The next day took us from Rates to Barcelos, which is a pretty town on the edge of the Cávado River. We had been walking all day without much of a break, so after we arrived we just dumped our backpacks at the tourist office and headed to the river for a dip. There’s even a fake beach there and a stage was set up for concerts. A day spent in Barcelos is definitely not wasted and it’s always nice to take a break when you’re walking on the Camino Portugues. The shopping street is pretty and there is a large market area offering various markets at different days in the week.
(sorry this photo is a little blurry)
At this point, we were running short on time, since we only had eight days in total. So in Barcelos we caught a bus to Ponte de Lima – Portugal’s oldest town. I was relieved it was that part of the journey we were skipping, because it’s a steep climb up and down a mountain to get to Ponte de Lima. Taking the bus really made me appreciate distances. It would have taken us a days hard walking to get there, but by bus it was only half an hour. I know it seems like cheating to take the bus for a part of the journey – and it definitely is in a way. But the reason I did the Camino was mostly because it is a great and yes, affordable, way to see Portugal and Galicia. In my opinion, you shouldn’t feel like a fraud for walking it without spiritual intention or skipping part of the way, as long as you’re respectful of the other travellers and the tradition/history of the St. James Way. I’m sure some people think differently and you can have those kinds of discussions in abundance while you’re there.
Ponte de Lima – Portugal’s most floral town
Ponte de Lima is another picturesque part of Portugal. A large bridge crossing the river is the focal point of the town. There is a legend about Roman soldiers refusing to cross the river because they were afraid it was the beautiful mystical river Lethe and they would forget their names if they crossed. I’m not sure how it goes on…I think they were then called across individually by their captain, which somehow counter-acted the river’s amnestic powers and they were all fine and then built the bridge. The town is named after the bridge. Again, if you have more time on your hands than us, you should definitely plan an extra day here. It’s named Portugal’s most floral town, with a flower show running most of the spring, and has a ton of beautiful buildings and tiled walls depicting scenes from the town’s history.
(I do not like this photo of me but I don’t have another one with the bridge on it)
The albergue is just across the bridge, you can’t miss it. It’s a historical building and has a lonely 100 year-old Palm tree growing in the courtyard.
The red building on the left is the hostel
Ponte de Lima to Rubiäes
Day 4 turned out to be the most demanding day of all. In the morning, we missed the rush at 5am when everyone sets off for the day. We still left at a respectable 7am, but were alone and so didn’t find the way and lost about 45mins of cool morning air trying to find the right path back to the Camino Portugues. After a couple of hours, we came to the first real ascent. It was 400m difference in altitude, if that means anything to you. With my way-too-heavy backpack on, it was just the hardest climb I’d ever done.
This was how the climb up started– at least there was shade!
There is a cross at the halfway point up the mountain. People leave prayers or an item they want to let go of up here.
Best part of a climb? The view
Some shade to take a nap and a pump to fill your water bottle.
The descent was a shady relief. Our goal was to reach Valenca that day which was 33km from where we had started that morning in Ponte de Lima! We walked right past the welcoming albergue in Rubiäes and continued on. But of course, somewhere on the way all our energy left us. We had to make do with staying in a privately run albergue half-way to Valenca for 20€ a night. The couple running it offered a communal dinner and breakfast in their huge, lovely house. We had a great time meeting some other travellers and sleeping in real beds. I haven’t added a photo of their house, but just imagine like a Spanish mansion made of rough hewn sandstone.
The next day we arrived in Valenca and crossed the bridge to Spain.