Our 10 consecutive days on the central Portuguese Camino de Santiago began in the pretty town of Barcelos. It took my friend Dori and I two days to walk from here to another of my favourite towns in northern Portugal, Ponte de Lima. Most of this stage was through glorious countryside, as you’re about to find out.
Barcelos in celebratory mode
We were somewhat concerned when we arrived in Barcelos to find the square opposite our hotel throbbing with fairground music and lights.
The annual Festa das Cruzes was due to kick off a week-long celebration that evening so we were relieved to find our room at the back of the hotel was shielded from the noise.
The lights and the row of decorated arches made by each of the surrounding parishes were an unexpected treat, especially the one dedicated to St. James (Tiago).
We spent a leisurely afternoon wandering around Barcelos before beginning our pilgrimage. Many of the giant cockerels I’d seen in the streets on my previous visit have been replaced by folk statues.
If you want a ceramic folk figurine of your very own, or simply the chance to admire the variety of the form, visit the medieval tower, which now houses a display of traditional ceramic figurines. My favourite is this manic-looking dancer!
Here’s more about what there is to see and do in Barcelos.
Leaving Barcelos on the Way of St. James
The Camino Português goes past the market square and through the outskirts of Barcelos into proper Minho countryside.
This consisted of fields of green speckled with yellow flowers, twisted grape vines just starting to sprout and patches of forest; mainly eucalyptus with some oaks thrown in.
The usual signs of small-scale agriculture were evident throughout in the form of grain stores, straw and haystacks, tiny fields full of dark green cabbages and the occasional sheep and goat.
The most noticeable animals, however, were the frogs. It must have been mating season because these guys were making a racket!
Among the many wildflowers that brightened up the Way, I was struck by the number of arum lilies – there was even a forest full of them although I didn’t get any decent photos.
We did, however, find a stone bench under a canopy of heavenly scented wisteria a few kilometres before Ponte de Lima.
Churches, crosses and shrines
As you might expect on an ancient pilgrim route, there are plenty of religious monuments and buildings along the Camino.
Quaint chapels, roadside shrines and stone crosses are in abundance. One in the archaeological museum in Barcelos depicts the legend of the Barcelos cockerel and the intervention of St. James in saving a wrongly-accused pilgrim from death by hanging.
Lovely Lima Valley
The last few kilometres through outlying villages were draining but before reaching them, we walked past colourful fields, apple orchards and, of course, grape vines supported by slabs of granite.
The last time I walked into Ponte de Lima along the Way of St. James was when I learned about local hero, Blessed Francisco Pacheco.
This time, however, the sound of drumming bands greeted us and the normally peaceful avenue of plane trees alongside the river was packed with craft stalls, a marching band and onlookers all set to enjoy a holiday weekend.
We were in no fit state to appreciate any of this and squeezed our way through the crowds to find a quiet café for a well-earned beer before locating our hotel for the night.
Breaking the journey
We stayed overnight in Quintiães to break up an otherwise horrendously long stage. Neither of us would have been able to manage 34 kilometres on our first day, let alone do any more walking afterwards. It’s as well we did; we were both done in after 16 km.
If I was doing it again, I’d stay in Balugães instead of Quintiães to avoid walking unnecessary kilometres to find accommodation.
Refreshments between Barcelos and Ponte de Lima
As you’d expect from towns of any size, both Barcelos and Ponte de Lima have plenty of cafés, restaurants and shops.
Outside of these urban areas, cafés are thin on the ground during this part of the walk so it’s best to be prepared rather than hope you’ll find food en route.
There is a pleasant café on the Camino about 5 km after Barcelos, opposite the chapel of São Sebastião, and a bar-restaurant in Tamel at around the 10 km point where you can get a full lunch or a light snack.
Although we didn’t pass any cafés or restaurants in Balugães, there were signs for a bakery and I’m sure if you venture off the Way, you’d find something to eat in this village. If you’re staying overnight there, chances are you’ll be having breakfast and perhaps dinner at your accommodation.
Having started walking from Quintiães, Dori and I were desperate to find a café by the time we reached Vitorino dos Piães (about 8.5 km into our day and around 6 km from Balugães).
After admiring the sarcophagi near the church, we made a small detour to the right (well-signposted) to a café that is on the grotty and weird end of the spectrum but we didn’t see any other options for a further 6 km so were grateful that it exists.
The next eateries on the Way are a café and a bakery in Seara. We didn’t stop here but at this point, Ponte de Lima and its restaurants are still another 6 km away, with no cafés in between.
Tip: Take a packed lunch with you for the stage between Balugães and Ponte de Lima.
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