Everyone has heard of the Way of Saint James. It's that famous pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, right? Yes, that is true, but actually, several routes lead to Santiago de Compostela.
Many paths lead to Santiago
The French route is the best known among the Ways of Saint James, but there are many more. The Portuguese Way is one of them and it is a route, which like the other alternatives to the French Way, has a lot to offer.
Known as Caminho Português, the Portuguese Way of St. James leads the pilgrim from Lisbon through central and northern Portugal to Galicia and ...
by Patrick Küpper,
In search of less-frequented routes, pilgrims began to opt for others, less well known. Thus, the popularity of the Portuguese Way increased over time and now it has also managed to consolidate itself as one of the most traveled routes.
Depending on how much time you have available, different starting points for the Caminho Português are possible. Those who want to cover the complete distance from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela should take a time frame of three to four weeks into account. The route from Porto is shorter and can easily be covered in ten to twelve days.
If you are not in too much of a hurry, you can also take a little more time to explore Porto. Even though a Portuguese proverb says that Porto is a place of work and Lisbon is a place of celebration, the city is anything but a grey industrial city. Especially worth seeing is the old town with its narrow alleyways that lead very steeply as far down as to the banks of the Douro River. In 1996, this was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The traditional starting point of the pilgrimage from Porto is the Sé Cathedral in the heart of the old town. The yellow arrows, painted on the asphalt, stones by the wayside, or house walls, are the symbol that shows the pilgrim the way towards Santiago.
Those who follow the arrows are guided through the outskirt of Porto and experience the flowing transition from the dynamic big city to the peaceful idyll of the province. The north of Porto is characterized by cornfields, ancient stone bridges, rivers and small villages with baroque churches.
Rates is the first of three Portuguese towns to have official hostels for pilgrims and is located 36 kilometers from Porto. To complete this first stage, pilgrims must be willing to suffer a little. However, there is also the option of shortening the distance to the next stop and spending the night in one of the villages between Porto and Rates.
Over hills, valleys, and the old fortified city of Valença to the border
More than half of the 240 kilometers of this route are in Portuguese territory. Hills and forests begin to dominate the landscape, the farther north we go. We pass by picturesque cities like Barcelos or Ponte de Lima which are located in the valleys of the Rio Cávado and Rio Lima. These cultural landscapes began to emerge thousands of years ago.
The ancient fortified city of Valença, whose old town is still surrounded by imposing stone walls, rises above the Rio Minho, which marks the border with Galicia. The fortress is a vestige of the rivalries that existed in the past between the kings of Spain and Portugal.
Great pilgrimage rush from Tui in Galicia
The European bridge linking the banks of the Miño shows that rivalries have long been in the past. On the other side is Tui, the first city on Spanish ground. It is not only the different architectural style of the churches that is striking here — the plastered and white-painted baroque churches typical for Portugal are replaced in Galicia by rustic and defiant looking unplastered granite buildings — but above all the sudden increase in the number of pilgrims.
Tui and its cathedral Santa María
Photo: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons
To be able to register in the pilgrim office of Santiago and to claim the pilgrimage certificate "Compostela", "only" the last 100 kilometers need to be covered on foot, which is why many pilgrims start their journey only in Tui. Also, the network of public hostels where you can stay overnight for free is much denser in Spain than in Portugal.
The destination: The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
The landscape changes noticeably in Galicia. Open spaces are rarer, but the Way of St. James now leads through long stretches of fragrant eucalyptus rainforest. After reaching the Ría de Vigo in Redondela, a fjord-like bay of the Atlantic Ocean, the route continues to Pontevedra, the largest city on the route after Porto and Santiago.
Finally, from Padrón, where legend has it that the decapitated body of the apostle James the Elder was brought ashore after his transfer from Palestine, it is only a day's stage to the finish. The arrival in Santiago de Compostela always evokes different feelings in the pilgrims: while some are happy to have finally overcome the exertions of the long walk with blisters on their feet and other physical ailments, others feel sorry for not needing to get up the next morning and continuing walking. For them, the way is the real goal and they are already secretly planning their next pilgrimage on the Way of St. James.
Southern portal of the cathedral Santiago de Compostela