Saturday 18th June
Lisbon to Santarem
Distance 108.16 km
Max Speed 47.1 kmph
Average Speed 15.4 kmph
Total Distance 4079.33 km
Our intention from Lisbon is to follow the Camino Portugués to Santiago, approximately 614 km. We’re going to use ‘A Practical & Mystical Manual for the Modern Day Pilgrim’ by John Brierley. It’s the guidebook we were given by John Gallegos in Faro. Since this is a pilgrimage designed for walkers we will mention the suggested walking schedule.
Today we head out of Lisbon, which is surprisingly easy. We head into town to the Commercial Square and then turn left at the river. We have a great view of the Tejo and the 25th April suspension bridge.
We soon turn away from the Tejo, along a tributary Foz del Río Trancão. We have to choose the N10 over the pilgrim route which looks like a very narrow, overgrown footpath. At Alhandra we detour off the main road to the Marina. We’re looking for the sailing club, and a pilgrim stamp. We find the club but they can’t stamp our card: it’s the weekend and the Secretary’s office is closed.
Later we pass by, Vilafranca de Xira, on the edge of Portugal’s main wetland reserve, home to large numbers of migrating wildfowl. It’s also an area known for the breeding of fighting bulls. Near Carregado we make 2 mistakes. Firstly I choose the pilgrim path that initially looks good but degenerates into a really rough track. Fortunately it’s only for a short distance. From here I know we need to cross the railway line on our left. We see a road bridge but this time Daz chooses to follow the pilgrim arrows.
It brings us into a train station and we need to cross over 2 platforms. There’s a lift but the bike doesn’t fit in it. So I do lift and bags, Daz does stairs and bike; ain’t equality great. It’s about 2.30 pm and we’re nearly at the end of day 2 of the pilgrimage. We’ve decided to stop at a fish restaurant recommended in the guidebook and it’s been the only thing in our minds for miles. We see it, it’s open, we go in, the waiter comes over and suggests that this restaurant is too expensive for us and suggests we move on to somewhere more budget up the road. I’m offended but it’s true, the menu items are expensive. So grudgingly we move on; this is tough when we were planning this break. Fortunately it’s not long and we’re on the outskirts of Azambuja, the walkers’ target for day 2 and we spot a restaurant that has a fabulous 3 course lunch for 7€. Ideal!
From here we head to Santarem. There are some beautiful villages that are on the Tejo and we’re traversing the flood plains – lezíria – the bountiful market garden of Portugal, growing fruit, vegetables and vines. We’re tiring now and make frequent stops.
We have to detour away from the footpath and stay on the road. Finally we climb into Santarem, 101km complete. We visit several churches but everywhere is shut – no Santarem stamp for us. Instead we walk out to the the Miradouro at Porta do Sol. Incredible.
Views out over the Tejo. We’re going to head out of town now but I insist on one last attempt to get a stamp, a visit to Santarem hostel. We arrive at the same time as another cyclist, a Welsh girl who’s an English teacher in Cordoba. She actually needs a bed for the night whilst we just want a stamp. We ring the bell over and over but no-one answers. There’s a phone number on the door bell and the Welsh girl makes a call. We leave her to it. We head out of Santarem, down a steep hill that actually had a ‘road closed’ sign. There is a concrete barrier across the road about half way down but we walk round it. At the bottom we’re back into agricultural land, vines and vegetables line the small country lane. It’s nearly 9pm and we need to find somewhere to pitch our tent.
Daz wants to go behind a derelict building, of which there are many but these ruins give me the creeps. Everyone knows this is where tramps, weirdos and ghosts reside, there’s no way i’m camping near one. Finally we agree on a site; in a vinefield between 2 rows and actually it’s the tidiest wild camp site we’ve chosen to date.
Sunday 19th June
Santarem to Tojal
Distance 81.47 km
Max Speed 54.7 kmph
Average Speed 14.4 kmph
Total Distance 4160.8 km
The downside of camping is the tendency to wake up early and this morning we’re awake at 0630am. Initially we attempt denial but there’s no way we’re going to get any more sleep.
We enjoy a very leisurely breakfast; I insist it’s because we need a stamp from the church next door but again no luck. We’re just about to leave and an Irish couple come in. They’re on Day 4 of the walk and left Santarem at 0630hrs this morning. They tell us we’ve just missed some unicyclists on the pilgrim. We hope we can catch them up but never do. They also suggest that the Cafe owner might stamp our passport and she does. Golegã is the target for Day 4. It’s a lively town and we visit the main square and church hoping to get a stamp, we do but in the cafe next door. We also visit the Largo do Marquês de Pombal, the equestrian arena, after all this is the ‘horse capital of Portugal’ famous for its horsefair.
Next stop Tomar, day 5, of the walk. In the guide book each day describes the day’s terrain, gives a ‘ thought for the day’ (although the book calls it – Mystical Path) and Personal reflections. Then there’s a more detailed breakdown of the day’s journey, it’s rather good actually and makes travelling more interesting, we feel we’re more in touch with the area. Just outside Golegã there’s Quinta Cardiga, originally a castle then a royal palace, then home to religious orders, hospital for pilgrims and now just a fading shadow of bygone opulence, with a beautiful treelined avenue.
It’s strategic position on the river Tegu means it’s an opportunity to check out the water temperature – so that’s what we do. A quick dip to cool down and feel a bit cleaner. The water is beautiful but chilly. Whilst we’re sitting on the bank I see a kingfisher but it’s so fast, like a heat seeking missile, that there’s no time to share. Then we watch a bird of prey circling above our heads, looking for lunch. And finally, just before we leave, I see a bird nesting on the bridge wall. I think it’s a grey wagtail, long wagging tail and just a hint of yellow.
After the swim, the next few hours are mostly uneventful. We can’t follow the pilgrims because they’ve gone off road so we remain on the N110, getting hot and very sweaty. Finally we make Tomar, the target for Day 5. It’s the quintessential medieval pilgrim tower and apparently the most perfect example of Templar layout and architecture to survive to this day ( so says the guidebook but we wouldn’t recognise a perfect Templar layout if it hit us in the face!).
But we do walk up to the castle to admire the views and get a stamp then we cycle of the historic centre and then to the Ponte Velho, a stone bridge over the river Nabão. Finally we sit in the park, next to the river and have a rest. We get the tent out so it can dry out – yup we’ve been suffering from condensation in the tent and now separate the pod from the fly sheet to keep it dry.
After a nice break we head out of town. We’re going to head towards Alvaiázere, day 6 of the pilgrimage. We’re just packing up after a last minute carbo load of crepes covered in ice cream, chocolate and strawberries when we pump into the Welsh girl from yesterday. She’s staying in Tomar tonight but at least now we exchange details – Hi Francesca!
So we cycle out of Tomar and it’s just a tough slog. Alvaiázere is at 310m so we just climb and climb. Finally, about 7km short of Alvaiázere we can rejoin the pilgrim route and soon find another perfect site for our tent. We each have our own areas of responsibility and have everything set up in no time. Another excellent day on the Camino Portugués.
Monday 20th June
Tojal to Coimbra
Distance 69.84 km
Max Speed 52.7 kmph
Average Speed 13.5 kmph
Total Distance 4230.64 km
First task today is to get to Alvaiázere, which is the finish of day 6 and have breakfast. We’re packed and on the road by 0745am and it’s so beautiful up in these hills. In Alvaiázere we find food and a stamp.
Once we’ve made the peak it’s mostly downhill to Ansião but the road is narrow and windy so we need to keep our speed down. At Ansião it’s time for another break and a stamp before we head to Rabaçal, target of Day 7 and our lunch stop. It’s been a tough morning and the hills are taking their toll on our stamina and our speed.
After a long lunch we finally summon the energy and courage to attempt Day 8. Rabaçal to Coimbra but we decide to take the direct route. It’s a bit of a cop out and almost ends in tears when the last 10km is on a really busy dual carriageway, IC2, with barely any hard shoulder and articulated lorries thundering past.
I’m so tired, demoralised by the hills and so edgy because of the traffic that I’d like to throw the towel in but finally we cycle down the steepest hill into Coimbra. It looks beautiful and we cross over the river into the town. This was the capital of Portugal from 1145 until 1255 but is better known for its famous university founded in 1290 which crowns the hill. We’ve decided to try our luck with the Bombeiros Voluntários, the fire station, who often supply a free bed space and it’s where Francesca stayed last night. But the firemen say ‘no’ and send us to the Red Cross. They also say no but suggest the Convent but we’re so tired that when we find a cheap hostel for only 20€ we’re in like Flynn. Fabulous – our first shower in 3 days. Clothes into the launderette and a walk into town to get a stamp and enjoy the sights.
We enjoy a lovely Portuguese meal that we last had in the Algarve, chipsticks and fried fish. Back at the laundrette we see our clothes are now out of the washing machine and in a linen basket. Daz notices his t-shirt (Marino wool no less) is missing and asks a couple of dodgy Portuguese types if they have mixed it in with theirs, but the language barrier is no good. Back at the hotel it dawns on us that not only is the t-shirt missing but also his shorts, socks and underpants… but nothing of mine! Then I see a light click on in Daz’ head as he realises what had happened and picks up the ‘other’ laundry bag with all his kit in!! Fortunately he runs back round the corner and although the manager is locking up lets him put a wash on and waits for it to finish with him!
Tuesday 21st June
Coimbra to Lamas do Vouga
Distance 62. 24 km
Max Speed 51. 0 kmph
Average Speed 13. 1 kmph
Total Distance 4292. 88 km
We’ve both had a really good night’s sleep and feel refreshed and after breakfast we head out of Coimbra. Initially we follow a steam and it’s pleasant but then the hills start and the temperature rises.
We can’t find anyone who’ll stamp it and we’re just doing a circuit of the town square when we spot the Municipal building but it’s closed for lunch. But a guy just leaving takes pity on us and walks around the outside of the building knocking on windows until he gets us a stamp.
From here it’s a tough ride to Agueda. A couple of times we come across drinking water fountains and we down tools before having a good head dunk to cool off. Daz even drenches his clothes in the hope they will cool him down. Temperatures today reach 38 degrees and the old saying ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ is definitely correct!
As we approach Agueda through a park we see people swimming in the River, cooling down in the mid afternoon heat, but we need to eat first. It’s nearly 4 but a bar restaurant takes pity on us and offers some leftover chicken, potatoes and rice with a side salad.
We are tired from the day’s efforts so take a walk to the park in the centre of town. An hour later we get up from the park benches we were snoozing on and grab a quick ice cream before leaving. Our plan is to cycle about another 10km and find a spot by a river we need to cross for camping. OMG the hill out of Agueda is steep, we can’t ride it and it’s hard enough pushing it! But we persevere and are soon at the top. We drop down the valley side and just before a big viaduct that takes the traffic to the other side we take an old road down to the river and the old bridge to look for our camping site. Arghhh, the bridge is out!! A whole section in the middle is missing!
That means we will have to climb back up to the viaduct!! But we decide to leave that until tomorrow and wheel our bike down a narrow track to the river. We find a great spot and once the tent is up we are both into the river to cool off and wash, what fab fun!!
Wednesday 22nd June
Lamas do Vouga to Serra De Canelas
Distance 64.35 km
Max Speed 57.6 kmph
Average Speed 11.4 kmph
Total Distance 4357.53 km
We wake up later than usual and realise it’s because it’s foggy and damp outside which has kept the temperature in the tent tolerable.
Our first stop is on the outskirts of Albergaria A-Velha for breakfast. We don’t bother going into town but stop at a petrol station that also has a little cafe inside. Although there is a slight mixup with my brekkie (no ham or cheese on my toasted roll!) it’s cheap and cheerful.
A chap asks us about our bike and tells us he’s just completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He was on a mountain bike and kept to the Pilgrim’s route and said that it was very hard but very beautiful – something to look forward to. Our next stop is Oliveira de Azemeis for lunch and a stamp. We were supposed to detour around this town as it’s on a hill, but due to technical difficulties (Darren’s route choice) by the time we realise, it’s too late to double back. So we end up climbing into town, and get the lunch and stamp! Today we have had an argument, we don’t have many, but this was particularly big. I had discussed the day’s route with my Captain (Darren), we’d agreed and in the village Albergaria a Nova I tell him we need a left. However the Camino arrows point right. I insist it’s a left. We stop and bizarrely a car stops next to us. It’s a chap from the Albergaria a Nova. He wants to take pictures and put us on his Fb site ( we think) and whilst he’s taking photos another guy walks over, Filipe Abrantes from Auto Alba. He also wants pictures and to give us his business card. Daz then asks them the way and of course they point right. I say no we need a left but Daz doesn’t listen and continues asking these guys the way. I’m completely hacked off that Daz is ignoring my input so for the rest of the day (because he needs to know where he is at all times!), I let him take complete control. He does all the map reading and route choices. Most of the day is spent in silence or monosyllabic responses. It doesn’t help that today the way of the Camino is particularly tough as it snakes back and forth over the main road into towns either side. All these diversions are also hilly, but the other option is the busy road, and really, we are sort of sticking as close to the ‘way’ as possible.
As close as you can be lugging a great big fully loaded tandem around! At times today we find ourselves pushing it along the side of disused train tracks and cobbles as big as Daz’s head (told you we had had an argument!). We also cycle down a ‘closed road’, this is not the first time we’ve done this but this time failure. There’s brand new tarmac, still nice and new, and soft enough for us to make our mark, literally, a nice clean rut from our bike and nice divots from the bike stand when we stop. We round a corner and see the road crew and then they see us! Of course our Portuguese is non existent but I’m pretty sure they weren’t pleased to see us!!! We retreat rapidly. After a peace negotiation we’re allowed to tread upon their new tarmac (more ruts, now include those from our cleats) and take a side road. Another lengthy diversion. Finally about 3 in the afternoon we reach São Joao da Madeira and walk into the centre.
There are TV screens all over the circular central zone and kids blow up bouncy castles and footie pitches as everyone will be cheering on Portugal later in their Euro 2016 last group game… come on Hungary!! We rest here for an hour or so, on separate benches of course, before heading to Lidl’s for our evening camping supplies.
Still following the little yellow arrows of the ‘way’ we soon get hacked off with more climbs and excursions around the main road… enough is enough and we finally admit defeat (although I would have declared the way of the Camino ‘shit’ and unmanageable hours ago but Daz is in charge and refuses to acknowledge that this route does not suit our loaded tandem!) and spend the next 16 km going down hill for the majority. We finally pull off the main road and head up into the Serra De Canelas, a large wood on a hill just outside Porto. There is an old medieval pilgrim route that runs straight through this wood, remember those giant cobblestones I mentioned? These are them, huge mofo’s and all up hill pushing. But we finally reach somewhere near the top and find a camping spot just off the trail. One final chore before we can put the tent up… Daz forgot to dry the tent out in the middle of the day so we end up hanging it across the track and wafting it!!
Thursday 23rd June
Serra De Canelas to Porto
Distance 10. 76 km
Max Speed 42. 6 kmph
Average Speed 9 kmph
Total Distance 4 367. 99 km
Camping in the woods has kept the tent cooler so again this morning we sleep a bit later. After packing up we have to push the bike along the cobbled path uphill and out of the woods, a tough start to the day.
From here we join the N1 and it’s pretty much downhill into Porto. Our first stop the Camara de Gaia for a stamp and then into the Jardin do Morro still on the Gaia side overlooking the River Douro – the river of gold, the port and Porto on the north side of the river.
We abandon ‘the pig’ outside the cathedral and even leave our cycling shoes on the seats. We admire the cathedral and then the train station with its tile mosaics. We then walk up to the Almeida Garrett memorial and the Fonte dos Aliados.
Then Daz spots North Face uh-oh! and I know he’s going to want to go inside and buy something and of course he doesn’t disappoint, he wants a new jacket – a North Face down jacket to replace the orange coat he bought in Bagneres de Bigorre for skiing and has probably only worn twice since but it makes a great pillow! And the new jacket only 190€. Surprisingly he decides he can manage with his 3 existing jackets in these days exceeding 30 degrees.
Then we head to the river and we finally twig that something’s afoot. Music is blaring out, there are barbecues everywhere and most people have a plastic hammer and keep banging them onto other people’s heads. It’s the festival of São Joao. We can see the barges on the river loaded with fireworks. We need a new plan as we had intended to go to Braga this evening, to a DZ for Daz to do some skydiving. He needs to jump at least every 3 months to avoid costly retraining.
So we head over to the banks of the River Duora on the Gaia side to examine their port wine caves but first a WiFi stop. Surprisingly we find a cheapish hostel with rooms still available so we’re staying the night. Then we check out the Sandeman port cave. We were going to do a tour but we’ve just seen the last group go in and it’s huge and the next tour isn’t for another 45minutes. So instead we go out onto their terrace and try a port cocktail – very nice. Then we realise we can buy a bottle of Tawny for the price of 2 cocktails, so that’s what we do and enjoy the party atmosphere, some people watching and the river traffic.
Port finished we head back to the cathedral and of course the pig is still there although in a slightly different location – it must’ve been in the way of the party preparations and the police have moved it, shoes and all. We head to the hostel – lovely to have a really hot shower after wild camping. We’re soon ready to hit the town and Francesca is in town so we plan to meet up!
What is Porto?
Mix monuments by leading world architects from the past and the present, and some fantastic baroque carvings.
Add a world-famous sweet wine and a certain British flavor.
Place it all by a grand river, and you have “O Porto,” the port, Porto — Portugal’s second largest metropolis, and one of Europe’s most charismatic cities.
Oporto is one of the last undiscovered European metropolises,
But this is not a new city. It is an ancient port steeped in history and tradition. It is a highly atmospheric place that has become known for its monuments by renowned architects (Gustave Eiffel’s Dona Maria Bridge, Nicolau Nasoni’s Clerigos Tower, Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Musica, or Siza Vieira’s Serralves Museum), but just when you think you don’t know much about this city, think again.
This is the city that originated and named Port Wine, and gave birth to one of world history’s legendary figures, Prince Henry the Navigator (you’ll also see in new guidebooks that it is also the birthplace of that world-famous fictional character, Harry Potter — author J. K. Rowling was living in Oporto as an English teacher when she started writing her first book).
Portugal’s Own Love Fest – The Festa de São João
While not as ribald as Rio Carnival, the Festival of John the Baptist is Portugal’s very own love-themed holiday that has evolved into an excuse for lavish feasts and dancing in the streets. It’s one of the most underrated street parties in Europe and, while it’s not well known outside of Portugal, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the revelry.
For six centuries, the night of June 23rd (and well into the next morning) has been dedicated to this celebration of love, a nod to St. John and a re-creation of an ancient pagan courting ritual. The elements of sun and fire worship were likely appropriated from various pagan rites, paying tribute to the summer solstice. The origin of the tradition of beating the one you love with plastic hammers, leeks, and cloves of garlic, however, is apparently unknown. The Festa de São João is recognized in Brazil, Quebec and Newfoundland, but it’s Porto that takes it to the next level.
Nearly every Portuguese town and village adopts one of the popular saints — António (Anthony), João (John) or Pedro (Peter) — whose feast days all fall in June. There remains a strong religious element to the festivals, but in an increasingly secular country, the church services and religious processions are often overshadowed by the party vibe.
Prepping Picturesque Porto
Preparations begin several days in advance, with each neighborhood displaying ornate models designed to represent religious figures, whole townscapes, and other local iconography. Porto’s old city center, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a picturesque grouping of tiered houses and churches clinging to the Douro River Valley. It’s said that there’s no Porto without (the river) Douro, and when you see it you’ll know why; it’s the perfect backdrop for a party. This gorgeous city is said to be the capital of fun in Portugal: while Lisbon works, Porto plays.
The scenery reaches a feverish peak on June 23rd, when every home in sight is draped with bunting. Although all ages are welcome, the predominant activity is the flirtatious attacking of crushes and other targets of affection with either limp leeks or plastic hammers. Since this “attack” is done out of love (or at least lust), the strike is usually gentle – but some still put some force into it.
This charming yet Neanderthal-esque courting ritual is woven into an evening of revelry that includes barbecues, all-night dances, the guzzling of copious amounts of wine and the release of numerous flame-propelled illuminated lanterns into the night sky. The tide of celebration flows downhill from São Bento station to the riverfront Cais da Ribeira, where Porto’s best bars and restaurants are to be found. Throughout this neighborhood and all others nearby, you’ll find myriads of makeshift food and beer stalls, live stages and other impromptu modes of celebration.
The predominant activity is the flirtatious attacking of crushes and other objects of affection with either limp leeks or plastic hammers.
On the opposite side of the Douro, fireworks explode across the night sky amidst illuminated balloons and the neon lights of wine lodges. Fireworks reach a peak at midnight, but the night rages on for the youth as party people head west during the early hours to the beach of Praia dos Ingleses at the Douro Estuary.
At the beach, several bonfires are lit in the name of São João, while a few brave souls dare each other to jump over the largest flames. The whole area transforms into one large beach party with dancing until the sun comes up. Revelers traditionally bathe in the ocean the next morning, nursing hangovers with a chill day roasting in the sunshine and daydreaming of lights and love. There is mass for the saint the next morning, and most spend a relaxing day watching the famous wooden boat competition, the barcos rebelos, on the Douro River.
Unfortunately we didn’t make the beach party but we had a lovely evening and managed to climb onto a rocky perch to see the fireworks, before we enjoyed some dancing and stolen sardines. A fabulous impromptu party – thank you Francesca for your great company. Unfortunately Francesca lost her phone – we all go back to search for it but no luck and sadly when we get back to our hotel the ‘pig’ isn’t in the lobby where we abandoned it so many hours ago, but it’s two in the morning and we are in no state to worry about it now.
Friday 24th June
Porto to Braga
Distance 5. 25 km
Max Speed 25. 9 kmph
Average Speed 6. 4 kmph
Total Distance 4373. 24 km
The ‘pig’ – it was locked away in reception by our incredibly kind and thoughtful hotelier who saw it had no lock so carried it upstairs, and a staircase with 6 right-angled turns.
We have found the Portuguese very thoughtful when it comes to our ‘pig’ and we are sure you wouldn’t get this sort of care in the UK. Daz is very much worse for wear this morning and did have to be guided home last night! But finally we’re on our way and cycle (probably not our best plan) down to the train station and head to Braga.
There’s festivities here too but we’ll probably be opting out!!! Later in the evening we summon the energy to walk into Braga and experience the party atmosphere. It’s really busy with stalls everywhere, a funfair, music and so many people.
There’s one food stall that has attracted so many people, the queue is huge but whilst we’d like to taste their wares we’ll be queuing for over an hour. Eventually we head home and sadly even the fireworks are insufficient temptation to get us out of bed.
A collage of Portuguese houses which they like to tile. Very unusual!