Pilgrimages from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela are believed to have begun in the 11th century. The numbers increased significantly from the middle of the 12th century thanks to the peace that ensued once the country became an independent kingdom. With monarchs, nobility and high-level clergymen setting the example, Portuguese people embraced the Camino de Santiago. The Portuguese Way is currently the second most travelled, after the French Way.
The veneration of Saint James and the constant flow of his followers between Portugal and Spain had far-reaching effects. Much of Portugal’s current road network has its origins in these ancient routes from different parts of Portugal to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. While the motives for embarking on such a journey were primarily religious, the exchange of trade, ideas, and cultures also developed as a result. Likewise, a visible heritage in the form of wayside shrines, stone crosses, country chapels and ancient bridges and, in turn, historical cities and grand manor houses developed over the centuries.
Our Portuguese Camino de Santiago begins at Porto Cathedral, overlooking the Douro River in Porto, a point where several routes from other parts of the country converge. From here, there are two distinct Ways to arrive at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, home to the tomb of Saint James. The popular Central Way heads due north through the beautiful Minho and Galician countryside and passes through several historical towns and cities. As the name suggests, the Coastal Route does indeed pass closer to the Atlantic Ocean, although much of the route is inland, and incorporates attractive countryside, villages and attractive towns and cities. The two routes merge in Redondela in Galicia.
The Way north follows ancient paths, some dating back to Roman times, as well as country lanes through fields, forests, vineyards and villages and roads through historical cities. It crosses rivers and streams using medieval stone bridges and offers insights into rural lifestyles and the rich history of northern Portugal and Galicia.
Along the Camino, especially the Central Way, small shrines and tokens left by previous pilgrims, as well as stone crosses that have weathered centuries, provide comfort and encouragement for those undertaking this personal journey. As well as the opportunity to make new friends among fellow walkers or cyclists, the Portuguese and Galician people living on these routes have long been accustomed to itinerant strangers and are usually welcoming and helpful to those who walk the Portuguese Way.