Bom Caminho! Portugal’s Camino Way

The Camino Way is an historic pilgrimage route (over 1,000 years old) to the alleged burial site of the apostle St. James. St. James’ remains reputedly lie within the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.  Some years ago, Chris and I biked the Spanish Camino Way (aka Camino de Santiago) from Pamplona, Spain to Santiago de Comp0stela, Spain which is still one on our short list of the best biking experiences.  There are trails all over France, Spain and Portugal that lead to the tomb of St. James.  So when we decided to spend some time in Portugal in September, we looked into biking the Portuguese Camino Way starting in Porto, Portugal and ending in Santiago de Compostela.

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The scallop shell is the iconic symbol of the camino, and is used with the yellow arrow to guide pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela along its many different routes. Painted on trees, sidewalks or tiles, the yellow scallop shell (and/ or yellow arrow) helps pilgrims find there way to the next village.  There are many stories tied to the significance of the scallop shell. In French, the scallop is called Coquille Saint Jacques.  We love this system as it typically (not always) makes for easy navigating and you can travel for hundreds of kilometers without a map or GPS.

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Fellow pilgrims are typically super friendly, and part of the etiquette on the trail is to greet fellow pilgrims with “Buen Camino” or in Portugal “Bom Caminho”.  Traditionally, the camino was done for religious reasons.  Today, folks from all over the world walk or bike the camino for a variety of different reasons- spiritual experience, health reasons or social aspects.

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We started our mountain biking journey in the charming city of Porto known for its port wine production.

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But before biking out of Porto, we picked up our camino passports at the Se Cathedral. Hotels, restaurants, bars along the camino have stamps for the passports verifying the distance and noting the days.  The Se Cathedral is in the Romanesque style built between the 12th and the 13th century.  (The Portuguese Camino was used by Queen Isabel of Portugal in the 13th century crossing North Portugal and South Galicia, Spain.)

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Our first destination on the camino after leaving Porto was Barcelos, Portugal.  This was supposed to be a relatively easy ride the first day, but it took us a little while getting out of Porto dogging tourists, cars and buses.  Once out of Porto on the back trails to Barcelos, the trail was quite peaceful dotted with beautifully tiled cathedrals along the way.

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Barcelos is a relatively small village in northern Portugal with a rooster as the town’s symbol and the unofficial symbol of Portugal.  The legend of the rooster is tied to a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela who was wrongly accused of crime in Barcelos and sentenced to death.  The pilgrim repeatedly voiced his innocence and swore to the proof of his innocence by pointing to a cooked rooster and said that the rooster would crow at the hour of his hanging as proof. As he was being hanged, the roasted rooster appeared and stood up on the table in front of the crowd and crowed just as the pilgrim predicted. The judged realized the mistake and rushed to save the pilgrim.

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From Barcelos, we headed out to Ponte de Lima, Portugal- the last village in Portugal before biking over the Minho River which divides northern Spain and Portugal.  Lucky for us, there was an end of summer festival happening in the small village of Ponte de Lima. The village was packed with festive decorations, activities and locals.

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The following day, a rugged path along a small stream among grape vines took us over the Minho River into Tui, Spain for the evening.  However, before reaching Tui, we had a steep and challenging climb in front of us.  The biking distance from Ponte de Lima to Tui was not far, but the terrain was challenging and we ended up biking about 5-6 hours that day. The charming, walled city of Valence (an old Roman village) on the eastern side of the Minho river in Portugal was on the agenda for the day.

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When we crossed the border into Spain (Spain is in a different time zone than Portugal), we lost an hour which we were actually pretty happy about since Spain does not eat until late (very late by US standards around 10-11 pm at night or midnight in major cities) and we were hungry after the big climb and a solid day of biking.  We were also thrilled to be back in Spain for a few nights.  It gave us an opportunity to practice our Spanish, eat wonderful Spanish food and enjoy the vibrant Spanish culture.

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Bridge over the Minho river which is the border between Portugal and Spain

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From Tui, our next destination was Pontevedra.  We spent a Sunday night in Pontevedra and while it is a fairly good size city (about 83K people), it was pretty sleepy.  Restaurants, shops, bars are closed on Sundays in most of Europe.

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Burgo Bridge built in 12th century near the former site of a Roman bridge that gave the city its name, the “old bridge”  (Check out the Camino shells that mark the bridge.)

From Pontevedra, we headed to Lestrove, Spain for one night.

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From Lestrove, we had about a 3 hour bike ride to our final destination, Santiago de Compostela.  Once we arrived in Santiago de Compostela, we headed to the Pilgrims Office to obtain our certificate given to pilgrims that hike or bike 100 km or more.   The journey from Porto to Santiago de Compostela took us 6 days over about 185 miles.

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While the Portuguese Camino Way was a great experience, for those that are considering doing the camino, we would highly recommend the northern Spain route over the Portuguese section.  The villages, the scenery, the food, history and culture we found more interesting on Spanish Camino Way (aka Camino de Santiago).  It also had more pilgrims (at least when we did it) but not too many which is part of the experience. But if you are looking for another Camino segment, this is not a bad one.