In February, my aunt and I chose to hike the Portuguese Coastal Route of the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago is widely considered to be one of the most popular pilgrimages in the world.
Although the destination ends in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, one of the most interesting facts is that there are MULTIPLE routes modern pilgrims can take to get there.
My aunt and I chose to take the 280 kilometer (175 mile) Portuguese Coastal variant, beginning our journey in Porto. Portuguese pilgrims first began making traveling to Santiago in the 13th century. There were several reasons we liked the idea of the coastal route. For starters, it is very difficult to get lost and minimal navigation is required. Simply hug the coastline, keep the Atlantic Ocean on your left, and head North!
Other reasons we liked this option are that we are both seafood lovers, and walking so close to the ocean all but guaranteed spectacular ocean views. And although we are walking in February, Portugal’s moderate winters mean that temperatures range between the low-50s and mid-60s: perfect for hiking! Finally, in terms of “walkability” the Portuguese Coastal variant is ranked amongst the easiest.
We chose to begin our walk in February, which happens to coincide with Portugal’s rainiest month. Our hope was that be starting the walk well before peak pilgrim season began, we would be able to avoid competing against other pilgrims for limited lodging opportunities.
For those who opt to begin their journey in Porto, the Sé du Porto – Porto Cathedral – is a must-see. The cathedral dates as far back as the early 12th century, and offers stunning city views from the top. Although there is a €3 charge to visit the museum and treasure room, it is well worth the cost. Did you forget to buy a pilgrim passport? No worries. You can buy it at the cathedral.
Note: a pilgrim passport is *essential* if you hope to stay at pilgrim lodging, and if you want to get a certificate of completion in Santiago de Compostela.
Follow the Yellow Arrows
The hardest part for us was intercepting the trail to the Portuguese Coastal Route. Although we followed the yellow arrows in town, at some point we lost sight of them, and switched to Google Maps. We managed to pick up the arrows again during the bridge river crossing on the Ponte Movel. After that, the process was remarkably straightforward.
One of the joys of the coastal walk is that a good portion takes place on an elevated boardwalk. Carefully placed signs along the trail explain the wildlife and plants that are native to the region. The walkway is designed with wildlife protection in mind. For the most part, the wooden boardwalk is sturdy and well-maintained. However, because there are sections in which the planks are either worn or broken, I would not advise walking the planks at night.
Happily for tired feet, the surface changes several times.
Many pilgrims end their first full day’s walk in Laberge, 15 miles from Porto. We had started our pilgrimage so early in the season that many albergues and hotels were still closed. We therefore stopped 1.3 miles short of Laberge and stayed at the Parque Campismo Angeiras, a tidy campground. In addition to hosting campers, they also offer tiny homes for rent. Although small, the miniature homes came furnished with a stove, tv, pots, pans, full set of cutlery, towels, and clean bedding. At €50 a night, we were thrilled.
In Praise of the Portuguese Coastal Route
Although it had been either rainy or overcast for a large portion of the walk to Labruge, we both assess the weather as a GOOD THING that worked in our favor. We are able to get lots of photos without throngs of people in them.
The waves in Portugal are spectacular. Although the Portuguese coastal town of Navare has the world’s largest waves, the waves along this coast are mighty impressive.