Overview: The Camino Portugués
This route, which heads north following the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Spain, was used by Queen Isabel of Portugal (1271 - 1336) to make at least one pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Queen Isabel was canonized in 1626 and this is celebrated on her feast day, the 8th of July.
The Church of Santiago in Coimbra (photo: Laurie Reynolds)
The Route. Starts in Lisbon at the Cathedral (Sé) and continues northward more or less parallel to the Tejo/Tajo River until Golega. The route then continues northwest through the major city of Coimbra, staying east of the main north-south superhighway and going through some “off the beaten path” places such as Agueda, Ansiao, Oliveira de Azemeis, and Sao Joao da Madeira, before arriving in Porto. From Porto, the Caminho continues northwards crossing the rivers Lima and Minho where it enters Spain. Still heading north, the river Ulla is crossed at Padron before arriving in Santiago. The total distance of (about) 610 kms can be divided into 380 kms between Lisbon and Porto, 117 from Porto to the Spanish border, and 112 from Tui to Santiago.
Length and Suggested Stages. Though some of these stages are long, keep in mind that the route has virtually no elevation gain. The section from Lisbon to Oporto can be walked in two weeks. See the guide for more detail on the stages.
Lisbon to Vila Franca de Xira 37 km. From the cathedral to the edge of Lisbon (8km) is an interesting in-city walk, which goes through Old Lisbon and winds along the Tejo River at the Parque das Nacoes, an old expo area that now serves as a major park destination for all of Lisbon. The next 20 kms are through industrial outskirts and modern suburban developments, until arrival in Alhandra. Alhandra to Vila Franca is a pleasant 4 km riverside walk.
Vila Franca - Azambuja (20 km). Flat agricultural land frequently alongside the river, and with an industrial park or two thrown in for good measure.
Azambuja - Santarem (32 km). Very flat and rural, with sections of marvelously preserved Roman road. Most of the stage is spent walking through cropland, vineyards, or large estates with bulls or other farm animals.
Santarem - Golega (30 km). Another stage of flat, agricultural land and vineyards, through several small towns, and lots of horse estates. Golega is the horse capital of Portugal and the home of many shows and festivals dedicated to horses.
Golega - Tomar (22 km). Pleasant, flat stage through rural hamlets and farmland. Highlight of the day is the abandoned Cardiga estate, an old palace and castle with lots to wander through. Numerous small towns along the way. Between the towns of Atalaia and Grou, walkers must traverse a large eucalyptus forest.
Tomar - Alvaiazere (32 km). More kms of very rural Portugal, through small towns and many fields. Very peaceful walking, even though much of the Caminho is alongside paved roads.
Alvaiazere - Rabacal (33 km). Another long flat day, with vineyards, olive trees, and pines the predominant landscape. Lots of little hamlets with bars, stores, even groceries.
Rabacal - Coimbra (32 km). Completely rural until you are a few kms outside Coimbra, a major Portuguese university city. Mostly along paved roads and through small hamlets.
Coimbra - Mealhada (26 km). Quiet rural walking, mainly on minor roads, through many small villages, not many services. Mealhada is a small city with all services and is famous for its roast suckling pig. There are numerous (more than 20) restaurants specializing in this dish, called leitão in Portuguese.
Mealhada - Agueda (31 km). The pattern of small towns and agricultural lands yields on this stage to several large industrial parks. Though the town of Agueda is very near one of these, it has a very small river town feel, a pleasant place with good private accommodations.
Agueda - Albergaria a Velha (19 km). Short stage through several hamlets, crossing over the medieval (some say Roman) bridge of Marnel. Albergaria has a small old core with a fair amount of modern, fairly nondescript development on the other side of the RR tracks.
Albergaria a Velha - Sao Joao da Madeira (29 km). Almost a continuous string of development, though as usual, the Caminho stays away from main roads. Several very attractive towns along the way, including old Bemposta and Oliveira de Azemeis.
Sao Joao da Madeira - Porto (35 km). This stage may seem more like a slog than some of the other 30+ days, mainly because of the long walk on sidewalks along busy main roads as you get closer to Porto. Terrain is still basically flat, and there are a few nice distractions with a nice stretch of Roman Road and the opportunity to rest inside the walls of the monastery of Grijo, which is a heavenly shaded spot for eating a picnic lunch.
Porto – Santiago. This section can be walked in 10 or 11 days. For more details on the suggested stages see the guide.
Porto - Vilarinho 26k From the cathedral an initial 9k along city streets to a junction at Araujo where the camino turns right along a secondary but busy road to Vilar Do Pinheiro and Vilarinho.
Vilarinho – Barcelos 26k Pleasant rural settlements and wooded areas, passing through Rates to descend to the R.Cavado and reach the market town of Barcelos.
Barcelos - Ponte De Lima 31k Along rural and secondary roads with some forested areas. After Vitorino De Piaes and Portela a long descent to the valley of the R.Lima and on to Ponte De Lima.
Ponte De Lima - Rubiaes 17k Mostly a track which follows streams and climbs through the forest to Portela Grande at 433m before descending to Rubiaes.
Rubiaes - Valenca 17k Cross the R. Coura to the pass at S. Bento Da Porta Aberta and descend to the valley of the Minho. Cobbled lanes give way to roads leading into Valenca.
Valenca - Tui 3k Walk down to the R.Minho and cross by Eiffel's Puente Internacional. Continue following the yellow arrows along urban 'lanes' to the cathedral.
Tui - Porrino 15k From the cathedral the camino descends to the valley of the R. Louro which is followed to Porrino; and eventually for 7k alongside a vast industrial estate and the outskirts of Porrino.
Porrino - Redondela 14k For 3k the route follows the N550 and then, at Mos, takes minor roads and a few tracks through well wooded countryside until the descent into Redondela by the Ria De Vigo.
Redondela - Arcade (Pontesampaio) 9k By minor roads, keeping to the west of the N550 to enter a forested section which joins the N550 at the entrance to Arcade.
Arcade - Pontevedra 10k Through the backstreets of Pontesampaio to enter and follow a sunken lane which climbs to a wooded and agricultural area.
Pontevedra - Caldas De Reis 23k Through the city of Pontevedra,crossing the 'old' Burgo bridge to continue through a long well wooded valley bordered by the railway. After 6k the camino enters an area of mixed farmland and small plots and follows a cross country route parallel with the N550 until the immediate outskirts of Caldas De Reis.
Caldas De Reis - Padron l9k A rural and well wooded section until Pontesecures is reached. Cross the R.Ulla and enter Padron.
Padron - Santiago de Compostela 20k After 2k of main road the camino follows minor roads through hamlets and fields generally between the railway and the A9. At 9k cross the A9 and continue along minor roads through the 'new' town of Milladoiro. On the summit of the next hill the spires of the cathedral can be seen. Just after crossing the railway track and the R.Sar, the outskirts of Santiago are reached and yellow arrows lead to the cathedral.
Information on the route from Faro to Lisbon
We have had some information from a CSJ member that the route from Faro to Lisbon is not waymarked. There is not that much information on this route. Although some maps, as well as a guide book, has been published in 2003 by the Reverend John Merrill on his Pilgrim Ways website, the caminos are principally on asphalt roads which can be quite dangerous and obviously painful on the feet!
The following addresses may be of some use :
- The pilgrim's association in Lisbon (A Portuguese site with flags on the right-hand side to obtain information in other languages): www.vialusitana.org
- Helena Bernardo (An English-speaking pilgrim member of the aforementioned association) : helena.bernardoATvialusitana.org (replace AT with the @ sign).
Waymarking. In 2009, the Via Lusitana was formed, and the Caminho Portugues between Lisbon and Porto got a huge boost. The Via Lusitana is a Lisbon-based Camino group with a tremendous amount of energy and dedication. This group has assumed responsibility for marking the way between Lisbon and Porto, and reports are that problem areas have all disappeared on that stretch. From Oporto north to Spain the waymarking of the route is excellent with a combination of shells, stone waymarks and yellow arrows.
Terrain. Throughout this route apart from a few small hills, the terrain is flat. The Caminho meanders its way north, alongside the Tejo River for the first 3 or 4 days, and through agricultural lands that include vineyards, crops, horse farms, and bull estates. Most of this part is low density rural development and farms. There is quite a lot of road or hard surface walking particularly in Portugal and care must be taken when negotiating main roads.
Weather and when to go. Northern Portugal and Galicia are bordered by the Atlantic Ocean resulting in a changeable maritime climate. Westerly winds ensure a generous rainfall, hence the references to 'Green Portugal and Green Spain'. During periods of low pressure, rainfall can be heavy and prolonged and walkers should be adequately prepared. Spring is a rewarding time to experience cool weather and fresh growth, whilst early autumn is regarded as being fairly dry and settled. Summer can be hot with periods of high humidity and facilities are usually crowded during the peak holiday months
Accommodation. Dedicated pilgrim refuges in Quinta Cardiga, Sernadelo, and from Porto north there is now a good network of pilgrim albergues particularly in Rubiães and Valença do Minho in Portugal, Tui, Porriño, Mos, Redondela, Pontevedra and Padrón, and Teo on the Spanish side. Hotels, residenciais/hostales and pensões/fondas in Lisbon and Porto and all places of any size along the way.
In January 2012 the Xunta de Galicia opened a new hostel in Pontecesures with 52 beds. The AACS (Asociacion Amigos del Camino de Santiago) has also opened a medieval restaurant, ONLY for pilgrims (called Mesa de Pedra) in Pontecesures, just 100 metres before the Albergue de Pontecesures. Payment in the restaurant is by donation. The restaurant is unique in the world. Applications are accepted from those wishing to act as hospitaleros.
There is more information available on the restaurant's website.
What to see. Cathedrals at Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto, Tui and Santiago. Important churches at Lisbon, Santarem, Golega, and Coimbra. The Convent of the Order of Christ, originally a 12th century Templar monastery, in Tomar. Roman ruins in Rabacal (large private villa) and Conimbriga (entire Roman town excavated and with a museum). Other important churches at Rates, Ponte de Lima, Redondela, Pontevedra, and Padron. Numerous wayside crosses dedicated to St James and the granite cross at Barcelos recording the miracle of the hanged pilgrim. The Roman mooring stone in Padron church with connections to St James. Caldas de Reis, near the church of St Thomas Becket in the main square, free thermal footbath for pilgrims.
Distinctive features. The Camino Portugués is now defined and well marked; generally following secondary and minor roads with relaxing sections along farm tracks and through forests. When using roads be aware of traffic and use the indicated strip between the road and the usual drainage ditch.
Pilgrim Help: Pilgrims should also be aware that the Amigos of the Camino in Portugal have an emergency assistance number: 915 595 213 from anywhere in Portugal. Many languages spoken and available to help on a 24/7 basis. See also www.vialusitana.com
Cyclists. Possible with detours around the forested areas. No dedicated cyclist's maps are currently available. However from Lisbon cyclists report the journey is very straightforward.
- Guide books:
- The Camino Portugués, (Pilgrim Guides to Spain #5), The Confratemity of St James, 2011, available to download as well as in hard copy.
- A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino Portugués by John Brierley. Published by the Findhorn Press. This covers Lisbon - Santiago, with complete route-finding description and accommodation information for the entire route. Findhorn Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-84409-530-8.
- Camino Portugués Porto Santiago - the Portuguese Way. Published by Associacão Dos Amigos Do Caminho Portugues de Santiago, Ponte de Lima. Currently available in Ponte de Lima. This is a straightforward guide showing the route on clear maps but limited information on accommodation. Each section has a translation into English.
- Galician Amigos guide to the complete route Lisbon-Santiago (Castilian or Portuguese) is now on their website as a PDF file.
Thanks to Johnnie Walker, September 2011