In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I flew to Portugal to begin the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. The route I chose begins in the city of Porto and runs along the coast to the border of Spain, where it makes its way slowly inland to Santiago de Compostela.
The total length of the route is 280km, which I plan to complete over 12 days. Unlike the Tour du Mont Blanc, which I completed recently, Camino Portugués do Costa is fairly flat, so it will be more of a daily hike for distance than massive climbs. And, before water, my pack will be between 9kg and 10kg. Except for the first day, the trail is well marked, either with the symbol of the shell with an arrow or just a yellow arrow.
Day 0 – Porto Arrival
I arrived in Porto the day before the hike and was collected by a regional workmate. From the airport, he took me on a tour of the city, showing me several sights, including this temple in Gaia north of the city. The haze is actually fog.
We then stopped at a top seafood restaurant for some local delicacies, cod patties, squid, and sardines asadas. Amazing. My workmate then dropped me off at my Albergue. After booking in, I went for a walk and found this church – Igreja do Carmo – with its tiled facade.
That evening, I hung out with a slowly growing group of employees, new pilgrims, and other recent arrivals. We drank beer and waited as an asada – BBQ – was prepared with salted beef. Then, a dozen of us crowded around a table and enjoyed a great dinner. Afterwards, a fire was stoked, and we sat around drinking more beer while an American guy played guitar.
Overall a great experience, and this even before I’d started walking.
Day 1 – Porto to Vila do Conde – Portugal – 33.2km
As I went to bed later than expected, I woke late – 7 AM – and went down to pack. I’m usually more prepared at night, so it takes less time in the morning, but last night was fun. By 8, I was ready to head out. As I’m walking the coastal track – Senda Litoral – along the river to the beach and along the beachfront to Vila do Conde, my official start point is the Cathedral. I walked downhill to the Cathedral, adding an extra 2.7km to my route, stopping on the way for breakfast and a coffee. The below Monument to Bishop Pedro Pitões is at the front of the 12th-century religious site.
I then found my way down to the river and followed the road around to and past the Ponte da Arrábida bridge watching some old fashion streetcars run back and forth along the tracks.
After 6.3km, I arrived at Foz do Douro, where the river meets the sea, and followed the boardwalk along the waterfront in front of houses and the Parque da Cidade. Next to the port, I spied the first beach. On the other side of the port, I passed the industrial part of the city, another beach, and a massive refinery. Then, after walking 20km, I finally left the confines of Porto city at Boa Nova Lighthouse and stopped for lunch at a local restaurant.
For the rest of the day, I walked along wooden boardwalks above the sand, slowly making my way north. From time to time, I passed small quaint seaside villages in classic Northern Portuguese style, the outer walls of the houses covered with tiles.
At one point, a fog rolled in blocking views out to sea and further along the beach. There’s a cold current running along this region of Portugal, and on a hot day, the fog rolls up the beach. It’s odd, as I associate fog with cold days, but the sunbathers don’t seem to mind, although there’s not much swimming going on.
I eventually headed inland and crossed a bridge into Vila do Conde, where I quickly found the hostel. After 37.5km, I was footsore and ready for a shower. A few buildings down I relaxed with a large beer before going for a brief walk around town. It didn’t take me long to realise walking more after today’s long walk was just silly, so I headed back to rest and prepare tomorrow.
Day 2 – Vila do Conde to Esposende – Portugal – 24.4km
Well rested, I headed out in the morning, following a side road to a cafe where I stopped for breakfast and a coffee. I then followed a road towards the ocean, crossed at a tiled mural began along the beachfront.
Much of the coastline in front of Vila do Conde is a beach, but when the town ends, so does the sand.
The rocky coastline continued for several kilometres before the trail took me inland. I followed a series of back roads through farmed fields and long white greenhouses with only the occasional view of the sea. Without the constant breeze from the Atlantic Ocean, the heat became more apparent. For the second day, it was clear blue skies and sunshine, weather that would last for the duration of my time on the Iberian Peninsula. The road continued on through the township of Apúlia, where I discovered a break room for pilgrims. It was simply a small room with a pair of vending machines, some seats, and the all-important stamp. To officially complete the hike, I need to get 2 stamps a day in my credential – also known as the pilgrim passport, so any opportunity to get stamps is welcomed.
And in one of the vending machines, I was surprised to see beer, but I bought snacks and coke instead. While I was there, a large group of Italian pilgrims arrived. They seemed suddenly interested when they discovered there was a stamp and, ignoring social distancing, crowded inside. I chatted for a bit with some English speakers before heading off. As the pilgrimage was initially a religious experience, the trail wends its way past numerous churches every day.
The trail then led me through a forest on a dirt road before coming to the small township of Fão where I crossed Rio Cávado. On the other side, I followed a side road into Esposende, where I found my hostel wasn’t open for another 2 hours. I hung around in town, had lunch, and enjoyed the weather down near the river. For dinner, I tried something I’d been told about called Francesinha Especial.
This feast is a triple-decker sandwich made with a meat paddy, steak, ham, beef sausage, and chorizo, lavished with melted cheese and topped with a fried egg. The entire thing is smothered in a special sauce and served with fries.
Next, Days 3, 4 & 5, where I see a church on a hill and cross into Spain.
The Lone Trail Wanderer