01 Feb 24
Highlights of the Portuguese Camino
If you’re contemplating walking the Portuguese Camino, you need to know that it’s quite a different experience to the Camino Francés (or Spanish Camino). Individual perceptions of either are individual and subjective. Some will swear by the traditional Spanish Camino while others love the variation of the Portuguese. This is a list of highlights as I saw them on my recent experience of the Portuguese Coastal Camino, to help make the decision of which Camino to choose easier for you.
1. Viana do Castelo
I go straight to this as my number one highlight because I just fell in love with this town. The old town, where you would spend most of your time, is a network of backstreets that you could explore all day. Life is slow with artisans plying their traditional crafts while elderly, shuffling men serve you drinks at small watering holes. The true appeal to me was the chilled atmosphere and unpretentious feel to it. A town as lovely as this should be overrun with tourists and tacky souvenir shops, but both were virtually non-existent when I was there. Admittedly I was there in the low season and it may be a different scene in summer, but this is definitely a town worth exploring. If you’re looking for somewhere to have an extra rest day on your walk, look no further!
2. The varied terrain
While it’s true that the Portuguese Camino has more road walking than the Spanish Camino, the variation of walking surfaces is unmatched by any other Caminos. From rock-hopping along woodland paths to the sandy foreshores and boardwalk paths of the rugged Atlantic coast, it really has a bit of everything. Some days can be quite tough on the feet – rarely feeling anything other than road, pavement or cobblestones, other days will have a bit of everything in one day.
3. Ocean views
This is the obvious major difference between it and most other Caminos, save possibly the del Norte. Nearly all other Caminos go through countryside only. It’s the rugged Atlantic coast that you walk along so you get everything from calm pleasant inlets to raging white cap surf pounding into the shoreline. There are plenty of places with aerial views that are quite breathtaking, as well as options to walk physically on the sand itself. And there is something magical about closing the day by sitting in a seafront restaurant or bar, wine or cold beer in hand, listening to rhythmic lapping of the waves. Bliss!
Similar to Viana do Castelo, Pontevedra is a real gem. It has a large old quarter that can keep you enthralled as you wander among the maze of back streets with their wonderful architecture and historical buildings. Although perhaps lacking the small town feel of Viana do Castelo, Pontevedra has something for everyone. With a plethora of drinking and dining options, as well as being strategically placed about half way between Baiona and Santiago, Pontevedra is another ideal place to add a rest day into your itinerary.
5. Fewer pilgrims
Admittedly, this one could be construed as a highlight or a lowlight, depending on your preferences. It’s well known that the popularity of the Camino has seen the number of pilgrims increase exponentially, especially on the Camino Francés, and the Portuguese Camino is viewed as a quieter alternative. While many people love the camaraderie and social aspect of having lots of fellow pilgrims around, many people also like the road less travelled that gives them time for contemplation and introspection. If this is you, then the Portuguese Camino might be just what you’re looking for.
6. Cheap food
This one pertains to Portugal itself. In Spain, which the Portuguese Camino actually goes through from A Guarda onwards, there is the usual prevalence of Pilgrim’s Menu meals that are devised as an economical way for walkers to get a meal. While Portugal doesn’t have the same prevalence of these types of meals, the overall cost of food in general makes things like Pilgrim’s Menu meals redundant. Whether buying meals from restaurants or purchasing goods from a supermarket for picnic meals, food in general in Portugal is just ridiculously cheap. Traditional Portuguese food shines! Favourites include salted cod (bacalhau), roasted octopus (polvo à lagareiro), grilled sardines (sardinhas assadas) and flaky custard tarts (pastel de nata).
Porto is where most pilgrims start their Portuguese Camino. And it’s a wonderful starting point. While obviously larger than Viana do Castelo or Pontevedra, it still retains the old world feel that is so attractive. The old quarter holds many points of interest. From the Cathedral where you can pick up a credentiale (passport for stamps) to the splendid architecture of the majestic 100-year-old Sao Bento railways station, to exploring ancient ruins of the Romans and Moors, Porto has plenty for the sightseer. And with it comes a range of ways to explore – on foot, bus, taxi, tuk tuk, segway, you name it!
8. Spiritual Variant
This is new to RAW Travel. In a nutshell, it’s a version of the Camino where you take a detour from Pontevedra and instead of going through Caldas de Rei to Padron, you go via Armenteira and Vilanova de Arousa instead. Legend has it that the body of St James was taken this way en route to Santiago, including a boat trip from Vilanova to Padrón. This variant isn’t for everyone as it does include some very steep sections, but it also includes some of the most breathtaking walking I have ever experienced. The day out of Armenteira starts with an ethereal walk alongside a running stream that is like something out of a Disney movie!