North Portugal and Galicia tips?: 2002-2003
I am planning to include the Douro Valley and Porto and Santiago de Compostela in the next edition of my Spain and Portugal guidebooks. Are these the highlights of the northwest corner of Iberia? Do you have any favorites in this region which others may enjoy that I can check out on my upcoming research trip? Thanks for any help - Rick
Porto and Douro River Valley
We returned on October 22nd after three weeks in Europe. We spent eight days driving from Lisbon north to Porto and then east along the beautiful Douro River Valley. Train travel in all of Portugal is less direct and less convenient than most of Western Europe. We found driving gave us the flexibility to change directions and to change our minds. We stopped at the university town of Coimbra on our drive between Lisbon and Porto. It is a very welcoming city.
We found the Portugese people very gracious and many young people speak English. Road signs and menus in Portugese were a challenge but we never felt lost or frustrated. Most wait staff helped us with menu choices and offered wonderful suggestions.
Our arrival in Porto was a challenge. A good local map is essential, and we had gotten one from the car rental office in Lisbon and it helped get us to our Pension in Porto. (www.pensaoestoril.com) We can recommend the Pension Estoril at Rua de Cedofuta 193. Be aware that it is located on a pedestrian street and no transportation goes past the building, but walking is easy. Staff person Joao Santos emailed us (email@example.com) to arrange nearby parking across from a police station.
We had a double room with garden view for 30 euros. Be sure to ask for breakfast if traveling off season; otherwise it is always provided. The pension is located in the historic center. It is a 5 minute walk to city hall and the Tourist Information office on Allies Avenue. The S. Bento railway station and Trindade Metro station are also close.
We walked two blocks to Parc Carlos Alberto. This small square had multiple modest restaurants full of locals, especially students. Be sure to ask for "Vino Verde." This simple, young, table wine is only produced in Northern Portugal.
There are lots of things to do in Porto but be prepared for the hills and steep streets. The Port Wine lodges (wineries) provide a very good education on both Port wine and the history of the city. A visit to any of the 15-16 lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia section along the Douro river will provide a tour and wine tasting. We contacted 3-4 of them ahead of time and received e-mail invitations for tours of the lodge and offers to arrange visits to their vineyards up the Douro River Valley. Some of the websites we used were www.sandeman.com; www.calem.pt; www.martinez.pt; www.cockburns-usa.com; www.ramospinto.pt; and www.taylor.pt.
One great stop in Lisbon is the visitor center (Solar do Vinho) of the Port Wine Institute. It is directly across the street from the top station of the Elevator Gloria. The Solar do Vinho do Porto is located on the Rua de S. Pedro de Alc?ntara, in the Bairro Alto, right in the heart of one of the most typical neighbourhoods of the city.
We recommend the drive along the Douro river from Porto to Vila Real. The vineyards and terraces are amazing and are still worked mostly by hand. We stopped to see the Posada de Rena in the hills above the Douro. It is a beautiful building and location with great views of the river. You can also take a boat ride up the Douro river from Porto to Vila Real and take the train back to Porto in half a day.
We stayed in a pension in the small town of Lamago. Residencial S. Paulo, Avenue 5 de Outubro, cost 30 euros, phone: 254.613.114, parking garage below the pension. We shared the pension with several men and women in the Portugese army. There were few tourists at this time of year, but we felt very welcome. It was fun to get help from locals for everything from restaurant suggestions to where to find a "multobanco" (ATM machine). ATMs were everywhere and easy to spot.
Calda de Raines is only 60-90 min by car along the Atlantic coast north of Lisbon. It's known for colorful tiles. Many businesses sell pottery and ceramics along the highway into town and there are many tile stores in town. We visited with Fernando de J. Ribeiro and his wife for almost an hour. They gave us some local history and how the development of the nearby coast for tourism will change everything.
We spent a short time visiting Obidos. Very touristy, commercial, but with great scenic beauty. We then drove to the small town of Peniche on the Atlantic coast, 15 miles west of Obidos. Peniche is on a peninsula completely surrounded by water and we saw a terrific sunset. We found a wonderful pension and got help from Lilyann on where to eat. Residencial Maciel, Rua Jose Estevao No 38, cost 40 euros. phone: 22 784.68 We had an outstanding meal at Restaurant Oh Amaral, Rua Dr Francisco Seia, No 7. It is about a 3 block walk from the pension. phone: 262.782.095
We had outstanding experience at Rick's recommended pension in Evora, Portugal. Residencial Polocarpo. Cost 45 euros. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Restaurant O Templo for 20 euros.
In Lisbon, we stayed at Residencial Dom Sancho I, 202 Avenue da Liberdade
for 65 euros. Their phone: 213. 513 160 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Website:
Salem, OR USA Tue 12/02/2003
My husband is from Galicia. We have been married for 22 years and travel to Galicia every year. It is so very beautiful with green hills and high mountains, low coastal valleys with vineyards and cornfields, and lovely fjords (bays), and a wonderful coastline! The winters are cold and rainy but the summers are very pleasant and tend to be warm with coastal breezes.
My favorite places are: the Bay of Arosa with the island of La Toja and San Vicente beach, Sanxenjo, Santiago de Compostela (cathedral and old town), La Corona (see walk "paseo" around the sea & bay including port), Finistere (end of the world), and don't miss the pilgrims and the Celtic bagpipes. And do not miss the botafomiero (incense burner) in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This is a big wow! It is usually seen on Sundays at the noon Mass. In 2004 it will be seen most days at noon due to it being a saint year. Santiago will be very crowded during the saint year especially in the summer with many pilgrim groups. I have seen it when it's very crowded, but really exciting! And the fireworks in the central plaza of the cathedral are really beautiful-- a must see---July 24th at midnight (Saint Day is 25th of July). It is also broadcast on TV.
You will really like Galicia. The entire country is beautiful and it
is hard to pick which area is the best. The people are very nice with
a gentle language of their own (Gallego). The food is wonderful: fresh
seafood that is unbelievable! And the wine (albarino) is great. The oil
spill was horrible, however, much of it is repaired one year after. Hope
you have a wonderful time!
Petaluma, CA USA Mon 11/24/2003
You must include cities of Orense Province, like Verin and Castro Caldelas, with their castles, and Orense City, and Las Burgas springs.
Bras?lia, DF Brazil Tue 11/04/2003
Camino De Santiago
Last September I placed one foot in front of other as a pilgrim as I walked the final 100km leg of the Camino De Santiago, starting at Sarria. What a green, lush, magical journey it was as I strolled over hill and dale down country lanes through itsy bitsy farming communities complete with chickens, cows, pigs, cornfields etc. The Camino is a feast for all your senses. Rolling hillsides dotted with sheep, apple orchards,rosemary, lavender and other Mediterranean herbs, eucalyptis forests, sweet (safe to drink) springs where you can replenish your water bottle, birds singing, roosters crowing. The Camino is drenched in history and frequently in liquid sunshine but I had only one day of rain out of 7 on the trail. Averaged 10 to 14 miles per day.
The people were warm and freindly, but spoke very little English so I was glad I took my Spanish 101 class at North Seattle Community College before I left. Made friends with other pilgrims along the way.
Great local wines. Was shocked the first time I ordered a glass of red wine and it was served chilled! But it was wonderful. Fine seafood: I had trout, hake, calimari, salmon and pulpo (octopus). Liked the bagpipers too. I stayed in B&B's. Would have stayed in the refugios but am a light sleeper and didn't have the courage to endure the nighly snorefests in those places.
I at last I trudged into Santiago with blessed blue skies in time for the noon Pilgrim's mass that was topped off with the impressive swinging of the "botafumeiro" (big incense burner). What a trip...a spiritual, cultural, historical trek all rolled into one.
Only one regret. I absentmidedly left behind my traveling companion in
the room at the B&B in Santiago: my hiking staff. We had developed a very
Seattle, WA USA Thu 10/30/2003
Just returned from 2+ weeks in Spain with a great weekend exploring Coimbra, Portugal. Perfect for a 2 day trip over from Salamanca by bus. A new music venue for students, mostly from the university, has just opened and I highly recommend it. The name is "a Capella", it is located in the center of the old section at Rua Corpo de Deus in a very old, small chapel that has been converted into a cafe/wine bar with classical performances and fado. For more info: www.acapella.com.pt Stayed in one of your recommended lowest priced hostal which was in a good location and reasonable-Residencial Moderna (price increased $5 from book and no 10% discount any longer.)
Cook, MN USA Thu 10/23/2003
Santiago de Compostela
After a late start and a delayed train, I arrived late into Santiago de Compostela last fall. I took a room with one of the women selling rooms on the street at the top of the steps at the station. For 10 Euro/night I shared and apt with Maria and her husband. It was a highlight of my trip. I only wish I spoke more Spanish as she spoke no English. Always carry rain protection in Santiago. When I was there it rained often and with little notice. However, the it dried up just as quickly and the city was beautiful in the rain. Check out the cakes in the bakery windows.
In general I liked the people I met in northern Spain. They tend to be
pilgrims... a different breed of traveler. If you need hiking gear or
have lost a fitting to your pack, this is a good place to find it. As
for Porto... I originally planned on stopping there but a local woman
I met on the train said it wasn't very safe. Of course her idea of safe
and my american idea of safe are probably completely different.
Portland, OR USA Mon 08/04/2003
Try Carrazeda de Anciaes in the Tras Os Montes Province (northeastern conner. It is out of the way, but the drive along the Douro River and through the mountians is absolutely gorgeous. There are quite a number of very small villages connected to Carrazeda that are easily explored. Nothing unbelievable, but collectively they are worth a visit. For example, the church in Marzagao is small and simple. Yet the cieling inside is covered with with portaits of a hundred saints and the three altars are painted in gold leaf. Marzagao itself is a sleepy and friendly village of about 300. Again nothing spectacular, but a real taste of mountain village life. Back in Carazeda there are some very good and very inexpensive restaraunts as well.
Sacramento, CA USA Mon 08/04/2003
Santiago de Compostela
Rick, nary a castanet nor bullfight in sight in Santiago. We established base camp at the Hotel Virxe da Cerca, a restored 18th century monastery, at the base of the old town. A rooster was our wake-up call. We tried percebes: local shellfish the locals risk life and limb to get. (Think of a tiny blackened hand with long fingernails.) Tastes like a clam. I interviewed many "peregrinos," those hardy souls who walk across Spain. You can spot them by their large floppy hats and staffs (throw in a large scallop shell). Experienced lots of student eateries as our daughter was spending her junior year at the University of Santiago. Try to catch the Ceremony of the Botofumeiro (i.e. incense) Great walking city. Santiago is unique, unlike any other part of Spain. The only crimes said our host Sergio are: the world's oldest and random car thefts.
huntley, IL USA Sun 07/06/2003
Porto is Fabulous!
Porto is fabulous - The Sandeman Tour is a must, great value, great port and wonderful guides. I went as a day trip from Coimbra and look forward to going back and spending more time in the Duoro region. I'm glad it will be included in upcoming editions, I was surprised it wasn't in last year's book.
CA USA Mon 05/12/2003
This whole area was named Galicia by the Romans and first settled by invading tribes of Celts probably before 400 BC. There are Celtic [castros] and Roman ruins throughout this area. A few miles east of Porto are celtic ruins at Pa?o de Ferreira; Roman ruins at Braganca; and Braga [Bracara Augusta - www.uaum.uminho.pt/estrutura/estrutura.htm]. A stop at Guimaraes and a visit to the Pousada de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira is a must. Then travel north to Vigo and to Santiago de Compostela. A trip through this area should take some 7-10 days and can be made by car or bus. In Porto check out the Pensao Estoril, Rua de Cedofeita, 193. I am planning to take this trip and would be happy to go along as your translator. Have fun - Boa Sorte!
San Antonio, TX USA Thu 04/17/2003
Porto? No thanks
Porto is exactly what Rick has in mind when he talks about the following:
1. Your travel time is precious - don't waste it in a town that isn't worth it.
2. Some towns only have one or two worthwhile things - there's nothing wrong with seeing those few things and getting out to better places FAST.
Porto has two great museums (the municipal museum with the sculptures of Soares dos Reis, and the modern art museum near the outskirts of town. Otherwise, it was a waste of time. I spent 3 days there, much of it wondering what to do (I ended up going to the big mall in the suburbs, Arrabida Shopping, and seeing a few movies!) The old section (Ribeiro) was designated a Unesco World Heritage site. Well, I don't know who they paid to get this honor, but it sure doesn't deserve it. It looks like every other old section of every other old European city, except that there's more "picturesque" poverty.
Furthermore, Porto is immensely hilly, so every walk is a climb; they are building a subway, so main streets are being torn up eerywhere; and the "new" sections of town (built in the 1800's, near the modern art museum) are actually the prettiest parts of the city. Certainly the biggest disappointment of my September 2002 trip to Portugal (Lisbon, Sintra, Santarem, Coimbra, and Porto).
Santarem, however, is exactly what Rick means by a Back Door. Very few
visitors, lovely people, great beauty a wonderful warm vibe - a gem! The
women in the tourist office were the only English speakers I found in
town, but they actually had time to chat since there were few visitors.
The only problems is that the train station is in a valley below the town
(so you need an infrequent bus or else a taxi to get into town), and that
the center is off limits to all vehicles (it was a 5 minute walk to the
only taxi rank in town, near the bus station, which is near the center).
New York, NY USA Thu 04/10/2003
Santiago de Compostela
The rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plain, it falls in the mountains of Galicia and Asturias. The mountains are rugged, the streams run swiftly and now and then you can hear the sound of bagpipes.
Last summer we spent almost two weeks in northern Spain, ate fish every day, visited wonderful little fishing villages like Cudillero, climbed the Roman walls of Lugo and followed the pilgrims to Santiago for the festival. This year we plan to walk the Camino de Santiago from O Cebreiro to Santiago and then rest up at the Hotel de Los Reyes Catolicos. In Santiago you are not a tourist, but a pilgrim, and immediately become part of the town.
Things to remember: Galicia is the rainiest province in Spain; Santiago is the rainiest city in Galicia; the mountains get cold even in the summer. It's safe in Galicia. Travelers to Santiago have received special protection for almost 1000 years.
The festival in Santiago in July is not a drinking, foreigner dominated fiasco like Pamplona, but a relaxed, religious festival with northern Spanish ambiance and hospitality.
Do add Santiago to your book. You promote a positive attitude toward
traveling and meeting people which is what northern Spain is all about.
Joe & Brigitte Boyle
Royal Palm Beach, FL USA Sat 03/29/2003
I visit northern portugal for a few weeks each summer as I have family there. If you're a mountain biker, bring your bike! The ride up the coast from Viana do Castelo to Caminha is wicked. Looooooong sandy beaches all along, but cold and choppy water.
Cute little towns at Ancora Praia and Caminha, etc. Ancora is a bit developed now but still has that old village charm and lots of oldtimers walking up and down the boardwalk along the beach. Moledo beach is a popular windsurfing beach. Most trains stop at Ancora Praia and the beach is just a few metres from the station platform! You can walk along the coast from Afife beach all they way up to Caminha, with some rocky bits but mostly nice fine sand. Will take a while though but a great workout. There is some sort of mini-Stonehenge type rock thing from prehistoric days in Ancora that people come from all over to see; it's about the size of a shack. Train ride from Viana goes all along the coast then veers inland to Valenca, where you can walk along a bridge over the Rio Minho into the cute little town of Tuy with its historic centre overlooking the river.
If you travel along the Rio Minho, the northern border or Spain/Portugal,
you will get to Moncao, where they make this wicked white wine called
Alvarinho, and then over to Melgaco, which is nothing great. But from
there you can get to Castro Lobreiro (which won't be on a map) and it's
like time stands still. Rocky hills. Stone houses dating back who knows
how long. Finally, you hit the big national park, Peneda-Geres. Gigantic,
just look at a map. Huge church in the middle of nowhere that you have
to see to believe. Kinda like Bom Jesus in Braga, not as nice but with
amazing natural beauty all around, including a huge rock sticking up behind
it (usually with rock climbers on it!). Enjoy!
Toronto, Can Thu 02/20/2003
Great idea, Rick!
When I visited Santiago last year, I thought, "This is such a Rick Steves place....why in the world isn't it in his book?" I look forward to your picks. I'll admit to splurging on a parador. But let me make a case for it if you're going to splash out at least ONCE in Spain. With its history as the world's reputedly oldest hotel (set up by Los Reyes Catolicos when it became clear the pilgrims were far too numerous to continue snoozing in the cathedral) and its beautiful design, I found it a wonderful enhancement to my trip. I know it's not your usual "hostal," but sometimes I think it's worth saving something on a trip so you can indulge yourself once in a while. At the very least, have a drink (or an ice cream!) on their terrace. And, beyond all expectations, the staff was warm and welcoming and part of the reason I decided to stay there. Anyway, look forward to your recommendations on that corner of the world, wish I'd had more time to explore out there.
VA USA Mon 02/17/2003
Portugal Douro Porto
We are leaving for spain Feb 16 and are struggling with renting a car v. bus. v. train as we intend to go to Porto from Madrid. The Douro Valley is sadly absent from many guidebooks, especially travel long the Douro (other than a boat.) We'd prefer a train trip along the river,but can't quite find the resource that helps us orchestrate this adventure.
Indianapolis, Indiana USA Tue 02/04/2003
Viana do Castello is a must. There is a gorgeous pousada (govt run hotel) on top of a mountain overlooking the city. Also, Caminha and Vila Nova de Cerveira are great little border towns on the Minho River across from Spain.
Newark, DE USA Sun 01/26/2003
Quinta de la Rosa
I've never been there, but Quinta de la Rosa in the Douro Valley is one of the better Port houses (I've had their Ports), they're English, and run what is purported to be one of the better B&B's in the area. Website is http://www.quintadelarosa.com/indexe.htm happy hunting!
Joe Santa Maria
mt. laurel, nj USA Fri 01/24/2003
La Catedral de Santiago de Compostela
In the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela the swinging of the huge incense burner, el botafumeiro, during mass is very impressive. It's a little larger than a US garbage can and it takes about five or six priests holding thick ropes to swing it across the nave of the cathedral - an arc of about 200 feet wide and 100 feet high. Originally it's use was to mask the odor of the pilgrims who had completed the Camino de Santiago although now I think it's mostly used for a "wow" factor.
Seattle, WA USA Thu 01/23/2003
What a great idea to include Galicia in your guidebook. Your 2002 Spain guidebook was my bible! It was great for Madrid and Salamanca, but I missed not having any information on Santiago de Compostela. Santiago is monumental, and I would recommend that you add it to your next Spain guidebook. From Santiago, you can take an hour ride and visit Vigo, a beautiful city on the NW coast, also there is Finistere, once known as the end of the world! The Spanish fjords, Rias Bajas are lovely. But I would recommend that you go when the FEVE narrow gage trains are in operation. You can take it at Ferrol all the way to Bilbao! Good luck!
Carmen M. Cummings
Palatka, FL USA Thu 01/16/2003
Porto is a must.
My husband and our two best friends went to Porto in the summer of 2001, we absolutely loved it. Porto was beautiful. Even during an overcast day the city was spectacular. One can easily walk from the train station to the port houses (although, like other parts of Portugal, the city is a bit hilly). The walk provides lots of opportunities for photographs as you walk over this incredibly high bridge (not for those who are afraid of heights!) We spent most of the day walking around the port houses, and toured one, the Ramos Pinto house. The tour was nice, and at the end we had an opportunity to buy port and some great prints of vintage advertising posters. On of the best things we did that day was take a boat ride on the river. The trip was about an hour long, and was really cheap. We were the only 4 on the trip, and took lots of great photos from the river. My one regret about Porto is that we did not spend enough time there. We did it as a day-trip from Lisbon. Anyone who is going to Portugal should, at the very least, take a day trip there...but really I think it is a city that calls for more time. Cut a couple of days out of Lisbon and spend them there. Porto is many times more friendly, charming and photogenic than Lisbon.
Seattle, WA USA Mon 01/13/2003
It would be great if you could cover the traditional pilgrims' route to Santiago across the north of Spain.
stl, mo USA Wed 01/08/2003
i'm planning to visit La Coruna soon. am told the cultural life there
is interesting. might be worth looking into.
plano, tx USA Thu 01/02/2003
The oil spill
The effects of oil spills tend not to last more than a few years. In three years what you'll probably see are some stains on the rocks. Unless they steam sterilize them as in Alaska, in which case it will take a long time for the life to recover. By the time we see this edition, I doubt if it will be a big problem.
London, UK Mon 12/30/2002
Porto & North
I visited Porto and Braga in 2001 and would return to both in a heartbeat! Incredibly historic, scenic, friendly and much easier to get around than Lisbon. Beautiful old churches & other great architecture in Porto and Bom Jesus in Braga is a definite must see!
Abbotsford, BC Canada Fri 12/27/2002
I hate to have to point this out, but as many of you probably know, last month an oil tanker (the "Prestige") broke apart and sank off the Galician coast, and since then many of the most beautiful beaches of the Galician coast (from Portugal all the way to France) have been experiencing an environmental catastrophe as they are continually being coated with thick, heavy fuel oil. It's a tragedy not only for the environment, but also for the fishing villages that depend on it. The area may take years to recover. By all means, go to Galicia, just don't plan on eating any fresh local seafood. :(
Brussels, Belgium Fri 12/27/2002
I am thrilled that you are adding Porto and the Douro River Valley! I am particularly interested in river trips in the Douro River Valley and Winery information.
Seattle, WA USA Thu 12/26/2002
Way, cool Rick!
The Douro Valley and Santiago are considered hot spots in the UK. Serious scenery in the Douro. Sorry that I haven't been there, but it's great that you are filling this 'hole'. BTW, had you thought of hitting Northern Germany? Every time I read about Luneberg, Celle, Goslar, Marburg etc I want to drool. Sounds like Steves country to me! I'm afraid I have to agree with you about Rothenburg. Sad. I liked Schwabisch Hall and Bamberg much better than Rothenburg. I think Kathi what's her name is going to buy out the town and put a dome over it, make it into one big Christmas shoppe. Yecchhh!
London, United Kingdom Tue 12/24/2002
Just one more time: check out the seaside towns of Viana do Castelo and Aveiro - then try the towns of Guimaraes, and Vila Real. These places are real treats!
Sacramento, CA USA Fri 12/20/2002
A few other suggestions for Portugal: I consider Viseu (north central part of the country) to be the jewel of Portugal. Check out the Rua Direita (Straight Street - which is anything but...), the cathedral, and the Rossio (town square) with its typical Azuleju, blue tile wall - great place to people watch and sip on an esspresso. Viseu has become a real mecca for international students looking for something new to visit. Other towns to check out in the region: Guarda and Tomar. Up in the northwestern conner of Portugal is the minho region with vinyards arching over the roadways - a beautifu drive. If you follow the path of the Douro Valley into the northeastern section of Portugal you'll find beautiful vistas of vinyards planted into the mountainsides. The drive is long and winding, but dotted with state run Posadas at somewhat reasonable prices. In this part of the country Mirandella and Braganca (historically important) are worth a look. Carazeda de Anciaes is a convenient stop along the way there (just a mile to my dad's village). The order of the day in Portugal is casual and friendly. The Portuguese are most hospitable and eager to help tourists. It's struggling ecconomy makes it a bargin in Europe (you can still find very nice accomodations for $25 per person per night - even in Lisbon) and tourism is very important to the people.
Sacramento, CA USA Fri 12/20/2002
Galicia and Minho
In Spain I love Pontevedra and Combarron, a wonderful little place on the south side of the Ria. Tuy, near the border, is great and the road from there to the mouth of the Minho then round the coast to Vigo is pretty heady stuff - the Prestige disaster would have to be considered though. In Portugal Vianna do Castelo and the area inland from it by the Lima and the Vez is excellent and I hsould love to get into the National Park. Don't leave out Bragan?a
Todmorden, UK Fri 12/20/2002
You absolutely have to check out Bom Jesus de Mont in Braga, Portugal - beautiful and inspiring. Also, check out the Bucaco Forest with its wonderful fern grotto and trails - great for picnics. Lemego is a nice, brief stop - the staircase leading up the hill is impressive though not as much so as Bom Jesus de Mont. The cathedral in Alcobaca is a must! My father came from a small village in the north eastern coner of the country (not worth the difficult drive). I've been all over the country several times and love it! Let me say that your philosophy of travel is right up my alley! Thanks!
Sacramento, CA USA Thu 12/19/2002