, on the other hand, the route is marked by shells on pillars or walls.
The climate has almost always been good. The differences in height are modest; the Cathedrals and the churches visited (Porto, Barcelos, Tui, Santiago) are beautiful; then the medieval bridges (Ponte de Lima) and Roman bridges, the eucalyptus forests, the stone houses, the paved paths; the fantastic people we met… and also those who, although unknown, left us a grape cone or an apple to support us!