The Progressive Traveller Walks The Camino

by Oct 24, 2017

The Portuguese Way

Walking part of the Camino has been on my travel list for over 10 years. In early 2017, my husband Paul and I decided it was time to tick the ‘Portuguese Way’ off the bucket list. From the very beginning, we had no desire to carry everything on our backs. We engaged the services of Portugal Green Walks to book our accommodation and transport our luggage from hotel to hotel.

The ‘Portuguese Way’ is the most popular section of the entire Camino de Santiago and rich in cultural heritage. This section of the Camino is relatively easy to walk, the least demanding regarding the elevations of terrain, less crowded and gently winds its way northwards along stone walls, ancient roads and pathways, such as the Via XIX, built in the first century AD by the romans.

Portugal Green Walks

The Portuguese Way has easy to follow directional markings on the entire route, thanks to the efforts of the Galician and Portuguese ‘Friends of The Camino’ associations. Every day, we walked through beautiful forests, woodlands and fertile farmlands that followed running streams; walked over roman built stone bridges into rustic villages, small towns and vibrant cities. The path is riddled by yellow arrows, shell monuments, churches, chapels, stone crucifixes, alters and shrines.

Pitstops Along the Camino Walk

Stumbling on to a place for coffee and a rest stop became a highlight on the route each day. This is where I enjoyed most meeting, chatting and hearing other pilgrims’ stories. The route was very peaceful and in some sections, we didn’t see another pilgrim for several kilometres.

Pilgrim’s Highway

From the 12th century until the present day, much of Portugal’s road network has seen the comings and goings of pilgrims heading from town to cities all over the country to their goal of reaching Santiago de Compostela. Back then, the main motivation of pilgrims was strictly religious. Today, pilgrims travel the Camino for all sorts of reasons and hearing those stories are what I found most interesting.

Valenca – 20km -10/10/2017

Valenca is a beautiful, fortified old town with 5 kilometres of stone walls with magnificent military architecture. The narrow-cobbled stone streets and alleyways are filled with restaurants serving irresistible dishes of local foods, trendy boutiques and long-established textile stores.

The previous night, we had a sensational dinner of local cuisine from Restaurante Baluarte.

Portuguese Camino
Portuguese Camino

Porrino – 22 km – 11/10/2017

Porrino wasn’t a lovely town but I was sure glad to reach it. A huge coloured shell welcomed us into the town with several cafes, bars and shops scattered throughout the old town squares. The grandest building, the Casa Consistorial (Town Hall) was built in the 20th century by a famous local architect, Antonio Palacios and the little church of San Luis is worth a look.

Our accommodation, Hostal Expo was located a few kilometres from the town of Porrino. Daniel, the owner was a little ‘different’ and made us laugh a lot. He collected us from the centre and made us feel very welcome. There were a few other pilgrims staying here too and an unfortunate American woman fractured her foot and couldn’t continue.

Arcade – 12km – 12/10/2017

The next morning, we got away at 9am, while the day was still dark and cool. The temperature varied between 7 degrees to 34 degrees, hence why you need to start walking early.

The N550 motorway runs side by side with the ‘Way’ and at times, it is necessary to walk on the shoulder of the motorway. Sometimes, you can hear a river flowing but can’t see it, that’s when you begin to realise that you are living in the moment.

We passed through fertile farmland with interesting scarecrows and the centre of ‘A Rua’, an ancient capital of the municipality of ‘Mos’. The ‘Os Cabaleiros’ stone cross dates back to 1734 and bears the inscription ‘Way to Santiago’.

On our way to Redondela, we past the chapel of Santiaguino de Antas, a simple monument surrounded by a beautiful oak grove and woods of pine and eucalyptus. Redondela had some interesting medieval architecture including a 16th century building called ‘Casa da Torre’, which is now a pilgrim hostel. On the upper floors, there is a temporary art exhibition which is free to visit. 

Progressive Traveller’s Toe Woes!

Over the first few days of the walk, my little toe developed a pressure spot from the seam in my trekking shoes. By the time, we reached Redondela, I knew the next 7.5 km to Arcade was going to be tough. Having a sore toe and muscular pain was affecting my whole body including the way I walked. Although, I’d rate myself as reasonably fit, walking 20+ kilometres a day does take its toll if you have any underlying physical ailments.

On the walk, we met two mid 60-year-old women, Kathleen and Sheila from Scotland, who started their Camino from Lisbon. Their first few days consisted of walking 30+ kilometres through boring industrial sites. To look at them, you couldn’t imagine they had the physical capacity to walk those distances. They kindly gave me some band-aids, offered their encouragement and commiseration as they too had experienced similar foot and toe pain in the early days of their walk.

After a couple of osteo Panadol, a baguette and quick rest in Redondela, we passed the 16th viaduct that incorporated a railway line in the 19th century. A km from Redondela, my little toe was throbbing very badly and I decided that walking in socks was the far less painful option. Although, the next 6.5k was tough going having to walk on rocks, pine pins, cobbled paths and highway – the sight of the Vigo estuary and the town of Arcade was very relieving.

Due to fatigue and my state of mind, Hotel Duarte was difficult to find. All the accommodation chosen by Portugal Green Walks was comfortable, clean and roomy for Europe. The average cost per night was around 60 euro which included a continental breakfast.

After a long soak in a hot bath and a self-massage of magnesium oil; we were ready for a good feed. Arcade is famous for seafood especially oysters as it is located right on the Atlantic Coast. After a little research of restaurants nearby, we decided on Restaurante Marisqueria Arcade and ordered fresh oysters, grilled scallops, monkfish with clams and salad – excellent choices washed down with exceptional wines and a complimentary liqueur.

Often when ordering a drink or meal in both Portugal and Spain, you receive some complimentary tapas or titbits. After a while, you begin to expect a ‘freebie’ and when it doesn’t happen, it usually started a disappointing conversation.

Pontevedra – 12km – 13/10/2017 and 14/10/2017

On departing Arcade, we took the scenic waterfront route from the ‘Way’ to capture the views of the Ria (River) de Vigo from the Roman bridge, Pontesampaio (or Puente Sampayo). This is where a decisive battle for Spain’s independence took place against Napoleon’s troops in 1809 which ended the 5-month French occupation. Today, the ‘Way’ took us cross rivers, over bridges, through a labyrinth of small cobbled alleyways, woodlands, forests and rural country-side. The Santa Marta de Gandaron chapel, built in 1617 was the perfect spot to take a rest and collect a stamp.

 A few cathedrals and chapels along the Way have a stamp and ink pad inside the doorway for pilgrims to collect their own stamp (sello) for the pilgrim passport. Our walk to Pontevedra was only 12km from Arcade which was much easier on my body. Pontevedra is a major city in the Galician region with one of the best preserved historic town centres in Spain. The old town is entirely a pedestrian zone making visiting the main monuments enjoyable and safe. The ‘Capela da Virxe Peregrina’ or Sanctuary of the Virgen Peregrina is a symbol of the city’s connection with the Way of St James.

 The round church located in Praza de Peregrina (Square of Pilgrims) was built in the 18th century and adorned with scallop motifs including the ‘Stations of the Cross’. Although, the church looks circular, its ground floor plan is in the form of a scallop shell. Other monuments include the 14th century built Convent Church of San Francisco and gothic convent of Santa Clara ‘Basilica de Santa Maria la Mayor’ is another church from the 16th century worth visiting.

Hotel Avenida was located 10 minutes’ walk from the old town and close to the train and bus terminuses. We planned to have a rest day in Pontevedra (2 nights) and do our laundry however decided to walk 7km to reduce the length of our walk the following day. At the 7km mark, we came across a caravan type kiosk selling snacks and drinks in the middle of nowhere. The vendor called us a cab and in our mind, we thought we would remember exactly where to get dropped off on the Camino the following morning.

That night, we caught up again with Kathleen and Sheila from Scotland and told them how we altered our plans to cope with my sore toe. They said they and other pilgrims they’d met did similar things which made me feel good about the decision. There are many squares in Pontevedra; where people gather to eat, drink and chat. We had three excellent meals in Pontevedra; Nova Soto (peasant soul food), Loaira (tapas) and Casa Roman (tapas).

In the morning, my toe was feeling no better and I couldn’t see myself walking a long distance in fashion sandals. It was decided the only solution was to cut a hole in the side of the trekking shoe to take the pressure off my little toe. Why I didn’t do this two days prior escapes me! Back in solid walking shoes felt like I could run a marathon.

The taxi woman who picked us up from the kiosk in the middle of nowhere gave us her personal mobile number and suggested we call her to ensure we got dropped off in the exact location where we were picked up from. She charged us 20 euro and when we were ready to order the taxi the next morning,

I asked the hotel receptionist the cost to be get dropped off where we thought was the right location and was told 15 euro.

In hindsight, we wished we had paid the extra 5 euro as we were dropped off 3.3kms from the site and had to walk that stretch again. Bad mistake! The only good thing to come from our misadventure was we met Annette from Poland who was very well travelled and we enjoyed exchanging travel stories with her over a few kilometres.

Caldas de Reis – 12km – 15/10/2017

On this day, we passed through several small villages, vineyards, fields and felt more in the groove with our walking. In Alba, the church of Santa Maria de Alba was small and beautiful. What I remember most about this day was following a group of four pilgrims, a couple and two thirty-year-old women. The women constantly spoke and without their friends guiding them they often started to go the wrong way.

Caldas de Reis is a very nice town and known for its thermal springs. It sits at the confluence of Bermana and Umia rivers. The small public fountain is a popular location for the pilgrims to experience the thermal waters from Burgas springs. We saw locals and pilgrims sitting on the edge of the communal foundation soaking their feet in the water.

We stayed at Hotel Balneario Acuna, a grand old building with yesteryear charm. We enjoyed soaking in the outdoor thermal pools after the long walk and lazing around on the pool lounges under the shade of the fruiting grapevines.

The O Muino tavern which opened in 1947 is a typical Galician tavern at the entrance of the city near an ancient bridge. We had a great meal including a massive T-bone and the local specialty ‘pimentos de Padron’ (peppers from Padron). We caught up with Annette and a table full of pilgrims having a big night.

Padron – 21 km – 15/10/2017

The walk from Caldas de Reis to Padron was beautiful and quiet through a series of small hamlets and peaceful rural paths. The ‘Way’ took us beside the Bermana River, on a gentle uphill incline through the Bermana Valley with long stretches of meadows and woodlands.

We arrived in Padron on a sunny, warm Sunday. Every Sunday, a large market is held in the square; a beautiful tree lined avenue, full of local produce, meats, seafood, clothing, footwear, crafts, leather goods and much more. The town’s medieval streets, squares are full of character and cafes.

Padron is famous for ‘pimentos de Padron’, fried mini green peppers tossed in oil and rock salt. The peppers are tasty but one bowl was enough.

The church of Santiago de Padron is a very important stop for pilgrims. The neo classic style church was built over the remains of two Romanesque churches. Some elements remain such as a pulpit from the 15th century with an image of St James the Pilgrim. Under the main altar contains the Padron (Padron means Stone) which is said to be the stone that the boat carrying the body of St James the Great from Jerusalem was moored to in the town. Across the bridge over the River Sar, high on the hill is the Convent of O Carme, dating back to the 18th century with an excellent view over the town.

Below the convent is the fountain, Fonte do Carme, with an image of the baptism of Queen Lupa, a pagan converted to Christianity in the time when the remains of the St James were transported to Compostela. Our accommodation, Casa Antiga do Monte, was in a rural location, 1 k from town with a large garden and beautifully manicured lawns.

Teo – 12 km – 16/10/2017

We decided to walk from Padron to Teo rather than walking directly to Santiago de Compostela. When we set off it was still in semi darkness as the sun doesn’t fully rise until 9.30am. The walk from Padron started off with light ‘misty’ rain and by late afternoon the rain had set in.

We were lucky with the weather as October is generally very wet and the start of the cold European winter weather. I couldn’t imagine myself enjoying the walk in the rain with a weighty backpack.

Weather does impact on me at home and on holiday. If I had it my way, I would dial up rain at night while I am fast asleep.

Not far from Padron, we walked through the village of Iria Flavia. The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria built between the 12th and the 17th century over an old church that dates to the 1st century. This cathedral is one of the oldest in Galicia. Iria is linked to the figure of the Apostle James; it was the bishop of Iria, Teodomiro, who announced the discovery of St James’ tomb on July 25 in the year 813.

On two occasions, we were diverted to an alternate route and required to follow temporary diversion markers. Although the route is well marked it is important to keep an eye out. Our walk to Teo was a breeze and we wondered whether we should continue to walk on to Santiago Compostela. When we arrived in Teo, the rain was pelting down and we decided to enjoy a leisurely lunch and a relaxing afternoon. The accommodation at Casa Parada de Francos and the attached restaurant had received a 9.8 TripAdvisor rating which was very fitting. Although, I slept very badly by 9am the next morning, we were on the last leg of the ‘Way’.

Santiago de Compostela – 12 km – 17/10/2017

We’d been told that this stretch of the Camino is less spectacular with more time spent walking on roads and through urban areas.

I found it very pleasant and for the first time I noticed my walking pace was slower. I think we were walking slower because we didn’t want the day to end. We took our time, stopping twice for coffee after a local person directed us to a café.

We obviously looked like we needed caffeine

Like all significant landmarks especially cathedrals they are always under repair. Although, the cathedral is enclosed by scaffolding and safety barriers is appears to be in great shape.

The cathedral is surrounded by the historic quarter with its churches, convents, squares, boutiques, eating houses, craft and souvenir stores.

The streets are full of life, where pilgrims from all over the world coexist with the locals.

Just past the old bridge, ‘Ponte Vella’ on the Sar River, there was two options to enter Santiago; the first one is the original ‘Way’ which is shorter but more built-up and hiller. The new official route was via a dirt road on the right. The latter option passes the monastery of Santa Maria de Conxo (baroque 17th century with Romanesque cloister), and is 700 metres longer however quieter, less steep and said to be more interesting.

We chose the original route as we wanted to feel we had walked on the same path as the first pilgrims.

Alameda park is where our route came to an end. From this point on it was difficult to locate yellow arrows to the Cathedral. Over the last 10k, I took several photographs of the distance markers counting down the last 10k of the route. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the last marker showing 1 k to go.

Like Rome, Santiago de Compostela has been built midst the hills incorporating the ancient town, city and metropolis. With its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, the Old Town of Santiago is one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas and known as one of Christianity’s greatest holy cities.

The city of Santiago possesses an unparalleled series of monuments. Its monasteries, churches, palaces, old streets and typical popular constructions, combined with its spiritual and cultural significance, have given it its deserved inclusion in the list of World Heritage Cities.

The park is a good spot to photograph the cathedral and the old town from the walkway known as the Paseo dos Leons. The park is close to the 1930’s built University of Santiago and offers good views of the campus from the park.

The 800+ year old cathedral is the jewel in the crown and considered as a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture.

The cathedral is the reputed burial place of St James the Great, an apostle of Jesus.

Since the early middle ages, the cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage on the Way of St James and marks the traditional end of the pilgrimage route.

As I walked the ancient streets and alleyways toward the Cathedral of Santiago I realised the Camino was coming to an end. I felt somewhat disappointed and lost. Like other pilgrims to Compostela, looking up for the first time at the Cathedral facades, you can only exclaim, “It’s been a worthwhile experience”. This simple thought has never meant so much!

Attending mass, receiving communion and paying homage to St James was very moving. Performing the pilgrim ritual of ‘embracing’ the Apostle St James (a sculpture of Romanesque origin) above the main altar and seeing the crypt where his remains are buried was another signification highlight to the whole Camino experience.

After visiting the cathedral, we headed to the Pilgrims reception office to collect our last official stamp (sello) and collect our certificates.

Pilgrims are issued with their last stamp of the Cathedral of Santiago at the official Pilgrim’s reception office in Santiago de Compostela and for those who qualify receive the official pilgrim credentials and the traditional certificate which verifies that you have done the Camino de Santiago.

The credential is the official document on which pilgrims record their journey to Santiago. It is essential for pilgrims to obtain at least 2 (stamps) per day for the last 100 km. To obtain the Camino certificate, pilgrims must walk at least 100 kilometres on foot, horseback or 200 kilometres by bicycle.

The line-up was very long and took over an hour to get inside the office to complete the paperwork. There is a 3-euro charge for the certificates. After taking a few snap shots of us holding our prize certificates, we posted them back to Australia for safe keeping. We spent our last night at Hotel Lux not far from the old town and enjoyed a celebratory dinner at El Papatorio.

A quick summary of my personal experience of the ‘Way’
– It was harder than I was expecting
– Paul provided great support and encouragement when I needed it the most
– The weather was better than I hoped
– I loved the crisp, dark mornings; the sound of my boots; hearing roosters crow and rivers running; the hum of highways; the smell of grapes of the vines; coffee in little cafes; beautiful constructed roman bridges; Camino yellow arrows and scallop shells directional monuments; the large cornfields; heavily loaded apple and citrus trees; ancient cathedrals, chapels, and graveyards;
– Meeting friendly dogs, sleepy cats and weary pilgrims
– Walking 6 days in nature was one of the most pleasurable experiences that I have every done
– I loved the random thoughts and memories that came to mind such as my earliest childhood memories; school days; thoughts of family and friends
– But most of all I enjoyed walking with my husband and best friend on another exceptional journey

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