Claire, from the CaminoWays.com team, recently walked the Portuguese Coastal Way from the city of Porto to Baiona, in Galicia’s Rias Baixas. She shares her impressions on this stunning alternative Camino route through Northern Portugal:
Porto is a fantastic city in which to begin your Camino adventure and its historical centre was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1996. No trip to Porto is complete without visiting the historic cellars of Port wine and tasting this local speciality. Cross over the famous ‘Ponte de Dom Luís I’ into Vila Nova de Gaia to sample the world-famous drink and, while you are there, be sure to take in the views of the coloured buildings on the opposite site of the Douro river. Before leaving the city, be sure to have a walk around Sao Bento train station, built on the site of an old Benedictine monastery, to take in its beautiful murals. The blue and white panels of the interior, which depict everyday scenes from Porto, are truly impressive.
If you are a fan of seafood then the Portuguese Coastal Way route is perfect for you. All the towns and cities along the way have a great range of lovely restaurants, offering an excellent choice of locally-sourced fish at very keen prices. You cannot leave Portugal without having tried one of their bachalhau (cod) dishes. It is said that there are at least 365 different cod recipes in Portugal, one for every day of the year! It is also worth sampling the local wines from the Douro valley, a region which has produced wine for over 2000 years.
It is worth noting that there are two different Camino routes along the Portuguese Coast, the ‘Senda da Orla Litoral’, which hugs the coastline very closely, and the ‘Caminho da Costa’, which veers further away from the coast on most days but joins the first route in the main towns. The latter is well marked, with yellow arrows along the way, and most pilgrims follow this route. There is slightly more climbing along this way than on the ‘Senda da Orla Litoral’, but it’s worth the extra effort as you can catch great views of the coast from up in the hills.
While the route is not as popular as the standard Portuguese Way, it has been growing in popularity over the last 10 years and is perfect if you are looking for a quieter Camino. The scenery all along the way is beautiful, but of particular note is the breath-taking coastline from A Guarda to Baiona. Along this section you also pass the sleepy fishing port of Santa Maria de Oia, home to a beautiful 12th century monastery which overlooks the village.
One of my favourite places along the way has to be Viana de Castelo, a town situated on the North bank of the Rio Lima estuary and 25km from the Spanish border. The wonderful pedestrian streets in the old quarter are lined with beautiful houses and welcoming cafés. The main square, Praca da Republica, is a great place to take a break after your walk and, if you have time, the Santa Luzia Basilica, situated on a hill outside the town, is worth a visit, offering as it does exceptional views of the surrounding area. Another highlight of this section is the town of Baiona, a quaint fishing port in the south of Galicia. The narrow cobbled streets in the old town have plenty of cafés and bars serving traditional Galician specialities at reasonable prices. If you are continuing on to Santiago, or even if you are finishing your trip there, Baiona is a great place to spend an extra night and there are plenty of beaches in close proximity of the town.