A Guarda to Santiago de Compostela
I had returned home from a two-week saunter on the Camino Frances in September 2017 and immediately started thinking of a return. The power of an addiction, eh?! However, the idea of walking with my brother, Ray, had been on my mind for quite a while. This would be his first Camino and if he were to go, I wanted him to enjoy the route we walked. I suggested the Portuguese Coastal Route, he agreed and the preparations began.
The Portuguese Coastal Route runs from Porto through Vila do Conde, Viana do Castelo, Caminha, Baiona, and Vigo before joining the more traditional Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela. I was able to discover the wild Atlantic beauty and sandy beaches of Northern Galicia, staying in small fishing villages before moving inland and passing the towns I had known so well. It is quieter than other Caminos and is a beautiful route for people to enjoy a landscape of beaches and quiet forests.
As we had just shy of 10 walking days, we decided on starting at A Guarda – 165 kilometres from Santiago de Compostela. It is pretty handy to get there with Vigo Airport only a 30-minute bus trip away. A Guarda is a fab coastal village with plenty of restaurants, all lined up along the promenade. Seafood and tapas are their speciality. It wasn’t long before we saw our first arrow beside the town hall. Ray was eager to get going but we had a night’s sleep to negotiate first.
Day 1 – Oia
Our first day would be a short day. 14km to be precise. We left A Guarda just after 7am. It was a bright, clear, sunny Monday morning. Pilgrims were leaving the solitary albergue located in the town. but there were not too many of them. It was just the two of us for the first few hours until we reached Oia.
For the first hour after leaving A Guarda, we walked along the coast. The sea guided us. There was no need for arrows. The ocean was our soundtrack for the morning. I remember saying to myself it is better than the constant chatter of eager pilgrims and clacking of walking poles. Solidarity! We pass one or two fishermen on our way. That would be it. Occasionally, the trail takes you away from the sea and towards the main road. The PO-552 is a busy road and we watch ourselves as cars pass at speed. So when the Camino veers back to the coast, I am glad.
We arrive in Oia at the very early time of 11am. Crazy, right? Just in time for second breakfast! Oia is a fantastic little town right on the Atlantic Ocean. It has a golden beach below it and overlooking the town is the Monastery de Santa Maria. This was owned by the Cistercians but now the government keeps an eye over it. We see there is a tourist office here also and ask where we can find a pilgrim menu. Thank you to Ana in the tourist office in Oia. She was a great help. So first, we checked in at Casa Puertas, a smashing place in the village. Then headed off for second breakfast. Next, we must have walked a further 5km to track down a store and a pharmacy for the next day’s walking.
The evening was spent chilling by the sea, having a pilgrim menu and meeting fellow pilgrims, before packing up before the next day. Tomorrow would be longer, but not by much.
Day 2 – Nigrán
Our 2nd day on the trail and it was almost a shame to be leaving Oia. I would love to go back there again, there is such a sense of community about it. But we are on Camino!
Today, we walked to Nigrán, just over 22kms north of Oia and a little bit closer to Santiago. We would walk along the coast for the first hour or so, but we would be faced with a decision later on – either walk up and over a hill to reach Baiona or walk along the coast, the Senda Littoral. You can make the choice to continue on the PO-552 to create your own Way. It is longer than shortcutting over the mountain, but you won’t have to climb the hill. It was still early morning and bright and we were in no hurry so we followed the ocean until we arrived into Baiona.
We were in Baiona in an hour and we stopped off for a sello in the tourist office. Fun fact for the day: the coastal route was made official in 2016. We chilled out by a cafe and had some tapas, watching life go by. I love the castle in Baiona and I suppose if I had time I would go visit it. It reminded me of Ponferrada.
We wouldn’t be finishing here however as Nigrán would be our destination – another 2 hours. It was worth noting we had been walking on pavement all day and there was no hint of a trail away from a road. I suppose that’s one of the criticisms of the Portuguese Way. We had no injuries anyway so far. We kept ourselves amused by looking for arrows and while there was a distinct lack of them up to Baiona, they became more prominent from then on.
We manage to find the Puente Romanico in A Ramalloso, which was built in the 13th century. We ventured back on the PO-552 to walk into Nigrán and found our room for the night. Tomorrow we would be walking to Vigo and getting to know the sea a little bit more.
Day 3 – Vigo
It was a short day and a day away from the traditional Camino. While many pilgrims stay inland from A Ramallosa, myself and Ray decided to stick to the shore until Vigo. Instead of following yellow arrows, we would be following green arrows and walking along beaches. Not that there was a problem with that!
We left Pension El Retiro in Nigrán and made our way to the coast. That meant consulting Google Maps and searching for signs with “Playa”. It wasn’t too long before we met the sea and walk along Paseo Marítimo. The Paseo has a wealth of cafes open for breakfast. A half an hour people-watching and coffee-sipping later, we were ready for another few kilometres walking. Panxon is a fine town and one that must be buzzing during the summer months. The trail sits along the beach but cuts away from the coast if need be. We walk on pavement for the day, but it is a nice feeling to walk on sand if those green arrows ask us to do so. Various surf clubs share the Camino with pilgrims, we all get along!
We do encounter our first distance marker, however, in the town of Prado. We have no less than 115 kms left to Santiago and we are getting a little bit excited. But, we have this day to complete yet!
The terrain remained flat save for one or two short climbs but nothing too stressful. It was a very enjoyable day and it was nice to have the sea on my left-hand side walking into Vigo. Walking on the Playa de Samil, a long stretch of beach, we passed a fully open beach park while tiny drops of rain fell from the sky. We were lucky that it didn’t materialise into heavier rain.
We made it to Vigo shortly after midday. Our walk into the city was made through the port, passing dozens of workers unloading items from trucks. Talk about scenic!! I passed the remark to Ray that this Camino is in honour of many medieval pilgrims who sailed into this port centuries ago. While the day was enjoyable, the particular part of Vigo we had stayed in was as Camino unfriendly as you can get. As I had checked into Hostal Real by the port, we spot a large ferry docking. But we try not to get too negative and think of tomorrow.
Day 4 – Redondela
Another short day, 16km to be exact, but what a day for it. The sun was out from the off and there was no forecast of rain for the day. We left Hostal Real before 8am after some breakfast and made for the coast. We were sticking to the Senda Littoral but not for long. Today would be the day we would join the main Camino Portuguese. I was looking forward to it.
We said goodbye to the coast for the time being and made way inland. We climb a while and pause to look back with some satisfaction. There is the port of Vigo behind us – ahead of us is Redondela. As we continue we climb a particularly steep hill. I keep my eyes peeled for other pilgrims – this is the main Portuguese Way, isn’t it??
We follow the Camino into the forest where we meet pilgrims from Ireland, from the USA, from Portugal, and from Italy. After 16 kilometres we arrived at the plaza in Redondela and see many pilgrims sitting out in the sun. It is just before midday. It has been an enjoyable day and I look forward to walking into Pontevedra tomorrow.
Day 5 – Pontevedra
The stay in Pension Rua do Medio in Redondela was very pleasant with a great owner. I can’t say anything but good things about it. However, with no washing facilities, the evening before was spent looking for a lavadoria…which we found! Ah..you can’t beat being a pilgrim!
This morning was perfect but overcast. In fact, rain was a real threat and we had our rain gear close to hand at all times. Redondela is a beautiful town and I would love to spend more time there, but Santiago bound we are! The arrows and distance markers were becoming more prominent once we left the town. And it wasn’t long before we met our Irish friends from the North. We had met them the day previous but had lost touch. Both are Camino veterans and “just have enough time for a walk from Porto”.
We get to the point where we turn onto the trail there is a big white arrow and “Santiago,” written on the road. I take a photo of Ray beside a distance marker, showing our 81kms remaining. We are flying along!
We pass through Cesantes before entering a wooded area. From here, much of the walking reminds me of the Camino Frances. I loved the shade and there is a stream where you walk along. It’s very easy going. However, there is a brief ascent as you approach Soutoxeste. Upwards we climb – something we are used to at this stage and are greeted with a mural of scallop shells – some with messages or names, some with little prayers. It’s nice to stop and read some of the messages before moving on.
We reach the town of Arcade, the rain starts, so we keep moving. A Romanesque bridge lies over the River Verdugo. We are over half way when we come across the lovely Capilla de Santa Marta…apparently it never closes and has a sello for pilgrims. We stop here for a while along with our Irish friends. It’s a nice place for reflection.
We arrive early in Pontevedra and check in at Slow City Hostel. One of the highlights of this Camino was meeting Susi today. She has set up a small stall off the Camino and you can receive scallop shells for a donativo. The Camino is a passion of hers and I hope to see her again. Please say hello to her if you pass her, she is a lovely woman.
Day 6 – Caldas de Reis
After heavy rains during the night, we feared the worst. But the skies cleared once we left the Slow City Hostel in Pontevedra. We kept our rain gear at hand, just in case. Today we walked over rolling hills, through woods and past small towns. There were lots of chances to rehydrate also.
Leaving Pontevedra, you pass the River Lerez and its ancient bridge. After leaving town we made a gradual climb up to 150 meters above sea level. The walk was a perfect balance of challenge and calm. We saw very few pilgrims our first 2-3 hours, and the path varied from shaded and wooded through small vineyards to hard surfaces. Later on in the day, we met pilgrims from the UK, Poland, Brazil, and Spain. We arrived in Caldas, an old Roman town, early, so we found the nearest pizzeria and had some lunch. I was really impressed by a mural that I saw as I entered the town. Nice! Two more days to Santiago!
Day 7 – Padrón
Another short day at 18km, we were on the homeward stretch. Thoughts of Santiago were becoming more frequent and it was just a matter of time before we arrived in the Praza. Ray knew little of what to expect and I suppose it is good going in blind. It had been 7 years since I walked into Santiago, so that feeling may as well be new to me.
We left Pension Caldas in the mid-morning and wow we took our time. We were in no hurry. Today was a relatively short 18km through some spectacular woodland areas. 50% was on forestry trails, mostly dirt or gravel. The other 50% was on asphalt. There was always a threat of rain from the off and we received a smattering of showers right through the day. It wouldn’t be enough to wet you through though. One of the highlights of the day was passing the old Iglesia Santa Marina de Carrecedo at Crucerio-Carracedo. There was a mass on at the time and some pilgrims decided to stop off and listen in.
We arrived just short of Padrón and stayed at Albergue-Pension Flavia. It is located beside a football stadium, so we didn’t get a chance to check out Padrón fully. Maybe another time.
24km to go before Santiago.
Day 8 – Santiago de Compostela
One of our longer days on this Camino. We set off early from Padrón with the sun yet to rise on a wet and drizzly morning. But hey! we were in Galicia! Our minds were set on Santiago and arriving in the Praza!
The first interesting village of today is Iria Flavia. This was an important Celtic settlement. Later the Romans gave it municipal rank as a Roman road passed through it. The Collegiate Church of Iria Flavia was built between the 12th and the 17th century over an old church that dates back to the 1st century. This was the first cathedral in Galicia.
The path meandered through villages, rural areas, and some lovely woodland paths. We stopped at a cafe just off a main road in A Escravitude. The owner treated us to large tostadas and cafe con leche at quite a reasonable price. Well done there! Across the road from the cafe is a large church. Unfortunately, it was not open at the time and we walk on. We walk away from the main road for a while until we reach Picarana.
From here to Santiago, the Way is most asphalt, a mix of pathway and cobblestone. We arrive at Milladoiro and the route in is straightforward. Our pace quickens as we are eager to reach Santiago. We arrive in via the south and not under the archway. The Praza is buzzing with pilgrims. We check into San Martin Pinario before catching our collective breaths. It was Ray’s first time in Santiago and found the whole time extremely positive. We decided to wait until the following day to collect our Compostelas. It left me with some time to meet some people in Santiago – especially Nate and Faith in Pilgrim House.
The following day, we attended the English Mass in the Capilla del Pilar in the Cathedral. We collected our Compostelas from the Pilgrim Office, saw some more of Santiago and made way for the Airport. I never like to say Goodbye when I leave Santiago as I know I’ll be visiting soon again. Instead, I always say “Hasta Luego!”.
You can read more from David and his previous Caminos in his blog ClearskiesCamino.com.