How The Camino Portuguese Is Different From the Camino Frances:

The Camino Portuguese is a 620 km. pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela beginning from the Cathedral in Lisbon. Of course you can start wherever you choose. Most begin in Porto making it a 240 km. journey. 100 km.ers have the option of starting in Tui or the more accessible Vigo. One can also start south of Lisbon on the coast in Faro. Camino Portuguese is by far the second most popular Camino after the Frances. Also, included are favorite albergues and restaurants.

  1. Portugal vs. Spain. 2 countries, 2 cultures, 2 languages. The diversity on this pilgrimage makes an interesting and pleasant contrast to the Spanish pilgrimages. There is something special about walking through a country experiencing the landscapes, cities, towns, and villages venturing off the main tourist trail to get a sense of a country and its people. Portugal has a long and rich history with many of the famous explorers sailing from these shores; Henry The Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Magellan and others. Pilgrims will find Portuguese people to be friendly, kind and supportive. For English speakers one could argue that walking in Portugal is easier as more Portuguese speak English though English is more common on Camino Frances than other Caminos and the rest of Spain. Be sure to attend a fado performance where listeners experience the unique, melancholic, sorrowful, and heartfelt music. Enjoy a pastel de nata custard tart early on with your morning tea or coffee. Savor a glass or two of Port wine in Porto.
  1. Traverses 2 countries. The Frances does as well technically starting in St. Jean Pied de Port, France but pilgrims cross over into Spain on the first day. The Portuguese route enables pilgrims to spend considerable time in Portugal as well as Spain. I found the crossing more meaningful on this route because of the long walk to get there. If you have never experienced slow walking through two countries, you may find this to be one of the most powerful moments of your pilgrimage.
  1. Multiple options. The Portuguese Way splits into 3 routes in Porto giving pilgrims the option of taking a coastal route if they prefer the sea or a hillier central route. While most opt for one of the first two, there is also a third option, taking pilgrims through the historic city of Braga, once the capital of Galicia, where it veers back and merges with the Central Route in Ponte de Lima. Or for the adventurous one can take the seldom used Braga Way crossing over the River Miño at Ribadavia. This route is not in the guidebooks and has much less pilgrim infrastructure.
  1. Less Historic from a Camino perspective. There are lots more historic Camino sights on Frances. In fact there was not a strong connection to Santiago on the Portuguese Way as he is not the patron saint of Portugal. It’s St. Anthony of Padua, born in Lisbon, who we saw more of on the path. Different from France where on the various Caminos there you see more of St. Jacques. However, if Portuguese history is of interest you will be amply rewarded with sights, churches, museums, castles, battle sites, all along the way. 
  1. Other interesting stops. Both pilgrimages have plenty of interesting cities and villages to see or even take a rest day. Lisbon requires a day or more before one starts.  Tomar with its Templar Castle. Coimbra is another historic stop and home to a great university. And Porto is one of the best stops in Portugal and all of Europe. We also enjoyed Barcelos with its quirky symbol of chickens(they have a similar story here to the chickens of Santo Domingo de la Calzada on Camino Frances) prominent throughout the town. There are some wonderful smaller villages; Ponte de Lima on the Central Way, Oia on the Coastal Way. Either of which would be worthy of a relaxing one week stay. 
  1. Fatima provides two Pilgrimages in one. Walking from Lisbon pilgrims have the option of veering from the Camino following the  River Tejo to Fatima. The walk became more pleasant heading into the hills and smaller villages after Santarem. Visiting Fatima was an intensely spiritual stop with the power of many pilgrims there to pay homage to Mary and the 3 children who she appeared to in 1917. Be sure to visit the tombs of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. There are plenty of hotels and accommodations as Fatima is a town built for pilgrims. A nice place to experience an albergue as well. We enjoyed the quiet of the Benedictine Hostel San Benoit Labre not far from the Basilica where men and women have separate dormitories. The men’s bedroom was designated with a picture of Francisco, the women’s with Jacinta. Visiting the Apparition Chapel and lighting candles for friends and family surrounded by fellow pilgrims was special as was the whole experience of Fatima.
  1. More pavement  walking. The Portuguese Way has a reputation of more tarmac walking and I suppose it is true.  Especially at the beginning from Lisbon though the beginning route is changing as they have built a boardwalk following the River Tejo to eliminate the early urban walking. It is expected to be open any day as they just opened the bridge over the River Trancão. Cobblestone was not uncommon which was somewhat tough on the feet and legs. That said, with the new boardwalk, it will be better and all of the Caminos have pavement walking so don’t let that keep you from enjoying The Portuguese Way.   
  1. Food. Pilgrim meals and Meñu del dias were uncommon in Portugal. Typical were Platos del dia which provided ample nourishment. Usually including a meat or fish with salad and potato. In Portugal, we became addicted to pastel de natas, enjoying them for breakfast and snacks at anytime. Of course croissants were available everywhere. Some Portuguese dishes to try;
    1. Bacalao-dried salted Cod. Its served everywhere in Portugal and there are hundreds of recipes.
    2. Pastel de nata; Portugal’s most famous food, a delicious round custard tart. Best one was at A Primrosa Cafe in Tomar. Though they were right out of the oven which I think is key.
    3. Caldo verde. A simple soup containing shredded kale, onions, potatoes, garlic and chorizo. Perfect starter for a hungry pilgrim.
    4. Feijoada bean stew with wild boar. Delicious but heavy.
    5. Sardines. The sardines here are delicious and available all the way from Lisbon to Santiago and Finisterre in summertime. Of course they are available in Galicia, Spain as well.
    6. Francesinha. A sandwich made from ham, steak, sausage, chunky slices of bread, melted cheese, a beer and tomato sauce accompanied by chips (french fries). I really love these particularly in Porto but they are also known as “heart attack on a plate” so one per visit to Portugal is all I can handle.
    7. There are many other dishes of course, but these will get you started and give you a good introduction to Portuguese food. 
  1. Less albergues in Portugal. There were frequent albergues between Porto and Santiago but not so common between Lisbon and Porto. Though there were plenty of budget hotels. 
  1. Cost. Fairly similar but Portuguese is more expensive, especially from Lisbon. And if one is a wine drinker it raises the cost a bit in Portugal as wine is not commonly included in a Plato del dia as it is with a Meñu del dia in Spain. With post Covid inflation, the cost on the Camino Frances is about €25 to €40 per day if you stay mostly at albergues. On the Portuguese Way, the daily budget was more like €30 to €50.
  1. Summary/Intangibles. While it is true the Portuguese Way has a bit more pavement than other Caminos, it is still a great alternative to Camino Frances. Before Porto it has few pilgrims providing a more intimate journey. Also, good for pilgrims that prefer hotels and guesthouses to albergues. I also like the fact that in Porto one can opt for either the Coastal Way or the Central Way. Our decision was tied to weather as both are great walks. If pleasant the Coastal Way, if it’s too hot, take the cooler Coastal route. Also, the opportunity to walk significantly in two countries is a huge benefit. Last and most important to me, was the option of walking to Fatima, which I found to be quite special. Though be aware that The Portuguese Way is the second most popular Camino after Frances and not one of the more quiet Caminos. Though the majority of those pilgrims are starting in Porto, Tui, or Vigo. Lisbon to Porto is a quieter more intimate segment of this Camino.

Best Albergues:

Central Route: Casa Fernanda in Lugar do Corgo, about 19 km. north of Barcelos. Entering you pass through Fernanda’s garden, and turn left at her residence coming to the open yard with the albergue behind it. In addition to the dormitories there is an open covered area with comfortable old sofas and lounging chairs where pilgrims rest after their ritual of washing clothes. Fernanda welcomes you with wine, beer, or sodas. In the late afternoon, after most of the pilgrims have settled in, she sits at the outdoor stove and talks with pilgrims while she prepares some snacks. We had pimiento de padrons and with more wine. Her dinner was a feast; pork, chicken, fish, soup, potatoes, veggies, more wine and a homemade flan for dessert. Most of our entire stay Fernanda engaged with the pilgrims and created a special atmosphere. Hard to believe she has been doing this for 21 years as she is still enthusiastic and her love for pilgrims shows. Her husband, Jacinto, supported the pilgrims during and after the feast as well. Highly recommended.

Coastal Route: La Cala-A Pilgrim’s Inn. Just off the Camino in the small village of Oia which is as beautiful a spot as you will find on Camino Portuguese. It’s 12th Century former Cistercian monastery, is nestled between the sea and the rising mountains to the east. The view from La Cala encompasses all three. You are welcomed by Tanya, an American, who has over the past several years built a luxury albergue. Her place includes 4 bedrooms; Two doubles and two triples. She stocks her kitchen with plentiful foods and and quality wines. She even asks the arriving pilgrims what they want for breakfast and will provide eggs, ham, pastries, cheese, etc.. Recently she has added a Bodega where pilgrims can rest, enjoy her excellent selection of Spanish wines watching the sunset over the sea while taking in the monastery. If you are tired of those fake sheets, and stark albergues, Tanya provides real cotton bed linens, top sheets, quilts, and a whole lot of pampering and love. Highly recommended.

Best dining experiences. The communal dinner at Casa da Fernanda. Best splurge dinner was in Azambuja at the delightful Tasco da Ilda. We enjoyed; steak tartare with caviar, chef’s surprise vegetarian was perfectly done veggies in rice with a perfectly spiced Asian sauce. We shared a large croquette with shredded beef in a tasty sauce that was hands down the best croqueta either of us has ever had. Then we shared the steak. Mika is a steak connoisseur and her face lit up with her first bite. The dessert of chocolate mousse with caramelized hazelnuts and olive oil. We also had a bottle of Portuguese Red; Venha O Diabo E Escolha which paired well with the steak. All for a reasonable €72. The Feijoada bean stew with wild boar at very authentic, though small and tightly packed, Ze Manel dos Ossos in Coimbra. Mika preferred the Francisinha Sandwich at Coisas da Lena in Coimbra, while I preferred the one at Cafe Santiago in Porto.

Best alternative pilgrims meal; After all the meat on the pilgrimage, I was in the mood for something lighter in Barcelos. We chose Bira dos Namorados. Mika had an excellent hamburger while I had a Poke bowl; with marinated salmon, avocado, seaweed, mango and rice. All at a reasonable price of €12 including drink and dessert. 

Don’t fret over where to eat though. We pilgrims are always hungry and we never had a bad meal in Portugal.

This article is one of a series of 9 articles on How Other Pilgrimages Are Different From The Camino de Santiago: 

To date I have 522 days walking on the Camino de Santiago traversing 12,936 kilometers across Spain, Portugal, France, and Ireland. From the blog; globalpilgrim.net.

Buen Camino.

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