Casas do Rio

I don’t think I can find enough words of praise to describe our overnight stay at Casas do Rio at Cossourado, near Barcelos and Braga in Portugal, but I’m going to try.
When Greg was looking for ways to break a 33.6km Camino stage into 2 more manageable stages, he did a search on to see what accommodation was available at or near the halfway mark. Casas do Rio came at the top of the list, thanks to their amazing rating of 9.6 (out of a possible 10). We wanted to stay there, just to see how good this place was. The fact that it is located just 1.5km from the Camino route, at the half-way point of the longest stage, was a bonus.

So …. what’s so good about this place? Well, everything. I know, this is going to sound like some tacky travel promotion, but we want to write it all down so we remember our stay there, plus give the owners of the 16th century Casas do Rio some well-deserved publicity and encourage anyone going to Portugal to plan a short or long stay at this wonderful haven. As well as being a beautiful place, the customer service is outstanding.

Jose and Cristina Amaro have owned Casas do Rio for the last 9 years and have spent a lot of time renovating both the buildings and the grounds. The 6-room boutique hotel is  managed by their daughter Sofia, who originally suggested that it should be opened to the public. It’s only been open for 7 months, but judging from the reviews and feedback, it has been an outstanding success. Our bedroom with ensuite was on the 1st floor of the stables. There are a total of 4 double bedrooms, plus a family room and a suite. The large grounds have lots of fruit and nut trees, chickens, ducks, geese & swans, and a sparkling clean pool which we spent some time swimming in, and lying beside.

There are a couple of restaurants nearby, but we just didn’t have the energy to walk to any of them, so our very kind hosts offered to cook us a meal, and we gratefully accepted. We ate on the terrace just outside the stables and chatted with Jose and our fellow guests, a couple from Germany who have travelled a lot in Portugal and who also thought that Casas do Rio was one of the best places they had ever stayed at.

The following morning, we had the most incredible buffet breakfast I have ever seen, anywhere. All homemade, from home-grown produce, cooked on one of their two wood stoves. At least 3 different kinds of cake (Greg’s idea of the perfect breakfast), a vegetable quiche, a chicken and tomato pie, 3 different kinds of home-made jams, home-made yoghurt with red-berry jam, a platter of fresh fruit, breads, meats and cheeses. And 3 home-made juice combinations. Our hosts encouraged us to take any leftovers with us for our lunch, so we made some ham and cheese rolls and enjoyed them later in the day.

I was very sorry to leave Casas do Rio after such a short stay, but walked out of there feeling relaxed, rested and reinvigorated, and ready to do a day’s walk. And I’m already planning our next holiday in Portugal, with at least a week’s stay at Casas do Rio! It’s the perfect place for pilgrims, foodies, tourists and travellers.

Casa do Rio (click on image for larger version)

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Day 23 Barcelos to Casa do Rio

17kms. After the traumas and exhaustion of 30km yesterday, we had an easy day today. The section from Barcelos to Ponte de Lima is 33.6km, much more than we want to walk in a day. So we split it into two, detouring 1km (see map) to Casas do Rio at Cossourado, near Sao Bento close to the half-way mark of the stage.

It was market day (every Thursday) in Barcelos so we spent time wandering around an enormous market, that had been set up in the town square. Everything from fruit and vegetables, to furniture, to clothes to handicrafts. We left at 11:00am, walking out in warm weather about 26C. We were passed by another pilgrim from Spain. We are meeting pilgrims everyday, when in the camino before Porto, we were lucky to see a pilgrim once a week. It was all quiet roads and farms tracks until we reached Portela, where we saw the new Alberque that has been built, and bought 3 litres of cold bottled water from a cafe (they gave us two glasses to drink it).  We crossed Ponte das Tauas, where we met a pilgrim from Amsterdam who (with his dog) has been on the road since last August (walking all the way from Amsterdam to the Camino Frances, and then backwards along the Camino Portuguese).

We then left the camino at San Bento to walk to Casas do Rio, which without doubt is the best place we have stayed at on the whole camino.

Directions from the Camino Portuguse (red) to Casas do Rio (green). It is 1 km (click for larger image)

Detailed map with directions to Casas do Rio (click for larger version)

Walking along farm tracks (click for larger version)

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Day 22 Vilarinho to Barcelos

30 km. It was a long day that we could not avoid because we are behind schedule and cannot have too many short days. We were up early at the unprecendented time of 6:30am. The pilgrams in the other room had to eat breakfast in our room (we had the kitchen) and they wanted to eat at 7:00am. We were on the road by 7:45am. It was a short walk to the centre of Viarinho, where we found a pastalaria open, so we had a chance to have a bit of extra breakfast. Breakfast at the hostel was only coffee and biscuits.

We walked a kilometre up the road, which thankfully had a footpath, then left the main road for quiet country lanes. However we were soon back to the main road, with stone walls at the sides facing oncoming traffic. Greg donned the safety vest and his flashing headlight torch. It lasted about 1km and then we had a footpath, and left the main road again. We had forest paths most of the way to Sao Pedro de Rates, where we stopped at the local bar/cafe and had an icecream and drink. It was warm, and sunny, about 26C, and we enjoyed the shade under the umbrella. We left Sao Pedro de Rates and went through quiet dirt tracks through farming country.

As we approached Petra Furada we were forced back to N-306. This section of road had large signs warning drivers to be aware of pilgrams walking on the road. However it was narrow again with stone walls either side, and we were forced to walk on the road. On the first corner we faced a semi-trailer and several cars behind it (who could not see us), and we squeezed ourselves against the stone wall while the truck and cars went past. This section was probably 1km long, but half-way along, while a tractor was travelling the same way as us on the other side of the road, a hoon in an Audi overtook the tractor at high speed squeezing between us and the tractor missing us by centimetres.

When we reached the end of the road, Judy was all for us taking a taxi the rest of the way to Barcelos, she thought it was just too dangerous. We stopped at the Restaurnt at Petra Furada where the proprieter, who has been trying to improve safety for pilgrims, convinced us that the road ahead was much better, and that if we took a scenic detour (over a large hill) it would be a quiet walk into Barcelos.

We took up his suggestion and climbed up 290m to Capela de Sta da Franqueira along a quiet tree-lined shady road. We had great views of the Atalantic ocean from the summit.

We decended down from summit to walk though the suburbs of Barcelos, over the bridge, and along to our hotel. We were pretty exhausted for the day. However we managed to both limp about 800metres to a nice restaurant that did not have any other customers, but provided a nice meal of veal stroganoff (no pork involved).


Greg in his road walking safety gear

Walking up to the summit at Capela de Stada Franqueira (click for larger version)





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Day 21 Porto to Vilarinho

26km. A really horrible day’s walking, probably our worst of either Camino. The first half was spent walking through Porto’s northern suburbs on cobblestone paths and roads.It’s very well-marked, but on the N13, a busy major road. At the 10km mark at Araujot, the camino route used to  leave and go on a smaller road, but pilgrims used to have to cross  dual carriageway with a central barrier dividing the road! Yikes! The new alternate route goes along the busier N13, and requires no death-defying road-crossing feats. Those come later in the day for everyone regardless of which route they take at Araujo.

We did a total of 20kms on cobblestones, then the remainding 6km on sealed roads, through the villages of Mosteiro, Vilar, Giao and finally to our destination, Vilarinho. We had been somewhat unexcited about staying at Vilarinho as our guidebook listed a pilgrim alburgue as the only accommodation. The thought of sharing a room with up to 15 other people, at least one of whom snores, sleeping in bunk beds and being woken by the endless rattle of plastic bags at 5am just isn’t our idea of what a camino is all about, so we were delighted to meet a gentleman at Mosteiro who told us about his ‘hostel’ in Vilarinho. It’s actually a self-contained unit at the back of his house with space for up to 4 people. There is a double bedroom, kitchen-loungeroom with another double bed and a shared bathroom. 10 euros per person including breakfast, and there are also washing and drying facilities.

So we were pretty happy about finding some nice accommodation, and after the horrors of the last 4km of the day, we needed it! We had to walk on a road that was barely 2 lanes wide, with absolutely no margin at all. Stone walls on either side, fairly busy road that we had to keep on crossing to avoid meeting oncoming traffic on blind corners. I’m amazed that the camino route hasn’t been changed to quieter, safer roads – if today had been my first day of walking a camino, it might also have been my last – really scary walking conditions.

Scary road no room stuck between two stone walls. Trucks semis and cars speeding along this road

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Rest day Porto

Another cold cloudy day in Porto, but we got to see some more of the city.

Stairs at Lello bookshop


Narrow lanes down near the waterfront

Eiffel's bridge


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Day 20 Grijo to Porto

18km. A very cold start to our walking day, with rain on and off for most of the morning. We didn’t get breakfast at the Residencial we stayed at last night, so we walked 3+km to Grijo and got coffee and cheese rolls at a little cafe there. Most of the day’s walk was on paved roads through the southern suburbs of Porto, with one section of unpaved and cobblestoned Roman road. Of all the surfaces we walk on, cobblestones have got to be The Worst! Hard, uneven and unpredictable. I’m sure they are rough on the cars that drive on them as well.

We stopped a couple of times for snacks along the way, but it was too cold to sit for too long, so we just kept on walking and reached our hotel in Porto by 3pm. We’re staying at the B&B Hotel Porto Centro, a gorgeous new hotel in an old cinema. There is a large B&W photo of Ingrid Bergman on the wall of our room.

Rest day tomorrow, which will give us a chance to see a bit of Porto.

Walking in the rain again on a Roman road

Flowers on every grave



Judy at the Pont Louis I bridge (click for larger version)

Porto and the river (click on image for larger version)


Porto stage options: If you are walking to Porto there is another hotel that has been built about 7km north of Sao Joao Da Madeira. It is the Hotel Feira Pedra Bela. This would make the leg to Porto a more manageable 28km.

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Day 19 Sao Joao da Madeira to Grijo

18 km. The final stretch to Porto according to John Brierleys Camino Portuguese guide is a gruelling 34.3km. The only option to break it into smaller chunks is to stop at Grijo, which we aimed to do. It rained on us last night when we went to dinner, so this mornings dark clouds made us expect that we would be walking in rain today.

After a nice breakfast we packed up and headed out, down the road to Pingo Doce (a supermarket) for some fresh bread for lunch. We are walking to Porto on a Saturday and Sunday, and have learnt from experience that not many places are open Saturday, and even less on Sunday, so extra supplies are required. It was cold overcast, but it was not raining , so it was a meander through the suburbs, including another long steep hill, until we found a bar open (at the 4km mark) where we stopped in the warm for some drinks and rest. It was then our favourite highway the N-1. However because it was Saturday there was less traffic on the N-1, and a lot less trucks. We left the N-1 at Malaposta where we walked along the old Roman Via XVI road, with a short stretch of original Roman road.

Through long stretches of villages including Ferradal and Vergada. At Vergada we stopped for an icecream to think. We had a 5km stretch to Grijo, and then we had to backtrack east about 1.5km to get to the only hotel in the area. We pulled out our GPS and worked out it would be only 3.3km to go straight up the road to the hotel rather than the long detour. After 30 minutes it finally started raining. It rained for about four minutes and then stopped. We made it to the slightly run-down Residencial  Sobreiro Grosso. Tomorrow we have 18.3km to walk into Porto.


Tiled church

A piece of original Roman Road


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Day 18 Oliveira de Azemeis to Sao Joao da Madeira

10km. An easy day with just a few hours’ walking, interrupted by a coffee break, a stop for lunch and a visit to a Lidl supermarket – they are similar to the Aldi business model. Yesterday’s stage plus today’s stage were actually one long 30km stage in our guidebook, but we decided to split it into 2 days. Thank goodness – I had tendonitis in one foot yesterday, and 22km was about as much as I could manage. And at the 6km point today, there was this absolute doozy of a hill which would have reduced me to tears towards the end of an already long day’s walk. Plus, the Hotel Dighton that we stayed at last night was lovely and it would have been a shame to miss its luxury and comfort.

Not a lot to say about only walking 10kms, other than that it was a pleasant stroll – all on paved roads, we crossed over the railway line numerous times, wandered through a few villages and we’re staying at Sao Joao da Madeira (St John of the forest), an industrial town of around 20,000. The town looks very modern, but is of Roman origin, and is famous for its hat and shoe manufacturing. We’re staying at the AS Hotel Sao Joao, which is on the main town square, and is excellent value at 25 euros including breakfast

Climbing up the very steep hill


Roadside seats for pilgrims (also called a power pole)


Shopping with rucksacks

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Day 17 Albergaria-a-Velha to Oliveira de Azemeis

22km. We woke up to a cloudy overcast and cool day. It really looked like it was going to rain, but it didn’t. The hotel we stayed in didn’t offer breakfast so we went to a nearby busy pastaleria for ham and cheese rolls and our staple, portuguese custard tarts.

Then it was heading out of town soon walking on Eucalyptus forest tracks. After 6km reached the very busy Highway N-1 again. We stopped in a cafe that sat less than a metre from a highway that was full of trucks, cars and semi-trailers (see video). The noise is constant, and how anyone lives near the road is amazing.We left the N-1 highway and walked through quiet roads towards Pinheiro da Benposta. We stopped at a lavadero so Judy could cool her feet. We originally thought these lavaderos where a relic of the past, but we have seen more women using them to wash clothes, so they are still in use.

We stopped at a busy pastaleria for an after lunch ice-cream and iced tea at Pinheiro da Benposta. We tried to post something at the local Portuguese post office Corrios, but of course they were closed for 90 minutes everyday for lunch.

Over the N-1 again (via pedestrian bridge) and then up the hill to an old fonte, that also had a lavadero built in it. Crossing the N-1 again, at traffic lights that did not have pedestrian lights, you just sort of guessed when to go. Through Travanca and then through a railway tunnel. 15 minutes later a train came through the tunnel.

It ws then a hard slog uphill into Oliveira de Azemeis, where we spent 30 minutes trying to find a Residential Hotel, that was closed for renovations, and a Pensao that we never found. We are staying at the four star Hotel Dighton, which offers a cheap pilgrim rate of 55 Euros for two.


Wide footpaths on the N-1 Highway


Woman washing at a lavadero

Judy cooling her feet

Sharing the Camino with trains


ancient fonte






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Day 16 Agueda to Albergaria-a-Velha

16km – but somehow we still managed to stretch it out and take most of the day to do it. Knowing that we had a short distance to cover, we took our time over breakfast and packing up, so we left the Residencial Celeste at around 10am.  First stop was the Pingo Doce supermarket 1km up the road to stock up on essential supplies of cakes, bread rolls and snacks. Then we spent most of the morning walking through long villages with lots of closed-up shops and houses, although we did stop at a very good cafe at the end of Trofa, just before we crossed the N1 at traffic lights! A bit more wandering through side roads, then back across the N1 and down onto a Roman road and bridge which date back to the 2nd Century.

The section after the Roman bridge has been altered – previously the Camino looped under the main road a couple of times and crossed the Rio Vouga via a side-bridge. However, a section of that bridge has collapsed, so the yellow arrows now point straight along the N1 and over the main bridge.

It was warm today, with not much shade for most of theday, but this afternoon we did walk through eucalyptus plantations for a while. On the outskirts of Albergaria-a-Velha, there is a large, modern supermarket – Intermarche. We wandered in there for a while to take advantage of their air-conditioning, and spent a long time browsing their refrigerated and frozen goods! We did buy some cold drinks which we consumed immediately.

Tonight we are staying at the Casa de Almeda in Albergaria-a-Velha – the first place we have stayed at on this trip which has shared bathroom facilities rather than an en-suite bathroom. Nice place, though and there’s a restaurant just downstairs where we’ll have dinner.

We are now halfway to Santiago.

Mud brick, adobe house, we have passed many in the last 2 days


A lavadero for washing clothes

The broken bridge that forced us to detour (click for a larger version)

Roman road and bridge from the 2nd century



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