Between us, Nadia and I could have saved quite an impressive number of euros before even embarking on the Camino Portugués, if we had sooner had the brainwave to find an albergue in Porto for the two nights before we started walking. Instead, we rented a quaint airbnb apartment from Sofia, at the top of four flights of creaking stairs in an old building that is part of a Unesco World Heritage Site: a lot more pricey. However, in all fairness, it was an excellent location from where we could explore authentic Porto on foot.
But sitting on our beds in the tiny studio with its view across the rooftops and squawking seagulls all around, we had to make a plan for safely leaving some of our bags in the city until we would return roughly two weeks later. Of course! There must be designated camino albergues in Porto – because pilgrims either stop over on their way from Lisbon, or they start out from here. We duly googled (what better way to start the search?!) and found the Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto.
One Miguél was the contact person. We would inquire by email and whatsapp about leaving the bags, and about possibly staying there for a few nights after completing the Camino and before the date of our return flights. He soon replied positively by whatsapp and our first leg of the adventure the following morning, was to make our way to his albergue on Rua Barão de Forrester, 954, by train.
It was not even too far from where we were. We lugged all the bags down to the Sao Bento station with its stunning blue and white tile art on the walls of the main hall, from where we took two trains and covered the last few hundred metres to the albergue on foot from the Carolina Michaelis station. The door of the albergue is on the street front – as are the entrances of most other albergues; and on the yellow arrow route: the Camino Santiago.
Miguél assured us in English, with his charming slow Portuguese accent, that our bags would be safe until we returned. And that our beds for two or three nights before flying out of Portugal were booked. There was an air of peace around the place and involuntarily I looked forward to spending some time here on our return from Santiago de Compostela…
After completing a Camino at a crossroads point in his life, and upon realising how much he had benefited from it spiritually, Miguél had decided to find suitable premises in Porto with a view to opening the doors of a new albergue: as he describes it, in an effort to add value in this way to his country’s hospitality network for camino pilgrims. It had not been easy, and it still remains a challenge to make ends meet.
With our few excess belongings safely stored, we could strap on the backpacks (still quite a bit heavier than the ideal recommended ratio!) and catch the train to Matosinhos from where the coastal stretch of our Camino would start.
It was just more than a fortnight later when we reached the bus station in Porto after a scenic and enjoyable drive from Santiago de Compostela, brimming with thoughts and impressions, and quite impressed to see from another angle the beauty and charm of the mountains, valleys and rivers that we had traversed on foot in the past two weeks. The circle was almost completed when we again caught the train to Carolina Michaelis on that hot Saturday afternoon and made our way on well-travelled feet to the Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto on Rua Barão de Forrester.
Miguél had gone out for a moment and we were warmly welcomed at the door by Mathilde, a French pilgrim with a deep tan, an equally charming accent and soulful brown eyes. (I would learn, whilst chatting to her in the garden during the days to follow, that she had embarked on the Camino at a time when she had felt beaten and depleted, and had realised that she needed to find a way to replenish her strength and regain her zest for life… By then she had spent a good number of weeks on walking – from France to Santiago and she was heading south to Fatima.)
After parking our backpacks in the allocated lockers and our shoes on the shelves by the window (all for the sake of hygiene), we were shown by Miguél to our bunk bed upstairs – in a dormitory with four men: one from Canada, one from England, one from Germany and another from Bolivia! It felt familiar… And on the second and third nights we enjoyed sharing our space with Husein and Gina from California! Miguél takes the time and trouble to show each new pilgrim-guest around, explaining the spaces and amenities that are at their disposal during their stay, and even generously inviting them to harvest from the attractive outdoor food garden.
The albergue is a true haven. A home away from home. An ideal place to rest a tired body, organise an overloaded mind and just enjoy mingling with a handful of fellow pilgrims as they come and go.
Two of the dormitories, of which all three are on the first floor, delightfully open onto an outdoor landing from where you have direct access to the narrow but expansive garden with its trees, various informal seating and relaxation options (even two hammocks!), edibles to harvest like tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and a variety of herbs. Impossible to miss or ignore is the bright and colourful graffiti-like mural boldly spelling out what it is all essentially about: ‘Caminho Portugués’!
You are literally spoilt for choice of where to eat your meals, update your memoirs, read through your notes, chat with fellow guests or just be alone – both indoors and in the garden: a lounge with comfortable seating, flat-screen TV (lost on me!) and a table for chess or chatting, a dining room area with enough table and chair seating for all guests if needed, and then of course the various outdoor spaces which are the most popular on balmy days and evenings like the ones we enjoyed. Not forgetting the kitchen, which by evening was mostly buzzing with activity as everyone got busy preparing for themselves an evening meal. Well equipped – with even a kettle, which we had missed in most other albergues! – it is another homely space to be enjoyed and revelled in.
Miguél’s heart is in the right place; and it beats warmly for peregrinos, the Camino and its significance. His presence adds a gentle and welcoming touch to its atmosphere. If ever you should find yourself to be a pilgrim in Porto – that charming and amazing city on the banks of the River Douro with more to offer than you could imagine – be sure not to miss out on staying over at the Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto. It will embrace you.
You will find these words on the home page of the website: “Since the Camino Portugese is getting more and more popular we have welcomed a lot of pilgrims from over 60 countries and we can’t wait to meet you here! We opened our doors on the 29th of may 2016 and we are working really hard to create a magic and welcoming environment for pilgrims.” (Visit the website at http://www.albergueperegrinosporto.pt)
Contact details are the following:
Office: +351 220 140 515
Mobile: +351 912 591 321