Walking The Portuguese Camino
I had a taste of walking the Portuguese Camino back in 2013 when I spent one day walking the section between Ponte de Lima and Rubiães. This brief experience was enough to convince me that walking all the way from Porto to Santiago de Compostela was something I really wanted to do, despite never having hiked for more than 3 consecutive days.
When I found a willing walking partner to join me, we made plans, knowing all along that we would be staying in hotels and using luggage transfers as opposed to punishing ourselves with hostels and backpacks. Portugal Green Walks took care of all of that for us and gave us a full briefing and route notes to support us on the journey.
Countryside and scenery on the Camino Português
Walking through the glorious Minho region of Northern Portugal and Galicia in Spain gave me the opportunity to observe different local practices that I’d never encountered elsewhere, such as the style of haystacks near Barcelos. The grain stores in Galicia are even more impressive than their Portuguese cousins. The Central Camino de Santiago in particular passes through vineyards, countless pretty woodland areas and hamlets and across rivers and streams on medieval bridges. Because it was springtime, I enjoyed the added bonus of a profusion of colourful flowers.
The Camino Português Coastal Route actually merges with the Central Camino in Redondela but until that point, it’s quite different. What surprised me most about the coastal route is that so much of it is inland, through small villages, market gardens, woodland and towns. That said, the oceanside stretches are beautiful and varied with wide sandy beaches, rocky shores, windmills, fortresses and fishing communities. I loved the wild, rugged coastline north of A Guarda in Spain and the flower-filled sand dunes north of Póvoa de Varzim in Portugal. After saying goodbye to the beaches in Baiona, there are views of the Ria de Vigo to enjoy on the way to Redondela.
Interesting towns on the Portuguese Way of St James
Before the Coastal route meets the Central Way of St James, it takes you through several interesting towns. I particularly liked the architecture and riverside area in Vila do Conde, Viana do Castelo’s historical centre, Caminha’s views of both Spanish and Portuguese mountains and Baiona’s medieval streets and tapas restaurants.
My favourite towns on the Central route are Barcelos for its architecture and ceramics, Ponte de Lima for its atmosphere, Valença for the fortress and views and Tui for its cathedral and family-friendly outdoor spaces. I am also glad we ventured off the Camino in Arcade and got to see the riverside park. Pontevedra is an intriguing city that I wish we’d had extra time to explore and I also would have liked longer in Padrón. I spent three nights in Santiago which was ample time to roam its ancient streets and visit the Museu do Poblo Galego to learn about Galician heritage.
Food and wine highlights on the Portuguese Camino
Both Portuguese Camino routes offer plenty of opportunities to try fresh fish and seafood, especially juicy fat mussels that you can see being farmed in the Ria de Vigo. Arcade is famous for its oysters, although I’ve never been a fan so I didn’t try them. I did, however, have my first taste of razor clams in Baiona – delicious! I’m a huge fan of octopus whether it’s baked, Portuguese-style, or sliced and served with potatoes, olive oil and paprika in Galicia.
The tapas tradition in Spain meant I never went hungry. Indeed, every time I stopped for a drink, even just a coffee, I’d receive a complementary bite to eat. It’s just as well I was burning off all those extra calories during the journey because I didn’t skimp on the evening meals either.
I am partial to Portuguese vinho verde (green wine), especially when it’s made from Alvarinho grapes. I hadn’t realised that across the border, the same grapes are used slightly differently to produce a more mature and very moreish white wine. The reds in both countries were both great, too. As for beer, there’s a special Galicia version of Estrella beer which slips down very nicely towards the end of a long day’s walking.
People on the Portuguese Camino
One thing that I think every pilgrim will agree with me on is the helpfulness of local people. Every time we appeared to be in any doubt as to which way to go, if there was a local nearby, they’d point us in the right direction without us even having to ask.
While my friend and I had each other for support and company on the Central Camino, we were both struck by the sense of camaraderie, and friendship that develops when you bump into the same people time after time along the Way. Our arrival in Santiago was made even more special by seeing familiar faces in and around the cathedral and being able to celebrate our achievement together.