“let’s do a pilgrimage” I said excitedly to Daniel. “Okay, if you want” he replied, and like many of our adventures this is how the plan was formed. I have been keen to do a Camino for years, after hearing my mother’s stories of walking the Camino Frances. In fact, our original plan was to walk part of the Frances but we were invited to stay with friends in Portugal and needed to kill some time before heading from Porto to see them. Also, by choosing to walk the Camino Portuguese instead, it meant that we were able to complete a whole stage of the pilgrimage.
Walking the Camino Portuguese was such an experience. It was amazing, tiring and hard work. We met some amazing people, drunk a lot of wine and saw many tiny towns that we would have never seen otherwise. In this post we’ll run through how we made it work and mention some experiences had along the way.
The Camino Portuguese is a pilgrimage that walks the length of Portugal and ends in Camino De Santiago, Spain. Pilgrims can start wherever they like but many begin in Lisbon or Porto, we chose Porto. From Porto there are two possible routes, either along the coast or the central route. Both join at Redondella, Spain. Another variation is to follow the spiritual route from Pontevedra, this heads out to the coast and rejoins at Padron.
This is a good question, one that we are still pondering. People walk the Camino for many touristic, religious or spiritual reasons. For us, we were looking for a break from busing to a new town every day or so. We wanted to take some time to reflect on our amazing trip so far and also to visit tiny Portuguese and Spanish towns and villages. We also love to walk and be in nature so the Camino was perfect for us.
What to expect and things that may be challenging
Unsurprisingly, we discovered some challenges when walking non stop for 10 days. Some of them them were very unexpected.
Want to be walking by 7am? You’ll need to be up at 6.30! Walking a really long day? Better make it earlier! This actually became the easy part for us. We were knackered so went to bed early, which made getting up easier. Also, everyone is getting up so unless you are the world’s deepest sleeper you don’t have much choice.
One of the biggest challenges we had was walking on old cobblestone roads. Our bodies were so unused to this that we both ended up in a range of pain. We are both very fit and active so this came as quite a shock!
For me, my hips were the first thing to complain and by the end of our first day I could barely walk! A very old man mocked my gait as we hobbled off on our second day. The pain got steadily worse and I was quite concerned we were going to have to quit. Daniel made me a walking stick and that, combined with massage, stretches and ice (in the form of pork chops) meant that on day 4 I could finally walk normally. Then my quads became really sore and I could barely do steps or walk down hills. On day 5 my archilies began to creak and groan painfully and I ended up in a brace!! My dysfunction went from top to bottom, and mainly on my left side. Weird.
For Daniel it was blisters. Walking on the cobbles created many odd blisters in strange, and hard to plaster, places on his feet. He was wearing very well worn, lightweight treking shoes but the cobbles caused strange things to happen. We recommend that if you walk the central Camino Portuguese that you wear well padded shoes and take a stick or walking pole to aid your balance and spread the load.
Walking for days on end
When you suddenly start walking big distances every day, your body is bound to complain, it is very confused about the massive lifestyle change that seems to have happened. After about day 5, we started to get tired. Suddenly we had to eat a lot more and started to take advantage of siesta time. Many people planned rest days into their journeys to reduce the toll of the continuous walking. When we finished our Camino we spent a number of days recoperating and on reflection a rest in the middle of our Camino would have been beneficial.
We were prepared for all weather and had a few wet days. They were actually okay for walking and we quickly dried when the sun came out. It was the sun that made walking more challenging as much of the path was very exposed. We found that starting our day nice and early meant that we had finished walking by the time the day became thermonuclear. On days where we left later we found it much harder and did not enjoy the scenery as much. In saying this, we did have spectacular weather, much better than expected as Galacia is known for rain.
Planning your Camino
This was surprisingly easy. The biggest challenge is deciding to do it and once you’ve made the decision it’s all set up for you. The routes are so old, and becoming ever popular that all services are in place to support pilgrims on their journeys.
First up you will need a Pilgrims passport. You can get this at the pilgrims office of the town you start in. We got ours from Porto cathedral. You need to collect two stamps (sello) per day while walking. They are available at accommodation, churches and cafes/restaurants. You need this to prove your pilgrimage when you arrive at Santiago de Compostela and to gain entry to alburgues.
Choose your mode of transportation
Most pilgrims walk the Camino but you are also able to do it on bike or horseback. If so you must complete the last 200km to have your pilgrimage recognised. We even saw some people on e-bikes, though we felt that this was cheating. In public accommodation, priority is given to pilgrims on foot.
To carry a pack or not
Traditionally pilgrims carried their own gear for their journeys, and again, priority is given to pilgrims with bags. We walked at a bust time of year and there were only pilgrims with packs in the public accommodation. There are plenty of companies who will transport your bags between each stage. When you Google ‘Camino de Santiago’ the first thing that comes up are numbers of companies all promising to make your experience easier. They will pick your bags up from your accommodation in the morning and it will be waiting for you when you arrive at your next stop.
We left most of our luggage in our Airbnb in Porto and carried what we needed for the whole trip. Infact, as we only had one hiking pack with us, Daniel carried all of our stuff except for the camera. For this I am forever grateful!!
Which route to take
Your Camino is your Camino. There are many suggested stages you can choose to follow but you can walk it at whatever pace suits you. You don’t even need to do it all in one go and as long as you walk the last 100km, you can take the train or bus between stops. We used The Confraternity of Saint James as a guide for our trip but you can follow whatever route takes your fancy. Our route:
- Day 1: train from Porto to Villa de Conde, walk to Barcelos (27km).
- Day 2: Barcelos to Ponte de Lima (33km)
- Day 3: Ponte de Lima to Rubiães (20.5km)
- Day 4: Rubiães to Tui (20km)
- Day 5: Tui to Porriño (18.7km)
- Day 6: Porriño to Redodela (15.3km)
- Day 7: Redondela to Pontevedra (18.2km)
- Day 8: Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis (23km)
- Day 9: Caldas de Reis to Herbon (20.5km)
- Day 10: Herbon to Santiago de Compostela (26km)
The three big differences between the plan we looked at and our actual route were combining the first two suggested days and getting the train for half of it, splitting Tui to Redondella into 2 days and taking a detour to a convent at Herbon on the last day. All of this information was in the guide so we felt well informed.
We also wish that we had not stayed in Porriño. The alburgue was right by the motorway and was hot and noisy. If we were to do it again, we’d move on to the next town, Mos, it’s very small but so cute! Walking through Mos the next day was cruel.
People take lots of different routes for lots of different reasons. The biggest detour that people seems to take on the Camino Portuguese is called the Spiritual Route, this is said to be the route that Saint James’ remains were taken on on their return to Santiago de Compostela. At Pontevedra pilgrims walk towards the coast, adding 2-3 days to their journey. The Camino goes to Villanova de Arousa where you then travel by boat to Pardon. If you are interested in the Spiritual Variant I found this website really interesting. We also met people who had walked between the central and coastal way as they felt like a change of scenery.
As with everything else on the Camino, there is accommodation for every level of budget and comfort requirements. Pilgrims have become a big economy and in all of the main stops there were a range of hotels and hostels. Plenty of people walk the Camino Portuguese and only stay in nice hotels they have booked ahead.
The classic pilgrim accommodation are alburgues. Alburgues are very low cost and basic hostels. Each main stop has a municipal alburgue for pilgrims who are walking and carrying their belongings, costing €5 a night in Portugal and €6 a night in Spain. They open between 1 and 5pm and you have to leave by 8am unless you are unwell. They also fill up quickly so you can’t walk too slowly as you cannot book ahead.
Typically you are sleeping in large dormitories with plastic covered mattresses and using your own bedding, though some had blankets. They all have kitchens and most of the ones we stayed in were well equipped but a couple in Spain had nothing, I mean completely bare, but if you had your own gear you could cook. They also had laundry facilitates, bathrooms, wifi and communal areas.
There are also private alburgues which cost a little more (€10-€15). They have better facilities, can be booked ahead and can also be used by those who are not carrying their bags or are cycling. They also seem like luxury after a few nights in a municipal alburgue. I’m talking sheets! We had one night in a private alburgue in the middle of our Camino and it was blissful. Where we stayed had chipboard walls between bunks and curtains. These alburgues tend to accommodate pilgrims who have missed out on the municipal.
We stayed in Alburgues every night of our camino. They are great for meeting other pilgrims and largely had good spaces for hanging out, though some of the Spanish ones forbade alcohol. The sleep was not the best, you are sharing with up to 50 other people! You need earplugs as there will be at least 4 snorers and undoubtedly some annoying person who has a 5am alarm that they think it is okay to snooze. However; you are tired after a days walking and will find a deep sleep pretty quickly.
Eating on the Camino
Once again, something for everyone. Most pilgrims choose to eat out for most meals, most days. It’s easier and the food is good. We self catered most of the way to save money and because it’s often easier with allergies. In every town you pass through there is typically an open eatery, they know hungry pilgrims will be passing through.
Many restaurants offer a pilgrims meal for €5-€10. This often consists of soup and bread or tapas, followed by a hearty main meal and a carafe of wine. It’s pretty good value, Daniel ate one on our Camino and was served a massive steak with a mountain of buttered potatoes.
We found it easy to cook in most alburgues and also a great opportunity to socialise. We had heard that the Spanish ones would have limited facilities and had taken a light cooking pot incase. This came in handy at a few of our stops as the kitchens were barren. Each day we had eggs, boiled the night before, with tomatoes, a banana and bread for Daniel. It was great to walk for a couple of hours and then stop to sit on a wall with a stunning view for breakfast. We primarily ate simple soups, stews or salad and curred meat.
What to pack
If your like me, you will probably take too much. I tried really hard to be minimal on this trip, especially as Daniel was carrying most of our stuff. You can always buy more and there are plenty of opportunities to do laundry. Here’s my list of essential items for a summer Camino:
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 pair of walking pants or leggings
- 3 pairs of underwear
- 3 pairs of good socks
- 1-2 sports bras (I took one and one normal bra)
- 1 good pair of walking shoes
- 1 pair of flip flops
- Something nice to wear in Santiago (I picked a light dress that I could quickly wash and dry)
- A hat
- A lightweight warm top
- Maybe a heavier warm top (I didn’t wear my one)
- A rain coat
- A poncho or pack cover (poncho is great as it keeps both you and the pack dry without being too hot)
- Toiletries (bare minimum)
- Phone, charger and adaptor
- Pilgrims passport
- Headphones if you want to listen to music
- A drink bottle (fill it up as you walk from many fuentes)
Highlights of our Camino
If you have made it this far into this post, well done! I have so much to share and it’s going to be hard to keep the highlights short and sweet, but I’ll try.
The people we met
This is usually the highlight of anywhere we go but was extra special on the Camino. All of the people walking are tied by a special bond and suddenly everyone is a long lost friend. Living in such close quarters does help to boost friendships, the other option is war. You find yourself sharing food and wine with the most interesting people and quickly form friendships. We have already changed the next bit of our travel to go and stay with a lovely Portuguese family we met.
Tiny little towns at sunrise
Changing time zones as we entered Spain was the best thing. It made getting up a little harder but meant that every morning we got to see the sunrise over tiny towns and beautiful agricultural scenes.
Tiny towns during the day
A big motivation to walk the Camino was to see smaller towns that we wouldn’t visit using public transport. It was great to see tiny towns with no other tourists other than those on foot. We loved the winding lanes and stone houses, each with an amazing vegetable garden. As soon as we get home, I’m upping the vege-garden game! In each village there were always elderly people walking around and wishing pilgrims ‘Bom/Buen Camino’
Staying at Herbon Convent
This was a real treat and was perfectly timed at the end of our trip. It was a detour from the main route and added a few kilometres to the days either side but was worth it. We were able to explore the gorunds and cloisters. They also provided a simple breakfast and dinner which was great. The alburgue is hosted by volunteers and Pedro, our host, was extra special. With my very limited Spanish we talked about the ELEVEN caminos he had walked!
Sometimes we walked with others, sometimes we walked alone. There were some days when we would walk for an hour or more without seeing another soul. It was just us and the landscape.
Free from domesticity
Keep clean and keep fed. These were the two simple tasks on camino and they are super easy when you only have two outfits and are happy to eat simple food from produce foraged from market stalls.
Arriving at Santiago de Compostela
What a feeling! As we made our way through the streets of Santiago I felt elated. The cathedral became closer as we wound our way through the streets and then bam, we were there. In the square pilgrims mill around, all looking a bit stunned that their journeys are complete. Some were crying, some laughing and others just lying on the ground gazing up at the cathedral. I felt very light and accomplished and very excited every time I saw another pilgrim that we had met along our way.
When you have recovered from the shock of arriving, you head to the pilgrims office where they officiate your pilgrimage and give you a certificate.
We are not religious but going to mass at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela was extra special. They whole mass was sung and accompanied by expert organ, making it a great musical experience. It also helped with the feeling of completion. We didn’t understand a word but it was another great time to sit back and contemplate our journey. After mass you can visit the relics of St James and hug the apostle behind the alter, all to acknowledge the journey.
There is so much more I could share but I’ll stop here. Our Camino was the best experience and I am so glad we did it. It was not without challenges but it wouldn’t really be a pilgrimage otherwise!!
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Chloe and Daniel xx