As with the previous section of the central Portuguese Way of St. James, I’m covering the two days between Ponte de Lima and Valença in one blog post. This is partly because I’ve already written about the first of those days as it was the experience that sparked this whole thing off for me.
I’m using Valença as a natural end point since it’s the last town in Portugal and many pilgrims stay overnight there. Others, like Dori and I, cross the river into Spain and use Tui as a base.
Whichever side of the border you sleep on, there’s a mountain to climb, several Roman bridges to cross and lots of gorgeous scenery in Portugal’s Minho region.
Ponte de Lima to Cossourado
If you have to leave the pretty town of Ponte de Lima behind, the most pleasant way to do so is by crossing the arched bridge across the River Lima. Fortunately, this is where the Camino de Santiago goes as it follows the ancient route used by the Romans between Bracara Augusta (Braga) and Austurica Augusta (Astorga).
On the other riverbank, there’s a Roman general summoning his troops on your left and an open Gothic chapel down on the right.
Once over the bridge, you’re almost immediately in the countryside. As before, the fields were brimming with flowers and just as beautiful as I remembered.
What’s changed is that there are now more options for refreshments. The fish farm I remembered now has a self-service café that is aimed at pilgrims and supplies the makings for a picnic lunch to take with you.
Previously, the only option before climbing Labruja mountain was the café/shop in Revolta, about 9 kilometres from Ponte de Lima. There’s also another simple café a couple of kilometres down the hill so you don’t have to carry a picnic, although I would.
Climbing the mountain was just as challenging the second time around but it’s not horrendous. It’s just a matter of taking your time, unlike the guy who almost jogged past us as we were sweating and panting our way slowly up the final steep gulley.
We heard his celebratory whoop after he’d disappeared from sight, which spurred me on, knowing the peak must be close.
By the time I reached it, he’d already taken his selfies and asked me to take one more picture of him before he sped off down the other side! I saw him later with his feet in a bowl of water at the pilgrim hostel in Rubiães where he’d been in a rush to nab a bed.
Like Dori and I, everyone else we encountered considered this rocky area with its splendid views to be the perfect spot for a picnic and a well-earned rest.
The downhill stretch is much easier, with views of distant mountains and several kilometres of woodland paths. At Rubiães, the Way merges once again with the Via XIX Roman road, marked by an image of a chariot and rider.
The 12th century Romanesque church in Rubiães is worth the slight detour to see the stone carvings on the church and engraved Roman milestone in the churchyard. Some of them were later repurposed as sarcophagi!
Many pilgrims spend the night in Rubiães but we had accommodation arranged another 4 km away in Coussorado. The dirt/stone lanes in between are quite wet in parts thanks to underground springs which bubble through the surface all year round. Thankfully, my new walking shoes are waterproof!
One of the highlights of the Camino Português for both Dori and I has been the camaraderie among the different people we met along the Way. That evening, we had a communal meal with the fellow pilgrims who were staying at Casa da Capela.
Whether it was organised for convenience or conviviality, I don’t know but we all agreed to having dinner at 7 pm. That’s early for Portuguese standards but trust me, you’ll be going to bed earlier than usual if you’re doing the Camino so the quicker you get on with dinner, the better.
Around the table with us were two Dutch women we’d met the day before and two Brazilians. Wine and conversation flowed freely and the food was a million times better than the awful meal we’d had the night before. A night to remember!
Cossourado to Valença
Having walked uphill to reach our accommodation in Cossourado, we soon began the gentle descent into the Minho Valley the next morning.
The not-so-distant mountains of Galicia accompanied us as we walked through villages and agricultural lands until we joined the Via XIX once more. This leads through a pretty stretch of forest near the village of Cerdal where there is yet another medieval bridge.
This was the first day that Dori and I encountered lots of pilgrims. Those who stay in albergues tend to set off by 7 am in order to get first dibs on beds at the next one. Since we knew we had a comfy bed waiting for us at the end of each stage, we were in less of a hurry and usually on the road by 9 am.
We were soon overtaken by the gaggle of walkers who’d started their day in Rubiães and were marching along at a fair old pace.
Until then, we’d been used to having the paths more or less to ourselves so this came as a bit of a shock. The herd soon thinned out and they were long gone by the time we got to the muddy stretches of puddles that needed to be negotiated just before we got to the tarmac roads at Arão. .
Although the Camino quickly leads away from the N13, the serenity of the countryside is over as you negotiate one more village before reaching the outskirts of Valença.
The town of Valença itself is reasonably attractive but its main draw is the fortress.
Even if you don’t have time for sightseeing, the Way takes you through an impressive arched gate inside the walls, along a couple of shopping streets and past an ancient church before spitting you out through a narrow tunnel onto the avenue that leads to the bridge.
If you do have time to spare, it’s worth veering off the Camino to explore the ramparts and pretty squares inside the old town.
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