Con la Furgo en el Camino – Portugal

Last time we’d pretty much reached the end of Asturias, where the province of Galicia starts.

Our first stop there was the very famous (as in: signs are up kilometers in advance) beach of The Cathedrals, or “Praia Das Catedrais” The name confused me a bit, with it using the Portuguese “Praia” instead of Spanish “Playa”. Turns out Galician is an official language that’s a bit closer to Portuguese than Spanish.

I did not get a (good enough) picture of the famous row of Cathedral Arches where the name comes from, as unfortunately it was either too dark or too crowded for my liking during that evening and the next morning. These pictures will have to do!

Just like with Cantabria, we skipped most of Galicia to head to Portugal straight away. It was rainy and gray that day, and honestly the Galician mainland felt a bit empty and not nearly as charming as Asturias. I’m sure we did miss some things, but we wanted to get to Portugal with some time left.

We made one stop that evening at the abandoned village of A Barca. The village used to be an important point where people crossed the river by barge (hence the name), but the bridge from the picture above bypassed the village and its ferry business, soon leaving it abandoned. It was in the news a bit since the community of Cortegada, who now owns the land and buildings, claims it will give away this entire abandoned village to whoever will completely restore it. As you can see, it’s not exactly a gift, as there’s not much else left than overgrown ruins.

The next day we headed into Portugal, with nicer weather things immediately felt different as we made our way along tiny mountain roads to our first stop in Castro Laboreiro.  It’s a very windy mountain village known mostly for the breed of dogs that carries the village name, and the castle ruins atop the nearby mountain. The wind really was very strong at the top there, so after our hike we soon headed on.

Jolien wanted to move on further to Braga, so we left the mountains and came across this impressive building on our way to Braga, the Mosteiro de Santo Andre de Rendufe. Portugal really seems to have a higher concentration of these baroque-period buildings than Spain.

We noticed the monastery buildings were abandoned, peeping through the windows it looked very promising inside. We spent at least an hour walking and driving the perimeter wall, trying to see if there was an entrance. The medieval walls and gates were all still in place around the (active) vineyard on the monastery grounds, so we had to give up, much to our disappointment.

Next up was an abandoned palace in Palmeira, near Braga. This time we did get in, thanks to some local help.

The outside of the “Castelo da Dona Chica” was definitely the best part; the building is only from 1917 but was never properly used as far as I could find out, so the interior was just an empty shell of former attempts to re-purpose it.

Next up we went to the small city of Braga. I’d never been to Portugal before, and this city was an excellent introduction. We’ve been to some cities, like Oviedo, where we don’t really feel a connection, but Braga was not one of those. Just the right size to explore on foot, not too busy, the weather was good and we had some great, cheap food (5 euro for meal, beer and coffee, wow!).

We stayed on a camping at the edge of town, our only time paying for camping on the trip (Jolien’s words: “we’re all standing so close next to each other, I don’t like it!”).

Heading from Braga to Porto the next day, we stopped at a place called “Casa da Praça”, or “house of the square”. It’s an abandoned 19th century manor, that was much more interesting from the outside than inside, as an earlier restoration attempt had removed much of the original structure.

In Porto we ended up at free parking spot at the other side of the river. It was packed with expensive satellite-dish equipped campers, belonging mostly to French retirees. I felt out of place, even though it was a bit of a dirty spot next to an abandoned house. We thought it’d be close to center, but there’s a bit of a lack of bridges in Porto, so it would be nearly an hour’s walk to reach the other side.

Initially, Porto felt super-busy and touristic to me, I had the feeling I much preferred quiet and smaller Braga.

Since we’d rented a scooter, after noticing the walking distance just to get to town, we made an excursion a bit further, to the Foz Do Duoro area to see an abandoned mansion there. The outside was hard to photograph due to all the apartment blocks built around it, but the inside was nice and hadn’t suffered from failed restoration attempts.

On the way back, along the water we stopped at some places that looked interesting. One being this little street with cafes in Ouro, attended mostly by locals with tourists only occasionally passing on the classic trams, but never getting off.

My favorite area was Miragaia I think. Small tiny houses with little or no tourist shops, just old grannies and local kids. There was a very cool antique marketplace there as well, though the prices felt a bit crazy for Portugal. This part of Porto I much preferred to the over-crowded area that the tourists never seem to wander out of. It made us both realize it was good to rent that little scooter to venture a bit further, and that we should maybe consider taking along our own 2-wheeler for future van trips.

That evening we already slept near Vila do Conde, as our time in Portugal was ending and we had to be in Santiago in one day for Jolien’s plane back to Belgium.

When passing Viana do Castelo, we visited the Convent of Sao Francisco Do Monte in the hills above the town. It turned out absolutely amazing; beautiful vine-overgrown ruins dotted with slabs with ancient Latin scriptures lying on the ground. I have so many amazing pictures this deserves a separate blogpost later on!

When moving on the skies started to cloud up, and the sunny Portuguese weather of the past days came to an end. We camped in the mountains near the coast just inside Spain again, only a few hours away from Santiago De Compostela.

Our last day we visited Santiago, the famous place of pilgrimage for which we’d seen signs ever since we entered Spain. I’ve been to a few places of pligrimage and sometimes I feel the experience is ruined by overt religious tourism, however in Santiago it was fairly subdued. Nothing like Lourdes or the recent Covadonga.

After that, the trip was pretty much over. Jolien got her plane at a horrible 6 in the morning, and after sleeping for a few more hours I had nearly 1800kms to drive back to Belgium. I’d done that kind of thing before, but not being paid for expenses meant I had to avoid the extortionate French toll roads (they’d nearly double the transit cost!), which meant progress was slow. I made it home safely in about 2 and a half days though. Now for doing some improvements to the van and preparing for the coming Edelweiss trips this summer!

Here’s our route for the last week:

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