This summer, I set out to hike the 150-mile Camino Portuguese from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. Unlike my solo hike of the 500-mile Camino Frances in 2012, I would be accompanied this time around by my wife and 2 year old son. After months of planning, training, and preparation, our journey began with a 12 hour flight from Los Angeles to Madrid. From there, we had a 5 hour layover before our connecting flight to Porto, the starting point of the Camino Portuguese.
It was pretty late when we landed in Porto, so our first course of action after checking into our hotel was to find a place for dinner. I spent some time in Portugal back in 2012, so I knew I wanted to find a place that served francesinha. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich with origins in Porto, that is made with meats, cheeses, egg, and bread, then covered with a tomato based sauce and served with french fries. Francesinha doesn’t always photograph well, but my god is it delicious! The only beverage you should consider pairing with francesinha is Portuguese Super Bock. A match made in heaven!
We weren’t feeling very tired after dinner since we had yet to adjust to the time change. Instead of forcing ourselves to go to sleep, we walked around town for a bit and enjoyed the scenery around our hotel. The most iconic site in porto is the Dom Luís I Bridge that spans across the Douro River. It was the perfect place to stretch our legs before crashing for the night.
We had grand plans for the following day in Porto, but they were slightly derailed with our 13:00 wake up time. Instead of trying to cram a bunch of site seeing in on the day before our Camino, we decided it was best to take it slow and prepare ourselves for the days ahead.
Our first course of action was to stop by the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) to pick up our pilgrims passports and scope out the starting point for the Camino Portuguese. As we climbed the steps toward the cathedral, it was all starting to hit me…This was real! We were only one night away from the journey of a lifetime.
We spent quite a bit of time in the cathedral after picking up our pilgrims passports, and then made our way outside to enjoy the surrounding area. The Porto Cathedral is built on a hill with commanding views of the city below.
Just outside of the doorsteps of the Cathedral, we found the first yellow arrows. These are the way-marks that would guide us on our path to Santiago. We also saw the blue arrows that lead pilgrims south on their journey to Fatima. The memories and emotions of the Camino Frances began to flood my mind with the sight of that first arrow. I could hardly believe that I was back on The Way, and traveling with my family on a pilgrimage to Santiago.
From the Cathedral, we decided to visit a few famous spots in Porto. Our first stop was at the request of my son, São Bento Railway Station. Owen is at an age where life revolves around trucks, trains, planes, and tractors. Most tourists visit São Bento to see the iconic white and blue azulejo tile work in the main vestibule lobby. Owen was just happy to watch the trains come and go.
The most popular azulejo at São Bento is of Egas Moniz kneeling in front of Alfonso VII. The azulejo cover almost every wall in the vestibule lobby, so make sure to take your time and look around if you make a visit to São Bento.
After visiting São Bento, we began walking towards Igreja do Carmo and stopped at a few buildings along the way.
Igreja do Carmo is a famous church in Porto that is decorated with the iconic white and blue azulejo tiles, much like the interior of São Bento. The cool thing about this church is that it is located on the Camino Portuguese. We decided to cut our day of site seeing short here, to make sure our toddler had enough rest for the big day the stood before us.
From Igreja do Carmo, we walked back towards the Dom Luís I Bridge and found a great place for dinner with views of the Douro River. We enjoyed another round of francesinha and Super Bock and talked with excitement about what we could expect in the days ahead. Although the weather forecast called for three days of rain to start our pilgrimage, our excitement was impossible to extinguish. The Camino Portuguese was now at the tips of our toes, and we would begin our path to Santiago at the turn of the coming sunrise.