The pretty town of Caminha is still an under-the-radar destination in the far north of Portugal. You’ll find plenty to see and do in and around Caminha, which makes it a perfect base for enjoying beaches, rivers, mountains, forests, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture and fabulous food.
Although tourism exists here, it’s understated and seasonal. Most people visit Caminha during the peak months of July and August; outside those summer months, the pleasant town reverts to its calm rhythm of life.
Torre do Relógio, Caminha
One of the town’s most significant structures, the clock tower was once the main tower in the medieval castle. It was incorporated into the city walls and sat atop the main entrance to the citadel and the Rua Direita (Straight Road) that sliced through the centre of the citadel.
It wasn’t until the 17th century, when a timepiece was installed, that it came to be known as the Torre do Relógio (Clock Tower).
Recent refurbishments and investment mean you can now visit the tower. The information panels are in Portuguese but an English language pamphlet will shortly be available to help you understand its history and importance. While not wildly exciting, it does afford good views over the town centre and Spain from the top.
Chafariz and cafés
If you’ve found the clock tower, you’ve also discovered the heart of Caminha, Praça Conselheiro Silva Torres.
This square is actually more of a circle, radiating from the central chafariz (fountain) which was once the main source of drinking water in the town. It’s the work of João Lopes o Velho, a master stonemason in the 16th century who also worked on the parish church and other important monuments in the Minho region. The fountain has been moved and altered since it was originally constructed but is still a magnificent focal point.
The first time I visited Caminha, I was gutted to only stumble across this lively place as I was about to leave. Filled with cafés and benches under trees, this is where local people hang out and the best place to stop for a coffee and cake while you soak up the atmosphere and the sunshine.
Rua Direita, Caminha
Renamed Rua Ricardo Joaquim Sousa, this straight ancient street is still known locally as Rua Direita and leads directly from the archway in the clock tower to the river.
It’s a street worth walking down.
Look up at the windows and you’ll notice intricately carved window and door surrounds dating back to Manueline times in the 16th century.
The ground floor of these terraced buildings is given over to bars and shops and is the focus for Caminha’s nightlife. Youngsters will probably prefer the bars at the end closest to the tower, whereas the older crowd tend to appreciate After Eight and the O Portão gin bar at the other end.
Part of the way along this street, you’ll hear the cheerful chattering of hundreds of birds. They collect around a giant tree in a small square opposite the former jail and courthouse and next to the former guardhouse.
Caminha’s churches and chapels
As in most Portuguese towns, there are several churches and chapels dotted throughout the streets and landscape. Some definitely merit a visit.
The Gothic parish church (Igreja Matriz) at the end of Rua Direita was built in the 15th century, at a time when riches from the ‘Age of Discovery‘ dictated that the small enclosed citadel of Caminha deserved the grandest church money could buy.
To make space, the small houses near the river were demolished. However, the main entrance was so close to the city walls that parishioners were reluctant to use it. That explains the grandeur of the ornately sculpted side door, which was more commonly used.
In the centre of the town, next to the tourist information office, you’ll find the Igreja da Misericórdia (Mercy church). Built in the 16th century, it provided spiritual and physical assistance to parishioners and pilgrims en route to Santiago, functioning as both hostel and hospital at various points.
This is one church you should definitely go inside for the bling. Elaborately carved golden altarpiece and side chapels contrast with the barrelled wooden ceiling and 18th century blue, yellow and white azulejo panels on the walls. For me, the best part is the organ on the upper gallery and its chubby-cheeked faces.
A far more modest affair is the tiny St John’s chapel, which was moved to its current location when the road was widened. It hosts an odd collection of saintly statues, if you like that sort of thing.
Train station azulejos
Even if you arrive in Caminha by other means, pay a visit to the train station for a brief, colourful glimpse into the history of Caminha depicted in hand painted tile panels.
This well-kept station was also the proud winner of the ‘Best Station Gardens’ award for several years back in the 1940s and 50s. Work is currently underway to preserve and restore the azulejos, some of which you can see here:
Eiffel bridge, Caminha
By the end of the 19th century, the railway line between Porto and Valença was established, which meant that a bridge was needed to cross the River Coura. Gustave Eiffel, of Paris tower fame, was given the task and you can admire his work from the riverside park area along Avenida de Camões. If you decide to do a kayak trip down the River Coura, you’ll end up at this bridge.
Caminha’s belvederes or miradouros
You’ll need a car to get to the Santa Antão miradouro unless you’re incredibly fit. It’s way up high on the hill above Caminha, although I did spot markers for a walking trail up there.
On a clear day, you can see down the River Minho towards Vila Nova da Cerveira and across it to Santa Tecla and the Spanish hills or look to your left to get a glimpse of Vila Praia da Âncora. Walk a little past the chapel and picnic area to admire the rugged mass of the Serra d’Arga mountains.
Miradouro da Fraga is further down the hill and although the views from here are less dramatic, there are a couple of benches in a grassy area where you can take in the view of the forest, river and ocean.
If even that is too far up the hill for you, the Boavista belvedere near the fortifications around St Anthony’s church is a decent viewpoint for admiring the town.
Given Caminha’s strategic position on the uppermost coastal corner of Portugal and the mouth of the River Minho, which currently separates it from Spain, it frequently came under attack.
The original 12th century walls that enclosed the medieval settlement were not strong enough to withstand powerful attacks from gunpowder weapons so, in the 17th and 18th centuries, a series of outer walls and fortresses were built. You can see parts of these fortifications near the parish church and further inland around the church and former convent of Santo António.
Forte da Ínsua is on the little island just off the coast of Caminha. Inhabited by monks from the 14th century, their vulnerable community needed the extra protection afforded by the 17th century fortress that was built around it. It is possible to visit the island and explore the buildings but it depends on sea conditions.
It’s best to ask a tour operator or at the port to see if there are any licensed boats that can take you there. If you can’t get to the island for whatever reason, there’s a model of the fortress and convent inside the old clock tower buildings.
There’s another fortress in Vila Praia de Âncora, by the port and market. Currently closed, there are plans afoot to reopen it to the public in the near future.
Beaches near Caminha
You’re spoilt for choice in the beach department. You can follow the wooden boardwalk to the river beach at Foz do Minho, which is more sheltered than the ocean beach that flanks the Mata do Camarido pine forest.
If neither of those appeal, you can walk or cycle to Moledo, although my advice would be to head for Vila Praia de Âncora beach if possible, whether that’s along the yellow ecovia (cycle/walking path) or by car.
Note: There is also a multi-day walking holiday along the Costa Verde (Green Coast) which you might enjoy.
The River Âncora runs across the sandy stretch next to Vila Praia de Âncora’s promenade, providing safe paddling and swimming. Alternatively, a wooden bridge takes you into the dunes where you can choose between the ocean beach or a sheltered, sandy spot on the banks of the river.
I spotted surfers at both Moledo and Vila Praia de Âncora, if that appeals to you. A little further up the coast, rocks take over the sand providing perfect fishing spots.
Small scale fishing is still an important part of daily life in these parts and there’s no shortage of colourful fishing boats bobbing in the waters. A stroll along Avenida Dr Dantas Carneiro will allow you to see stacks of lobster cages, nets and other fishing paraphernalia.
And if you want to buy freshly caught fish or seafood, you can of course head to the fish market or seafood wholesalers in Vila Praia de Âncora. Alternatively, keep your eyes peeled for a lady (usually) pushing a handcart of fishy treats around the town centre.
Restaurants in and around Caminha
When you visit Caminha itself, try the wonderfully eccentric interior of Amândio’s, which will keep you busy and provide talking points between mouth fulls of delicious food. The house speciality is arroz de robalo (sea bass rice), and its by-product, açorda de robalo (sea bass bread stew).
For cheap and cheerful, try Muralhas, near the river. Popular at weekends, it serves simple, hearty meals at a reasonable price.
Further afield, you could try Restaurante Mariana in Afife. If you do, I can recommend the ameixas (clams) and the robalo à moda da casa (sea bass, house style), as well as the soft, mild cheese that is available as an appetiser.
Restaurante Camarão in Vila Praia de Âncora is across that wooden bridge I mentioned earlier so as you can imagine, your meal comes with a spectacular view.
Places to stay when you visit Caminha
Within the historical centre of Caminha, the 4-star Design & Wine Hotel is the most conveniently located. The food is good and beds are comfortable but working out how to use the fancy pants shower proved quite a challenge! If you think you can handle the ‘design’ features, choose a unique room and check current prices.
Modern but less challenging and a bit cheaper than Design & Wine is Muralha da Caminha, built into the citadel walls. It’s location, comfy beds and friendly staff make it a good value-for money hotel in Caminha. Book a room with river views if you can.
Built in 1900 by people who had made their fortune in Brazil, the charming Palacette Villa Idalinha is my kind of place. It’s a treasure trove of period furniture, decorative ceilings, beautiful gardens and azulejos galore, equipped with modern comforts. It’s about 3 km from the centre of Caminha but on a train line so easy to get to. See photos and check availability.
The large, modern 4-star Hotel Porta do Sol is located about 1.5 kms from the historical centre and at the beginning of the wooden boardwalk to the beaches and pine forest. There’s an indoor pool, onsite spa and plenty of free parking plus an onsite restaurant. Check reviews and availability.
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