Three years ago my mother walked the Portuguese Way of Santiago, from Porto, and since then she has wanted to do one Jacob’s Way again. There are many Ways, the most famous being the French one, partly because almost all the Ways coming from the south of Spain finish there and then continue to Santiago, but there are also the Primitive Way, the Coastal Way, the Way to Finisterre and the English Way.
It was the latter that my mother decided to do and I decided to join her because the desire to see new places and have that adrenaline of discovery was long dormant – yes because despite having spent the confinement in Mexico, I didn’t left the house… The English Way comes from the north of Galicia, where the English arrived by boat, and has two options – either from Ferrol (-120km) or from A Coruña (72km). As my mother had a week to do it and also wanted to spend two days in the wonderful Cíes Islands, we chose to to the way on bicycles, as it would only take us three days cycling about 40km a day, departing from Ferrol.
Problem: the day before departure, when I was going out of the bathroom, I kicked the corner of the wall with my pinkie and the toe was so disfigured that I had to pass by the hospital. The doctors were startled, as it looked worse than it really was – a split nail that would eventually fall off and a torn piece of skin. I was immediately told that I should avoid walking in closed shoes, so the plan to do the Way was compromised.
We quickly found a solution! My mother would do as initially planned and I would go by car, taking the bags and visiting the cities and villages on the Way. So this is not a text about the English Way to Santiago, but my visit to several beautiful Galician towns where the English Way and also the Portuguese pass.
Day 0 – We left Lisbon on Friday afternoon to sleep in Ponte de Lima, at a family house, so we could enjoy the journey to Ferrol, the next day.
Day 1 – We woke up in Ponte de Lima and after a wonderful breakfast we headed towards Tui, where my mother wanted to visit a friend, who owns a private pilgrim hostel, who helped her three years ago after a little scare. My mother remembered that the bridge between Valença and Tui, over the river Minho, the border, where the Way passes, is very beautiful and I would certainly like to photograph it. When I realized that Valença was a star-shape walled city, like Elvas or Almeida, I immediately said we had to visit it!
Valença is a very pleasant village, decorated with granite and towels – apparently the Spaniards all como to Portugal to buy them. Then I started to see the first yellow arrows and started to follow them until I reached the bridge, overlooking Tui, and reached Spain on foot. The first stage Valença – Tui was complete, I said to my mother, joking.
With this stop in Valença it was already lunchtime, so the visit to Ideas Peregrinas, my mother’s friend’s hostel, appeared at the right time! While we were having lunch we were chatting with Monica who told us about the confinement in Galicia, the celebrating when the border reopened and the work it takes to prepare rooms for pilgrims now with all the new hygiene rules imposed. We also found out that in Spain it was mandatory to wear a mask on the street, except when social distancing is possible. Then we took a short walk through Tui, we passed by the cathedral, the official hostel, where my mother stayed, until we returned to the car to continue our way to Ferrol.
Mónica suggested us to go to Playa de San Xurxo, the most beautiful just 15 minutes from Ferrol, so we headed straight there to discover a beach full of people, where we didn’t want to be because it didn’t seem possible to keep any safe distance. There is no doubt, however, that it was quite beautiful! We then drove to Ferrol, where we stayed at Alda El Suizo Hotel, certainly the hotel chain where we saw they complied the most with the hygiene rules imposed, in addition to the staff being super friendly!
Galicia, although immediately above Portugal, has the same time as the rest of Spain, so at the beginning of July the sun only sets at around 10:15pm. So we always had many hours of light to stroll. We took the opportunity to explore a little bit of Ferrol. Galicia is also known for having several bays that they decided to call rias. Ria de Ferrol is one of them, but probably the most industrialized and therefore the least beautiful. Despite being a city by the sea, its beauty is mostly found away from it, in its typical Galician architecture with beautiful windows. We went to the exact point where the Jacob’s Way begins and we did the first km on foot. It was already dinner time and we opted for Mesón O’Carabel, a tapas bar where we ate really well and even better served!
Day 2 – The adventure was starting! Around 9am my mother left on the bicycle. That night we were sleeping in Miño, which according to Google Maps was 2 hours away, by bicycle. We agreed to meet in Pontedeume, more than halfway, and in the meantime I stayed in Ferrol visiting an area of the city with several murals known as Las Meninas de Canido – the hotel they gave me a map with the location of the different murals. When I left it was raining and most of the paintings were not that great. My mother was also taking much longer than expected (I was following her through Wikiloc).
I went back to the hotel, grabbed all the luggage and went to the car. It was 10:30am and my mother was still going to take a long time to Pontedeume so I decided to surprise her in Neda to give cheer for her! She only arrived at the agreed destination at 1pm!!! It seems that the Way is much steeper and has many more uphills than expected, so she had to dismount many times and go on foot, so it took her 4 hours to do these 30km. In the meantime I had already visited the village, very picturesque and full of life (it was Saturday), and decided where we were going to have lunch.
There were still 10km left to Miño, with a big uphill on the way. The original plan was to have lunch at Miño and then drive to Fragas do Eume, a natural park along Eume River. So, I went alone to Fragas. I arrived at the Interpretation Center where I was informed that the road to the Monastery of Caaveiro, one of the attractions of the park that was 30 minutes away by car, was closed and that there was a free shuttle every hour, except that it was 15:05, which means I would have to wait 55min. It was also possible to go on foot, 8.5km, but I thought it was too much for my still recovering toe. There was also a suspension bridge over the river 2.2km away, so I could walk there and then the shuttle would pick me up. I thought it was a good option. I walked about 500m and then I remembered to check where my mother was and I got surprised to see that she was already halfway. I went back, discovered that there were shuttles until 9:00pm, and drove to Miño, just 20 minutes by car, to pick up my mother as she would enjoy the park.
We arrived just in time to take the 5pm shuttle and booked the return to 7:30pm. On the way we saw that there was a second suspension bridge where the shuttle could also stop to pick us up. They left us at the foot of the river, but to visit the Monastery we would have to do an 800m hike always going up. It was a nice space, but it was very hot and the use of mask did not help, so we went out again quickly. We went down part of another trail to go to see a huge stone bridge over a small waterfall, and then we walked to the suspension bridge where the bus was going to pick us up. The river is very transparent and shallow, so it almost always has a wonderful turquoise tone when the sun hits the water. After almost 40km of cycling (mother), we walked 4km and she was still doing “acrobatics” on the bridge while we waited for the shuttle! I have a super mom!
At Miño we stayed at Hotel La Terraza, also very pleasant. The lady at the reception (I don’t know if she was the owner) also owned the bar next door, where unfortunately there was no food, as one of the customers was playing the guitar and we wanted to have dinner there. We had dinner in the restaurant on the other side of the road, where we could also hear the music and where I ate the best spanish tortilla of my life – I thought I didn’t like it and now I love it! But before going to the hotel, we still passed by Miño beach just to get our feet in the water!
Day 3 – My mother left again around 9 am and I stayed at the hotel for a while, posting some stories on my instagram @images_from_my_world, while giving her some time ahead to catch her in the small village of Betanzos, 10km later. I arrived just before her and realized not only that she was going to arrive through a beautiful arch that gave access to the interior of the city, but also the Way would continue through a very steep street and that it was better for me to wait for her at the base. We had a coffee in one of the town’s squares and she went on her way, while I explored the rest of the beautiful village with beautiful churches including one in Santiago – strange that the Way doesn’t pass here. She missed the best part!
Here we went different ways. That night we slept a little in the middle of nowhere, a hotel on a national road just after Hospital de Bruma, where one of the stages of the English Way ends. As there was no village of great interest along the way, I decided to go to A Coruña, the second largest city in Galicia and where “the other” English Way begins.
The city is beautiful! I fell in love with Galician architecture! It also has a peculiar geography, a promontory that on one side has the Ria da Coruña, with a port with super crystal clear waters, and on the other the beach that faces the sea. Several pedestrian streets, full of buildings with typical Galician windows, take us to Maria Pita Square, where the Coruña County House is located and the statue of this woman who saved A Coruña from the English invasion in the 16th century. I went to the Church of Santiago looking for some sign that marked the beginning of the Way, but there was none, so I continued to the port to have a picnic overlooking the Castle of Santo Antón. I walked a little by the sea until I went back into the city to cross it and go to look at Orzán beach. Finally I returned to the car and went to visit one of the symbols of A Coruña, the Tower of Hércules, a lighthouse from the 2nd century built by the Romans.
A cidade é giríssima, aliás, fiquei apaixonada pela arquitectura galega! Tem também uma geografia peculiar, um promontório que de um lado tem a Ria da Coruña, com um porto com águas super cristalinas, e do outro a praia que dá para o mar. Várias ruas pedonais, cheias de edifícios com as janelas típicas galegas, levam-nos à Praça Maria Pita, onde se encontra a Casa do Concelho da Coruña e a estátua desta mulher que salvou A Coruña da invasão inglesa no séc. XVI. Fui até à Igreja de Santiago à procura de alguma placa que assinalasse o início do Caminho, mas não havia nenhuma, pelo que continuei até ao porto para fazer um picnic com vista para o Castelo de Santo Antón. Caminhei um pouco junto ao mar até voltar a entrar pela cidade para a atravessar e ir espreitar a praia de Orzán. Finalmente regressei ao carro e fui visitar um dos símbolos de A Coruña, a Torre de Hércules, um farol do séc. II construído pelos romanos.
I was 40 minutes away from the hotel and arrived 5 minutes before my mother, it couldn’t be more perfect timing! We didn’t really like this hotel as they were not properly following Covid rules. We went to dinner at a pulpery, a kilometer up, to eat Pulpo a Feria and, in that group of houses (we cannot call it village), we noticed that the coronavirus is something they did not see close, because there is no great care… The next day we arrived in Santiago!
Day 4 – The day we arrived in Santiago de Compostela! Once again my mother left before me. There wer no interesting villages before Santiago, so I stayed at the hotel for a while, surprised her in Sigüeiro just to take some pictures and continued to Santiago where, after looking for a place to park for about 20 minutes, I decided to leave it in an underground private parking lot.
It was still a while before my mom arrived, so I went for a walk of recognition. I walked directly to Praza do Obradoiro, where groups of pilgrims were arriving and celebrating. I was filled with the desire to do the Way myself! I walked through many squares of Santiago and when I realized that the bicigrine was arriving, I went to wait for her at Rua de San Francisco. It was also on this street where the Oxford Suites hotel happened to be, where we would check in later.
We celebrated in front of the cathedral, at that time many groups were arriving, including other pilgrims on bicycles, and we immediately looked for a place for lunch. Being in Santiago, and being one of the symbols of the Way a scallop, we ordered Zamburiñas (a kind of smaller scallops – and cheaper 😉 ). Then we went to get the bags from the car, checked in, rested for a while, and went back out for another walk around the city. We still tried to go to the Pilgrim’s Mass, but because the Cathedral is under renovation and due to the pandemic, only about 70 people could enter. Anyway there would be no Botafumeiro, so I had no great interest in going …
Day 5 – We finally slept some more as there was no rush this time. We checked out, left the luggage back in the car and then I tried to visit the Museum of Pilgrimages, which my mother visited three years ago and liked a lot, but they didn’t let me in because my backpack was too big and now, during the pandemic, the locker area is closed… So I went to visit the small part of the Cathedral that was not under renovation.
We had originally planned to stay two nights in Santiago, but my mother started saying that she would like to return to Padrón and Caldas de Reis, two of the stages the Portuguese Way passes through and I asked her why not to move the second night to Pontevedra and so we were also closer to Baiona, from where we were taking the boat to Cíes Islands.
So we left from Santiago to Padrón, the city that gave its name to the famous “Pimientos de Padrón, some are hot and some are not!” It is a variety of peppers, which were brought to the region at the end of the 16thcentury from the recently discovered American continent by some missionaires from the convent of Herbón, a few minutes from the city. There the friars “tame” the peppers, so that they would not be so spicy, but some still are. The visit, however, was short. We just went for a walk along the river, we went up to the Carmen Convent, which is next to the Pilgrims’ Hostel in Padrón, and we continued on to Caldas de Reis.
This small town is known for its thermal waters. There are several sources around the city where the water is almost boiling and a hot water tank where it is common to find pilgrims with their feet in the water, resting after more than 20km walking from Pontevedra. We visited these spots but it was so hot that there was no desire to get our feet wet and warm. Another of the things to visit in Caldas de Reis is the Balneário Acuña Hotel, with a hot water pool – it is possible to go to the pool, upon payment, without staying at the hotel. My mom did this three years ago and liked it a lot. We had planned to do that this time too, but the outside temperature called for cold water, not hot water!
We then proceeded to Pontevedra, where we stayed again in a hotel belonging to the Alda group, as I told you, the hotels that comply the most with the hygiene measures imposed! The hotel was close to the train station and the Portuguese Way passed right there so, after lunch, we followed it to the city center. Pontevedra is another beautiful Galician city. Without specific points of greater interest, the beautiful thing is to wander the streets because there is not one that is not beautiful.
Thus ended our tour by the Jacob’s Ways. The next morning we went to Cíes Islands, an unknown paradise in Galicia, where we spent the best two days of the week, and then returned to Lisbon.