The first stage of the Camino Portuguese Central Route takes pilgrims from the Porto Cathedral to the small town of Vilarinho. This 18 mile stretch is considered by many to be the least scenic and most perilous on the Camino Portuguese. In my research leading up to this walk, I had read many accounts from fellow pilgrims, bloggers, and guide books that it’s best to skip this stage. Many noted the lack of natural pathways and abundance of foot pounding cobblestone and asphalt. The most prominent warnings were in regards to the narrow sidewalks and one lane roads without a shoulder. We decided to walk this stage anyway, and had agreed that we would stop and take a taxi if any of the road stretches felt too dangerous to cover with our 2-year old son.
Stage Map And Overview
- Distance: 18 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1125 ft
- Minimum Elevation: 207 ft
- Maximum Elevation: 468 ft
- Time: 6-9 hours
- Stage Overview: Many pilgrims recommend to skip this route, and after walking it, I have to agree. Things start out in the city of Porto, and are followed by a rather mundane walk through busy streets that are indistinguishable. Be ready for a lot of cobblestone, ashpalt, and busy shoulderless roads.
Camino Portuguese Day 1: Porto to Vilarinho
Our day started bright and early with a 6:30 AM wake up. The weather report indicated that we would be walking through 3-days of rain to kick off our Camino Portuguese. The only stretch of respite appeared to be a six hour window on this first day out of Porto. We decided we needed to get an early start to take advantage of the window of dry weather.
Despite the arduous path we knew we’d be crossing, the excitement of beginning a new adventure had us brimming with positive energy. After months of planning and weeks of anticipation, we were finally set to embark on the Camino Portuguese. With a 500-mile pilgrimage already under my belt, I was looking forward to watching Julia and Owen experience the magic of the Camino for the first time.
The Camino Portuguese starts out at the Porto Cathedral. We had spent quite a bit of time at the cathedral the day before, and decided to get moving right away. We were glad to have previously scoped out the Camino route, as it’s easy to miss a way sign in such a big city. As we passed the beautiful azulejo tiles on the side of Igreja do Carmo, we were drawn by our noses through the doors of a nearby bakery. The smell of fresh bread and coffee is something I’ve found to be irresistible ever since my walk of the Camino Frances in 2012. I’m glad my wife and son feel the same way.
After eating breakfast, we made our way out of Porto on what felt like a never ending conveyor belt or narrow cobblestone sidewalks and city streets. There really isn’t much to say about the first 10 miles of walking, because it was all pretty much the same.
After our first 11 miles on the day, we started to reach the outer limits of Porto’s urban sprawl on our way past Mosteiró. The path forward was starting to feel much more like a Camino and much less like an urban commute.
We continued pushing on towards Vilarinho and were pleasantly surprised by how the weather was holding up. The early morning weather report called for rain by noon, but the skies were still blue as we approached the middle of the day.
As we approached the final few miles into Vilarinho, the rain finally caught up with us. This would have been fine on it’s own, but the streets on this section were narrow, had no shoulder, and provided blind turn after blind turn.
We finally made it to Vilarinho just as the skies really started to open up. I was feeling very fortunate to have pre-booked our accommodations, which meant we didn’t have to go looking for a place to stay. When I walked the Camino Frances, I didn’t pre-book anything until I reached the final 100km (60 miles). For this family trip of the Camino Portuguese, I decided to have everything pre-booked before we arrived. Since I was hiking with my wife and 2-year old son on a fixed vacation window, I wanted to make sure everything would go smoothly and that we would have a comfortable place to sleep each night. I ended up working with Pilgrim.es and they took care of all of the bookings for us. In Vilarinho, they had us booked in a private room at the very comfortable Albergue Casa da Laura.
After checking in at Casa da Laura and resting for a bit, we started feeling pretty hungry. Luckily, there was a restaurant with a pilgrims menu right next door called Café C.J.S. We had a nice dinner and then picked up a few snacks at the local market before packing it in for the night. We had another big day ahead of us, and the weather report was calling for more heavy rain.
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