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Report on the Camino Bragancera (Camino Portuguese de la Via de la Plata)

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First 2016
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I was one of a group of three who walked this route from Zamora to Verin from 23rd April to 01 May. We continued to Santiago on the Sanabres but this report is restricted to the less commonly walked stretch. I am posting it in the hope that it will be useful for anyone contemplating walking this Camino. I will describe each of the eight stages (we took a break in Braganza) and then give my conclusions on the route.

Day 1: Zamora to Muelas del Pan - We followed the Camino from the Albergue on the VDLP. The Camino splits on the hill out of town and is clearly marked. The first part of the walk to La Hiniesta is adequately marked but just before La Hiniesta you reach an unmarked T junction. Turn right down to the road here to go to the village. The church was closed but has an interesting porch. We stopped for a coffee at Bar Central (I will detail stops as the infrastructure is sparse at best). Continuing from La Hiniesta the way becomes much more rural and is through rolling country with mixed meseta and scrub forest landscape. The Zamora association has put in a large number of smart stone markers, They are marked with the direction on one side. This means that on a couple of occasions they pointed in the wrong direction. The first of these was about half way to Valdeperdices where it instructs you to turn sharp left at a dirt road junction. Ignore this and carry on in the same direction. In Valperdices both bars were shut (one apparently temporarily for health reasons) and we continued to Almendra where we planned to spend the night at the albergue after doing 24km. In Almendra the albergue is not open. The hospitalero in Alcicanes later told us that it was incomplete due to the budget running out. The village donated the former priest's house but it required much more work than expected.

The bar in Almendra provided a good meal and we then had to continue to Muelas del Pan which we were told was a distance of 9km away. If you are a betting person, 18km is how far we had to walk to get to Muelas. The 9km requires you to leave the Camino and go by the direct road route. This marked our first adventure. We followed the Camino to San Pedro de la Nave (a very old chapel rebuilt on higher ground by the locals when the valley was dammed) where we got a nice stamp and with directions from the lady in charge of the site set off following the Camino markers down toward the reservoir. The arrows eventually gave out at the end of a branch of the reservoir. We scrambled over the rocks and up the other side to a dirt road. We turned right along this and it eventually delivered us to our destination (the Camino markers started again about 4km from town which you can see when you cross the top of the last ridge). All in all a 42km hike which caused foot problems for all of us and was mainly done under a hot sun. In Muelas the accommodation is Tomasita/El Vedal (tel: 980553007) which is excellent casa rural type accommodation. When you reach the town it is on the other side of the hill on the way down to the dam. They were very friendly and welcoming fed us in the evening and provided single rooms and breakfast for €30.

Day 2: Muelas del Pan to Fonfria - The marking on this stage was fine. You walk down the road, over the dam and up to Ricobayo on the road then head off into the country. The day is gradually upward. The first half is through scrub forest as far as Cerezal D'Alliste. As you leave the village the Zamora Camino Pillar indicates follow the road but the yellow arrows lead up a dirt road which takes you through mainly woodland almost to Bernillo de Alba. I do not know what happens if you follow the road. Bernillo is a long village with no apparent amenities. It is then a 6km walk along a dirt road with no shade to Fonfria. We did not come across any places to stop along the way so be sure to stock up with food and water. The stage was c24km but very hot later on which made the walk to Fonfria a trudge. In Fonfria you walk down into the village over the highway and collect the key to the albergue from Bar Paco . The albergue is a donativo. It is a newish building and is frankly half finished with some serious design flaws as well as being dirty and uncared for. The showers flood the bedrooms and previous pilgrims seem to have used the bedding to stem the water. We could not find a place to eat but there is a shop just up from the church (sign "Unico") where we bought food for a picnic on the albergue steps. The lady in the shop was friendly and helpful. The little information available suggests an alternative to staying in Fonfria by walking on to Samir de los Canos. This way is marked in Fonfria and for anyone even slightly squeamish must be the better choice.

Day 3: Fonfria to Alcicanes - Leaving whilst still dark we walked closed to the highway as far as Fornillas de Aliste where the lady running Bar Vigueto opposite the church saw us from upstairs and opened up. Nice and friendly and a welcome breakfast stop. We continued to Cea Dea through the nicest country yet although we were too early for Bar La Cantina which is at the end of the village. Carrying on through Arcillera (another village without a discernible bar) we shortly after came to the day's one confusion with markings. The Zamora Camno pillar indicates a left fork whilst the yellow arrows say straight on. We obeyed the pillar and had to improvise slightly amongst the fields before picking up signs again just before Vivinera where you cross the highway followed by a straightforward 3km walk parallel to it to Alcicanes. There are signs for the albergue which is at the top of the hill just past rural Spain's biggest car park. The hospitalero., Juan, is friendly and welcoming and cooked dinner and did washing. The albergue is a donativo. He will not be there indefinitely and what will happen to the albergue when he leaves is anyone's guess. The town centre is two minutes walk away with a pharmacy, supermarket, banks and bars and at least two other places to stay. another day of c24km

Day 4: Alcicanes to Quintanilha - Away from the highway the countryside is now very remote and beautiful. After 12km there is a friendly bar on the road in Sejas de Aliste with a Camino themed sello. You can rejoin the Camino without retracing your steps by going up the side street from the bar. The next village Trabalhos has an albergue but the limited information we could glean suggested it is very basic. Nice village but no obvious amenities. We continued on to the frontier. The last part of the walk is a long downhill to the river which forms the frontier which you cross by the old road bridge. Do not be fooled when you reach the village of San Martin de Pedroso you still have at least 1km to bar La Frontera. Here we were charged the princely sum of €20 for five drinks and three bocadillos con queso. Crossing the frontier we got a stamp from the very well staffed joint frontier post before continuing to Quintanilha. You climb the road away from the frontier until a single yellow arrow sends you back down to the river before the last steep climb to the village. The bar in the centre of the village is nice and they open their shop when asked. They do not stock fresh fruit and veg as the villagers grow their own but we bought enough to cook a hearty pasta meal at the albergue. This is donativo and has three biggish dormitories. The currently policy seems to be to change the bedding once all the beds have been used. This may take some time but overall it wasn't a bad albergue. stage c26km

Day 5: Quintanilha to Braganza - Now in Portugal the landscape becomes more rugged with spectacular views and commensurately bigger climbs. In the morning we followed the road rather than the Camino as the information we had suggested it would be easy to get lost. This led to a steady 7km climb to Sao Juliao de Palacios and breakfast at Café o Lombardes on the main road with delicious toast and butter. We rejoined the Camino just after Palacios, Afer a short climb we got our first sight of Braganza still some 15km away. There is a very long and steep descent to Gimonde where there is another bar. After a steep climb out of this village you walk along the side of a valley between you and Braganza before a stretch on the road which takes you down to its bottom before branching off for a steepish climb to the city. We arrived on the Friday of graduation weekend for the university and were lucky to find space in the Pousada de Juventud near the cathedral (tel: 273 304 600). We decided to take a rest day and were able to move to a different room for the second night as they had a cancellation. c28km stage

Day 6: Braganza - A morning stroll around the old city and up to the castle, followed by a good lunch is the sum of the day's exertions.

Day 7: Braganza to Vinhais - Leaving Braganza you drop down into a valley then climb for several km on quiet roads before heading off into the woods. The weather got progressively worse during the morning. No places to stop before Castrelos where we discovered that the restaurant is closed. At this point given the weather we again stuck to the road which eventually brought us to Praia Fluvial - Ponte de Soiera. The only other pilgrims we met later told us that the Camino was stunning through Soiera. At the bridge we made the happy discovery of the O Pelgo restaurant which served enormous and delicious steaks. There then followed a sharp climb to Vila Verde in driving rain and hail where after one dead end a kind local gave us the right path (or stream!) to follow to Vinhais. Finally reaching the town bedraggled and exhausted we decided to stay at the hotel not the fire station. On asking at a pharmacy we were told that this was closed. The pharmacist suggested staying at the Parc Biologico 2km outside town and called a taxi for us. We were beginning to understand that time and distance have different meanings in Portugal and after an 8km taxi ride we arrived at the Parc which turned out to be a resort with chalets and a selection of outdoor activities. We rented a chalet then waited an hour for a sandwich to be prepared before retiring for a well earned rest. All in all we had walked c28km.

Day 8: Vinhais to Edral - We took a taxi back to Vinhais and had a good breakfast before setting off again under thankfully blue skies. Although shorter this stage involved crossing three moderate ridges before a very long descent into a stunning river gorge followed by a long steep climb back up to Edral. Between Abo and Candedo we again lost the Camino markings leading to some undignified scrambling. I can only assume we took a wrong turning although we did follow a previous pilgrim's GPS trail. In Candedo a farmer guided us part of the way down into the canyon to the point where we could not miss the road to the bridge. You need to be self-disciplined and stick to the track all the way down. On the climb back up we were passed by a group of motocross riders having a race. The bar in Edral was friendly and they put us up in the Casa del Dia which is a daycare centre for the village's elderly residents and provided dinner. As there were already two pilgrims there we slept on the floor,

Day 9 Edral to Verin - Very long descent mainly on the road fro Edral followed by a steep climb up to Segirei where apparently you can sleep in the school although there are no other amenities. We then carried on climbing steadily for a number of km to Soutochao, crossing unawares into Spain in the process, This climb felt interminable and in Soutachao we had a three way disagreement about which way to go at one stage all threatening to head off in different directions. Eventually we calmed down and followed the GPS track and at 3.30 pm reached Meson Castana in Viladervos just in time for lunch. With this one exception the day's markings had been good. We had done c22km and the road sign in the town said 13km to Verin. By this stage the previous days' exertions were telling on both feet and nerves. The Camino weaves from side to side of the road for a few km before branching off through quiet villages, It eventually ran out and another brief scramble was required to pick it up again before crossing the road and looping round to the final 4km descent and long road walk through Verin. One of our party was now really suffering and took 30 minutes to limp the last kilometre to the albergue which we reached after 12 hours and a total distance of 38km under hot sun. My own feet were frazzled and I seriously considered strangling one of our party who stopped to talk to a donkey after 35km. It was one of those days. The albergue was a solid Galician government affair but is in a run down part of town and we just had the energy to shower and go to bed.

The next day discretion was the better part of valour as we took a taxi to Laxa and made a short stage up to Albergueria before continuing on the Sanabres to Santiago.

Was it worth it? In hindsight yes but there were moments when it didn't seem so at the time. Here are my general thoughts.

This is not a much walked Camino. Juan at Alcicanes told us only 37 pilgrims passed last year. In the albergue at Quintanilha only six people had proceeded us in 2018. As there were three of us it was not lonely but a sole pilgrim would need to be very self-reliant and happy to be entirely alone. The locals were friendly but few spoke languages other than Portuguese. strangely enough French seemed to be the most common second language. I personally would have struggled with the isolation had I been on my own

The scenery is beautiful. A lot of this Camino feels very remote, much more so than either the Sanabres or Primitivo which I had done previously. Infrastructure is sparse and once on a stage there is rarely the option to cut it short. Braganza is a nice city to take a break in.

The overall physical difficulty is in my view greater than the Primitivo. It was my third Camino and the three days from Braganza were easily the most taxing I have experienced.

Overall I would say this is a beautiful rugged and challenging Camino for anyone who wants one and most importantly knows how to use GPS tracking.
 
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MinaKamina

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Jacobspad 2017
Wow, what a story! Thank you so much for taking the time anf effort to share it with us.
If you have pictures would you please please post some?
 

jburr3708

James on The Way
Camino(s) past & future
2014 Frances SJPDP
2016 Portugues (with wife)
2017 VDLP
2018 Portugues (with daughter)
When I walked the VDLP in 2017 I didn't realize that there were 2 Caminos leaving from Zamora and managed to take the wrong one. When I arrive at Hiniesta and saw the inscriptions on the church referring to the the Camino Portuguese I went into a little tienda and found out that I was on the wrong trail. They showed me the way back on to the VDLP before I had gone too far. I found out later that other people that day had made the same mistake. The arrows were not well signed as you leave Zamora beside the city hall.
Enjoyed reading your story as I had wondered how that Camino would be
 

Raggy

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Mozarabe Almeria (2017)
Cherhill to Canterbury - Pilgrims' Way (2018)
Via Francigena (2019)
Thanks very much for the informative account.

I found an article in the Zamora newspaper (La Opinion) about a project to renovate a building in Almendra for use as an Albergue for pilgrims. Had I known about this earlier, I would have made a contribution (the deadline to make donations to support the project was 6/Jan).

In any case, the people behind this project are hoping that the Almendra albergue will be welcoming pilgrims from the spring of this year. I hope they succeed, as I would like to walk this way in September:
https://www.laopiniondezamora.es/comarcas/2017/05/19/almendra-reconvierte-vivienda-cura-albergue/1006547.html

In the event that the new Albergue isn't ready this year, do you know if there is a church porch or other sheltered location around Almendra where one could roll out a mat and a sleeping bag for the night?
 
Camino(s) past & future
First 2016
Latest Camino Torres 2019
Hi Raggy

I'm afraid I don't recall whether the church in Almendra had a porch. The countryside around was very open with little cover and only the odd basic agricultural structures which it would be unwise to use without permission. Down towards the reservoir there is scrub woodland but if you go this far it would be logical to push on to Muelas.

The length of the stage was not really the problem, it was more that it was the first day and the lack of knowledge of how far it was. I was also using new boots. If you have your camino legs when you get to Zamora it would not be too difficult.

I have to say also that the first day on all my caminos has been the hardest one psychologically so I may have overdone the misery side of things. Apart from the stretch where we didn't know the way it was a good walk just very long. Make an early start and you should be fine.
 

Antonius Vaessen

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2015-2016 VdlPlata - Sanabres
2016.Primitivo
2017 Salvador
2018 Norte (to Sobrado)
2019 Norte again
When I walked the VDLP in 2017 I didn't realize that there were 2 Caminos leaving from Zamora and managed to take the wrong one. When I arrive at Hiniesta and saw the inscriptions on the church referring to the the Camino Portuguese I went into a little tienda and found out that I was on the wrong trail. They showed me the way back on to the VDLP before I had gone too far. I found out later that other people that day had made the same mistake. The arrows were not well signed as you leave Zamora beside the city hall.
Enjoyed reading your story as I had wondered how that Camino would be
 

Antonius Vaessen

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2015-2016 VdlPlata - Sanabres
2016.Primitivo
2017 Salvador
2018 Norte (to Sobrado)
2019 Norte again
I walked the VdlP in 2015. At least 5 people that day took the wrong trail and ended up on the Portuguese way. I think it had to do with bad or unclear signing. Signs suggested that the two caminos shared the route in leaving Zamora. If this is the case then there should have been signs where the route splits. I did not see it and the same goes for many other people
 

lovingkindness

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
.
...The scenery is beautiful. A lot of this Camino feels very remote, much more so than either the Sanabres or Primitivo which I had done previously. Infrastructure is sparse and once on a stage there is rarely the option to cut it short. Braganza is a nice city to take a break in.

The overall physical difficulty is in my view greater than the Primitivo. It was my third Camino and the three days from Braganza were easily the most taxing I have experienced.

Overall I would say this is a beautiful rugged and challenging Camino for anyone who wants one and most importantly knows how to use GPS tracking.
I enjoyed reading your report, @gns. I walked this camino in high summer July 2010, a long time ago! There were fewer albergues along the trail back then so I carried a tent. I didn't carry a gps, though, just a booklet found at the tourist office in Zamora. And as others have mentioned, finding the way out of Zamora was a challenge initially.

I took lots of photos and posted them here, at the end of the thread...

https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/camino-portugues-de-la-via-de-la-plata-along-the-way.9022/

@gsilver also walked this trail in November, 2013. He said that not a lot had changed since 2010...

Cheers
Lovingkindness
 
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Raggy

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Mozarabe Almeria (2017)
Cherhill to Canterbury - Pilgrims' Way (2018)
Via Francigena (2019)
I walked the VdlP in 2015. At least 5 people that day took the wrong trail and ended up on the Portuguese way. I think it had to do with bad or unclear signing.
Perhaps it has improved since then. In 2017, I had no difficulty spotting the signage on the way out of Zamora where the route split.
 

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Camino(s) past & future
First 2016
Latest Camino Torres 2019
I enjoyed reading your report, @gns. I walked this camino in high summer July 2010, a long time ago! There were fewer albergues along the trail back then so I carried a tent. I didn't carry a gps, though, just a booklet found at the tourist office in Zamora. And as others have mentioned, finding the way out of Zamora was a challenge initially.

I took lots of photos and posted them here, at the end of the thread...

https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/camino-portugues-de-la-via-de-la-plata-along-the-way.9022/

@gsilver also walked this trail in November, 2013. He said that not a lot had changed since 2010...

Cheers
Lovingkindness
Thank you for the kind comment. I read your account and it sounded like a real adventure! One of the things I enjoyed was the absence of a guide which meant that this camino was full of surprises since there was no one telling you what to expect.

I think I will need a few more caminos under my belt before I have the confidence to break free of the alburgues and wing it as you did.

Regards
 

Antonius Vaessen

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2015-2016 VdlPlata - Sanabres
2016.Primitivo
2017 Salvador
2018 Norte (to Sobrado)
2019 Norte again
Perhaps it has improved since then. In 2017, I had no difficulty spotting the signage on the way out of Zamora where the route split.
This is a big improvement, I am sure these signs were not there when I walked there in 2015
 

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