A grand city, slightly decaying around the edges. There is a lot to see and do in Lisbon, with the highlights being the Alfama district at night and the Fado bar halfway between the Cathedral and the Castelo Sáo Jorge: for the price of a drink you can enjoy Fado music at all hours. Spend a few days here and enjoy the culture! On the weekend there seem to be bands and music playing around every corner. It is also the home of pastéis de nata delicious Portuguese egg tarts I tasted many. The Camino starts at the Igreja de Santiago but there is no office here and it is usually closed outside of Mass, so you need to get your credential and stamp at the Basilica dos Mártires.
A day trip by bus to the Sanctuary Fátima was marred by rain, a huge square normally crowded with all manner of people was empty, and so I missed seeing the faithful in full fervour. Later I did come across an American peregrino with terribly scarred knees from crawling along the pathway. The heat generated from all the burning candles in the purpose-built enclosure would have done a great barbeque. Mass is held at the Chapel of Apparition and also in the new Basilica, both worth a look as is the old cathedral with the 3 tombs. The village has an overabundance of tacky souvenir shops.
Lisboa to Moscavide (10kms)
Igreja de Santiago, Lisbon
A short walk on the first day, starting at the very faint arrow on the cathedral steps, walking through the Alfama district then into streets of the decaying industrial and port area. The arrows are easy to follow. On to Parque de Nascões, a monument to the concrete jungle, wide streets, large shopping centres and multiple high-rise apartment blocks: depressing and totally lacking in character. I follow the river pathway into Moscavide and book into the modern Youth Hostel. 10kms of walking on cobblestones and concrete were hard on the feet. A nice evening meal in the cafeteria, but the rowdy school group kept me awake for half the night. I complained twice to the office to get some peace and quiet.
Moscavide to Vilafranca de Xira (31kms)
Camino at Moscavide
Unfortunately the cafeteria served breakfast at 0830, too late for me as I headed along the scenic river front. Turning inland alongside the river Trancáo the Camino wandered through market gardens, ruins and piles of rubbish then deteriorated to a rough track along the embankment. I would hate to do it in the wet. The bright spot was the cafe in Alpriate, just off the main square. More industrial wasteland and a guard dog snarling inches from my thigh, then mudflats and swamp to gaze upon before reaching Vilafranca where I stayed at the very friendly Pensáo Ribatejana near the railway station. The owner did a great deal on my laundry and also arranged a discount on a meal at the nearby restaurant. 15k of today’s walk was on cobblestones and pavement, hence tired feet.
Vilafranca de Xira to Azambuja (20kms)
The guide book was incorrect at this point and I followed the arrows alongside the railway line until the next village, then more industrial estates and a long walk on the busy N3 highway with no footpath. Azambuja is a pretty little town; I stayed in Flor de Primavera a private hostal on the Camino on the street leading to the railway station. The town was in full preparation for their running of the bulls the following evening and I contemplated staying another day, but after spending the night watching the locals get drunk well into the small hours even before the fiesta started, I decided to give it a miss.
Azambuja to Santarém (33kms)
Today a pleasant stroll through market gardens alongside the river Tejo, the view of the river obscured behind a 3m high flood mitigation embankment. Stop for coffee at Reguengo, Valada then lunch at Morgado, the only places to climb the embankment and see the river. Snails seem to be the specialty in all the cafes judging by the window displays but I declined the delicacy. Then on to Santarém it is hot sadly, in the fields, there are no walls or stones to sit on. A couple in a trap pass: the lady offers me a lift but the guy frowns and whips the horse into a gallop. At the end of a long day the 135m climb into Santarém is tiring. The hostel is clean and spacious with good facilities and includes breakfast. There are great views over the river and valleys from the Porta do Sol, amazing frescoes in the Igreja de Jesus Cristo and classic Manueline tiling in the Igreja Marvila.
Santarém to Golegã (31+4kms)
What a day! I missed the arrow behind the parked car in Santarém and made the classic mistake of not back tracking until I located a way marker; instead I headed out along the main road walking an extra 4kms before I was back on the Camino. Luckily for me the young girl working the bar I stopped in for coffee in Alcohoas spoke a little English. Once back on track at Vale de Figueira it was onto rough farm tracks, hot in the sun, no shade and no rocks or walls to sit on. I wanted to stop in Pombalinho but it had an air of unfriendliness so I detoured to Azinhaga a much friendlier town where I had lunch. Then I took the alternate route into Golegá avoiding the main road. Golegá is the horse capital of Portugal otherwise it is very ordinary.
Golegã to Tomar (30+2kms)
Tomar by night and The Templar Castle on the hill
A pleasant morning walk passing the Quinta Cardiga manor house, it is like walking through a ghost town, the main house, unoccupied is still impressive today. It is hot, there is no shade, no seats, no cafes, no drinking fountains, and I eat all my emergency rations. In the forest I come across 2 lost peregrinos: there have been no way signs for a while. I get them to Grou and they are relieved to see the familiar yellow arrow again. The walk into Tomar is not very interesting, but once in town we are impressed with the pedestrian precinct and stay at the Thomar 2300 hostal right in the centre of town. Sunday 1st June and its Romaria festival, the celebration of pilgrimages.
We needed a full day to see the sights: the Templar castle, Convento de Cristo, the home of the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, with its stunning inner temple is a must-see. Then the beautiful church of Sád Joáo Baptista, and the Igreja de Santa Maria where the Grand Masters are buried. And of course no festival is complete without its parade and bands, the ladies wearing elaborate headdresses containing garlands of bread.
Tomar to Coimbra (by train)
At this stage I had had enough of being temporarily lost in the forests on hotdays, so I catch the train to Coimbra. Later I met other people who walked the 3 sections from Tomar and, whilst they admitted getting lost each day, they said it was a nice walk.
Coimbra to Mealhada (22.5kms)
Coimbra—a university town with lots of interesting sights. If you are a Harry Potter fan the gowns worn by the university students will look familiar. But with lots of traffic and the inevitable busloads of tourists, I was glad to be leaving; the sight of dead fish floating in the river hastened my departure. The Camino skirts the edge of a few small villages, so I had to divert for my daily coffee fix. Mealhada district has marked the way with modern blue tiles displaying the yellow shell with an arrow. Once into Mealhada, I cross the main road to a fountain displaying a large yellow arrow pointing to the right which I follow and get lost again, then back to the same fountain to find a small tile pointing to the left and the albergue 1 1/2kms up the road. I am dehydrated and tired, but feel better after a good meal back in town.
Mealhada to Águeda (25kms)
The roadhouse attached to the albergue provided a hearty breakfast, then onto the Anadia district with waymarkers improving all the time. However half the day is spent walking through decaying villages and industrial estates. In Águeda the albergues in the guide book no longer exist but 1km out of town the friendly Residencial Celeste has the adjoining St Antonio albergue, not listed in my 2014 edition guide book. In town for dinner I meet a Japanese peregrino, a delightful fellow with limited English, relying on the translator in his phone to talk to the locals. In town there is a modern monument to pilgrims walking to Fátima.
Águeda to Albergaria A-Velha (16kms)
An easy-going day, passing through pine and eucalypt forests, but the guide book is full of errors: the question was mooted, “Has the author really walked the Camino?” In Serem de Cima, a lady offers me a cool drink and fruit and chatted about meeting peregrinos everyday as they pass her house. The guide book is full of errors on accommodation in Albergaria: I stayed in the supposedly closed Casa Alameda. The town has a lovely central park and a few good restaurants—luckily for a group of us—and we dined at one celebrating its 12th anniversary and dessert was free.
Albergaria to São João de Madeira (29kms)
Another pleasant day walking through eucalypt forests and a stop for coffee at Pinheira de Bemposta, it has started to rain a little. On the way again but the weather deteriorates to a full blown Atlantic storm – heavy rain, howling wind, freezing temperatures and no shelter anywhere. In the next village we walk uphill through the torrent of water gushing down the street. By now I am wet through despite the raincoat; even my passport hidden away is drenched. After lunch in Oliveira de Azeméis a small bedraggled group of us set a fast pace to try and keep warm as we make our way to São João, a big city where the neon sign says 10C. Accommodation here is not cheap, and we had to ask directions several times, but at last, a hot shower and a column heater to dry the clothes. I go for a walk in the evening after the rain has stopped: it looked like a busy town but closer inspection reveals a lot of empty shops.
São João de Madeira to Porto (34kms)
The breakfast is woeful, and it is still raining, finally a good coffee at Malaposta. The ancient Calzada Romana (Roman road) is hard going and the locals use it as a rubbish dump. I arrive at Grijo at 1230 to find the albergue closed until 1700hrs. I have lunch and head for Porto, as Grijo is only a dormitory suburb – bad choice. The temperature jumps to over 30C, it’s hot and the next few hours are a slog on suburban roads. The entrance into Porto over the river is stunning, the Camino winds its way down into narrow streets above the river front only then to climb its way back up again. I head for a popular albergue only to find out there is a music festival in town and accommodation is tight: after a frantic search I manage a last minute cancellation in the night-club area: my friends were not so lucky when they entered town hours later. I ventured into a cheap bar for dinner that night only to become ill on the bowl of soup – food poisoning – a quick dash back to the albergue, drugs and an early night.
Porto: River front
It is Sunday so I attend Mass at the Cathedral… not being a Catholic, I find it hard to reconcile the over-the-top opulence of all the gold and silver on display. I spend 2 days here being a tourist revelling in the food, wine and sights. Of particular note is the tiling in the São Bento railway station — stunning. The music festival finished and I had the dormitory to myself.
Porto to Vilarinho (26kms)
The first few hours are spent winding through shopping areas and along suburban roads. A kind lady went out of her way to get me back on track when I missed a turn somewhere. Then a slog on granite cobbled streets passed industrial areas as I stuck to the traditional inland route, stopping for lunch at Mosteiró. There were more cycling groups here heading north to Santiago and some French pilgrims heading south to Fátima. Once again the Camino seems to bypass the centre of some small villages as you skirt around the edge. Most of today is walking on roads with a dangerous crossing of a highway and more granite cobblestones. Casa Laura a nice albergue in Vilarinho where mine host supplies port and coconut cakes at 5pm. We celebrate with a Hungarian peregrino on his sixth Camino at the age of 73.
Vilarinho to Barcelos (28kms)
Only now does the Camino wander through beautiful countryside, alongside cool streams and into pretty villages. Another warm day of 30C shaded by the patches of forest. It is very pretty crossing the medieval bridge over the Rio Cávado into Barcelos with its famous cockerel. I wonder who started the legend first, Santo Domino de Calzada on the Camino Francés or Barcelos? Not that it matters… it makes a good story. Not being a white wine drinker, I am impressed with a blanco verde, a young white wine and enjoy the fresh and delicate flavour.
Barcelos to Ponte de Lima (34kms)
Another day of beautiful scenery walking through forests and vineyards, but it is hot 34C and I dehydrate before reaching a drinking fountain and then later recuperating at Facha. The municipal albergue in Ponte de Lima does not open until 1600hrs, so I spent the time having an interesting conversation with two peregrinos from Salamanca who had followed an ancient route into Portugal. For some of us the night was still too hot so we dragged mattresses out onto a patio.
Ponte de Lima to Rubiães (18kms)
Once again a hot day of 34C, so most people left early. A pleasant walk but with a steep climb on a rough track before reaching Rubiães. It was too hot to contemplate anything much besides reaching the destination as early as possible. We watch Spain vs Netherlands over a few beers at a cafe after dinner, then try and get some sleep through another hot night.
Rubiaes to Tui (19kms)
A walk in the forest
Today, another pleasant stroll through green countryside then a quick descent down the valley… it was very hot early, another 34C day. A Canadian couple are building a lovely albergue at Quinta Estrada Romana with facilities based on their experiences as peregrinos, it provided a welcome respite. The number of pilgrims heading for Santiago has increased. Reaching Valenca I was disappointed: it seemed to be nothing but tacky tourists shops: maybe it was the heat and I was tired, so I crossed the Rio Minho into Spain to be greeted by a dilapidated ‘Welcome to Spain’ placard on the bridge. I change the watch here; there is a 1 hour time difference. The Tui albergue behind the Cathedral is okay but the kitchen is not equipped—I wonder why they bothered?
Tui to Mos (22kms)
It was another hot night so everybody is up early, but nothing in town is open. Eventually, 6kms later at San Telmo, we stop for breakfast. After Orbenile I take the new route through the forest, bypassing some of the industrial estate into Porriño and I am drinking Coke to rehydrate, something I would not dream of doing back home. I stop at a shelter to chat to some German peregrinos and share the plums somebody has left out for us. On reaching Mos, I decide that is enough for today and book into the albergue and join other peregrinos over the road at the local cafe for lunch and drinks and a slow afternoon. Early evening it is band practice time and the band strikes up in front of the local hall. The music is infectious and the conductor very enthusiastic, they even feature three people scraping large scallop shells! The music is lively and the crowd begs for more, as we clap along.
Mos to Pontevedra (28kms)
Everybody is leaving early but it is a cooler morning as the path takes us through shaded woodlands up a steep climb and the first views of the sea and Rio de Vigo. There are plenty of cafes and bars as we head through Redondela and then Arcade, as well as drinking fountains along the way. Quiet country roads and some pathways take us to Pontevedra, a busy riverside town with a new modern albergue. The afternoon is still quite warm, so we take it easy before watching Germany beat Portugal 4:0. The albergue is full of people, many starting the Camino at Tui to complete the 100kms. The night still is hot.
Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis (23kms)
Noisy Spaniards are up at 0500hrs having a loud breakfast I have learnt Spaniards cannot talk quietly. A couple of hours’ pleasant stroll along forest paths in the cool shade before reaching San Amaro where there is hot competition between the cafes for business. Then it is easy going to Tivo, the route being marked with an increase in wayside crosses. Unfortunately some Spanish peregrinos were in a cafe, drinking heavily and harassing any females in sight so we quickly departed, and headed for Caldas de Reis, a very pretty and comfortable town on the Rio Umia. The albergue is basic but the location is perfect, alongside the river.
Caldas de Reis to Teo (28kms)
After a warm night a lovely walk on paths by rivers and streams through the forests before stopping for lunch by the river at Padron. Then on to Teo, a small village with only one place open for dinner, where we enjoyed a lively meal watching the soccer with a group of Portuguese peregrinos.
Teo to Santiago (15kms)
A comfortable night in the small albergue, but some of the peregrinos rise early at 0500 for a noisy breakfast, Spaniards again. Most of today’s walk is on roads and we stop for breakfast at the Milladoira sports complex before entering the busy main roads of Santiago where there seems to be a lack of waymarkings; then on to the historical part of town and the Cathedral… we have arrived, now to find some accommodation.
Most people start the Camino Portugués at Porto or Valenca/Tui and I can understand why:, the first few days are trying and lacking in any soulful gratification for doing the walk, as well as little infrastructure for pilgrims. This was compounded by the many errors and no detail when needed in the guide book. However, Tomar, Coimbra and Porto are definitely worth a visit, even if only as a tourist, and Lisbon is charming. The Camino Portugués from Porto, whilst different from the Camino Francés, is still a great walk.