CAMINO DE SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA: COASTAL ROUTE FROM PORTO TO SPAIN, PART II (Stages 5-10)
Part I covers the first four stages and can be seen in the Portugal section of the blog. The following account covers the completion of our Camino on Spanish soil.
This is our first stop in Spain, after having crossed over from Portugal, following the Portuguese coastal Camino route.
It has been designated a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) by the European Commission in recognition of its proposal for sustainable tourism.
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and presided by the Miño river and the Monte de Santa Tecla hill fort, the town of A Guarda is famous for its lobsters. We were fortunate to arrive for the annual Lobster Festival.
This landscape features elements of the sea, the river and the mountains, and is home to one of the most typical fishing villages in Galicia, on the border with Portugal. Its situation has meant that throughout its history A Guarda has been conquered by vandals, and Norman, Saracen, Portuguese and French pirates. Its monuments include the monastery of Benedictinas (1558), the parish church raised on an old 10th-century religious building. Fishing has also played an important role over the centuries, and although most of the fleet is engaged in deep sea fishing there are also coastal fishing boats to be seen. We did not want to leave without seeing the extensive and well conserved remains of a pre-historic, fortified Celtic hill settlement (Santa Tecla) situated high up above the town in the wooded Monte Santa Tecla, which was only discovered in 1913! The Celta as its known probably originates from about 500 years BC and there are remnants of over a 100 huts inside an encircling wall. Some have been fully restored with thatched roofs. There is also a stone circle, a church and Celtic museum. The views from the top in every direction either looking at the Atlantic Ocean or inland towards Portugal and the Miño river valley. We saved ourselves the long and steep bike ride up the narrow winding hill road and took a taxi. Turns out the driver is a cyclist himself. His fare was more than reasonable and he waited for us to visit the museum and tiny church and take pictures of the view.
Stage Five: A Guarda to Baiona
The camino continues north close to the coast often on the cycle-track which was recently completed which runs to Baiona and as far as the edge of Vigo.
In the charming and historic fishing port of Oia, there is a spectacular view ahead of the 12th century, Cistercian Monastery Santa Maria la Real of Oia.
Then it is on to Baiona.
Tourism is the main industry now and there are a number of well preserved historical buildings. The beach is protected, sandy and with warm water, there are lots of swimmers.
It was founded in 140 BC by Diomedes of Aetolia. On March 1, 1493, the Pinta, one of the ships from Columbus’ voyage to discover the New World returned to Europe and arrived in Baiona, making the town’s port the first to receive news of the discovery of America. A replica of the ship can be visited, and the event is celebrated every year.
In 1585 the inhabitants of Baiona repelled an attempt to take the town by the privateer Francis Drake. Five years later Philip II of Spain beat the pirates that were laying the Galician coast to waste with a fleet of 98 vessels and 17,000 soldiers. This was a fun visit. We went when they opened the next morning and had it to ourselves.
Other highlights include the fortress which dates back to 1337 within which houses the Parador.
In summer between June and the end of September you can catch the ferry during the day to the Cies Islands, arguably Spain’s most important National Park. We spent the afternoon we arrived, strolling the ramparts and snapping lots of pictures.
Stage Six: Biona to Redondela
This will be the longest and most technical day of riding. We decided to devise a route that would skirt around the big city of Vigo; but instead, to work around the outskirts and on to Redondela, where the Camino Portuguese Central Route meets our coastal route. The nice cycle track continues out of Baiona with amazing views as it hugs the bay as far as the bridge.
After crossing the bridge it heads toward the long, golden sandy beach at Playa América (America Beach). This really is a spectacular beach; one of the best in the Rias Baixas which extends for 2.6 km and you can marvel at the wonderful Atlantic Ocean and Cies Islands. The camino has become more urban since Baiona, with lots of beachgoers and areas built up with homes and condos; but, the cycle-track continues. At the mouth of the River Lagares, the trail crosses and the camino takes a left turn to follow the river upstream. This pleasant green corridor provides some relief and is a popular recreational route. Eventually, the path emerges up to pass the football stadium of Celta de Vigo, Estadio de Balaidos and then back to the river path and across the road to enter Castrelos Park.
The camino to Redondela from Vigo has great views of the Vigo estuary and the city in the distance and passes through some nice woodland. This is challenging, as this is the last part of the day and fatigue is setting in. There are many small roads, which can get confusing. There are more of the Camino signs and yellow arrows, which are helpful, as is our trusty Garmen. There just are many steep little climbs up and down and up again. Continue through neighborhoods and woods at 34-37k, undulating mostly downward and eastward.
Follow through the Rail underpass at 39k & pass deserted Serrerias Lumber on the right. This is a landmark. At the street, it’s a right turn and downhill to a roundabout to reach Redondela. It it noted for its two “viaducts”, late 19th century iron structures overhead that carry train traffic.
Our lodging was beneath one of these and as we checked in at the bakery, we were joined by a stream of Pilgrims. Our highlight was a place with kitchen and laundry facilities. We made good use of both.
Stage Seven: Redondela to Pontevedra
Today’s route has some ups and downs and one big climb; but, not nearly as bad as the previous day’s ride. There are no cobbles and much is paved with some dirt trails. The town of Arcade is about 6k into the ride and is noted for its oyster beds. Those are the platforms one sees in the bay below. The now familiar N550 runs through town and the route is on this a short time and then crossing and turning to parallel the N road. The goal is to avoid the N road and tunnel area today. Our route has a few diversions from the Pilgrim route, to avoid some one way streets. The route passes vineyards and then some woods.
Nearing Pontevedra, there are several roundabouts to negotiate. Pass in front of the rail station and wind through town on appropriate one way streets to reach the old town center. The delightful old town is crossed by a network of cobbled little streets, squares and little parks, and is dotted with numerous Tapas bars. It is great to just wander. Museo de Pontevedra is one of Galacia’s best museums. We popped into the beautiful pilgrim chapel Santuario da Peregrina. It’s 18th century with floor plan is in the shape of a scallop shell, which can be seen from on high. You will note the scallop shells throughout, in stained glass, sculptures and brass fittings.
Stage Eight: Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis
Next morning, it’s pretty much straight down to the river from our hotel and across the old stone bridge. Pontevedra translates to old bridge. Soon the route is along quiet country lanes and trails through small vineyards and several scenic hamlets. Part is paved and part on dirt paths. There were quite a number of walking Pilgrims along the trail today. There is a shared goal of being one step closer to Santiago. At 8.2km the trail crossed over the rail tracks and continues. Soon there are small paved roads; but, also some more dirt trails before reaching the highway at 15.9k. It is well signed with arrows or the yellow shell emblem. Then the route continues on a quiet dirt track after about a kilometer. More vineyards, woods, farms and Pilgrims. More and more vineyards along this quiet little paved path that leads into Caldas. The town history dates back to Roman times. Contained between the Umia and Bermana rivers. Inhabited by early Celtic tribes and noted for its thermal gushing waters. Don’t’ miss the free hot water foot bath.
Just look for the surrounding palm trees. The 19th century Church of Santo Tomas Becket stands in the main square, surrounded by palms.
Thomas Becket stopped here on his way to Santiago. All the bridges in town have Roman foundations and have been around since then. They are narrow and built of old stones. There is a nice quiet walking path beside the Umia river, leading to a waterfall. This town as a great stop.
Stage Nine: Caldas de Reis to Padron
This will be a longer day, as we wanted to reach Santiago as soon as we could and there is really not much to see in Padron.
Today’s ride is basically an uphill grade and mostly paved. There will be several crossings of the N550 and riding on it for a while, as well. As you cross Pontecesures, you may find it hard to believe that it has had an important past that dates back to Roman times. It was once one of the main seaports in this part of Galicia. In the 12th and 13th centuries its shipyards would produce the ships that would patrol the Galician coasts protecting pilgrims coming from England and merchants from Moorish pirates and Viking raiders. Ride beside the Sar River. Just before Padron city center you cross what looks like a very large parking lot. Ride Rua Castelao into town. The N550 runs through town, which makes this rather unappealing. The church of Santiago is at the end of the sycamore lined riverside park, and the Camino continues on from there and does not cross the bridge. Iria Flavia was a Celtic settlement, located in the confluence of Sar and Ulla rivers, and on the crossroads to Braga (Portugal) and Astorga (León). Pedron is noted for it’s piquant green peppers.
They can be found on most every menu and we found them very tasty. Legend has it the boat carrying the body of St. James to Galicia arrived here. The supposed mooring stone, or pardon, lies below the altar of the church by the bridge. When the name “Padrón” became more popular, “Iria Flavia” was consigned to a small hamlet (the current parish). According to tradition, it was in Iria Flavia that Apostle Saint James first preached during his stay in Hispania. Soon after his death that his disciples brought his head and his body to Iria from Jerusalem in a stone boat. They moored the boat to a pedrón (Galician for big stone), hence the new name given to the place. The two disciples remained in Iria Flavia (now Padrón) to preach after burying the Apostle in Compostela, and the legendary pedrón can be seen today at the parish church of Santiago de Padrón, if you look carefully, on the left side of the river and down by the riverbank near the bridge, you see the replica of the Pedrron. Padron suffered several attacks in the 10th and 11th centuries by both Vikings and Normans.
Stage Ten: Padron to Santiago de Compostela
The Camino does not cross the bridge that is on the left of the church, but goes around the front of the church and then through town. A short climb leads to Carmen del Convento, if one cares to visit. The stream of Pilgrims increases all along this final route.
It is will be an uphill grade all the way and well signed. Just outside town is the Church of Santa María a Maior de Iria Flavia and its amazing altar. Just keep following the well marked trail; diverting for one way streets. Heads up, as this happens quickly….After about 6.5k, ride to the church in town and make a turn onto the little path beside and then behind the church to meet up with the pilgrims. At about 10k the route reachs the N550 as it widens and heads uphill. For cyclists, it is best to join the pilgrims on the left side, facing traffic and walk the bikes up in order to be in the right place to turn off left. This avoids crossing the N550 at a difficult point. Finally, the last for the N550 and we bid goodbye. From here, it’s a matter of making the way into the outskirts of Santiago, with bridges over rail tracks and highway and underpass under the highway. Of course, as cyclists, attention must be made to work around one way streets. Our lodging was near the rail station. We are now done with the bikes. We will leave by train to go back to Porto and on to Lisbon for some touring on foot.
The entire city of Santiago is a UNESCO World Heritage site. From here we walk to the pedestrianized old town to the cathedral, with the tomb of Apostle St. James.
You are not allowed to enter with packs or walking sticks.
In the middle ages, Santiago was Christendom’s third most important place of pilgrimage, after Jerusalem and Rome. This is truly a magical sight with all the happy pilgrims in the square in front.
Our visit was all too short in Santiago, as we were returning to Lisbon, Portugal the next day via train. There was sightseeing to do before our flight home from Lisbon.
*See our blog site for Portugal.