My trip through North Portugal and Spanisch Galicia
In Aug/Sept 2004 my sister and I went on a bus trip through North Portugal and Galicia.
We flew from Amsterdam to Oporto, the second largest city of Portugal. We spent the night in the seaside resort of Espinho. The next day took us to Braga, the 12th century ecclesiastical centre of Portugal, famous for its Holy week celebrations.
Our next visit was to the 18th century pilgrimage church of Bom Jesus do Monte, in the mountains 4 km east of Braga. A grand staircase leads to the Baroque church. The staircase is lined with Chapels featuring the 14 Stations of the Cross.
After a walk through Barcelos, west of Braga towards the coast, a city where there is no escape from the famous The Galo de Barcelos "the rooster of Barcelos", we drove along the Costa Verde (green coast) to the Galician border (Spain) and our next hotel was in Vigo there we stayed for two nights.
Galicia was settled by the Celts before the 6th century B.C.
The Celtic influence is very visible in many places.
Day three took us to Cambados, La Toja and the fishing village of O'Grove famous for its mussels of which we had a taste during a boat trip to the mussel farms. Back along the coast (Sangenjo) to Vigo. Day four found us in Noia and Muros. We visited the site of the longest Horreo (granary) in the small town of Carnota. Horreos are small granaries, built on stilts to protect the corn or grain stored in them, from rats and other rodents. You find them in most Galician and Portuguese gardens.
(see a picture on the photo page)
The trip took us further along the coast to the most western point of Europe Cabo de Finisterre.
That night and the following 2 nights we stayed near Santiago de Compostela at Monte do Gozo (mountain of happiness). Santiago di Compostela is famous, for it is here that the main route of pilgrimage in Europe, to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in the Cathedral of Santiago, ends.
But our first day there saw us in A Coruña, a beautiful town
on the coast, north of Santiago. A Coruña has been a historical maritime city since Roman times. Famous is the 2nd-century Roman lighthouse Tower of Hercules.
A Coruña (Corunna) is also called "Crystal City" because of the many glass-fronted balconies and galleries of its 19th-century buildings.
The following day was for many the highlight of the trip, a visit to Santiago de Compostela. Santiago de Compostela is the final destination of the legendary medieval way of pilgrimage Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James), now considered by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. Right up to the present day it attracts visitors from all over the world thanks to its fantastic monuments. The town is named after the Apostle Saint James ("Santiago"), who is buried here.
read the legend of Saint James
It was time to return to Portugal. First a stop in Baiona and a visit to the Parador de Baiona an old walled fort and now a luxury Hotel (parador). After a coffee we went for a 3km walk along the ancient walls, reinforced with cannon. This gave us a beautiful view over the waterfront of Baiona. Paradors in Spain are a chain of luxury hotels in castles and historic buildings.
Then it was back to Espinho and the hotel where we stayed the first night. This time a room with balcony and a view over the beach.
Once a small fish-canning village, the airy seaside town of Espinho, 20km south of Porto has grown into a fully-fledged holiday resort. Its long stretch of golden sandy beach attracts holiday makers from all over northern and central Portugal, particularly during July and August when the sea temperature is warmest.
The next day took us to Guimarães.
Guimarães still posesses many reminders of its past glory as the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. Around 1128 Alfonso Henriques proclaimed independence for the region from King Alfonso VII. We viewed the 10th century castle and it is believed that Alfonso Henriques was born there.
We walked along the Rua de Santa Maria past the 14th and 15th century houses and the Convento de Santa Clara, built in the 1600s and now the Town Hall, to the centre of town.
Our last days were spent in Porto and the surrounding Douro Valley. Porto or Oporto is northern Portugal's main city. It has all the ambience of a riverside community, keeping alive its ancient traditions. The city is named on UNESCO's World Heritage List, and is the country's most important commercial and manufacturing area. It is built on steep granite hills that look out over the River Douro, with a maze of narrow 19th century streets and alleys at its heart. The river is straddled by five dramatic bridges, which connect the town with the Vila Nova de Gaia area, an industrial area where most of the wine lodges are located.
Porto's largest tourist attraction are those around 60 port-wine lodges, there you can sample the finest of local wines. Lodges are like warehouses, where port wine is made and stored.
Terraced hillside vineyards along the river Douro, with their beautiful Quinta's (manor houses) produce the area's famous port wine. Specially built port boats take the wine in barrels down the river to the wine lodges in Porto.
The Douro rises in Spain and flows to Porto, winding its way through dramatic gorges, past mountains, sensational cliffs and the steep terraced hillsides.
It has been a truly enjoyable and informative trip.
Note: I was amazed to see so many Eucalyptus trees in Portugal. In reply to my question, the tour guide told me that the Australian eucalyptus was intoduced in the 1850s for the paper industry, because of its rapid growth. But now, because of its destructive influence environmentalists oppose further plantations. Eucalyptus not only demand a lot of water, but also provide poor natural habitats. Their litter is slow to decompose, which further limits the natural soil cycle.
Go to my holiday photo site to see more photos of the trip.