The Central Portuguese Camino de Santiago is the most established route and the second most popular Camino after the French Way.
As you can see from this map, the journey is inland and almost directly northwards, encompassing many important towns and cities.
What’s the terrain like?
As with any long distance walk, there is a mixture of tarmac roads, dirt tracks stone paths and rather unforgiving granite cobblestones. It’s impossible to completely avoid busy roads but there are only a few places where this happens. Most of the time, you will be walking on country lanes or paths, interspersed with more urban surroundings.
There are more hills on the Central route and the Coastal route, notably Labruja mountain at 405 metres altitude. The other hills are not usually more than around 150-200 metres but can be taxing at the end of a long day.
What is there to see on the Central Portuguese Camino de Santiago?
The further you get from the city of Porto, the more rural the landscape becomes and you’ll pass through a series of villages on the way to Barcelos. This small city is famous for the legend of the Barcelos cockerel which, along with St. James’ intervention, miraculously saved a wrongly accused pilgrim from death by hanging. It is an attractive place with great architecture, ceramics and an open-air archaeological museum.
Once past the town of Barcelos, Portugal’s gorgeous Minho countryside opens up before you as you walk through forests, valleys and villages, not to mention a relatively challenging climb up a mountain just after the beautiful riverside town of Ponte de Lima.
The last town in Portugal is Valença, notable for its formidable fortress. Across the River Minho lies its counterpart in terms of medieval defence settlements. Tui’s battlements are part of its incredible cathedral – worth exploring before you leave town.
It’s possible to avoid the ugly industrial estate near O Porriño and stick to forest and riverside paths. Redondela is a small but pleasant town, significant because the Coastal and Central Way become one here. After that, the riverside town of Arcade is renowned for its oysters and is a pleasant place to relax, although it has little in terms of monuments.
The next city of note is Pontevedra with its vibrant historical centre and array of medieval squares in which to enjoy tapas of mussels or razor clams. Between Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela you’ll pass through the spa town of Caldas de Reis where you can soak your weary feet in the thermal springs or just enjoy a glass of wine by the river.
Padrón is not only famous for its small green peppers – try them if in season. It’s also reputedly where St. James’ body ended up after he was killed. You’ll see monuments to this effect around the small medieval town centre.
The highlight, of course, is Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral has grown from its humble beginnings as a chapel into a magnificent structure. When I visited, the towers and the Entrance of Glory were being cleaned. Once the scaffolding is off and they are restored to their full glory it will be even more resplendent.
The city that surrounds the cathedral is attractive, albeit touristy in the main streets leading to the cathedral. You can still find quieter spots and there is plenty to occupy you that merits staying an extra day or two once you’ve made it this far.
Want to know more about the Central Camino?
Read these posts about the various parts of the central or spiritual route to Santiago de Compostela.
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