The Iberian Peninsula is where you’ll find routes for the Camino de Santiago, one of the more famous pilgrim journeys in the world, heading to the magnificent Santiago de Compostela. Traversing northern Spain from western France, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims take this path each year, but a good majority travel through the Portuguese countryside instead, on a route called the Portuguese Camino. Perhaps it’s not one of the traditional Camino trails, but there are many perks to journeying through Portugal, and even if the Camino to Santiago isn’t on your horizon, Portugal is an excellent country to plan different pilgrim expeditions.
Whether you’re setting off on a spiritual journey or an athletic adventure, the churches, monasteries, and cathedrals make hiking through Portugal especially memorable. Centuries old and powerfully symbolic of Portuguese history, these buildings represent an ancient wealth, some on an incredible scale reaching up toward the sky, and others with intricate details like gold-gilded altars and carefully designed azulejo mosaics.
From the architectural masterpiece of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte and its 580 step staircase near Braga to the Convent of Christ in Tomar, once a headquarters of the Knights Templar, and the monumental jewels surrounding them, there are many picture-perfect and heart-stopping destinations to plan a pilgrimage to or around.
The Portuguese Camino to Santiago de Compostela, or Camino Portugués, begins in Lisbon and takes travelers on a scenic trip past historic Coimbra and one of Europe’s oldest universities to traditional Porto, and through the charming towns of Galicia, Spain. Another popular route will take you from Lisbon to the holy town of Fátima, the site of Portugal’s Mariam apparitions and home of the world-renowned Sanctuary of Fátima. Along the way, green agricultural fields, some covered with vineyards, and dense forest make up a picturesque backdrop.
Hiking through Portugal won’t break your bank. The country is home to some of the best hostels in the world, especially in Lisbon and Porto, and many guesthouses and rural accommodations on the way cost as low as €10-30 per night. Groceries and cafés are also incredibly cheap, and, in some cases, a full meal with dessert at a tasca or small restaurant can cost €5-6.
Who says you need to abstain from food because you’re on a pilgrimage? Take it as an opportunity to sink your teeth into the fresh and simply delicious Portuguese cuisine, known for revolving heavily around ingredients from both the land and sea. Grilled sardines, steamed shellfish, smoked pork sausages, a mix of green leafy vegetables, and bean stews are just the tip of the foodie iceberg.
Portugal’s coastal Camino is yet another alternative in northern Portugal, taking pilgrims through charming seaside towns and wild beaches that have more of a remote feel compared to the busier towns around Lisbon and the Algarve. Piggybacking off our last point, trying the local cuisine is a must anytime you’re in Portugal, and the seaside route is an excellent way to savor some of the freshest and tastiest fish and seafood.
Portugal is a country with a history and culture that are deeply rooted in religion. It’s hard to find a destination better suited for a peaceful and reflective spiritual journey.
Portuguese locals are incredibly welcoming and they will appreciate learning that you chose their beautiful country for your pilgrimage. It won’t hurt to talk about your trip, and some locals may even offer insider tips on places to see and things to do to that will enhance your experience.
In fact, it is one of the safest and most peaceful countries in the world, according to multiple reference sources including the Global Peace Index, which ranks Portugal #3 just under New Zealand (#2) and Iceland (#1).
There is no “one” trail in Portugal for pilgrimages. Any part of the country will offer spectacular views and wonderful destinations, and with a little research into backroads and accommodations, you can personalize your own experience. Two of the main destinations pilgrims choose as their destinations are the Sanctuary of Fátima in central Portugal and the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga.
One of the best reasons why you should do a pilgrimage through Portugal is that it will allow you to see a unique side of the country that visitors, and even some residents, miss. Walking through traditional towns and quaint villages, in addition to interacting with locals, will get you up close and personal with many sides of Portuguese culture.
At the end of the day, it is true that you only live once. Of course, YOLO should be taken with a grain of salt, but journeying through Portugal on foot has very few drawbacks (if any at all), and you’ll have a lot to gain, from a new and unique perspective to possible new friends.