Porto to Vila do Conde: Camino Portuguese

Porto to Matosinhos to Vila do Conde – days 1 and 2 of my Camino Portuguese Coastal and Littoral routes (280 kms in total) * September 19th and 20th 2019 were the Littoral, that is, they followed the coast with all its ins and outs.

I did a practice walk in the opposite direction a week before starting which is why the sea, is on my right

This is a walk from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. There are 3 routes – the quickest is inland, and the other 2 travel along the coast, some more literally than others. It is the second most popular Way – the Camino Frances from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago being the most famous.

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Leaving Porto (also known as Oporto)

I stayed at the Albergue Peregrinos do Porto which was great. There was a friendly welcome from the group at the desk and I was able to buy my Credential (the first of the new version, I was told) which is the folded paper which I carried with me everywhere thereafter, and which had to be stamped twice a day (by hostels, cathedrals or cafes etc) if I was to be able to get a Compostella, which is the certificate you can buy in Santiago de Compostella to prove that you have completed the camino.

There is a beautiful garden which was ideal for me to do peaceful tai chi in and for sitting with a drink in the evenings. The only drawback was that the showers were also outside. Ordinarily this would not bother me at all, but mosquitos adore standing water and I was bitten to within an inch of my life. Not everyone is as delicious as me, and I had taken steps to put them off, but the bites lasted for well over a week and left scars. The bunk bed was 12€ per night/person. (10€ for the Albergue and 2€ for the touristic municipal taxes).

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Forte do Sao Joao Baptista

There’s lots to see on your way out of Porto: first along the Douro River, under the bridges, past beaches, restaurants and cafes (especially the Foz district which is smart), the lighthouse (Capel Farol Sao Miguel-do-Anjo), two forts, a helicopter pad, gardens and statues.

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O Mensageiro (The Messenger), ie the angel Gabriel by Irene Vilar (from Matosinhos with a studio in Foz do Douro), Douro River, Porto, Portugal

If you wanted to get to Labruge, the end of stage one (24.5kms from Porto), but take a shorter walk, you can take the Line 1 tram from Ribeira, with your rucksack, as far as Foz do Douro (remember to sit on the left so you can see the view!). Then you could have a coffee by Jardim do Passeio Alegre (Cheerful Walk Garden, according to Google Translate!) with its fountain and cool shade, before starting to walk. This will save you 6kms (1 hour and 10 minutes at the average walking speed).

A beach not far from Porto where people have made small piles of stones perched on the rocks, similar to the cairns we find on Scottish trails
Long boardwalks make for flat and easy walking. The Atlantic Ocean is right beside them
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A scenic lake nearby where the path winds and where I momentarily lost the way
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Sand as well as rocks with the Fort of St Francis (Francisco) Xavier aka Castelo do Queijo (of the Cheese) in the distance

The Fort of St Francis (Francisco) Xavier was designed by Miguel l’Ecole (1661). Occupied by Absolutists in 1832, it was badly damaged in a battle with the Liberals and abandoned. Later it was used as the headquarters of the Oporto Naval Brigade’s 1st Company, and is now the Northern Commandos Association

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The coast is a wonderful place for birdlife and they collect in the evenings like this, at the water’s edge
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Here you can get a stamp on your credential, Matosinhos, Portugal

I had a lovely swim. All along here the waves tend to be strong and I noticed that most locals do not take the plunge.

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‘She Changes’ by Janet Echelman, a giant net which hangs over the road at Matosinhos, outside Porto
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Moving sculpture by José Juao Brito (2005) inspired by a painting by Augusto Gomes (also from Matosinhos). It remembers the 1947 fishing disaster when 152 men died leaving 72 widows and 152 children behind

In Matosinhos I stayed at the Hostel Matosinhos Suites, a funny modern block in the heart of this area, a suburb of Porto. The room was small with 6 bunks packed into it. It had a table and 2 chairs (for 6 people), a kettle and mini fridge (but not enough sockets) and it got very hot with us all in. There was a small balcony where we managed to negotiate hanging up the washing by stringing a small rope and sharing pegs – just! It was clean and there were curtains across each bunk. Cost: 22 euros through booking.com.

There are loads of places to eat, including underneath the Suites. Matosinhos is best known as the place where Porto inhabitants leave the city and come to sit in the seaside restaurants to eat the famous shellfish.

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The second day of the Littoral route takes you briefly through the industrial heart of the port, over the Ponte (bridge) movel de Leca (the name of the river)
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The day began grey – the Farol (lighthouse) do Boa Nova at Leca da Palmeira
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Monument dedicated to Antonio Nobre (poet 1867 – 1900) with his muses, by Alvaro Siza Vieira. Location: Leca da Palmeira
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Capela (chapel) da Boa Nova (Good News), Leca da Palmeira. It was linked for many years (according to Wikipedia) to the hermits of the Franciscan Order prior to 1475
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Salt deposits
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Colourful lichen and seaweed on the rocks
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Beautiful deserted beaches. Here is Praia das Salinas (salt pans) or perhaps it is Praia da Memoria
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A caterpillar caught my eye1

There was a diverse range of flowers, mostly growing close to the ground on account of the wind, many of them also fleshy so they can survive without rain.

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O Obelisko da Memoria (Memorial Obelisk) marking the disembarkment of King Pedro IV and his 7500 men who came to liberate Portugal from the Absolutist regime which had dominated it
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By now the sun had come out and the waters were clear and still – perfect for a hike. Between Praia de Angeiras and Praia da Labruge
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Seagulls shared lunch, fighting over the remains
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Washing hung out to dry on the beach
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Vila do Conde in the distance

That night’s rest was in Albergue Santa Clara Albergue de Peregrinos Municipal (which can be found on Facebook). It has a large dining area which was very busy, and a small kitchen. Beware of leaving food out – someone stole my hard boiled eggs which were in a cup cooling for breakfast 😦

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Igreja Sao Joao Baptista

The hostel overlooks the Igreja Sao Joao Baptista (Church of St John the Baptist) and a lively marketplace. There is a cafe just around the corner where you can sit outside with your beer (very good value), and it is in the centre of town for all other amenities.

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Convento (convent) Santa Clara Vila do Conde

*There is a variation to the Portuguese Camino da Costa and Litoral (this word has 1 or 2 t’s depending on the language), which is reputedly very, very beautiful, called the Espiritual (Spiritual). It starts in Pontevedra (where the Inland and Coastal routes converge), and ends in Padron. More information here

Portuguese Camino next days 3 and 4 Vila do Conde to Viana do Castelo

Porto, Portugal

September 2019

Porto is colourful, lively, expansive and full of history. It is a very popular tourist destination, both for those taking river cruises on the Douro and those who are land based.

The wonderful Igreja do Carmo, Porto
Porto in the evening light

On one side of the river you will find the main attractions, restaurants and bars and the airport; on the other, the old Port wine warehouses where you can take tours and sit in the Jardim de Moro park and watch the water traffic down below.

View of the River Duoro from the Jardim de Moro
The port wine warehouses on the opposite side of the Douro River, Porto
The rooves of said warehouses after an impressive climb

There is a lot of information available online, so I will not attempt to replicate it, but instead to show you some of the beautiful places I visited and some useful information.

Torre dos Clérigos (tower)

The Clérigos Tower, Porto

You can see the Clérigos Tower from a long way away and it is free to enter the little museum and church where there are some heavily decorated, religious artworks.

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The Virgin Mary and her big heart
The putti try not to look up her skirt
Baby Jesus taking after his mother
Church below the Ledigos Tower, Porto

Wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere

The streets are teeming and oh so steep – down to the river, up to the rest.

Down to the river where you can sit on the steps and know you are on holiday!

Red and yellow buildings reflect the earth and sunshine of this east coast Portuguese city.

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The old market place – now cafés

Intricate decoration

It was the peacock which attracted my attention, Porto
And the globes on these university gates, Porto

Tram line 1

We took a tram trip along the side of the river, but sat on the right hand side and so our view was walls, in the main, and some graffiti. This mode of transport is very crowded and not necessarily on time, but they are quaint with wooden seats and a decidedly old-fashioned feel.

Line 1 goes from Infante to Foz (and back again) where there is a nice park – Jardim do Calem – and a lighthouse, good cafés and restaurants and a walk by the river. You can also take the 500 bus (same route and quicker).

Jardim do Calem, Foz

The river walk and bridges

Angel by the river Douro, Foz
I spotted some great sea birds on my river walk

There are a series of smart bridges across the river, one by Eiffel (of Paris Tower fame) and one which looks just like it was designed by him, but wasn’t.

Ponte da Arrabida across the River Douro on the walk back from Foz at sunset
As well as ruined buildings with morning glory clambering all over them, there are tiny, ramshackle dwellings fitted in beside each other where washing hangs and women work
See the people high up on the bridge looking down!
Worth the climb!

Getting around

The metro crosses Ponte Luís 1 if you want to go to the outdoor swimming pool to cool off. My daughters and I went twice to the Piscina da Quinta sa Conceiçao in Leça da Palmeira as it was affordable (you can either pay for a half day or full – not much shade) and in the middle of a park with fully grown trees. There were local people lunching there in their business clothes and clean changing places. It was very well run.

This outdoor pool was right beside the sea (often too rough to swim and too windy to sun bathe) and we went just once – it was very crowded

It does take some time to get your head around metro tickets as there are zones and each andante card (80 cents) can only have one zone so if you are going across 2 zones you need 2 cards. (Remember to write on them so you know which is which.) You can get them topped up by the very helpful man in the wee shop almost opposite the Igreja do Carmo right by the main bus /tram intersection. Look for the sign…

The metro – just make sure you know the name of the station at the end of the line, so that you go in the right direction!

You could also take the river taxi – cheaper (3 euros), fresh air, and more fun!

The river taxi. Facing back towards the main city from the warehouse side of the River Douro
There are beaches near the city – I swam at Matosinhos (along thwhere coast northwards) where the locals go to eat the delicious seafood
Looking up as you walk, you will often spy gorgeous flowers tumbling over walls

The Sé Cathedral

The Sé, cathedral, where the Portuguese Camino from Porto starts
Another (evening) view of the Sé Cathedral, Porto
Stone detail of the Cathedral, Porto

Estaçao de trem, train station, Porto

Porto Station – rural tile scene
General view of Porto from the train station
Fountain with pigeon drinking

To stay, eat and drink

Breakfast is of course the most important meal of the day! We enjoyed them in these cafés, bars and bakeries: Our local favourite was on the corner of Rua dos Mártires da Liberdade (where we stayed in an air bnb) and Tv. de Sao. It is cheap, small, friendly, crowded at times and there is a delicious array of pastries, cakes, and other morning fare. We also enjoyed Nicolau Porto (eggs and avocado on toast eg) on the corner of Liberdade and Rua da Conceicao; one of the cafes overlooking Praça de Carlos Antonio; and Antonio Névés & Ça. also on Liberdade.

Antonio Névés & Ça

The best evening meal was at Idiota with Portuguese shellfish and great service on Rua das Oliveiras.

We loved Mon Père Vintage (Rua Liberdade as above) where I brought a much admired, silver coloured Camino shell to hang round my neck for 1 euro (10 euros in Santiago de Compostela!) and there was another such shop in a little arcade much further down the same street. Also Livraria Poetria (poetry bookshop) and the Oporto Invictus Hostel (great garden with lively bar, yoga classes and free outdoor cinema showing shorts), both on Oliveiras.

The best bar (for port wine of course- red, white, rose) was the Taberna Aduela where you can sit outside (opposite the Teatro Carlos Alberto) on Oliveiras.

Practicalities: at the top of Liberdade, on the left round the corner onto Praça da Republíca, is a self service laundry and Pingo Doce supermarket, while to the right is a big store, such as you find in all big Portuguese and Spanish cities run by Chinese families, which sell ‘everything’ very cheaply, particularly phone chargers and leads, sun hats and underwear!

Don’t forget to visit the Serralves art museum – my favourite and so it has a blog all of its own! It has a small farm and garden not mentioned in the blog.

Places I wanted to see but there was no time or I was too busy

Libraría Lello – famous bookshop (book tickets online and get your money back when you buy a book – long queues)

Jardins de Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens)

The Botanic Gardens.

I hope you enjoy Porto. Make sure you drop me a comment to say what your favourite place was!