Pontevedra

Pontevedra

As you may already know, soy de Pontevedra (I’m from Pontevedra). I grew up here, then lived abroad in Ireland for a few years and moved back here in 2014. Oh! And I love the place. There are so many things I’d love to tell you… but this post would go on forever. So, I’ll try to control myself.

For those not familiar with the Camino Portugués, Pontevedra is around 65km (3 days) from Santiago. The coastal and central routes join in Redondela, before Pontevedra. And right outside Pontevedra the Camino splits again: a la derecha, the traditional Camino. A la izquierda, la Variante Espiritual.

Pontevedra is the biggest town on the Spanish section of the Camino Portugués, after Santiago. It’s common now to see pilgrims throughout the year, but it hasn’t always been like that. I don’t remember ever seeing any pilgrims growing up and until the time I moved abroad. There were no flechas amarillas or conchas de vieira in every corner either.

The Camino has always been there. In fact its origins date back to the 12th century. So, it is part of the history of the city, and we have many references to prove it, like a calle Virgen del Camino or a calle and plaza Peregrina.

 

Calle Peregrina
Calle Virgen del Camino

And, of course, one of the main symbols of Pontevedra is the popular Iglesia de la Virgen Peregrina, dedicated to the patron saint of the Camino Portugués. Its construction began in 1778 and its most characteristic feature is its floor plan, in the shape of a scallop shell.

So, we can’t imagine Pontevedra without its links to the Camino de Santiago, but the 20th century was not a good one for the Camino in general. Until the Holy Year of 1993. The Camino was then heavily promoted by the Galician authorities; pilgrims started returning. Nowadays, the Camino Portugués is the second one in number of pilgrims, after the Camino Francés.

 

La historia de Pontevedra

According to legend, Pontevedra was founded by Teucro (Teucer or Teucrus), one of the heroes of the Trojan War. The truth is that it’s not clear when Pontevedra was founded exactly, but it goes back at least to Roman times. There is evidence of a settlement on the Vía Romana XIX, in the area close to the Puente del Burgo. This is the bridge pilgrims must cross on their way out of town.

 

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, Pontevedra was a prosperous city: it had one of the most important ports in western Europe, which attracted a lot of international trade. There was an important shipyard too. In fact, the Santa María, one of the 3 ships that Columbus took to the Americas, came out of here.

In 1467, King Enrique IV granted the city the right to host a ‘feira franca’, a 30-day tax free market that attracted many people, rich and poor.  

This market is remembered nowadays with a medieval festival. It’s called Feira Franca and it takes place during the first weekend in September. People dress up in medieval fashion, the whole historic centre is decorated to look more medieval, there’s a market, music, entertainment and other events (there are a couple of images of it in the video below).

 

Pontevedra was the most populated city in Galicia during the 16th century. But the next 2 centuries brought in a recession, caused by several factors.

Then, in the 19th century, it started to grow again. The old city walls were demolished to allow the expansion of the city. Some remains of those old walls have been found in recent years and you can visit them.

 

More recent times

The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries was an era of great expansion, and not just physically. Pontevedra was then a cultural and intellectual hub. It was also the first Galician city with electric light. In fact, you can still see where the electricity was produced. The place is aptly called Casa da Luz (house of light) and you can find it in one of Pontevedra’s many squares: praza da Verdura. 

The Civil War (1936-1939) put an end to this. The repression afterwards was important and a new era of depression and decay started.

Then, around 20 years ago, Pontevedra began a deep transformation to become more ‘people friendly’. During this period, most of the city centre has been pedestrianised. Streets that used to be full of cars, with only a small space for people, are now virtually car-free and full of people. CO2 emissions are down 70%. Kids can safely walk to school unaccompanied.

 

The historical centre was very run-down and it was a rough area that most of us would avoid.  Then cars were banned. The area was renovated. Now, it’s perfectly safe and full of life. And winning international awards.

I love just walking around, enjoying the atmosphere, going for a drink, shopping,  admiring the architecture, discovering new details every time…

 

What to see in Pontevedra

 What not to see?! 

I’m a big fan of my city so I’d love for everyone to spend some time exploring it and falling in love with it. It is the perfect size to walk around and with the historical centre being mostly car-free, it is a very enjoyable experience too. So, you can simply wander around and admire your surroundings. But there are a few places you shouldn’t miss.

Iglesia Peregrina Pontevedra

First on the list is, of course, the Iglesia de la Virgen Peregrina.

It’s right on the Camino, so you can’t miss it and it’s full of Camino symbols. As I mentioned earlier, its floor plan has the shape of a scallop shell. You can appreciate this if you climb to the base of the dome.

I know climbing stairs is not your ideal plan after a long day on the Camino. But the perspective is totally different.

Anyway, in case you don’t feel like climbing the stairs, I got a picture for you.

If you keep following the arrows, you’ll arrive at the Plaza de la Herrería, the heart of the city. On one side, you can see the typical soportales (arcade), on the other, there’s the convent and church of San Francisco. According to tradition, St. Francis himself  founded the convent when he stopped in Pontevedra while walking the Camino Portugués.

 

Other churches

 Pontevedra belongs to the diocese of Santiago, so there’s no cathedral here. But there are several churches worth a visit, apart from the 2 I already mentioned.

The main one is the Basílica de Santa María. The main façade is quite spectacular (can you spot the saint wearing glasses?) and the interior is very beautiful too. It was built in the 16th century with money donated by the sailors guild, which was quite powerful at the time.

Iglesia de San Bartolomé. The Jesuits built this church between the 17th and the 18th centuries. The buttresses on one of the sides were added later to reinforce the building after the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.

Ruinas de Santo Domingo. Only the ruins are left of this church and convent but they’re quite magnificent. Little story about them: the remains of this once spectacular building were almost blown up at the end of the 19th century. The local council wanted to clear the space and build something else there, despite many requests to preserve the remains. So they secretly hired someone from out of town to place some explosives there and make the church disappear.

But there used to be an orphanage next door. The person hired to cause the explosion heard children’s cries and decided he didn’t want to be responsible for killing or injuring any children. So, he left without completing the job.

 

The squares

If you wander around the historical centre you’ll discover many squares, some bigger, some smaller. The main one, as I said, is the Plaza de la Herrería. But if you keep on the Camino route, you’ll see the Plaza de Curros Enríquez (where the arcade ends) and the Plaza del Teucro. 

 

Other squares that are worth visiting are:

Praza da Verdura. There used to be a vegetable market here, hence the name. Today, it’s the perfect location for a drink and some tapas. This square is also the location of the Casa da Luz that I mentioned earlier. You can also find here the oldest farmacia in town.

Praza da Leña. It takes its name from the firewood that used to be sold there in the past. Today, it’s another great location to enjoy some food in one of its many bars and restaurants (there’s even a Michelin star restaurant here!).

Praza de Méndez Núñez. There is a statue of Galician writer Valle-Inclán here. When you get to Santiago, you can look for a similar statue of the same author in the Alameda.

 

Other things to see in Pontevedra 

Correos (the post office) is not far from the Iglesia de la Peregrina. You can get your credencial stamped here as well as admire the beauty of this historic building.

Santuario de las Apariciones. Not many people know this but Lucia, one of the 3 children who reported the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Fátima (Portugal), later joined the St. Dorothy congregation in Pontevedra. While staying there, she had another apparition in 1925. This place is considered the third most important Marian shrine, after Lourdes and Fátima.

And finally, why not walk around the Alameda park or even along the river, towards the sea. Sunsets there can be quite beautiful.

 

Where to stay

Albergue Pontevedra

There is a public albergue in Pontevedra. It is next to the train station, as you enter the city. More info about it and contact details here.

If you prefer something else, the options are many.

For obvious reasons, I haven’t stayed at any of the following places but I know people who have and are happy to recommend them, so I’ll pass the recommendation on. All these places have the perfect locations to explore the city.

Hotel Rúas. Right in the heart of the historical centre, between 2 popular squares with plenty of places to have a drink or some food. This hotel has a restaurant/bar too. That, I can recommend. 

Casa Sara Hospedaje. A cosy pensión, also in the historical centre. It’s on a quieter street, but still close to all the ‘action’.

Acolá Hostel. A modern albergue with a view to the Santa María church.

And, of course, if you’d like to splurge a little, we have a Parador too. 

 

I have so many pictures of Pontevedra and I wanted to share them all but that was not possible, so I made a selection and put them together in the video below.

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

Warning: You should be aware that the names of towns, streets, squares, etc. can be in either Spanish or Galician. I wrote a post a while ago about the Galician language, and I think I’m due a new one, with more common Galician words you will come across.

You may have noticed that I used both plaza and praza. The first one is the Spanish word, the second one is the Galician one. Pronunciation is the same, except for the l/r. Keep this in mind if you see similar names. They probably refer to the same thing, just like plaza/praza, or virgen/virxe.

For the pronunciation of albergue, check ¿Dónde vas a dormir?

For the pronunciation of parador, check ¿Dónde vas a dormir? (II)

For the pronunciation of plaza, check Santiago de Compostela

For the pronunciation of iglesia, check the post about Finisterre

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Camino Portugués: de Redondela a Pontevedra

Camino Portugués: de Redondela a Pontevedra

Camino Portugués: de Redondela a Pontevedra |

One of the advantages of living on the Camino is that you can walk the Camino every day. OK, it’s kind of a Groundhog Day situation: you walk the same stretch over and over and you never make it to Santiago de Compostela. But I must confess that I sometimes change my route so I can follow the flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) for a bit.

 

There’s something about following those arrows… If only every decision in life was so easy! You think “Should I do this or that?” And boom! A yellow arrow or concha de vieira (scallop shell) magically appears and shows you the way.

 

Another advantage of living on the Camino is that you can train for your next Camino… on the Camino. The Ruta da Pedra e da Auga, on the Variante Espiritual of the Camino Portugués, for instance, is a favourite route of ours.

 

The plan for the recent Carnival break was to walk 2 or 3 stages of the Camino Portugués. Life had other plans, however. That meant we could walk one stage only. We picked Redondela-Pontevedra because we could easily get to Redondela to start walking and we would finish at home. Not much planning required.

 

So el lunes (Monday) we took an early tren (train) to Redondela, had some café con leche and started walking. 

 

Redondela

One of the most characteristic features of Redondela are the two viaductos (viaduct) that cross town. They both date back to the 19th century.

 

Recently, I accidentally found out that there are two pieces of the Berlin Wall in Redondela. For more info check this article

 

I would have liked to walk around Redondela a bit, but by the time we got there and had breakfast it was already 9:00am. Great excuse to go back.

 

So, we set of from Praza da Constitución 1812, up rúa Cruceiro and past hórreo da Esfarrapada.

 

Hórreo. De Redondela a Pontevedra

 

Hórreos are a constant feature in Galician rural landscape. They are used to store grain. The pillars that raise them from the ground are ended in flat stones that prevent access by rodents. They are usually made of stone or a combination of stone and wood.

Soon we were out of town, walking on paved roads with little traffic. And after crossing a busy road we got to a pleasant picnic area with a fuente (fountain).

 

After that you walk mostly away from traffic, through forests. There’s an area where you get a nice view of the Ría de Vigo on your left. Right before that, there’s a display of shells, on your left too. I must say I was surprised by the number of these kinds of displays on this stage only. I don’t think I saw any on the whole Camino Inglés last year.

 

Another difference I noticed was that we never saw another pilgrim on the Inglés around the same time a year ago. On this one stage of the Camino Portugués from Redondela to Pontevedra we saw between 10 and 15 other people walking.

 

De Redondela a Pontevedra

Into Arcade

The worst part of the stage, for me, came right before Arcade. This stretch probably feels longer than it actually is, because you’re walking on a busy national road with cars, trucks and buses flying past you. But you are soon in Arcade, a nice little town famous for its ostras (oysters). In fact, every year, in the month of April, they celebrate an oyster festival.

 

Arcade has bars, restaurants, banks, shops… any service you may need.

 

Right after Arcade you pass Pontesampaio… and one of the most photographed bridges on this route. A plaque on one of the sides reminds us of the historical relevance of Pontesampaio: in June 1809, during the Independence War, the Spanish troops defeated the Napoleon’s army and thus ended the French occupation in Galicia.

 

Historical events aside, this is a beautiful spot.

 

After that, you continue through rural areas and forests for most of the way until Pontevedra.

 

The weather was nice, dry and sunny but not too warm and I found most of the stage quite a pleasant walk. There are some uphills, although they are not very demanding.

 

The hardest part of the stage came after Pontesampaio, with a section on stone paths. Although it wasn’t raining that day, it has rained a lot this winter, so there was a lot of water and mud in between the stones, making the walk a bit trickier. Our bastones (hiking poles) came in quite handy here.

Entering Pontevedra

There is an alternative route or camino complementario into Pontevedra. After a small chapel (Capilla de Santa Marta in Tomeza). I was really looking forward to this section, after seeing photos and comments from other pilgrims. This camino complementario is longer than the official one but you get to walk in nature, surrounded by trees and with a river flowing by your side. Quite idyllic, as opposed to walking on the side of a road.

 

Well, the beginning of this alternative route is clearly marked but we had to skip it because there was also a sign saying that it was closed. A couple of months ago we had a few storms with heavy rain and strong winds. As a result, the small bridge over the river disappeared. I remember reading about this at the time but I had forgotten about it. So, we had to stick to the road. Not as scenic.

 

And we were finally home. One of the first things you see when you enter Pontevedra is the albergue. It’s right beside the train station and quite close to the bus station too. But you still have to walk a bit more to get to the city centre and see the famous church in the shape of a scallop shell: iglesia de la Virgen Peregrina, patron saint of the Camino Portugués. 

 

I think Pontevedra well deserves a post. Maybe next time?

 

Today’s Spanish words for the Camino

 

For the pronunciation of Redondela, Arcade, Pontevedra and Variante Espiritual, you can check this post about the Camino Portugués.

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Variante Espiritual

Variante Espiritual

When I wrote about the Camino Portugués a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the Variante Espiritual. This route variation starts from Pontevedra and takes you to Padrón,  where it joins the traditional Portuguese route.

 

The Variante Espiritual is a very recent route. It was created around 5 or 6 years ago, connecting places that were historically related to the Camino.

 

  • The initial part of the Variante Espiritual is based on the pilgrimage taken by Padre Sarmiento in 1745. Fray Martín Sarmiento, or Padre Sarmiento, was a Spanish scholar and monk. He wrote on a variety of subjects, including his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In his record of this pilgrimage he mentions some of the places along the Variante Espiritual.

 

  • The third stage follows the same route as the remains of St. James on arrival to Galicia, across the Ría de Arousa and up the river Ulla.

 

Where does it start?

The starting point for the Variante Espiritual is clearly marked with two big signs.

Variante Espiritual

At this point, you can decide to go right under the bridge and follow the traditional Camino Portugués. Or you can go left and follow the Variante Espiritual.

Variante espiritual sign outside Pontevedra

The old signs

Variante espiritual new sign

New sign (2021)

A few days ago I walked more or less half of the first stage (from Pontevedra to Combarro), with my marido (husband) and our two hijas (daughters), aged doce (12) and diez (10). Have you done it with family, or are you planning to? With children? I’d love to hear your experiences!

 

The reason why we chose to walk this part is mainly that it is very convenient for us. We packed some agua (water) and snacks in a mochila and we started walking. Once we reached our destination, we simply took an autobús back home. Also, the climb up to Armenteira is hard and we didn’t want to get the kids too tired and/or bored.

 

Leaving Pontevedra 

After we left Pontevedra, we walked through rural areas until we reached the monasterio (monastery) in Poio. You can actually spend the night there, since they have an area for guests. For more info, you can check their website: http://monasteriodepoio.es

 

Variante Espiritual
On the Variante Espiritual

After Poio, you go down to sea level and walk a stretch along the coast of the Ría de Pontevedra before you reach Combarro.

 

There is also a couple of small sections on the main road, but there is plenty of space to walk. It might not be so good during the summer, since this is a touristic area, the road gets very busy and there are cars parked everywhere. But it was fine the other day. 

 

Combarro

Combarro is a beautiful fishing town, famous for its hórreos (granary), a typical Galician construction. Hórreos are used to store grain; they are raised from the ground by pillars ended in flat stones that prevent access by rodents. They are made of stone or a combination of stone and wood.

You enter Combarro through the beach

Combarro, on the Variante Espiritual

One of the many hórreos you will see

And that’s where we finished our walk this time. Maybe next time we will start here and walk up to Armenteira. The climb is hard, but the views of the Ría are amazing.

 

Armenteira

There’s another monasterio in Armenteira, where you can also spend the night. More info on their website: https://www.monasteriodearmenteira.es/ There’s an albergue too.

View of the Ría

View of the ría

Armenteira, on the Variante Espiritual

Monasterio de Armenteira

Ruta da Pedra e da Auga

The section after Armenteira is one of great natural beauty. It’s called Ruta da Pedra e da Auga (route of stone and water) and it goes along a river where you can see the remains of many old water mills.

This second stage ends in Vilanova de Arousa, from where you will take a boat to Pontecesures, right beside Padrón. Alternatively, you can walk for 28km.

 

The boat trip takes about an hour and you need to arrange it in advance. The boat departures depend on the tides, so there are no fixed times. If you decide to take the boat, you will see the only maritime Via Crucis in the world, 17 stone crosses identifying the way followed by St. James’s remains.

 

After this third stage, you just join the traditional Camino Portugués in Padrón.

 

I found the section we did was very well signed. We didn’t have any maps with us, but we didn’t miss them. We had our phones, which we could have used if we got lost, but that was not necessary either.

 

It’s a very quiet route, even during busier times of the year. The day we walked, we didn’t meet anybody walking. We saw a couple of young men leaving Pontevedra, but they took the Portuguese route. That was it.

Today’s Spanish words

 

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¡Buen Camino!