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This is a travelogue from Pernille Benzon, 59 years old and Gitte Adelsten Sejten, 62 years old. We travelled in May 2023 with Bering Travel and walked the Portuguese coastal route from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. We chose to spend 16 days on the trip, including two travelling days and an extra day in Porto and Santiago de Compostela. During the trip, we chose to have our luggage transported between the hotels so we only carried our daypack with water and some food. The hotels were 2 and 3 star and we booked half board from home via Bering Travel (breakfast and dinner).
In the report, you can read about our thoughts and experiences before we left, during the trip and after we returned home. We have also included a number of tips if you are travelling the Camino for the first time.
Gitte and I have known each other for a long time, but never talked about travelling together until one evening in November 2022 when we happened to talk about a shared dream; walking the Camino. Which part of the Camino we hadn't even considered at the time. It was more the dream of a different trip with a focus on both body and soul that drew us both in.
We quickly agreed that we would rather spend our energy walking and experiencing than lugging heavy luggage and spending the night in dormitories and hostels. Therefore, the choice of travel company naturally fell on Bering, which offered the flexibility we were looking for. And at a reasonable price. We read about the various caminotours described on Bering's website and chose the coastal route from Porto to Santiago del Compostella. A 280 kilometre walk spread over 12 walking days. We booked an extra day in Porto and Santiago, pick-up at Porto airport and half board. The latter because we thought it would be nice to be able to eat at the hotels when we came home tired from the day's walk.
We decided to go in May. It suited both of us work-wise and was a season where the temperature seemed to be reasonable for hiking.
When February 2023 rolled around, we met up again to discuss the trip, and this is when the first many questions came up. How much training would we need? Was the route well marked? What should we pack? What was the weather like? What would it be like if we had to walk for 12 days in rain and wind? What were our expectations of each other in terms of pace, when we left in the morning, what we did if one of us wanted to walk and the other take a taxi in the middle of the route? Suddenly there were a lot of questions mixed in with the joy and excitement of going. We joined various Facebook pages, Danish and foreign, watched YouTube films about the route, read blogs. And to be honest, it only made us more confused. Some described the route as incredibly difficult and poorly marked, others as the easiest in the world with visible and good signposting. There were also different reports about footwear, how to structure your day and how hard the stages were. In the end, we agreed that what was missing was a "down to earth" description from our own age group and at the same level (first time on the Camino). Therefore, we hope that others can benefit from our story.
We started our training about 3 months before we set off. We were both used to walking 5-8 km every day, but prioritised walking together in the months leading up to the Camino. We walked 10-12 kilometres a couple of times a week. In addition, we walked separately, so we probably walked a total of 30-40 kilometres a week. We both agree that it was a good investment. Without a fairly basic fitness level, it would have been difficult to complete, and by training together, we also had good conversations about the trip, adjusted our pace to each other, etc.
We arrived in Porto in mid-May 2023 to sunshine and a little wind. We had had a bit of a rough journey down with a stopover in London, and were very happy that Bering Travel's driver met us and drove us directly to our hotel. What we would recommend. And take an extra day in Porto. It is a very beautiful and manageable city with delicious restaurants, many cosy port wine houses, beautiful buildings and the pleasant Douro River, where there is a lively traffic of small and large tour boats. There is a lot to see and experience in Porto.
The evening before departure, we were visited at the hotel by Berings Travel's partner in Portugal, who familiarised us with the trip, handed us our pilgrim passports and a small folder with further information, vouchers for the hotels we would be staying at, luggage tags, etc. The material and orientation is in English, but as a supplement you get a Danish app with directions from Bering Travel
The next morning we were picked up at the hotel and driven about 15 kilometres out of Porto to a beautiful seaside resort where the route started. We drove through Porto's industrial neighbourhood on the way and were glad that we didn't have to walk this somewhat boring route. The town we were dropped off at - Matosinhos - welcomed us with a little wind, high blue skies with sunshine and kilometres of beautiful wooden bridges leading us along the water, through small fishing villages, across stunning biodiversity areas and overlooking one beautiful sandy beach after another. Along the way, there were small cafés and bars where we could stop for a cup of coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, lunch and a rest.
For the next several days we continued in the same way. The amazing network of wooden bridges was combined with detours into the countryside, through beautiful forests, on small dirt roads, and via nice little towns. We both experienced tiredness for the first few days. We walked between 20-25 kilometres a day, and there were many new impressions to process. But none of the day trips felt insurmountable, it was easy to find our way, and in many ways it was nice to get up and know that we could concentrate on walking. Nothing else. The luggage was transported and the hotel was waiting 25 kilometres ahead.
We met several "Camino travellers" the first 4-5 days, but not many. The coastal route is relatively new and we also sensed that we were early in the season. We had small cosy chats with others along the way. Some we travelled with for half an hour or an hour. One day we joined a Danish woman and walked 20 kilometres together. We both thought the experience of meeting other people was good. It gave us an insight into the fact that you can walk the Camino for many reasons and in many ways. Some walked short daily routes, others walked longer, some walked in groups, many walked alone. We met three sisters from the USA. Twins aged 70 and a younger sister aged 68. Three fresh women, where we got the feeling that their connection to each other was to move together. And here the Camino gave them a unique chance to form shared memories.
We found the hotels very nice. And very different. Some had swimming pools and marble floors, others were a little more worn and authentic. But all were clean and tidy and lived up to our expectations. A few times we asked to move rooms when we realised that we were placed in a backyard with a noisy ventilation system. We also found that it was possible to arrange this, so we got a better room.
On our fifth day of walking, we had to cross a small alley to get from Portugal to Spain. We were a bit excited because we had been told that the ferry was not sailing. So how were we going to get across? Well, it was pretty straightforward. There were several taxi boats that could easily be ordered at a small bar by the ferry pier and in a very short time (10 minutes) we were safely transported to the other side.
Unfortunately, Gitte fell ill the same day. The sun was very strong (35-38 degrees), there wasn't enough shade and we hadn't had enough to drink (remember that). So we had to go to the "Emergency Room", which is the equivalent of our Danish emergency room. Although it was unpleasant for Gitte to get sick, the treatment was fine and quick, and paid for by the blue health insurance card (so remember to bring it with you).
Gitte was tough, and the next day we were off again. On the way, however, we stopped by the local pharmacy (Farmacia) to get powder with electrolytes, which are the nutrients you often lose when it's too hot and you don't get enough salt and fluids. Then you end up dehydrated, which is what had happened to Gitte the day before.
On our second day in Spain, we ended up in the town of Oia, which we both fell in love with. The town, which is beautifully situated by the sea, consists of a number of small houses and a large monastery, Santa Maria de Oia, which is a former Cistercian monastery founded in 1137. We stayed in Oia for one night, but could easily have spent another day. So one of the considerations when booking a Camino journey is definitely to include a rest day along the way. Oia would be one of our favourites.
We spent some time on each walking day getting stamps in our Camino passports. The first few days we went
"all-in" and got a lot of stamps. Then we started thinking that there should be room for all of them in our "little book", and subsequently limited ourselves to two stamps a day, which is the minimum if you want your Compostella certificate in Santiago when the Camino ends. It was great fun looking for good places to get stamps. We often chose to visit the local churches. Some of them had stamps, and it also gave us the opportunity to experience the history and culture of the area.
As the days went by, the basic form got better and better. As we walked 28 kilometres a day on our
8th day of walking towards the larger city of Vigo, we talked about how easy it felt. Vigo was the biggest city we came to in Spain besides Santiago. In Vigo, for the first time on the trip, we walked through some "shady" industrial neighbourhoods, and thought that we wanted to get through it very quickly. But it was only a little over an hour. Then we were back in a safer and more urban setting. But we agreed that small towns were the best for us. We almost got a little stressed when we had to spend the night in the centre of Vigo and had to deal with big city traffic and lots of people.
The last few days of walking towards Santiago de Compostela brought together many different Camino routes, and suddenly we felt like we were part of a large group heading towards the same destination. Very different from both Portugal and the first days in Spain, where we could walk many kilometres without meeting others. There were also on this part of the route many more small stalls along the roads with souvenirs and cold drinks. So it was easy to see that this part of the route was "close to the finish". The signage also became much more visible the last 100 kilometres before Santiago. We had no problems at all on the route finding our way. Everything was well signposted and the app from Bering Travel was also very accurate. But in the last few days, there were really many clear indications of how many kilometres were left to the finish.
On the last evening before we had to walk towards Santiago, we were both gripped by a little sentimentality. A little sadness that now the journey was coming to an end. At the same time, we were also looking forward to standing in the square in front of the cathedral together with the many other hundreds of walkers who would enter the same day as us.
We stayed that night in an old monastery that had been converted into a hotel. Very beautiful and with a small chapel neighbouring our room. It was a great way to spend the night before a 30 km hike and 500 metres of altitude the next day. Unfortunately, I woke up with a stomach ache and the journey to Santiago was not without complications. By post-rationalisation, I had paid the day before with notes and received coins in the many street stalls along the route. At the same time, I had eaten well from a bag of nuts I had in my bag. A classic mistake that had given me a stomach virus, which plagued me somewhat on the many kilometres to Santiago, which were covered in almost 40 degree heat. Despite this, it was impossible not to be thoroughly moved the first time the towers of the cathedral in Santiago appeared on the horizon, and late in the afternoon we were in the small streets leading into the square where all the pilgrims gathered. Some sitting alone, quietly looking at the cathedral and the many people, others in the embrace of other pilgrims they had met on their journey. All in all, the square is one big "party". A group of young people celebrated with wine and embraces, and in the middle of it all, a young man in the group got down on one knee for his girlfriend and proposed to her. For them, the end of the Camino is guaranteed to be a memory for life.
The next day we went down and queued to get our Compostella. The proof that we had walked the many kilometres. As we stood in the queue waiting for our number to appear on the board, a tear came to the corner of both our eyes. It was just huge. Both that we had walked so far, that we had done it together, and now we were standing here. Afterwards we went to mass in the cathedral at 12 noon. You have to arrive in good time, about an hour before. It's a beautiful and moving experience that's worth taking with you. Even if it's all in Spanish. As an added bonus, we saw a giant incense burner - El Botafumeiro - set in motion and come "flying" out along the pews. The tradition of using the incense burner, which weighs 53 kg, is 1½ metres high and can reach speeds of up to 70 km/h, is that in the Middle Ages when pilgrims came in after a long journey of watering, they didn't smell very good. Therefore, the church acquired a huge censer to help alleviate the odours. Today, the censer is only used symbolically, but it's still impressive to see it whizzing at high speed 20 metres up in the church.
We were glad we had a full day in Santiago before heading back to Denmark. Many of the other walkers we had met on the trip were going home the day after they had reached the finish line. We all agreed that would have stressed us out a bit. Now we strolled quietly around the streets, did a little shopping and mentally began to look towards the journey home.
Because I was still struggling a bit with my stomach, we decided to take a taxi as we had to return to Porto to catch our flight to Denmark without any stopovers. There is also a bus to Porto if you don't want to spend money on a taxi (the taxi cost 2300 kr. The bus costs about 900 kr. for two people.) The drive takes 2.5 hours, and we passed a number of places we recognised from our hike. It was cosy. When we reached Porto airport, the rain started to quietly drip down from the sky. The first of its kind we had seen on our 16-day trip, where the temperature had been between 22-40 degrees centigrade.
After an easy and manageable 3-hour flight, we were suddenly back in Denmark. It was nice to be home, but also a bit sad for the first few days. We both felt that on the Camino we had gained a community and a daily rhythm of walking, talking and experiencing that was hard to let go of when we got home. But we have also gained a memory for life, and we definitely have the courage to go on a longer hike together another time.
Pernille & Gitte
Before the trip
Train properly before your trip and test both your footwear and your daypack. You don't need to buy yourself a lot of gear, but a decent pair of walking shoes/boots that you've walked in and a good daypack with proper back support are important. We started training in February with two to three 10 km walks a week in varied terrain. Close to the trip, we also did a couple of 20 km walks. Now there were two of us going together, so we also used the training to adjust the pace and harmonise expectations about the trip. And look forward to the experience together.
Transport to and from the Camino
We chose to book our own flights. The only way out was with a stopover. We came home directly. We highly recommend trying to get a direct flight both ways. Stopovers can be tiring as there is often too little time to change planes or very long waiting times. Ryanair flies directly from both Copenhagen and Billund to Porto several times a week at very reasonable prices. We also booked transport from the airport in Porto via Bering travel. It is easy and comfortable to be picked up and taken to the first hotel. From Santiago del Compostela you can either take a taxi back to Porto airport or a bus. It takes about 2.5-3 hours and is a fun trip as you pass many of the places you have walked.
Pack light. We both packed 20kg because our luggage was transported between hotels. But 20kg is a lot to handle, both at the airport and packing and unpacking between hotels. We went in May and used a pair of short and long trousers, a dress for evening wear, a warm jumper, a pair of wool t-shirts that can be washed in the evening at the hotel and used the next day, 4-5 pairs of hiking socks and a pair of hiking shoes/boots and sandals for evening/relaxation. Plus toiletries, underwear and a single book. That's all you need and if you need anything else along the way, there are many towns where everything can be bought at reasonable prices.
Bring a small stock of medication from home for stomach problems, headaches and anything else you might need along the way. Also a starter pack of blister plasters. There are pharmacies along the way (Farmacia), but if you have stomach problems, for example, it's nice to have a product from home where you can read the package insert in your own language.
We booked half board from home, but regretted it. Breakfast at the hotels is usually from 7.30-10.00. Dinner is from 20.30-11.00. If we wanted to take advantage of breakfast, we could not start the hike before 8.00-8.30 in the morning, so we usually spent 6-7 hours on the road with some good breaks and arrived at a new hotel around 15-16.00. And then had to wait until half past eight before we could have dinner. It didn't suit our daily rhythm to have a big meal so late. Most of the time, the hotels also sent us out into the city to eat because they didn't have a restaurant on site and the menus served were very similar and not very exciting. So our recommendation would be to assess your daily rhythm in relation to meals from home. In the end, we chose to skip our half board, find a good lunch restaurant along the way and have a really solid lunch (lunch restaurants are open until 17.00) and then skip dinner or just have a small salad, a sandwich or similar.
When planning your trip, consider whether you want one or more rest days along the way. We didn't have any, but we talked several times about how it would have been nice to have a day in the middle of the trip where we could just relax, sleep a little longer and rest our legs. Also consider lengths of day hikes.
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