I'm not exactly sure when my fascination with the Camino de Santiago began; however, I continue to be enchanted by a path that dates back to medieval times and is now hiked by thousands of pilgrims annually (approx. 250,000 in 2015). The final destination is the tomb of James, son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. According to Christian tradition, his remains are located inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Spain.
The Portuguese Way is one of eight official routes to Santiago and is the second most popular with 15% choosing it. Most pilgrims (60%) follow the French Way along the Pyrenees Mountain Range in northern Spain. The Porto Cathedral is a popular starting point and from here northward the route is well marked with the traditional yellow camino arrows.
For centuries, Pilgrims traveling through Porto have stopped at the old Porto Cathedral that was built in the 12th century and located in the town's historic center. It is one of the places to pick up the Pilgrim's Credential (two euros), which is available to anyone as a souvenir. I was excited to get one. The purpose is for modern day pilgrims to record the places they pass through as proof they have completed the pilgrimage according to the rules. Only one stamp per day is required, however, many enjoy the challenge of collecting more. My credential came with a Porto Cathedral stamp—my first. I dutifully put the credentials booklet in my hidden money belt, next to my passport, just in case I could get some more stamps along the way—which I did.
A young man with a back pack and hiking shoes (a real pilgrim) stood next to me in line. I was impressed and perhaps a little envious. He seemed in a hurry. I expect he was going to get some miles in before the day was over and then continue to hike the 240 km (150 mi) to Santiago Spain over the next week. There he could show his stamped credentials for the official "Certificate of Completion of the Pilgrimage" at the Santiago Cathedral. (The minimum requirement for this certificate is that pilgrims have traveled the final 100 km by foot or 200 km by bicycle.)
This city is on a route that follows the ocean and provides a beautiful promenade along the jagged and rocky Atlantic coast. We found the ocean trail, although it required about a mile trek through the town (also part of the camino) before we could see the water. Once we arrived at the seacoast we noticed a tourist office where we stopped for directions and, of course, a stamp for my credentials (now I had two). We walked about three miles along the trail until we reached a lighthouse before returning via the same route.
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When we arrived, we walked through the picturesque old downtown before reaching the Atlantic for our trek along the camino. The town dates back to 900 BC and has been a popular beach resort for over three centuries. It is also one of the few legal gambling areas in Portugal and home to the Casino da Povoa. Numerous cafes, bars and condominiums line the beaches.
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