North Portugal and Galicia tips?: 2004
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
Galicia is fantastic. The medieval town of Betanzos is worth a visit. It is located on the top of a very steep hill and you can really imagine what Spain looked like hundreds of years ago. Sada is a small seaside town that has a ceramic factory (Sargadelos) that manufactures very modern pieces. The factory is a cooperative and also has a museum devoted to Galician art and culture. Pantin beach is one of the loveliest I've ever been to.
Gloucester, MA USA Thu 12/30/2004
Just after posting my previous comment I thought of any number of people I knew that did not really like travel. I spent many years traveling with no real choice of destination. I can't think of one trip that was not worth while. Sure, there are varying levels of desire to go back and memories to treasure. That said, I have one piece of advice about how to make any trip more rewarding. Do the research!
I'd heard how boring the Aleutians were. I had to go and I did some reading before I went. They were not boring when I looked at them through the eyes of Russian explorers and WW II pilots watching fog race in from the Bearing Sea. Someone said Porto was boring. Only if you are looking for the "BIG SIGHTS" that I find relatively so unrewarding. They are checklist, the meat of a place is in its life and history. Know its general trend before you arrive and you will find many a "boring" place has more than most find.
Fairfax, VA USA Tue 11/23/2004
Porto. I've traveled much of the world for forty years and this is a favorite. First I'd advise researching the city's history. Some of the more "recent" dates from Wellington and the effort to stop the French. Those who are clueless as to what they are observing are the bored ones. Part of the charm of the city is to soak up the atomosphere in the real back streets and climb those hills. I have to add that some of the book shops have some very interesting finds in antique books and maps. As much as I love the smell and taste of the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia across the river, the feel of the Porto side is special if you know what you are seeing and take some time. Some familiarity with the events of 1809 add flavor--look at the little shrine down along the river underneath Ponte Lu?s I. Understand the importance of the Bishop's Seminary in the Largo do Padre Baltazar Guedes. All that helps appreciate that lion on top of the eagle monument. The food is interesting too. Perhaps the special of the city, dating to that war, is too much for some--but there are other specialties.
Fairfax, VA USA Tue 11/23/2004
Santiago and North Spain
My family and I have just returned from our trip throughout northern Spain, which included Santiago de Compostela. This is my third trip to Santiago which is in the region of Spain known as Galicia. You may want to make certain your travel dates include July 24th-25th, which is the city's Festival of St. James. The show and fireworks display takes place on the exterior of the cathedral on the eve of St James Day on July 24th at 11:30PM. It is a spectacular event not to be missed. The entire city is alive with arriving Pilgrims, gaita (bagpipe) players, and folk groups singing and playing typical Galician music. We stayed in the old quarter of town close to the cathedral at Hotel Sino, which I highly recommend. It was reasonably priced (even for festival time) an atmosphere both rustic and modern. Breakfast is included in the room price which was 79 euro for a double. We were very impressed with the location and quality. There are an abundance of hotels and restaruants, but you must book early for the dates on July. Another nice hotel which I have stayed at on a previous visit is Hotel Vixce de Circa, also highly recommended, just outside of the monumental part of town.
Although it is not in the northwestern part of Spain, other interesting areas in the north are San Sebastian (Pais Vasco,) Santillana Del Mar (Cantabria,) and Oviedo (Asturias.)
San Sebastian, or Donastia (in Basque) is a beautiful city built around it's famous shell shaped beach "La Concha." It's old town is the social and gastronomic nerve of the city. You will have no trouble finding bars to go tapa (pinxto) tasting within the old town. It is also a good home base for day trips to nearby Azpeitia (birthplace of Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuit order) and Guernica (made famous in Picasso's mural protesting the German's experimental bombing 1937.) Both of those are worth a visit. San Sebastian can be a little pricey in the summer months, but we found a very nice hotel on the outskirts fo the city center called Hotel Anoeta. It is only a 10 minute bus ride to the old part of town, and conventient to the hotel.
I see that a previous post mentioned Santillana del Mar, so I won't elaborate on it, but do recommend it as a stopping point.
Oviedo is the capital of the principality of Asturias, the same region of the Picos de Europa, where you will find apple orchards (for a cider type drink called "sidra",) elevated granaries called "horreos," and several interesting pre-romanesque churches. It has a very nice old town, rich in history and home to a very proud people. We stayed at a very nice and centrally located Hotel Fruela, which we were very pleased with. Please include more northern Spain cities and regions in your upcoming editions, it is a very diverse and interesting area, so different from the stereo-typical flamenco and bull fighting images most associated with Spain.
Tampa, Fl USA Mon 08/23/2004
Camino de Santiago
We left Anchorage, Alaska in early September to walk parts of the Camino. We started in San Jean Pied de Port- France after a night at the YIH in Biarritz. Over the Pyrenees and down into the only hotel in Roncevalles, Spain where we had made a reservation --thank G-d. We kept a travel diary for the parts that we did, the first and last parts--we did earn our Compostela, a dispensation from all sins except litering along the Camino which was a mess in places. WONDERFUL experience and way to celebrate my 58th birthday. If you want we will e-mail it to you for reveiw.
Brock & Janice Shamberg
Anchorage, Ak USA Mon 07/19/2004
More on the Douro
I'm not sure I'd agree that the Douro valley is the best part of Portugal (I'd probably vote for Coimbra) as it's much more developed than I expected, but definitely worth visiting. While a car would be nice, mostly for access to more interesting accomodation, it's not required - there are three mountain railways, one to Vila Real, one to Amarante and one (I highly recommend) to Mirandela. There are also buses - if you stay in Regua take the bus up to Lamego and you'll find a smaller version of the Bom Jesus staircase in Braga.
The cheaper of the two station hotels in Regua is Residencial Imperio (254 320 120), I thought it was fine.
More on Portugal on my web site, www.wilhelmswords.com/rtw2004
Cary, NC USA Wed 07/14/2004
Douro Valley is best part of Portugal
The Douro valley in Portugal is the most beautiful part of the country. My wife, a native Portuguese, grew up here in the heart of the port vineyards. I've spent a lot of time here in my 14 trips to Portugal, including the year we lived in the country.
I always recommend the train ride from Porto to Regua. The last 45 minutes of the journey are spectacular as the train winds slowly along the Douro. Regua itself is not a particularly great town, but it is a bustling place and has a number of treasures.
There are two good accommodation options a block from the train station in Regua. The more modern hotel is along the river bank. I don't recall the name at the moment, but it's clean and modern and relatively inexpensive. Across the street is the six-story residencial. I've stayed here several times and it's just fine.
Further down the train line is Pinhao. It's not a great place, but its setting is wonderful, and there's sort of an upscale hotel here along the river. It's a wonderful place, even if you just go there to have a port or two.
I also recommend that visitors rent a car (if they're daring enough to challenge Portuguese drivers) and make a few day trips in the region. Trains don't run up to the towns and villages in the steep hillsides where you must go to gain a full appreciation of the beauty of this part of the country.
A restaurant -- Varanda do Douro --on the hills outside of Regua -- offers an incredible view of the valley as you dine. And the food is wonderful. The wine selection is great. You will find many of the fine local premium wines, especially the reds.
I'd be happy to share more insights. Just send me a note. My wife and daughter will go to her hometown of Tabuaco (near Regua) in mid-August to take care of her aging mother. I'll go in mid-September for a few weeks. That is harvest time for the port vineyards, always a good time to be in the Douro.
Tumwater, WA USA Sat 07/10/2004
N Portugal & NW Spain
Just returned from northern Portugal & Spain. We loved the entire region, especially Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral is dramatic, awesome, we thought on a par with Notre Dame. We stayed at the Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos, right on the cathedral square: the oldest hotel in Europe. Felt like we were guests of Ferdinand & Isabella themselves (who built it 500 years ago.) Beautiful green inner courtyards and fountains within the hotel. Santiago itself is very walkable, clean, and interesting. It's particularly beautiful at night.
It was fun to watch the modern-day pilgrims arriving on foot day and night with their scallop shells, walking staffs, and huge backpacks. Read the history of the place before you go; you'll enjoy it all the more.
We also liked Santillana del Mar on the Costa Verde, the north coast of Spain. It's supposed to be the best-preserved & prettiest medieval village in Europe. We spent the night there in a very nice Parador. (The Paradors are the state-sponsored hotels in Spain and we found them to be very nice places to stay.) At Santillana we enjoyed the nearby Neocave, a digitally-reconstructed exact replica of the adjacent Caves of Altamira, which have world-famous prehistoric wallpaintings. (You have to be on a 4-year waiting list to see the real cave.) The prehistoric people knew how to pick their spots: the countryside near the caves is exceptionally beautiful. Rolling green hills down to the sea, dotted with red-tile-roofed white stucco houses, and the mountains behind you.
We also saw the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: a spectacular building, but not much of an art collection; it's worth a quick peek. Otherwise you'll have to go home and tell your friends that you were in Bilbao, Spain, and you DIDN'T see the Guggenheim.
A nice place in Portugal: Ponte de Lima. A picture-postcard village on the Lima river surrounded by green hills and vineyards. Many nearby manor houses are also B&B's. Walk along the river and over the old first-century Roman bridge. Have some vinho verde & a little bread & cheese. Ah, the good life. We also liked Viseu & Fatima. One last thing: if you're thinking about driving into Porto, follow the advice of the natives (which we didn't): don't! If you want to drive in Porto, first go to Palermo to practice. Take a train in if you'd like to see Porto. By the way, we ran into no anti-Americanism anywhere and found the Spanish & Portugese people to be very friendly and helpful. But don't forget your Rick Steves phrasebooks!
Northbrook, IL USA Sun 06/20/2004
Porto, Douro Valley
Having just returned from 6 weeks in Europe with my daughter,we both agree that one of the highlights was our one day trip to the Douro Valley. We caught a train to Regua from Porto's main station, then changed immediately to the train to Pinhao. A great deal of this journey followed the beautiful Douro River. This area is fitting of its World Heritage Listing. So easy to do this trip by train - a must do in fact!
Adelaide, SA AUSTRALIA Thu 06/03/2004
I believe we shopped there when we were in Evora Sept 2002! Loads of handcrafted items, nice quality and the prices as good or better than any we saw in the country. Large open building and friendly staff. Wonderful! We bought several pieces of ceramics.
Va USA Fri 05/07/2004
Evora - oficinadaterra.com contemporary crafts
Evora. Check out our workshop of contemporary awarded crafts. 1.st National prize in POrtugal for 3 consecutive years. A special sense of humor.
Evora, Portugal Sat 04/24/2004
Santiago de Compostela
Rick, Others have covered most of it, but of all the cities in Europe Santiago is my favorite. Although I may be a biased pilgrim, one feels as though they thrown back into medieval Europe. One of the best places to feel this way is at the town market. A stone facade unlike any other I have seen houses the permanent booths while farmers line the outside. I have a distinct image of a woman selling cabbage and using a large leaf to protect her head from the sun. The unmarked bottles are homemade Galician 'orujo'. Orujo is made by adding water to the remnants of the wine making process (seeds, peels, etc..) and allowing it to ferment. It is a potent drink akin to grapa that is great in coffee or on ice after a long day. It comes in a toasted and herb flavor as well. I can't wait to hear your write up on the Santiago cathedral. Enter this cathedral with your backpack on and imagine as if you have just traveled for months to get there as many pilgrims did before you. See my entry on the Camino de Santiago on the Spain page of Rick's website. Happy travels, Jason Peel Durham, NC
Durham, NC USA Tue 03/23/2004
North Portugal & Galicia
Sept. 2003 was my second trip to Portugal. Tip: stay in the Youth Hostels. They were perfect for me at age 76 Costs US $18/year membership. (www.hiusa.org) For a single bed in a small dorm the cost was US$9-15/night, breakfast included. Also take the bus, it's faster and cheaper than the train or plane and you see more. In Lisbon, stay at the Central Hostel on Rua Andrade Corvo, 46. From the airport take the Bus (Aerobus)10-15 minutes. It lets you off on the corner 50m from the Hostel. 50m on the other side of the Hostel (which is quiet by the way)is a mall with shops and food. Where the bus stops is also a metro stop. The Bus Station is 10-15 minutes away by foot. My trip was to visit Roman ruinsand Celtic megaliths with a stop off in the Algarve to visit friends. Check out Evora (megaliths); Coimbra, its Univ. and nearby Roman Ruins at Conimbriga; Braga and Guimaraes for Roman ruins and Celtic hillforts. Boa viagem
San Antonio, TX USA Mon 02/09/2004