Porto can be a hard city to leave. With a great variety of excellent food on offer, delicious wine drawn from the nearby Douro region, and wonderfully old-fashioned, maze-like streets to get lost in, it’s a place you could happily remain for years. And yet, there is an exciting route north that awaits.
Our first stage of the Portuguese Way on the Camino de Santiago winds 121 km from Porto to the Galician town of Tui, just across the border in Spain, taking in the very best of northern Portugal – an area of the country rarely visited by tourists.
When most people think of Portugal, they think of the Algarve – perhaps the country’s sultry capital Lisbon, but north, past Porto, it’s an entirely different world. A lush, green, fertile land filled with small, charming towns, wild rolling hills and mountains, hearty meals of traditional Portuguese cuisine, and a great adventure.
Camino Portuguese – Stage 1
Welcome to Porto. As you might have guessed, we’re big fans of this hilly Portuguese city with enormous charm. Considering you will be walking for the next five days, there’s no need to go crazy after arriving in Porto.
Take things slow and enjoy a casual stroll through the old streets, sample the local food – we recommend the Francesinha, in case you were wondering – visit the impressive Cathedral, or simply pull up a chair next to the river, order yourself a drink, and watch the world go by.
A quick word of warning, while Porto is a fabulous city, it’s also one that comes with some streets set at phenomenal inclines. This is one city that really tests your calves, so don’t overdo it on the first day. You’ve got a lot of walking to do.
Day 2 – 32km (24km)
Now that you’re well rested – and hopefully well fed on Porto’s delights – it’s time to head north. The route to Arco is 32 km from Porto or 24 km from Maia – a small town just outside Porto where many begin the day to avoid the busy roads.
You’ll pass through small towns and villages along the way, such as Vilar do Pinheiro and Sabariz. The first day of walking ends in the beautiful riverside town of Arcos, famous for its grand 12th Century bridge spanning the river—time to take a load off and toast the opening day.
Day 3 – 20km
Just north of Arcos lies Pedro de Rates, home to a beautiful small monastery built in the late 11th Century, making it one of Portugal’s oldest extant Romanesque churches. It’s well worth a stop, and why not enjoy a quick coffee while you’re in town?
From there, we continue north, passing through Pedra Furada and Pereira before finishing the day in Barcelos, a small but vibrant little town filled with history and wonderful folklore. All over Portugal, you’ll see colourful ceramic cockerels, a much-loved symbol of the country, and it’s here in Barcelos that it has its origins. It was once said that a cockerel saved the life of a wrongly accused traveller in the 15th century and is now the embodiment of the famous Portuguese love of life.
Day 4 – 33km
The third day of walking is a big one but can be divided into two, or some choose to take a taxi part of the way. That being said, it is a gorgeous walk through the beautiful landscapes of Northern Portugal, passing through Vila Boa and snaking between rolling hills.
We finish in the charming town of Ponte de Lima, famous for its 13th Century bridge and frequently referred to as the oldest town in Portugal.
Day 5 – 18km
Today’s stage may be the shortest at 18 km, but it’s also the most challenging as much of it goes uphill until you reach Alto da Portela, the highest point on the Camino Portuguese. While it’s not particularly high, you gain 400 metres in just 4 km, so the path sometimes becomes steep.
Once you reach the cross at the summit, take a little time to look out over the spectacular green rolling landscape, safe in the knowledge that it’s all downhill from here – well, pretty much anyway.
The night is spent in the wonderfully quaint village of Rubiaes – with yet another beautiful bridge – this time a Roman incarnation first built in the 2nd Century – and more delightful churches. If you’re picking up on a theme here, you’re very much right. Northern Portugal is awash with old stone bridges, but you’ll never get tired of them.
Day 6 – 20km
Your final day of walking sees you cross an international boundary – which is always more fun when you do so on foot. First, the route takes you through Fontoura, where Queen Isabella of Portugal stayed on her pilgrimage to Santiago.
Your time in wonderful Portugal ends with a final delight, the small town of Valença with its mighty old citadel. Walk along its ramparts and turn to face North. In front of you lies the River Minha, the official boundary between Portugal and Spain and the mystical land of Galicia. Walk across the bridge (and border), and you’ll finish your Camino Portuguese walk in the small Spanish town of Tui.
That really depends on where you’re flying out from. If possible, we’d suggest flying from Vigo, Santiago de Compostela, or perhaps even A Coruna, which will give you another day or two in Galicia, enjoying the breathtaking coastlines, meandering estuaries (known locally as Rias), and seafood to die for.
Alternatively, go all out and book two Uwalk Camino adventures back to back. From Tui, our second stage snakes north, passing through Galician towns steeped in history and still fiercely independently minded. This may be officially Spain, but make no mistake about it, this is Galicia.