The Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela – FINAL Leg

Our final leg for the 12th Sector of our Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela had finally come!   In a two day planned weekend, we would do our final walk of 19 kms on Saturday and then Sunday be left to enjoy and discover our own way around Santiago.

With an early start to the day, one could feel the air of excitement with the group as we finally arrived at Padrón where we had last left off.  There was time to visit the parish church for the customary ‘credential’ stamp and take a quick last look at the pedrón, where following the death of the Apostle Saint James, his disciples brought his head and body to Iria from Jerusalem on a boat. They moored the boat to a pedrón (stone) and it is this stone that is displayed at the parish church. The name of the town Padrón being derived from the word pedrón.

Then we were away setting off through the small and narrow streets into the beautiful countryside.  Just on the outskirts of Padrón, we passed a beautiful church and small graveyard where someone quickly called me to point out the gravestone of one of Spain’s most notable Nobel Literature prize winners, Camilo José Cela y Trulock.  This Spanish novelist wrote 14 novels and 60 other volumes and was among Spain’s most celebrated 20th-century writers.

Albariño Vineyards

Moving on, we were met with typical Galician granite buildings and farmlands, where one could observe their tall and beautiful granaries some of which still in use today. Granaries such as these would protect maize husks from rodents and allowed for grain storage during the long and severe winter months.  A friendly wave from our Galician passers-by or short exchange of words made the walk even more interesting with the usual question being asked ‘Where are you from’?  Endless small and carefully tendered Albariño vineyards with their abundant vines supported on tall and beautiful, granite stakes, were a source of shade for those of us needing a quick stop for a snack or drink.  Looking more tree-like than a vine, they are so different from the usual vines seen in other wine districts.

As usual, the path was clearly signposted along the way with the ever familiar concrete pillar and deep blue tile with the yellow scallop shell design on it. Each one showing the exact amount of kms. left to go till reaching Santiago.  Our halfway catch-up point was at a beautiful village church called  where we were able to get see a young girl’s Holy Communion taking place being shared with her family and friends.

Then it we were on our way again, walking past fields carpeted with yellow dandelions, through forest areas and more beautiful little villages.  Lunch was a short break at the village of Teo where some chose to picnic whilst others could try the local food in small restaurants.  Then without delay everyone was away on the final stretch to Santiago.

As we arrived on the outskirts of Santiago we were greeted to a colourful local summer festival in the town square where excited people cheered on cyclists racing through the local streets and whilst we waited for the rest of the group to join us, we sat on park benches quietly observing all the goings-on around us.

Continuing the walk, the group fell silent, passing tall and beautiful buildings, there was a distinct silence over the group as we walked slowly into the main square to come face to face with the magnificent Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.   Our arrival brought tears to some walkers’ eyes whilst others just sat or lay down in the square looking backwards to the cathedral – in silence.    We observed many other individuals also arriving at the same time on foot, on bicycle and in groups or couples – what an incredible feeling it was.

Our friends from Terra Verde had started the walk with just over 100 and finished with a number just under that to become one of the largest groups to arrive together at one time into Santiago!  Everything had been extremely well organized throughout the year’s walk and my grateful thanks to them for this.

Our journey, along the coasts of Portugal’s Costa Verde and Spain’s Costa de Galicia, covered a total of 249 kilometres of little known and amazing windswept beaches, popular resorts, historical sites, typical Portuguese and Galician architecture, coastal farmlands, vineyards and of course the local people who waved or spent a moment to chat wishing us all a safe journey.   It would also be remiss not to mention the gastronomic delights and unforgettable  simple contact with nature and animals during the walk, that provided a realization of peace to one’s mind.   This walk has been something that I will never forget.  View the slideshow of this last leg below.

Follow previous sectors of the coastal walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela on these links below:-

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Posted in Canastros_Espigueiros, History of Portugal, History of Spain, Walk of St. James, Walking in Portugal, Walking in Spain & Portugal | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Portuguese Butter Distinguished by Wallpaper Magazine

Portugal at its best!   Although this was announced late last year in Sept 2011, it is definitely worth a mention, a Portuguese butter called Manteiga Marinhas was distinguished by the well-known U.K. magazine Wallpaper as one of the 13 best artisanal butters in the world.

Artisanal butters from England, France, Italy and the USA were amongst the 13 entries eulogized with Manteiga Marinhas being the only Portuguese butter chosen.  Manteiga Marinhas is produced by a family owned business called Lacticinios das Marinhas under the entrepreneurship of its owner, Berta Castilho.  It is located in Esposende (just over 50 kms north of Porto) and is known for its high quality products which include:-

  • Butters with and without salt
  • Cheeses – cured, cream and flamengo

It seems that artisanal butters are coming into fashion and according to the article one can now choose a butter that comes from “varying breeds, grazing terrains, culturing and churning methods, additional ingredients, etc.”.   Not as well-known for its dairy products, for Portugal this undoubtedly contributes to the sophistication and prestige of the products and wines that this country now produces.

Compared to the standard butters available these days that come in plastic containers, this delicious and unique butter is wrapped in the traditional greaseproof paper and Wallpaper describes Manteiga Marinhas as the “artisanal butter Portuguese-style, perfect ingredient for producing sweet pastries”.

Look out for it!

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The Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela – Part 11

Caldas de Reys was the starting point for the 11th sector of our walk organized by our friends at Terra Verde and on arrival some of us just couldn’t go without quickly bathing our feet in the thermal spring waters of the Fonte das Burgas. The water is of an excellent quality and flows from the basin of a hot springs fountain dating to the pre-Roman period. Caldas de Reys has several old and decadent hotels many of which are the remains of the flourishing thermal activity.

For this walk, Terra Verde had arranged for the Lord Mayor of Caldas de Reys, Sr. Juan Manuel Rey, to accompany our group of 85 people and his presence ensured that we were also accompanied along the way by the ‘Protección Civil’.  With a continuous smile on their faces, they gave us priority clearance across major highways as well as standing by to indicate the correct route to our destination of Padrón.  We felt very privileged to have their help in giving information along the way.  Additionally they stamped our ‘credencials’ with their own official rubber stamp as part of the Spanish camiño.

Our walk took us through the old town of Caldas de Reys and out, to once again join the Roman Via XIX path where we were able to enjoy the beautiful Galician countryside. We were met with farmlands and vineyard upon vineyard of Albariño grapes which are used for the Spanish white wine (similar to Portugal’s Vinho Verde).  The grape is noted for its distinctive aromas of apricot and peach producing a very clean flavoured wine.  Curiously this white grape variety can be seen growing up high trained along granite posts around a field allowing for air to circulate underneath the vines.  This provides farmers with an opportunity for polyculture where they can plant crops such as maize and other vegetables throughout the year.

The Spanish camiño on the Via XIX is extremely well signposted providing exact mileage between oneself and Santiago de Compostela.  There was definitely an air of excitement and everyone had a spring in their walk as we quickly moved on through small villages with old churches and broken down buildings, farm animals and beautiful forests until reaching our luncheon stop – a small local café.  An irresistible array of tapas were asked for which included braised mussels, smoked ham, empanada, tortilla, local bread with olives all washed down with local Albariño white wine and beer.  Once lunch was over everyone quickly got on their way to continue through similar surroundings until we finally reached the entrance to our destination – Padrón.

Padrón has a fascinating history being located in the confluence of the rivers Sar and Ulla and on the crossroads to Braga in Portugal and Astorga in León.   Originally known as Iria Flavia, it is said that the Apostle St. James first preached there during his stay in ‘Hispania’ (Roman name for the Iberian Peninsular) and soon after his death that his disciples Theodore and Athanasius brought his head and body to Iria from Jerusalem in a stone boat.  They moored the boat to a ‘pedrón’ (Spanish for big stone) hence the new name that was given to the settlement.  After burying St. James in Compostela they returned to Iria Flavia (now Padrón) to preach.  The legendary ‘pedrón’ can be seen today at the parish church of Santiago de Padrón.

On arriving into Padrón at the end of the day, one cannot help but feel immersed in the history of the town.  Just the huge parkland running adjacent to the Ulla River boasts two statues of important people who lived there.

Camilo José Cela y Trulock, 1st Marquis of Iria Flavia (1916-2002) was a Spanish novelist and short story writer associated with the Generation of ’36 movement.  He was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature “for a rich and intensive prose, which, with restrained compassion, forms a challenging vision of man’s vulnerability”.

María Rosalía Rita de Castro (1837-1885).   Considered the poet laureate of Spain she was a Galician romanticist writer and poet.  She wrote in the Galician language, after the Séculos Escuros (lit. Dark Centuries), she became an important figure of the Galician romantic movement, known today as the Rexurdimento (“renaissance”).  Her poetry is marked by ‘saudade’, a deep combination of nostalgia, longing and melancholy.

We made our way to the parish church in Padrón to take a glimpse of the ‘stone’ boat which is carefully preserved beneath the main alter.  One must enter the small church carefully and quietly asking permission from the caretaker to see the stone after which he will stamp your credencial.  Many people throw a coin to rock to see if it lands in the middle as a lucky symbol for their walk.

In closing our day we all made our way to the Pulperia Real restaurant to order the delicious selection of tapas which this time included Padrón’s world famous small green peppers (Spanish pimientos de Padrón) from the Capsicum annuum family.  They are fried in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt just before serving.  Best eaten freshly prepared, most of them taste sweet and mild but once in awhile you’ll get a hot and spicy one which can leave you gasping for water!   A perfect close to our walk with one walk to go to reach Santiago!

Follow previous sectors of the coastal walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela on these links below:-

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The Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela – Part 10

After spending the night at a small hotel in Pontevedra, we all (80 trekkers) awoke to a greyish day to continue the second sector (Sunday) of our two day walk over the end of May weekend to our destination of Caldas de Reyes.  Interestingly Pontevedra is named after its old Roman bridge ‘Ponte do Burgo’, crossing the Lérez River, which is an eminently Latin name composed of pons, pontis (bridge) and veter, vetera, veterum (old, long established).

Pontevedra is a big and bustling city with a beautiful marina but being a Sunday morning we found peace and quiet as we walked through small streets leading us out to the small parish of Burgo.  Our meeting point to stamp credentials was the small yet modern Chapel of “Santiaguiño do Burgo” which was built in 1986  at the foot of the Puente del Burgo.   From here we continued walking out into the countryside to once again hook into the well marked Roman Via 19 – ‘Via XIX Bracara Augusta – Asturica Augusta’.   The Via 19 took us along small tracks through rich, green forestland sometimes following other fellow pilgrims, cyclists and this time some riders on horseback which must be a wonderful way to make this journey.

Beautiful old granite buildings, granaries, animals, vineyards, green pastures all so typical of the Galician countryside, never failed to make us stop and just admire all around us.  The weather was perfect with sometimes a slight drizzle but mainly clear and cool.

Anything for us?

Our organizers, Terra Verde, once again recommended a wonderful tapas bar enroute for lunch and we couldn’t have asked for better.  Freshly made Spanish tortillas made from fried potatoes and creamy eggs, fried in olive oil, and usually very moist inside, were prepared before our eyes and it wasn’t long before we were tucking into this as well as a hearty chickpea meat stew accompanied by bowls of local red wine.

The Spanish caminô is extremely well marked and we could easily see that we were quickly drawing closer to Caldas de Reyes our final destination.   Dating back to prehistoric times, evidenced by the discovery of pieces of gold dated to around 1550 BC, this beautiful town is bisected by the River Umia, which has a rich network of small tributaries and brooks.  There is a centenary garden with many species of trees and bushes from five continents.  During the Middle Ages Caldas de Reyes was the resting place of distinguishable pilgrims, such as Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England, who, it is said, spent the night in this town in around 1167.   In the late nineteenth century the town of Caldas decided to use the stones from the medieval tower of Queen Urraca to build the only Galician temple dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury in commemoration of his visit to the town.

Caldas de Reyes also boasts thermal springs of an excellent quality.  The water flows from the basin of a hot springs fountain dating to the pre-Roman period.  Celts and Romans also settled in the area mainly due to the hydrological resources and benefits of this place.  The Romans called it “Aquis Celenis” and it today is one of the frequent stops for pilgrims, who make the most of the healing properties of water while taking a break on the Way.   It was here that our walk closed with all of us dipping our feet into the water and just enjoying the feeling.

Follow previous sectors of the coastal walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela on these links below:-

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The Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela – Part 9

Thanks to our Terra Verde friends, a group of 80 people once again gathered together for the 9th and 10th sectors of our coastal walk last month from Porto to Santiago de Compostela.  There was a huge air of excitement this time as we would do two sectors back to back over a weekend giving us two whole days to enjoy the ‘camiño’ atmosphere as we drew closer to Santiago.  I will split the walks into two narratives so that they can each be enjoyed individually along with accompanying photos.

For the 9th Sector, from Redondela to Pontevedra, our meeting point was at the entrance of the ‘Pilgrims’ Albergue’ (lodging) in Redondela, following which we walked through the town to the beautiful XV Century Church of St. James, an important stop-off point for all Santiago pilgrims.  Although this church has a rather austere and sober facade, inside was a sheer delight where several beautifully embellished alters could be observed in different corners of the church.   It also has a notable Baroque bell tower, vestry, Nazarene and the All Souls Chapel all of which were built in 1712.

As we continued our walk through narrow streets which lead out of Redondela and into the countryside, one couldn’t help but notice the variety of beautiful, old granaries (similar to those in Portugal, called Espigueiros or Canastros – read more here).  They are absolutely amazing constructions made of granite and wood where maize was dried during the winter months and later to be used in bread making.  The huge round circles of solid granite protruding under each of the four corners is a deterrent to rodents from getting into the husks.  Today they stand as statuesque ornaments, sadly empty, but as a testament to the hard work from days gone by.

As the day drew on, the weather was on our side, fresh and coolish with an occasional light shower.  We followed the official Camiño de Santiago route along the San Simón inlet, fed by the Ria de Vigo, where we were able to look out and enjoy the beautiful bay area.   The Spanish camiño is very clearly signed with upright granite markers, strategically placed along the route, showing the exact amount of kilometres that were left to reach our final destination!  There was a huge sense of excitement in the air as we walked past each of these markers with the thought in mind that we weren’t far now!

Terra Verde had a special recommendation for a place to stop and have lunch in a small village café called Cafetaria Pili where we could try the typical ’empanada Galega’ filled with either meat, tuna or codfish.  Walking into this café/bakery was a sight indeed with huge trays of empanadas fresh from the oven sitting cooling on the counters.  Very generous slices of these inexpensive giant pastries were washed down by a cold beer or juice and finished off with a slice of the delicious array of freshly baked cakes and an expresso!

 

From here our walk lead us to the Sampaio bridge (linking the old Tui province with the parish of Arcade), built over the remains of a Roman bridge in the late eighteenth century and which was the scene of a battle, in 7 and 8 June 1809, between the Spaniards and Napoleon’s forces at the time of the French invasion.  Spanish pride in turning back the invaders is clearly displayed with information plaques giving the full history of the battle.

 

Continuing the walk through the beautiful countryside with small streams, fields and wildflowers, we were fascinated to learn from one of our fellow pilgrims (a historian) that this path was the original Roman route ‘Via 19’ –  ‘Via XIX Bracara Augusta – Asturica Augusta’.  “It is said that in the spring of 137 BC, an expedition lead by Decius Junius Brutus Lethes crossed a mythical river, the river of forgetfulness, and hitherto the dreaded land of Finis Terrae became part of the Roman Empire.  To ensure control of the new administrative and military conquest in 19 AC, construction began of a road network to facilitate the exploitation of mineral resources in this important region.  Out of all these routes, the longest was the Via XIX, 299 miles linking the capitals of the three Roman convents in Gallaecia jurisdiction: Brace Augusta (Braga ), Lucus Augusti (Lugo) and Asturias Augusta (Astorga).  The route also passed through the towns of Ponte de Lima & Valenca do Minho in Portugal and Tui, Caldas de Reis and Iria Flavia in Spain.  Considered the longest of all the northwestern peninsula routes, about 500 km, it was named the Route 19 and was inaugurated in 11 AD.”  We couldn’t conceal our amazement at seeing the ruts left in the granite stones lining this route left by bullock cart wheels – a confirmation of the centuries of travel.

Pontevedra soon came into view and with it a completely different scenario.  People were out everywhere and as we slowly made our way through the crowds, taking in all around us, one could feel the animated atmosphere of Saturday afternoon in this historical city.  Our meeting point was the principle Pontevedra ‘Albergue’ (lodging) where we were invited to a presentation and talk on the Caminho de Santiago given by a local representative.  We enjoyed his narrative on the local history of Pontevedra and the walk itself and from here made our way to the São Francisco Church to have our credentials stamped before joining our coach to continue to the small hotel that would accommodate us for a well-earned rest that evening.

A note on ‘Albergues’, this is a budget, hostel type accommodation for pilgrims where they can can get a bunk bed for a night and share a kitchen, bathroom and lounge.  The rooms can be either mixed or single sex and is only available to pilgrims who walk not in our case where the walk is done in sectors and commuting is done by coach to each place.

After dinner that evening, we were all invited to the ritual of the traditional Galician ‘queimada’ where Orujo, a traditional Galician liqueur made from the residue of wine production, together with lemon peel, sugar and coffee beans are put into a clay pot, then lit on fire.  Eventually, when the flames turn blue, a spell or incantation is recited with the fire put out afterwards.  The drink is then served in small ceramic cups.

Follow previous sectors of the coastal walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela on these links below:-

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Discovering One of Northern Portugal’s Secrets

There is a small and very charming village called Provesende, lying within the Douro demarcated wine region, in the county of Sabrosa (northern Portugal), which is an absolute must to visit.  Sabrosa incidently is the birthplace (cerca 1480) of the famous Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first person to circumnavigate the world.

Provesende’s history dates back to Moorish times when Zaide, brother of King Jahia of Toledo, lived in the castle of São Domingos in the vicinity of Provesende.  It is said that one day the castle was attacked by Christian forces and the moors perished but Zaide escaped only later to be captured, tortured and eventually murdered.  Provesende is said to have derived its name from the fact that during Zaide’s last moments of suffering, it was exclaimed “Prove Zaide, Prove Zaide” (meaning taste Zaide) – hence the resulting homonym “Provesende”.

Exploring the village on foot is the best solution as it is very quiet and almost untouched, boasting numerous historical sites such as its pillory (1573), Baroque church (1720), fountain (1755), as well as an array of very beautiful XVIII stately manor houses which attested to the economic strength of the region’s fertile land at the time.  Today sadly, many of these old manor houses are in ruins and it is heartbreaking to see them crumbling away with time.

I absolutely love Provesende and one particular place that I always stop at is the Café Bar ‘Arado Museu’ in the main square, where the owners have gone out of their way to establish the most amazing little museum kept in mint condition and just a sight to see.

The moment we step through the door, one is drawn into another era of Portuguese history where every imaginable piece of farm equipment, kitchen item, stuffed animal, wine making utensil, household item can be viewed.   The owners have gone to great lengths to ensure that each piece is polished and beautifully preserved and in some cases they have added their own characteurs and personal touches thus adding life to some of the exhibits.

Enjoy a excellent expresso or beer up at the bar and just sit and take in all the detail that surrounds you – it is unbelievable.  Spend a moment to see the slideshow of photos of what this little treasure trove of a café has to offer to the local traveller.

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The Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela – Part 8

Terra Verde grouped a total of 88 people together, on a beautiful fresh morning last month, for the 8th sector of our walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. This sector, in Spain, from Vigo to Redondela would prove to be of special interest to us all, as we would finally hook into the old traditional pilgrim route eventually leading to Santiago itself.  Here too we would encounter other pilgrims also on their ‘caminho’ to Santiago and we were looking forward to making friends and sharing stories.

Vigo itself has a fascinating history when, during the Middle Ages, it was part of the territory of Portuguese speaking neighbouring towns, particularly Tui and suffered several Viking attacks.  Today it is the 14th largest metropolitan area of Spain and largest city in Galicia.  Its urban area is built over both a hill-fort (known as a Castro) and Roman settlement.

Our meeting point was in front of the beautiful early XIV century Igrexa Santa María de Castrelos, a late Romanesque granite church, consisting of a nave and a semicircular apse.  It is abundantly decorated with beautiful rosettes and other typically Romanesque geometric motifs and once belonged to the Order of Malta.   Fellow Spanish pilgrim and guide, Luiz, was on duty waiting to stamp our credentials after which there was the obligatory group photo before setting out through local parklands within the city, some bordered by small and charming back gardens and quaint vegetable patches.   We were also joined by a small group of Spanish pilgrims who would accompany us until the outskirts of Vigo.   As our walk meandered through these parks, it was nice to be able to share a word with the locals about their lives, as the Galician and Portuguese languages are extremely similar both originating from medieval times.

Passing through central Vigo, took us right into the city centre which was originally part of the traditional route and we enjoyed seeing everyone on their Saturday morning outing.  It was however lovely to move out of the busy city and into the countryside, through small villages, leaving all the noise behind us.  Our walk lead us along an original ‘caminho‘ through the hills overlooking Vigo’s magnificent bay area where we could observe an incredible amount of oyster farms.    The flora and fauna, along with the peacefulness of the whole ambiance, was quite breathtaking making the walk even more pleasurable.

Beautiful forests with natural spring water flowing from small waterfalls meant an opportunity to freshen up and refill water bottles before making our way downhill, again through small villages, into Redondela whilst observing the local farm animal populations.  It was a special thrill to come across a a pair of goats and their twin offspring frolicking on the hillside.  A much awaited late lunch was waiting at Choles Restaurant where a delicious traditional Spanish fare was laid out.  An added bonus was that one fellow pilgrim had his birthday that day and we toasted his health several times during lunch!

We were lucky enough to be given extra time before leaving to go home to Porto to discover the small and attractive town of Redondela, better known for its two railway bridge viaducts built in the XIX Century and which are protected for their artistic historical importance.  It is also noted for its Albergues where pilgrims can stay over for a night at very reasonable prices.

84 kms to go until Santiago!

Next sectors Redondela > Pontevedra  & Pontevedra > Caldas de Reis

Follow previous coastal walks on these links below:-

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