Portomarín; the Pons Minea (Miño’s River bridge) of the Codex Calixtinus. That’s how the first and most famous guide of the Camino, an authentic manuscript gem of the 12th Century, refers to this small town of the interior of Lugo with a history forged over the quiet waters of the River Miño and the stone bridge that served to cross these waters for hundred of years. This bridge was built by the Romans in the 2nd Century and subsequently used by pilgrims; it was one of the few that permitted crossing the river without requiring the use of boats or rafts. In this way, the Jacobean route slowly started to direct towards Pons Minea and in the early Middle Ages Portomarín became one of the most significant locations of the Camino de Santiago.
In 1946 the town was declared a historic and artistic site and, paradoxically, ten years later after the construction of the biggest reservoir of Galicia (the Belesar reservoir) its tail of more than 40 kilometres submerged under the water the whole village. Thus, in 1962 was born the new Portomarín over Cristo forth, the town you’d find today on your pilgrimage towards Santiago; a place that preserves the characteristics of the traditional Galician town, with arcades, cobbled streets and low heights houses that gives it a special charm. With a bit of luck, if you walk the Camino between September and October and the summer has been dry, you may see some of the 10 arches of the Roman bridge and part of the old town among the waters.
Also you’ll find on the top of the town San Nicolás church dominating and contemplating the river, the main symbol of Portomarín. Built in the late twelfth century, it was moved to the new town stone by stone to protect it from the waters, as was done for other churches and pazos (Galician manor house). Halfway between a place of worship and a fortress, the temple was raised by direct disciples of Maestro Mateo, who constructed the magnificent Porch of Glory of the Cathedral of Santiago himself.
Another visit not to be missed is the Castro de Castromaior, one of the most relevant archaeological sites from the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula. Its excellent conservation will allow you to approach the Celtic culture without detours as it’s located only a few metres from the Camino.
Portomarín will be your end point from Sarria and your starting point towards Palas de Rei. Before you leave we recommend you two things: first, stroll around its parks. Did you know that Portomarín has the largest green area per urban area in Galicia? Yes and especially gardens! That’s why it’s also called the Garden Town (“Villa Jardín”). The second recommendation is about its cuisine: the Ancano cake, made of almond with a similar appearance and texture to the Tarta de Santiago (Santiago cake), is internationally known. Every day more than 3000 units leave Portomarín headed for main markets in Spain. Also completely different but highly valued are eel empanadas (eel pie). And nothing better to accompany these tasty delicacies than a shot of aguardiente, one of the best you’ll find in Galicia. Every year on Easter day a fair taking place in Portomarín devotes to this specific spirit drink.
Good food is guaranteed and relaxation too: Portomarín has hostels, hotels, guesthouses and a country houses. With food and rest requirements covered you’ll be able to focus on the new stage ahead to Palas de Rei and its 25,5 kilometres. This section is not particularly challenging but you’ll find some important climbs and slight uphills. One of the most negative aspects is that it goes by the main road, with sections high road traffic. It is considered the most artificial stage of the Camino, yet it still features some little corners and interesting places that are worth it.
One of these places is the cruceiro de Os Lameiros, one the most famous and photographed in Galicia due to his double face: on one side appears Christ crucified and on the other the Virgin of Sorrows. It dates back to 1670. Another important monument you’ll find near to your route is the church of Vilar de Donas, in the municipality of Palas de Rei, it has been declared a national monument in 1931. While the Camino does not pass through this point you may know that it was one of the major centres of the knights of the order of Santiago. Small towns are scattered around the walk, although the most populated doesn’t exceed 80 inhabitants, some have provided accommodation to historic monarchs such as Carlos I or Felipe II, as in the case with Ligonde. This place is located at the foot of a sierra that has the same name and that you must surmount. From the top you’ll enjoy wonderful views and you’ll watch with relief the beginning of the descent toward the end of the stage: Palas de Rei.