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Portuguese coastal in February '24 – observations and reflections

Time of past OR future Camino
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OK, so as someone who has a walked a few caminos already, some that tested me physically and mentally, I’ve tended to write off the Portuguese coastal as something of a camino lite for the Instagrammers.
But I found a two week window in dreary UK February and decided to take a punt on it. I invited a compadre I met on the Frances in 2022 and also someone I got to know through this forum but had never actually met.
I guess my preconception was that it would likely be pretty miserable weather and there’d be few, if any, other pilgrims, so it’d be fun to bring some good company along. The reality was quite different and, like the optimal option on an evaluation questionnaire, it’s fair to say that it ‘far exceeded my expectations’!

Grim weather? Nope. I’d been tracking it for 2 weeks before I departed and saw it hold at 18/19C in Porto. Then it started to fall off after we arrived. A couple of nice sunny days by the exhilarating Atlantic surf before a one-day fierce storm – making the Atlantic slightly terrifying. Fortunately the wind at that point was from the south and blew us along the route. The following day’s rain was really hard, but thereafter the days became less showery and by the end we were back in warm dry sunshine again.

Absence of pilgrims? Nope. The first night in Vilar do Conde there were nine or ten I think, and that was actually the average for the whole trip. The most was at Redondela in the Xunta albergue where I counted 17.

Pilgrims were Instagrammers? Nope there was an interesting cross-section of people, predominantly first-timers and Germans and on the younger side, but everyone ‘got it’ and entered into the pilgrim spirit. The enthusiasm was infectious.

Coastal doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ camino? Nope. There are far more trappings of a camino than say the Norte. Lots of church doors left open, lots of welcoming signs and symbols and a few memorials along the way such as mounds of painted stones, prayers and poems and faded pics of not-forgotten friends and relatives. Camino magic examples:– Lynne, formerly of New Mexico, waiting, with her cute dog, for pilgrims arriving at the beachfront at Povoa and greeting them with the gift of a silver scallop shell. The bar owner at Fao who sat at our table while we ate, and yellow-painted blue stones with the scallop shell, one for each of us. The terrifying Atlantic breakers crashing against the sea wall at Oia while us pilgrims ran the gauntlet of a soaking, under the huge forbidding stone walls of the monasterio. The cart grooves in the old track over the hill towards Baiona. The succession of playas from Sabaris along the Litoral, where the surf sounded different at each one. Joining the locals in the Sunday morning queue at the Panaderia/Pastelaria for just-baked heaven. Getting swept up in the Festival of the Pirates in Pontevedra (and no sleep). I could go on.

What’s to like? Enough pilgrims to make it interesting and social, but still always get a lower bunk and not have to ever queue for shower or toilet. Very friendly and enthusiastic local people along the way in both Portugal and Galicia. Good private albergue provision - booking wasn’t necessary (which gave us flexibility to decide on the day/afternoon) but we checked a couple of times that somewhere was open (Gronze about 75% accurate) and one place that was closed helpfully suggested another place 2km along the coast. Albergues all in good order and good food options (NB coastal empanadas are ten times better than those found inland!).

What’s less to like? Until you join the central way, and apart from the coastal boardwalk, it’s about 90% walking on road, pavement or cobbles. The route from Vilar to Povoa down narrow streets with cars required some concentration. But basically you just have to get the cushionest shoes you can find and you will be fine. Private albergue owners tend to be (nice) business people rather than ones who have walked the camino and want to give back. So it’s slightly more of a business transaction, but all the owners/hospitaleras were enthusiastic and helpful. In Pontevedra, hospi Sonia took us all for an amazing hour’s guided tour of the old town, of which she is rightly proud. Caminha provided the best opportunity for making a big communal meal, with a great kitchen and nearby supermarket – and we made the most of it.

By Pontevedra our loose ‘family’ had grown to eleven (ages 13-70). Some of us went left onto the spiritual variant and some of us straight ahead. Both groups had wonderful but very different experiences, which were able to share later in Santiago. And in that city… it has such a different feel when there are far fewer pilgrims about. It felt like more locals were out and going about their business and all the more relaxed for it.

Wrapping up I’d say – I didn’t know what to expect when setting out with invited friends from the start. But actually this camino was perfect for that. We picked up quite a few others along the way, and the final one in the WhatsApp group should reach Finisterre today. I’d definitely plan it with others again and I’d definitely go in February again. In fact, on my current high I imagine making it an annual thing! So much more to explore, including the other path after Pontevedra. And Vigo, why does no-one ever talk about wonderful Vigo?
 
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OK, so as someone who has a walked a few caminos already, some that tested me physically and mentally, I’ve tended to write off the Portuguese coastal as something of a camino lite for the Instagrammers.
Pilgrims were Instagrammers? Nope there was an interesting cross-section of people, predominantly first-timers and Germans and on the younger side, but everyone ‘got it’ and entered into the pilgrim spirit. The enthusiasm was infectious.
I don't want to start a firestorm here but please don't make generalising comments like this, you're going to offend people. I can imagine the type of person you mean but now you're just lumping everyone who has an Instagram account in with them (including me).

To give one example, go look at the Instagram account of Gonzalo (peregrinoymochila), read his posts if you read Spanish, and then see if you think the fact that he has an Instagram account means he's not interesting, only walks lite caminos, doesn't have the pilgrim spirit and, frankly, doesn't get it. If so, you would be very mistaken.
 
Thank you, perigrino_tom! I am actually leaving today for Portugal to begin walking part of the Portuguese Coastal and am starting to get a little anxious about many of the things you mentioned (weather, will I be alone, etc). February was not my first choice, but I have been wanting to do this for a long time and this was the best time for me to go with my work schedule. This will also be my first solo (international) trip and I am hoping to not be alone!
 
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But there are Instagrammers on Caminos.

For example one young couple last month in Fatima. He was on his knees edging towards the shrine while she tooks multiple pics which she showed him until they got the shot they wanted. You can ignore them but they are there.
 
OK, so as someone who has a walked a few caminos already, some that tested me physically and mentally, I’ve tended to write off the Portuguese coastal as something of a camino lite for the Instagrammers.
But I found a two week window in dreary UK February and decided to take a punt on it. I invited a compadre I met on the Frances in 2022 and also someone I got to know through this forum but had never actually met.
I guess my preconception was that it would likely be pretty miserable weather and there’d be few, if any, other pilgrims, so it’d be fun to bring some good company along. The reality was quite different and, like the optimal option on an evaluation questionnaire, it’s fair to say that it ‘far exceeded my expectations’!

Grim weather? Nope. I’d been tracking it for 2 weeks before I departed and saw it hold at 18/19C in Porto. Then it started to fall off after we arrived. A couple of nice sunny days by the exhilarating Atlantic surf before a one-day fierce storm – making the Atlantic slightly terrifying. Fortunately the wind at that point was from the south and blew us along the route. The following day’s rain was really hard, but thereafter the days became less showery and by the end we were back in warm dry sunshine again.

Absence of pilgrims? Nope. The first night in Vilar do Conde there were nine or ten I think, and that was actually the average for the whole trip. The most was at Redondela in the Xunta albergue where I counted 17.

Pilgrims were Instagrammers? Nope there was an interesting cross-section of people, predominantly first-timers and Germans and on the younger side, but everyone ‘got it’ and entered into the pilgrim spirit. The enthusiasm was infectious.

Coastal doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ camino? Nope. There are far more trappings of a camino than say the Norte. Lots of church doors left open, lots of welcoming signs and symbols and a few memorials along the way such as mounds of painted stones, prayers and poems and faded pics of not-forgotten friends and relatives. Camino magic examples:– Lynne, formerly of New Mexico, waiting, with her cute dog, for pilgrims arriving at the beachfront at Povoa and greeting them with the gift of a silver scallop shell. The bar owner at Fao who sat at our table while we ate, and yellow-painted blue stones with the scallop shell, one for each of us. The terrifying Atlantic breakers crashing against the sea wall at Oia while us pilgrims ran the gauntlet of a soaking, under the huge forbidding stone walls of the monasterio. The cart grooves in the old track over the hill towards Baiona. The succession of playas from Sabaris along the Litoral, where the surf sounded different at each one. Joining the locals in the Sunday morning queue at the Panaderia/Pastelaria for just-baked heaven. Getting swept up in the Festival of the Pirates in Pontevedra (and no sleep). I could go on.

What’s to like? Enough pilgrims to make it interesting and social, but still always get a lower bunk and not have to ever queue for shower or toilet. Very friendly and enthusiastic local people along the way in both Portugal and Galicia. Good private albergue provision - booking wasn’t necessary (which gave us flexibility to decide on the day/afternoon) but we checked a couple of times that somewhere was open (Gronze about 75% accurate) and one place that was closed helpfully suggested another place 2km along the coast. Albergues all in good order and good food options (NB coastal empanadas are ten times better than those found inland!).

What’s less to like? Until you join the central way, and apart from the coastal boardwalk, it’s about 90% walking on road, pavement or cobbles. The route from Vilar to Povoa down narrow streets with cars required some concentration. But basically you just have to get the cushionest shoes you can find and you will be fine. Private albergue owners tend to be (nice) business people rather than ones who have walked the camino and want to give back. So it’s slightly more of a business transaction, but all the owners/hospitaleras were enthusiastic and helpful. In Pontevedra, hospi Sonia took us all for an amazing hour’s guided tour of the old town, of which she is rightly proud. Caminha provided the best opportunity for making a big communal meal, with a great kitchen and nearby supermarket – and we made the most of it.

By Pontevedra our loose ‘family’ had grown to eleven (ages 13-70). Some of us went left onto the spiritual variant and some of us straight ahead. Both groups had wonderful but very different experiences, which were able to share later in Santiago. And in that city… it has such a different feel when there are far fewer pilgrims about. It felt like more locals were out and going about their business and all the more relaxed for it.

Wrapping up I’d say – I didn’t know what to expect when setting out with invited friends from the start. But actually this camino was perfect for that. We picked up quite a few others along the way, and the final one in the WhatsApp group should reach Finisterre today. I’d definitely plan it with others again and I’d definitely go in February again. In fact, on my current high I imagine making it an annual thing! So much more to explore, including the other path after Pontevedra. And Vigo, why does no-one ever talk about wonderful Vigo?
I really appreciate it when people provide trip summaries like this. Yours was excellent! Thank you. And, as an Instagrammer, I understand the good-natured reference, and I'm not offended at all.
 
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I also will say, that we should always strive to be sensitive to the motivation of others, regardless of our tendencies to judge, (myself included). I am one trying to get the (almost) perfect shot for my website, but my motivation is to help others have a successful pilgrimage. (Yes, I make a small income, but it would never support me and is not my primary motivation). Since I know how to pilgrimage-in-place, the "physical" pilgrimage becomes less important to me. Therefore, I really do need to be more sensitive in honoring the unknown motivation in others.

And I agree, the Coastal Route and the Senda Litoral are both absolutely wonderful, but based on @peregrino_tom's account, I will most likely go in low season going forward. The numbers on these routes, especially on the Senda Litoral were astounding in late September of last year!
 
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I walked the CP this past September and I loved it. We also ran into Lynne in Pavoa de Varzim and I'm wearing the scallop shell she gave me as I type this. My goal is to do the entire CF when I retire, hopefully within 2 years. The CP was a good practice run for the longer CF. I'm glad you had a good pilgrimage!
 
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The numbers on these routes, especially on the Senda Litoral were astounding in late September of last year!
Wow. I walked my first Camino on the Senda Litoral in late September last year, too. That was an astounding number? I wasn’t staying in albergues though. Was that where you saw them? There were lots starting in Baiona and Vigo but to that point we’d see a few a day, more in isolated cafes. We met some nice people on the SpVar and then unfortunately lost them in the crowd walking from Padron.
 
Every albergue where we stayed would fill up, whether private or muni. The municipal albergue in Vigo has 93 beds and was full both times we stayed. (We did the Senda Litoral to Vigo, went back to A Ramallosa and did the Coastal, back to Vigo.)

From Vila do Conde, my husband did the Senda Litoral and I did the Coastal. Because my route was shorter, I had to wait on the seacoast for Rich to meet me. For 1/2 hour I watched pilgrim after pilgrim go by. Some in groups. I think I counted 40-50!!

One more day, we took a break day near Matosinhos, on the beach, when I wasn't feeling well. Again, we saw many many pilgrims go by that day!!

I guess this was more mid-Sept, so you may have been behind the wave!
 
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Thankyou for your great review, my husband and I will be walking from Porto to Santiago from 2nd April 24 and are really looking forward to it (we walked from Leon to Santiago Last March.) Tracking the weather and looks like waterproofs are a definite must! We hope to do it in 10 days and won't be taking the Spiritual Route. How long did it take you?
 
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How long did it take you?
12 days via Caldas, including the afternoon/evening walk from Porto airport to Vila do Conde (via the coast). In February there are fewer accommodation options open, so it wasn't always possible to have stages of equal length. We decided to go 'leisurely' rather than long stages as we had the time. I think the shortest stage was 17km, which actually worked out nicely, as once the morning rain cleared, we were able to meander around the beaches and coastal communities. I think it's Parkinson's Law that states that work expands to fill the alloted time. Walking shorter stages seems to work to the same principle - we end up taking longer stops to enjoy the food and hospitality, talk to people and explore interesting lanes, features and churches etc.
You just never know with the weather, but some of it should be dry - and it should be warmer than Wigan!
 
Thankyou Tom, definitely should be warmer than Wigan and last March where we had -4°c and snow at the cruz de ferro
 

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12 days via Caldas, including the afternoon/evening walk from Porto airport to Vila do Conde (via the coast). In February there are fewer accommodation options open, so it wasn't always possible to have stages of equal length. We decided to go 'leisurely' rather than long stages as we had the time. I think the shortest stage was 17km, which actually worked out nicely, as once the morning rain cleared, we were able to meander around the beaches and coastal communities. I think it's Parkinson's Law that states that work expands to fill the alloted time. Walking shorter stages seems to work to the same principle - we end up taking longer stops to enjoy the food and hospitality, talk to people and explore interesting lanes, features and churches etc.
You just never know with the weather, but some of it should be dry - and it should be warmer than Wigan!
Hi Tom,

I have tendinitis in my hip and am thinking of walking from the airport in Porto if it will save me 7 or 8 km. Is it hard to find the trail from the airport?

Elyse
 
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I have tendinitis in my hip and am thinking of walking from the airport in Porto if it will save me 7 or 8 km. Is it hard to find the trail from the airport?
Hi Elyse - it depends where you are going - and what time you expect to arrive at the airport... I have been to Porto before, so didn't mind missing out this time - and I knew I'd come back to it after Santiago to fly home. But it's a hard place to skip if you haven't been there before.
If you use the Mapy.cz app to show outdoor maps you can see the blue line of the camino going right by the airport as Elle says above. You can also look at Mapy.cz on the bigger screen of your home computer and check the options there.
I didn't leave the airport until 3.30pm so the plan was to follow the camino as the quickest route to the Santa Clara albergue in Vilar do Conde that night. But things didn't work out that way..
It was such a lovely sunny afternoon in February that we decided to head directly west, across to the beach and then walk beside the sea up to Vilar - a longer route. What was interesting was that after taking the tunnel that goes under the airport runway we picked up some faded green/yellow arrows that guided us to the sea (although it was good to have GPS to check that was actually where they were taking us!).
We didn't arrive at Vilar until 8.15pm, long after the sun had disappeared. But we did meander, stop for sunset beach selfies and coffee, and spend a lot of time adjusting packs etc (as usually happens on the first day..)
If you go the direct route to Vilar (about 15km) I think it is nearly all pavement or beside a cycle lane. I can see that it might work for you if you are on a tight schedule and need to save a day to protect your hip, as that would allow you to take slightly shorter stages over the following days.
 

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