Camino Portugués 2023 – Day 1 – Porto to Vila do Conde

April 9th 2023 – Day 1

  • Porto to Vila do Conde
  • Distance: 31km
  • Albergue: Laranjal Guesthouse

I had no expectations about today. Last year’s walk had shown me what “not” to do. So I wanted to take things easy and enjoy the day. And I think I did that.

I woke as the reasonable hour of 6am and headed out to a deserted Porto. I almost forgot to leave the key of my room behind and had to quickly return to the hostal to leave it on the owner’s desk. That would have been a great start, eh? I was on the hunt for a coffee shop but the question on my mind was do I walk to Porto or take a bus to Foz? I walked in the direction of Sao Bento and the Cathedral before I made my mind. I felt like walking to Porto and had a guesthouse booked in Vila do Conde so I had no time contraints. Lastly, it is just 6km to Foz, so I should be there before 8am. Ok, my mind is made up.

Just as I reached the Ribeira district along the Douro river, a cafe opened and I had a smashing breakfast before taking my first steps toward Santiago. A feeling of “ok, this will be ok!” came over me. It would be fine. The Ponte Luis was behind me while the Ponte da Arribida was further ahead. I took a few photos of the surrounding area and marched on. The first hour of walking wasn’t great – there is something about road walking that doesn’t appeal to me, and I can see why pilgrims want to skip this section. However, it was nice to get into the stride and I had some music to help block out the cars.

As I left the mouth of the Douro and reached Foz, a few scenes came back to me from last year. I had a cafe com leite and a nata in a fabulous bakery just off the main road. The owner’s son had walked the Camino Francés the previous year and was really interested in my upcoming journey. This particular cafe had a strange way of taking payment as well. I wanted to pay in cash, so they told me to put the cash in a box, and my change would come out in another box. I would learn that this would be fairly common throughout Portugal for cash sales. I left with a smile on my face and headed toward Matosinhos – which wasn’t too far away. It was particular warm for early April – it was calm, sunny and it got to a high of 15c before midday.

The wonderful “She Changes” greeted me as I entered Matosinhos before 10am. This jellyfish-like structure is designed to sway in the breeze and cast changing shadows. It’s a huge monument that can be seen as you leave Matosinhos and I spent some time here before I walk on. I was walking with the ocean on my left hand side now and there are people out walking and enjoying the sun. I stopped for a while for second breakfast at Bar do Titan just before the Matosinhos Tourist office. As it was Easter Sunday, there were families dressed up for Mass – either going to Mass or coming home. I have to say, the Portuguese take Easter very seriously and many families decorate their front doors and gardens to mark this special occasion. Some towns have processions, especially the smaller ones. I was lucky to witness a procession in Vila do Conde later that evening.

My second breakfast in Matosinhos hit the spot. It consisted of a croissant, cafe com leite, and a fruite juice. I walked on, over the bridge at Matasinhos and into Lec da Palmeira. I was back on the coast. I started meeting my first pilgrims at this point. Many pilgrims start their day in Matosinhos or take the metro from Porto to Matosinhos and continue walking. I didn’t spot a metro coming in but while I was walking along the coast, I noticed a few pilgrims. I was mostly walking by myself on the first day but I did have some brief interactions with pilgrims from South Korea and the US. I spotted a couple with a young boy. He had a light pack on his back and walking slowly. I have no idea if they made it to Santiago but I’d love to know!

The Capela de Boa Nova was for many years linked to the Franciscan hermits, who settled in this place until 1475, where there was a small monastery. The Capela has always been closely linked to the population of Leça da Palmeira, to the fishermen in particular, because the patron saint was celebrated there. It also marks the start of the boardwalk – something we see for a number of days to come. I have been eager to see the boardwalk for some time.

I took another break at one of the many beach bar that littered the coast after Perafita. So I sipped down another Coke Zero and took in the views. As I was here, I received a text from the owner of the accommodation in Vila do Conde just checking up on me. That’s pretty handy. More about that later. I leave Perafita after 11am and reach the Obelisk – still on the boardwalk. One of the things I didn’t do last year was read the signs / notices when I was passing them. It’s always interesting to learn about the history of certain monuments. This obelisk or O Obelisco da Memória marks the place where a squadron commanded by D. Pedro IV with an army of 7500 men disembarked in 1840.

The next point of note was Angeiras – a fishing village along the coast. It was quiet when I passed through and I took some video. This village relies on fish and each restaurant and store relies on a succesful catch. A number of boats and cages / nets were ready for the next sailing. Vila Chá was very much in the same vein and I stayed a bit longer to soak up the atmosphere. I got talking to a few American pilgrims here. A particular house stood out for me – it was tiled from top to bottom and it had mosaics of faces and boats. I thought it was pretty unique.

After Mindelo, the final stretch into Vila do Conde was the most challenging. I had met a number of pilgrims just after Mindelo – from South Korea, Canada and from Sweden, and some of the walking was tough going. The dunes were pretty high and getting over them took a bit out of me. There was also a section of boardwalk that was broken, so we walked along the beach for a few hundred metres. This was just a minor setback and we were back on terra firma and close to Vila do Conde.

I crossed the Ponte sobre o Rio Ave just after 4pm and made my way for a beverage. I was probably too late for a pilgrims meal so I would wait until later on for a meal. Vila do Conde was full of pilgrims. I was wondering where they had come from..hmmm! Was I late? Many were staying in Santa Clara albergue further up the road. I had a room booked in Laranjal Guesthouse and Emanuel was waiting for my arrival. I met fellow pilgrims from Spain, Hector and Estella whom I met on and off until Santiago. They are also seasoned pilgrims. Emanuel gave me tips on where to visit but I was just interested in washing and a pilgrim meal. I think he understood too. I ate at Saura Cool and had a fab 3 course meal for €10 before shopping for some snacks for the next day’s walk.

So, day 1 over – day 2 tomorrow to Fao – a return of sorts.

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