Saturday 25th June
Braga – Skydiving
Distance 20.36 km
Max Speed 75.4 kmph
Average Speed 13 kmph
Total Distance 4393. 60 km
Today we cycle from Braga to the aerodrome and whilst cycling up a cobbled Street get a puncture en route, in the back tyre. Daz soon has it fixed and we’re off again.
We enter a stretch of national road and it swoops smoothly down hill, reaching our top speed so far – 75.4 kmph!!! We soon arrive at the skydiving centre!! Daz was a bit nervous about jumping again; his concerns were about lack of familiarity of the landing site. Fortunately everyone is super nice at Skydive Porto and we’re so pleased we decided to come here.
Once he’s done his first jump he realises there are more features here to orient himself than in Seville. He’s jumping from a tiny Cessna IA2 this time and the exit means getting on a step outside the plane onto a step under the wing- sounds terrifying to me. He gets 4 jumps done and one of the instructor even jumps with him, videos it and gives him tips on developing his skydiving technique. A really excellent day. Once we’re done we cycle back to Braga and catch the end of Wales V NI (Wales were victorious but an empty win with an own goal from NI).
We then find somewhere to eat and watch the Portugal game until extra time starts – too boring. Then home to our tent – we thought the party finished last night but there still seems to be a party in town……. until 2am.
Sunday 26th June
Braga to Rubiães
Distance 61.74 km
Max Speed 55.8 kmph
Average Speed 12.8 kmph
Total Distance 4455.34 km
We pack up and get chatting to 2 Canadian cyclists; each on a touring bike with their own trailer each carrying 25kg – a lot of equipment! They’ve been cycling for 4 weeks around Portugal, Julie and Simon. They remind us that we should visit Bom Jesus do Monte, the most popular tourist site in Portugal.
The imposing Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount) sits just outside the city of Braga, Portugal. Perched high on a hillside in Tenoes, some 381 feet above the ground, it is accessed by funicular, car or on foot via a magnificent 116-metre stairway.
Braga – Bom Jesus do Monte
There has been a building on the site for centuries, dating back at least as far as 1373, when a chapel was erected in dedication to the Holy Cross. It was rebuilt twice during the 15th and 16th centuries, and again during the 17th century, in 1629, when a pilgrimage church and six chapels were built, dedicated to Bom Jesus (Good Jesus). The building of the present sanctuary began during the 18th century, erected to a neoclassical design by the renowned architect Carlos Amarante, under the order of Rodrigo de Moura Telles, then Archbishop of Braga, whose coat of arms is located above the gateway.
The Sanctuary is an important site for pilgrimage, with pilgrims walking the sacred way, the “stations of the cross” for contemplation and penance since 1811. These days, it is also a hugely popular tourist attraction in the area, offering tranquillity, beautiful architecture and sweeping views out across the city of Braga and to the beaches of Viana do Castelo and Esposende.
The Sacred Way is a series of Baroque staircases laid out in a zigzag shape, working its way up the several hundred metres to the top of the hill. It is dedicated to the five senses (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste), each of which is represented by a different fountain, along with a further fountain dedicated to the wounds of Christ and three more dedicated to the virtues.
If the idea of climbing several hundred metres, whether on hands and knees or on foot, sounds tiring, the funicular makes for a good alternative. It dates back to 1882 and was the first funicular to be erected on the Iberian Peninsular, linking the Sanctuary with the main city of Braga.
It’s only 4km from town, on a hilltop perch overlooking the city and surrounded by ancient woodland. We cycle some of the way and then walk up the road to the start of the steps.There’s a bike race today and twice we’ve seen the racers go past followed by all their support vehicles. They’ve got 11 loops to complete. At the bottom of the steps we cheat and use the water powered funicular.
Once we’ve visited Bom Jesus we head to Ponte de Lima. The only thing of note is how tough we find it. A real long slog and we get another puncture, this time in the front tyre. The front tyre has worn down so much on the left hand side that we’re down to the blue under layer.
So this tyre gets binned and we put on a new front tyre that we have been carrying for a while courtesy of Richard… thanks. (Our tyres have been wearing extraordinarily quickly but only on one side!). We’ve just recommenced cycling when I notice a car driving next to me. I think they’re just looking or taking photos but they’re trying to give us a bottle of super chilled water – how fantastic. Cold water is lovely especially when we’re used to drinking very warm water.
We arrive in Ponte de Lima and park (abandon) the bike. It’s a delightful market town, retaining a sleepy medieval atmosphere.
There is a Roman bridge that gave its name to this very ancient and very beautiful town, which received its first charter in 1125 from D. Teresa, the mother of the first king of Portugal (a number of years before the foundation of the kingdom).
In the centre of a rich farming region, where the famous vinho verde is produced the greatest number of manor houses and palaces are to be found, many of them offering accommodation to tourists under the system of Turismo de Habitação.
Every fortnight, this traditional town is brought to life when a huge and lively fair that dates back to the Middle Ages is held on the banks of the river. This same stretch of sand is also the site for another traditional event held in June, known as the “Vaca das Cordas” (when ropes are tied around the horns of a bull, which is then led onto the sand to “fight” with the local population). In September, the town once again bursts into life with the jolly event known as the Feiras Novas (New Fairs). This is the town festival, which includes a huge market, fireworks, a funfair, carnival costumes and a brass band competition.
It occupies one of the most beautiful riverside settings beside the River Lima. We have a stroll around and then realise there’s a horse fair this weekend. We head to the arena and watch the tail end of the show.
After Ponte de Lima we head towards Rubiães. It’s uphill for about 14km and takes us about 2 hours – demoralising or what!! We had hoped to find somewhere to camp before Rubiães but fail and find somewhere just outside and since it’s already gone 9pm we’re getting desperate but the site is nice enough if not a little too exposed for my liking.
Monday 27th June
Rubiães to Nigran
Distance 78.16 km
Max Speed 69.8 kmph
Average Speed 16.5 kmph
Total Distance 4533.5 km
Last night we checked the map and decided we should abandon the Camino Interieur and head for the coast along the valley of the River Coura to Caminha. It’s a tough decision because if we remained on the Camino we could get to the coast via Valença and Tui and for less mileage than the route we’ve chosen but we’re hoping for scenic and rewarding scenery something we’ve been short of lately.
So plan made we head off. We find a little cafe within a couple of kilometers, coffee but no food unfortunately.
But this is a workstop. Daz changes the front disc brake pads whilst I fix our 2 inner tubes from our recent punctures. Whilst we’re there it seems that the jungle drums have been at work, “Strangers in town on a weird contraption, come and stare”, and they do. Lots of locals come in to check out this aberration! Work done we head off and find another cafe, the cafe on the bridge in Covas, to eat and to sit on their balcony looking down onto the river.
So beautiful but strangely it’s here I decide I need a good cry. I have no idea why but I think it’s the last couple of days have been incredibly hard cycling, it seems to take us hours and hours to cover a distance we use to ride easily in a faction of the time. I feel that instead of improving, I’m going backwards. Poor Daz is busy offering me flights home etc but I just need a good cry. I’m sure this will all be forgotten in another hour!
We then follow the river along a beautiful valley. It’s idyllic, easy riding, some shade and the river to our right. We’re thinking we made the right route choice. Then we arrive in Caminha only to discover the ferry to Spain is closed.
The ferryman doesn’t work Mondays – gosh how we laughed when we heard the news – NOT! We have a cafe stop whilst discussing our options: stay a night and get the ferry tomorrow; cycle back up the valley; get a train or try to find the MAN CALLED MARIO. Daz goes back into tourist info to ask about trains but on this visit he has a different assistant who says Mario will take you, he takes everyone. So we cycle out of Caminha to find Mario. Eventually we find the right place but Mario is at lunch. We take the time to dry out our tent and write the blog. Then Mario tips up and he’s positively grumpy! He’s not fazed by our bike and baggage but I’m distinctly fazed when he points to our departure point. 100m away on the beach of deep sand – and of course I’m the baggage mule and take all 4 panniers whilst Daz takes the bike.
After a beach embarkation – we’re off and it’s the shortest crossing ever for 10€ across the River Minho and into Spain. And another beach landing! Arghhhhhh the sand is so hot as we do a couple of trips to get bike and gear onto the boardwalk.
Daz seems keen to do multiple trips – strange methinks but he’s taking photos of the beautiful scenery and of course it’s not his fault that the topless sunbather features in every photo ready for analytical study when he zooms in later!!!!
From here we head to Baiona, through A-Guarda with the Atlantic on our left. Despite a strong headwind we make great progress.
We pause at an old ruin by the rocks where a couple of huge motorhomes are tucked up for the day. The views along the coast are spectacular as is the size of the German motorhome, it puts Dawn’s into the shade and must have cost as much as a good house in these parts!!
In Baiona we discover a beautiful seaside resort. Baiona has a lot of charm with a quaint fishing port, a number of small but appealing beaches, and an old town that sits just behind the main seafront area.
There are also many small beaches along the coastline within close proximity to Baiona and this is one of the reasons why it is so popular with summer visitors.
Within Baiona’s old district there are a number of narrow corridor like streets with typical Galician terraced houses lining them. This area is pleasant to walk around and it gets you away from the busier seafront zone which is more commercialised. There are bars, cafes and restaurants hidden away in this area and most are superior to, and often cheaper than, the ones found on the ocean front drive.
Castelo de Monterreal, Baiona
There are quite a few churches and other small buildings of architectural and historical interest, but Baiona’s most prominent building is the Castelo de Monterreal, a castle that sits to one edge of the town. You can visit Castelo de Monterreal and it affords excellent views of Baiona and the surrounding coastline from its elevated position.
We stop in Baiona and relax. The football is on, Spain V Italy. Spain goes out of the competition. Next game England V Iceland, although the Spanish aren’t televising it, Daz is confident of an English win! (misplaced confidence it seems!). We realise it’s getting very late and we need to find the campsite in Negran. So off we totter (yup we’ve had a few beers) and cycle about 4 km into Negran just in time to watch the sunset.
Campsite found, booked in and pitch found. Now we just need to set up. We’ve been greeted very warmly by our neighbours Jaap and his wife, Annette.They’re in a campervan but he has just cycled from Alkmaar, Holland to Santiago in 5 weeks with his brother. In 5 weeks he’s ridden only 2000km less than the distance we’ve achieved in 8 months.
Daz says size…… whoops distance isn’t important, it’s the experience that matters – oh how I love a testosterone moment! More interestingly he’s on a Nasca recumbent. We definitely need to talk to this guy because not only is he riding a recumbent but he’s just completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
Tuesday 28th June
Last night we had a beer with Jaap and Annette and this morning a coffee. Whilst we can’t ride his recumbent – this guy is 6ft 5”!!!! we both sit on it. Jaap has been setting a demanding schedule, on the road by 0830 hrs, only 15 min break’s allowed, 100km to be complete by 5pm.
He chose the pilgrimage to teach him how to relax, stop rushing and enjoy The Way – we’re not convinced he fully succeeded although he’s enjoyed the trip. But it’s funny seeing someone focusing on the goal, not the experience something we have really had to try and learn during on our trip. It’s too easy to only think about where we’re going and this detracts from other beautiful sites and experiences en route. And by comparison it looks as if we’ve excelled!!!
We both suffer huge bike envy even though he’s had serious mechanical issues. We have both realised that our ‘pig’ is a ‘donkey’ – sorry Richard. My seat and cycling position is really uncomfortable and is starting to give me lower back pain ( because I’m neither fully recumbent nor upright and for me the seat isn’t suited to this position) and whilst Jaap can cycle one handed, Daz could never be this relaxed! It’s food for thought.
Finally coffee and chat done, washing done we head to Praia de Patos, to investigate surfing lessons. We end up at Point Break surf club with Luis and have an hour’s lesson. He’s absolutely brilliant but whilst Daz is up in minutes, I’m still struggling after an hour. But at least now we both have the basic technique to work on!
We spend the rest of the day on the Point Break patio, enjoying the sun and sea. Finally me must cycle back whilst we can still walk (yup we had to have some post surfing beers). Back at the ranch Jaap and Annette are still next door even though we expected them to leave today and opposite are Julie and Simon, the Canadians we met in Braga. We have a very entertaining evening comparing bike tales! Julie and Simon are travelling for six months and will spend the majority in Europe before flying to New Zealand for the last 5 weeks and then back to Canada and work. They are fun company and hopefully we will see more of them on the route as they are also thinking of doing the Compostela.
Wednesday 29th June
Nigran to Caldas de Reis
Distance 72. 44 km
Max Speed 67. 5 kmph
Average Speed 16. 2 kmph
Total Distance 4613. 94 km
This morning we woke late knowing we were going surfing again at 12. We nip out of the campsite for breakfast after saying goodbye to Jaap and Annette. No sign yet of Julie and Simon being awake, too much wine maybe? Been there, done that! After breakfast we go back to camp and pack everything back onto the bike, we will cycle to surfing fully loaded then continue on. Julie and Simon are awake now and have decided to have a rest day, lucky them. But we make a plan to catch up with them in Santiago. We cycle off to Praia Patos and see Luis again for some kit hire for an hour. It’s a holiday today in the area, São Pedro day, so there are lots of people chilling at the beach.
The waves are quite good today, well, good for us beginners. But soon our hour is up and we shower, grab a drink then set off. Our route today will take in Vigo, Redondela and Pontevedra with maybe a few more miles to Caldas de Reis if time and energy allows. The last few days of cycling were on the coastal Camino, which isn’t in our guidebook. Today we will resume the book’s route and complete day 20 and most of 21, Redondela to Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis. But we stick mainly to the N552 and N550 and make good time except for the following…
1 – Front chain derailed twice before Vigo. Daz realises the boom has slipped allowing the chain to slacken, and soon fixes it.
2 – Rear chain derails on way out of Vigo. This doesn’t happen often but the cause is a broken holding point for the plastic tube that the chain runs through. Daz bodges a fix until we can do a full repair.
3 – One of the rear pannier catches kept slipping off the anchor point, cause was bad packing, Daz rearranges the contents which allows the catch to engage fully.
So finally after all that the rest of the day glides by. We stop in all the towns for stamps in our Camino passport and for refreshments (ice creams and 2 large bottles of cold fresh milk were our mainstays today!!). We push on into early evening towards Caldas de Reis and having checked the map earlier I direct us off the main road towards a smaller road in the woods that crosses a river. Happiness, we are soon dekitted and cooling off in the cold waters, seeing who is brave enough to go for the first dunk!
We wash then set about pitching our tent next to some vines again. We forgot we were on Spanish time, so although it’s half past 9 there is still daylight for another couple of hours. Fortunately the occasional farmer and his tractor doesn’t stop to investigate! We fall asleep next to the babbling brook!
Thursday 30 th June
Caldas de Reis to Santiago
Distance 47. 9 km
Max Speed 68. 8 kmph
Average Speed 16 kmph
Total Distance 4661. 84 km
I slept really well last night but Daz says the ‘noisy babbling brook’ kept him awake. The farmer is out on his tractor and I’m just waiting for him to come over with his shotgun and say ‘get off my land!’, but fortunately he doesn’t. We head into Caldas de Reis for breakfast and to enjoy the hot springs – and by hot, I mean Hot, it almost boils the skin from my feet!
The ride into Santiago is tough, just a continual climb and uneventful. We’re only 3 km from the centre when the we have a bike problem. It’s already after 3pm so whilst Daz fixes it, I get the tent out to dry on the pavement.
We’re such pikies! But eventually we arrive. We’ve completed the Camino de Portugués! Even though we’re on a ‘world tour’ it seems like a great achievement to complete this Camino and to be part of the exuberance that you feel from all the other travellers. Fantastic. We go to get our certificate but the queue is huge. Instead we get our passport for the Camino Francés and go off to admire the cathedral.
The final destination on the Camino de Santiago. The Galician capital is synonymous with the Camino, an ancient pilgrimage route, born in the 9th century, that has linked the city with the rest of Europe ever since. Every year many thousands of pilgrims set out on foot, by bike, or even on horseback, to live this experience that combines adventure and spirituality. The final goal is the Cathedral in Santiago, one of the sacred cities of Christendom. This is, without a doubt, an unusual, unforgettable way to travel through Spain.
Construction of the Cathedral started in 1075, when the town arrived to the climax of its importance. The chapel, Capilla del Salvador, is still conserved of this oldest epoch.
The second phase, after the wedding of Doña Urraca and Raimundo of Bourgogne, shows influences of french Romanesque style, as well as a style that is all Santiago’s own, the so-called Románico Compostelano. The Obradoiro Facade (to which later on were added Barroque elements) and the towers Torre de las Campanas and Torre de la Carraca were made at this time.
Through the Obradoiro Door you enter the so-called Old Cathedral, a Romanesque crypta with the first vaults of groined arches that were ever built in Spain.
The sculptures of the Portico de la Gloria, another entrance door, are considered some of the most important works of medieval art.
Around the cathedral there are a number of squares or plazas:
Plaza de las Platerias – this square is named after the many shops of silver articles (Platerias) which are to be found still today under its arcades. From here you can see the cathedral’s gothic portal and the only facade which is conserved in the original Romanesque style, with fantastic sculpture works, like the figure of King David.
Worth seeing as well are the Fuente de los Caballos, a 19th century fountain in the center of the square, Casa del Cabildo, of 18th century, and Casa de los Canónigos (also called Conga), another 18th century palace that separates Plaza de las Platerias from Plaza de la Quintana.
Plaza de la Quintana – from this square you see the Portico Real, Royal Door, of the cathedral, the towers Berenguela and Torre del Reloj, as well as the Puerta del Perdon. This door is opened only in a Holy Year, during the Apostle Festival.
The Monastery of San Pelayo de Antealtares, with its austere facade of granite, is one of the oldest buildings in Santiago. It was founded in 11th century by Alphonse II in order to entomb the mortal remains of the Apostle James there.
Plaza de la Azabacheria – this square opened originally the legendary Puerta del Paradiso (door of the paradise), through which the pilgrims entered the cathedral. It was replaced by a neoclassical work of Ventura Rodriguez, which is to be seen today.
The monumental Monastery of San Martin Pinario, of 16th century, is one of the most impressive examples of Barroco Compostelana. It was built over a Romanesque church, which has been an important medieval religious center.
Legend tells us that the Convento de San Francisco was founded by Saint Franciscus of Assisi, after a revelation on his pilgrimship to Santiago, 1213 to 1215. God told him he should buy land from the monks of Saint Martin’s Monastery for the symbolic price of a basket of fish, and then build there a monastery of the money some Cotolay would find in a fountain. Everything happened as predicted.
Santiago is an incredibly beautiful city and we are amazed by how packed it is with walkers and bikers who are finishing ‘The Way’. We’ve not seen many people on the Camino Portuguese, most of the thousands here have come in on the Camino Francés which we will do in reverse when we leave. Having had a little walk round taking pictures and marvelling at the sights (and other peoples touring bike setups or unicycles!) we think the queues for our certificate have probably reduced so we head back and get our certificate.
It’s already early evening and our campsite is 3km out of town. But it’s also Francesca’s 27th birthday. We want to help her celebrate so instead of heading for our campsite we meet Fran and start to celebrate. We finally find her in a very noisy Plaza with live music blaring. We spend the night talking about our experiences and what Francesca will do next in between eating tapas and ordering more drinks.
Many beers later, at 2am, we say goodnight to Francesca and then we try to cycle to the campsite. Eventually we arrive (in one piece) but we have a difference of opinion. Result? Daz sleeps in the tent (now slightly broken!!) whilst I sleep in a nearby park on a concrete bench.
Friday 1st July
At 6am, fed up with the concrete bench I break into our tent and take my stuff (clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mat) and head off into town. I’m wondering if I should walk the Camino! Around 8am having walked past lots of coffee shops and hotels thinking I should be brave and go in I finally pluck up the courage and find a hotel that will let me book in immediately (thank God – I’m so tired). It’s a lovely but very expensive 4* hotel. Around 2pm after a lengthy nap, I decide i’d better answer Daz’s messages otherwise he’ll worry. We meet in town at the old market (we do love our Spanish Market halls!!) and even though all our gear is on the campsite, we stay in my hotel after a leisurely stroll around the sights of Santiago (well it is 4 star and the beds are so comfy, be a shame to waste it!).