One fall evening I was browsing some travel pages and came across an article about the Camino – the many pilgrimage routes that winds throughout Europe and all end up in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
For a long time I had dreamed of hiking one of them, but with a multi-page long bucket list filled with places I dream of traveling to, and with a limited number of vacation days and budget available, it hasn’t been at the top of my list.
The road to Camino de Santiago
However, now I had a couple of weeks off and so I read on in the article which briefly mentioned the most popular routes, Camino Frances, Camino Portugues, Camino del Norte, Camino Primotivo and others. – all with the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela as the goal.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the final destination, for all the Camino routes
With “only” a few weeks available, it became clear that I would’t be able to complete the most popular route, Camino Frances, which, with its 800 km takes 5-6 weeks to complete.
Instead, Camino Portugues looked more interesting, where you can choose to start in Porto and for the first 4-5 days – out of 10-12 days – walk along the Portuguese west coast, which according to the many articles should make the route something special.
The route I chose was Camino Portugues Costa coastal route from Porto to Santiago
The same evening I found a ticket to Porto with Ryanair departing 2 days later, so now I only needed to pack my backpack.
On a Facebook group I read that you don’t have to worry so much about planning the route – it has been there for hundreds of years, is well marked and there are accommodations along the way.
If something goes wrong, there is always a helpful pilgrim (hiker) nearby.
I also knew that good hiking shoes and a good backpack are one of the most important things on such a trip.
I already had good hiking shoes, but the backpack I had was too big and heavy for a longer hike like this one.
A pair of good hiking shoes are essential on a trip like this. I chose to wear these Ecco shoes.
The next day I visited a number of outdoor shops, to find the right backpack. I had read that Osprey makes quality backpacks – lightweight, sturdy and with some good features.
That’s why it also became an Osprey – a 34-liter Stratos with a good carrying system, a breathable mesh at the back and a zipper that opens half down on both sides of the backpack and allows easy access to the contents.
Ospray Stratos 34 is ideal for a Camino ride, and can also be brought as hand luggage on the flight
In addition to the backpack, some socks without toe-sewing, a few quick-dry t-shirts and a pack of Compeed patches were bought in case I got blisters.
I’ve been on shorter hikes in the past, so I already had all the other equipment (see the package list).
Rain poncho, sheets, towel and lunch box ready for departure
Part of the Camino concept is that you simply leave. Everything solves itself along the way – that was the message in various articles …
However, since my flight landed in Porto at 9:25 pm in the evening, I chose to book a bus from the airport into the city (via Ryanair) as well as book an overnight stay at a hostel.
The backpack was packed to a total weight of 8 kg, of which the backpack itself accounted for 1.4 kg and could therefore be included as hand luggage on the plane.
8 kg doesn’t sound like much, but it was in September and since there are sheets, blankets and pillows on almost all the hostels along the way, you just need a little extra sweaters, socks and toiletries.
You buy food and water along the way and add another kilo or two.
2 nights later I boarded Ryanair FR8899 to Porto
I landed at Porto Airport on a Wednesday night and quickly found Ryanair’s shuttle bus into the city.
I was the only passenger so I had a good chat with the driver who ended up driving me directly to my hostel.
I woke up early the next morning. A little expectant and with a wild desire to get off.
After my self-catering breakfast at the hostel, I got out to a very nice morning in Porto.
Porto sunrise from the hill at the cathedral
The cathedral where I would buy my pilgrim pass first opened at 9am, so I had time to see some of the beautiful old town center.
At 9:00 am, along with 10-12 other pilgrims, I stood in front of the large door to the fine old cathedral, built in the 1100s, on a hill overlooking the city.
A couple of expectant pilgrims in the process of buying pilgrimage pass in the Porto Cathedral
After paying for the pilgrim pass inside the cathedral (about 8-10 €) I went to the nearest metro station, and drove the 15-20 minutes out to the suburb of Matosinhos which is on the coast just northwest of Porto.
Down the metro and out of town to the suburb of Matosinhos
It may seem a little strange to start a 270 km hike by taking the train for the first 8 km.
The thing is that Porto’s north-western suburbs mainly consist of dull factory areas and therefore it’s a relief to skip this area to get to the coast quickly, from where you can start the trip north.
Starting in Matosinhos, you avoid Porto’s industrial districts and quickly reach the coast
And what a beautiful coastline.
A little north of Matosinhos and along most of the route to Viana do Castelo, there are “boardwalks” (pavements) made of wood.
They follow the coast and are incredibly comfortable to walk on, and you have free views of the sea. Along the way you pass benches, toilets, restaurants and small fishing villages – pure idyll.
From Matosinhos the next 100 km is pure beautiful beach
After looking at the map, I decided that my first day of hiking would end in Vila do Conde 23 km north of Porto.
The trip went amazingly well.
A good friend with great walking experience has taught me to take a 5 minute break every hour, sit down, take off shoes and socks and let body and feet rest for a while.
Along the coast you pass small fishing villages where you can buy some freshly grilled fish or quench the thirst
The socks are hung for airing on the back of the backpack with a pair of safety pins and after the break you put on new socks and leave the others hanging until the next stop, where you change again.
In this way, you avoid moist socks (and feet) and blisters.
270 km later I could confirm that it works – at no time did I get or have blisters!
A short break every hour, take off your shoes and put on dry socks. Then you won’t get blisters
Vila do Conde
About 3 o’clock I crossed a river and arrived at the town of Vila do Conde.
A sign showed the way to Albergue de peregrinos Santa Clara.
It was my first visit to Portugal and I do not speak a word of Portuguese, but from a Facebook group I knew that an Albergue is a youth hostel, often run by the church, and that peregrino means pilgrim – as I was.
Later I learned that Clara was a saint who in 1212 joined Frans of Asisi. My daughter is also named Clara, so the world is small even if you are far away from home.
Heading into Vila do Conde. Note the fine aqueduct in the background – which I would look into the next morning.
Albergue de peregrinos Santa Clara was a youth hostel managed by the church.
The price for a bed was 10 € per night. night, which I experienced is the average price for a bed in an albergue.
I wanted to go out and explore the nice old town, but my feet were a too tired so instead I lay down on the bed and read a little.
A few hours later I got myself together, got out of bed and put on my sandals.
It’s indescribable to walk around in sandals after walking 25 km in a pair of relatively warm shoes.
At the front desk I met a couple of elderly ladies from the US who I had a little chat with – as it so often happens on this trip.
Something magical simply happens when people walk the Camino. Suddenly, today’s stress and rush are forgotten and everyone is incredibly helpful, kind and open for a chat.
The Santa Clara Albergue de Peregrino is located right next to the fine Matriz church and is run by the congregation
Together with the 3 Americans, I went to the city to find a place to eat.
We had all heard that the restaurants along the Camino often have a “peregrino menu”, a pilgrim menu. Part of the Camino concept is that you live simply and cheaply.
We reached no more than about the back of our albergue before arriving at a small space with 3-4 restaurants and a few shops. All the restaurants had the pilgrim menu for 10 €.
For that price you get a starter, a main course and a glass of water or a glass of wine – yes, wine costs the same as water – so the choice was not that difficult.
It was a pleasant evening in the square – good food, wine and a talk about the US and their president, each of whom had an opinion.
Despite their age of 68-70, they were still working. Not because they wanted to, but because they needed it to afford food and a home.
It was their first trip to Europe and a good and cheap way to experience European culture up close.
The next morning, there was a market at the square where we had dinner the night before
The next morning I woke up early and left.
In the square behind the hostel where we had had dinner the day before, there was now a large food market.
I bought a banana and some bread and set off – at first, in the wrong direction.
On my way into town the day before, I had glimpsed a nice aqueduct up on the hill behind the houses, which I would like to take a closer look at.
Breakfast was eaten by the Santa Clara church and the beautiful aqueduct – all while the sun was rising over the town
The night before, I had been too tired to walk up there, but now I was ready and headed up the small streets. And what a wonderful building.
As the sun rose and I ate my bread and banana, while I enjoyed the sight of the 600-year-old aqueduct – which was also named after my daughter Clara…
The 4 km long Santa Clara aqueduct passes, with its approx. 1,000 arches, through Vila do Conde
The trip along the coast went like a breeze. The sun was shining and along the way I passed small fishing villages as well as cafes and restaurants serving fresh fish as they grilled while watching.
Like the day before, I stopped every hour and often other pilgrims came by and saluted.
Occasionally they stopped to talk and sometimes we followed along until the next stop. A great way to travel!
Lovely small cafes on the Camino route along the coast
After 22 km of hiking I came to the town of Esposende where I found a small private youth hostel.
On my trip, I learned that the private youth hostels offer a little more “luxury” than the Albergues run by the church. They typically cost a few € more, but unless you are on a very tight budget they are well spent.
The city buzzed with life as there was some festival. Everywhere there were small stalls and in various squares there was entertainment, singing, theater etc.
I went into town and tasted some of the many specialties that were sold around and I just have to note that the food in Portugal is fantastic – and quite cheap.
At the same time, however, I also had to acknowledge that my feet were tired. At 9:00 pm, I was already in my bed, sleeping like a rock.
Festival with music and small stalls in Esposende
Viana do Castelo
The next day I walked the 22 km to Viana do Castelo where, as the name implies, there is an old castle.
I had to see the castle, so after checking in at the local Albergue, I jumped in my sandals and headed out into town to take a look at the castle.
However, it turned out that the city has several castles so I ended up going to the southwest part of the city where the medieval fort “Forte Santiago da Barra” is located.
The fort is located at the entrance to the Limia River and was built in the 1300s by King Afonso III and has since been expanded several times.
Like many of the other Portuguese towns I passed, there are many beautiful buildings and squares in Viana do Castelo, and I can almost be annoyed that I didn’t have more time to explore these. Lesson learned!
The local Albergue in Viana do Castelo is part of this beautiful Catholic church
Vila Praia de Ancora
From Viana do Castelo, the trip continued to Ancora Praia which is located off the coast just west of the town.
Vila Praia de Ancora is a nice little seaside area with white beaches.
Here I found a nice hostel right down to the beach and I immediately decided to book an extra night.
I could feel that my feet were tired and would enjoy a day of rest.
Most pilgrims choose to walk 20-25 km a day. Some more, but for most people 25 km is enough for one day.
With approx. 4 km per hour it becomes 7-8 hours of walking incl. breaks.
Based on this, I had calculated from home that I should walk approx. 12 days which gave me 2 more days to rest or to do some sightseeing in Santiago – my final destination.
Lovely white beaches at Ancora Praia
Along the way from the Porto route, I’d met a young guy from Hungary several times and one evening we had dinner together.
Now he’d checked in to the same hostel and just like me chose to take a day off.
We spent the day at the beach and the evening at one of the local restaurants with the “Peregrino Menu”. The next day we each went our own way, but we met again several times later.
10 € pilgrim menu with my Hungarian walking companion
Incidentally, that’s an interesting thing about the Camino. You meet people along the way, maybe talk and eat together, and the next morning you go separately.
Some leave at 6am in the morning while others (I) sleep until 8am and therefore leave relatively late. Although we don’t go very far, you will often meet again a few nights later when checking in at an Albergue somewhere else on the route.
A little north of Ancora Praia, you arrive at the Minho River and you have to choose whether to sail across the river and continue along the coast, or turn right and follow the river into Valenca where it meets the domestic route from Porto.
I chose to turn right and walk towards Valenca, and now saw how the terrain changed.
From the flat stretches along the coast, the route now passed through lush fields of corn, cabbage, tomatoes and peppers as well as endless rows of grapes. Hills turned into mountains and I passed small villages where time seemed to have stood still for a hundred years.
As soon as you turn inland, the landscape changes and now offers forest and fields as well as small villages. Notice the small yellow arrow on the wall to the right
I had good legs, as it’s called in the cycling sport, and continued the 34 km to Valenca on the border to Spain.
Here I spent a couple of hours admiring and exploring the wonderfully fine old fort and the small town that lies within the walls.
I had now been in Portugal for 6 days and had not yet tasted a glass of port wine, so I went into a well stocked wine shop and bought a small 5 cl good port wine, which I enjoyed sitting on the masonry of the old fort, overlooking it ancient arch-enemy Spain on the other side of the Minho River.
View of the huge Fortaleza Valenca fortification with Spain in the background
After enjoying this fantastic drink, I walked across the bridge into Spain and up the narrow streets of the fine old medieval town of Tui.
In the middle of town I found a youth hostel in a small street. It had been a long day and again I was annoyed not to have more time to explore and enjoy these exciting old towns. I had to settle for a meal and go to bed.
A look down the street from the Tui hostel. Yet another place I would have liked more time to explore…
The days that followed went through stunning landscapes, curved forest paths, through small villages, up hills and across small field roads.
A few times I walked on a dull country road, but shortly afterwards the well-known yellow clam appeared and showed its way along another field road or forest path.
Just as you begin to doubt whether you are on the right track, the well-known yellow clam pops up and leads you on the route. Here 108 km from Santiago.
It was on my trip in Spain that I met Denis and Mikael.
Denis, an Englishman from South Africa and Mikael from Northern Ireland and both with an accent that put my language skills to a serious test.
We met a few times, followed each other a bit, had dinner together and parted again the next morning when they got off early and I slept a bit longer.
A few days later we met again in another town and so it continued until we all three arrived in Santiago.
Beautiful nature along the small trails in Spain
Arriving in Santiago is a great feeling.
Besides the city being incredibly beautiful, with many beautiful buildings and small nice streets, the city is buzzing with pilgrims arriving on the many Camino routes from all over Europe.
Some have walked 800 km from Seville in southern Spain, some have walked 600 km from Madrid, some 500 km from Lisbon and others have, like me, just walked 270 km from Porto.
As we approach Santiago, you will meet more pilgrims on the paths
But the feeling is the same when you enter the large square in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – the feeling of reaching the destination after a wonderfully beautiful trip and having met a lot of nice people.
People hug and clap, take off their backpack and sit down, and slowly relax completely.
Many people stay for hours, talk, relax, take some pictures and eventually move out into the town to find a place to spend the night.
So did I. I sat down at the square – looked at people, took some pictures, talked to a German family I had met a week earlier and enjoyed the mood and the weather, while my tired feet got some much needed air and rest.
After a couple of hours I went out of town to find my hostel.
I had a few days in advance when I knew when I would be arriving, booked 2 nights to make sure I didn’t have to run around and look for accommodation.
The square in front of the Cathedral of Santiago is buzzing with life from the approx. 1,000 pilgrims arriving daily from all over Europe
The hostel was a big old apartment where the rooms were furnished so there was room for 3 bunk beds in each room.
I was assigned a top bunk, and as I set my foot on the stairs to climb up, I noticed the person in the lower bunk – was my Hungarian friend from before ?
I had a dinner deal with Denis and Mikael, so I only had half an hour of relaxation and a bath before putting on my shoes again and leaving – with my Hungarian friend.
At the Camino, everyone is one big family, so of course he was going to join us for dinner.
On the way through Santiago’s beautiful old streets
People have said that the Camino opens their eyes to another side of life, purifies their soul and gives them self-insight …
I’m not sure I had the same experience, but there’s no doubt it was a lovely experience.
I have traveled and experienced a lot and this was one of the really good ones. Unlike many other journeys, it seems that everyone is ready to make the most of the trip.
There is an amazingly good community and people are more open than I have experienced on any other journey.
The community is good on the Camino and it’s easy to get in touch with people along the way – if you want to …
It is not the last time I walk the Camino.
Now I know how easy it is. There are arrows painted on the lampposts that show me the way, there are hostels where I can sleep, there are nice people to talk to and, I can easily walk 25 km a day with 8-10 kg. on the back.
I can manage for € 30 a day with everything included – if I want to.
Sunset over Santiago
I am curious to experience some of the other routes and meet all the nice people who walk on them.
“Packing list for the Camino – what you need for the hike” – good info for preparation and package list incl. recommendations for accommodations. (comming up in English)