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Vila do Conde to Rates; the River route vs the Aqueduct route

The walking stage from Vila do Conde to Rates connects the Coastal/the Litoral Way and the Central Routes of the Camino de Santiago route from Porto. It’s one of the two connecting routes on the Portuguese Camino that is used by people who walk out of Porto following the coast and after the first day want to continue their Camino journey on the Central (inland) route. 

There are three routes out of Porto on the Portuguese Camino; the Central Route, the Coastal Route, and the Litoral Way. The Litroal Way is the one that goes along the coast on the first day from Porto. The other two including the Coastal Way go inland. The Coastal Route gets to the actual coast in Vila do Conde, the end of the first stage. From there on the Litoral Way and the Coastal Route follow a similar trajectory.

The church of São Pedro de Rates, Portugal
The beautiful Romanesque church of São Pedro de Rates is one of the highlights of the walk from Vila do Conde to Rates

Where is Vila do Conde?

Vila do Conde is a coastal town in Northern Portugal, 27 km north of Porto. It is situated on the Coastal and the Litoral Routes of the Portuguese Camino. Two routes leave Porto following different trails and connect in Vila do Conde. The Litoral Route (Senda Litoral) is the most beautiful trail to walk out of Porto. Many pilgrims even those who are planning to walk the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino leave Porto following the Litoral Way till Vila do Conde. From there they switch to the Central Route following the connecting trail between Vila do Conde to São Pedro de Rates. 

Our YouTube video of Alya walking the two routes from Vila do Conde to Rates; the River route and the Aqueduct route

Switching between the Coastal and the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino

There are two places with marked trails on the Coastal Route of the Portuguese Camino where you can switch to the Central Route. The first one is described in this post from Vila do Conde to Rates and the second one is 70 km north from Caminha to Valença

If after a week of walking on the Central Route, you start feeling like going back to the coast you can do so by following the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino from Pontevedra. 

São João Square in the historical center of Vila do Conde in Portugal
The historical center of Vila do Conde, one of the two towns on the Camino Portuguese where you can switch from the Coastal to the Central Route

Vila do Conde to Rates – comparing the river route and the aqueduct route

I’ve read a lot of information online and in Brierley’s guidebook about both routes before walking them. It sounded like the river route is well-marked but it has a lot of walking on busy roads while the aqueduct route is barely marked but has no walking on roads. I went to the tourism information office in Vila do Conde and they indicated that the river route was the official Camino route that is marked. 

Here are my conclusions after walking the river and the aqueduct routes.

A typical Camino sign on the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino in Rates
A sign of the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino in Rates

Route marking

Both routes are somehow marked but not as well as the main Portuguese Camino routes. The route marking was somehow good in some parts and very poor in others. On the river route, the shells on the first 5 km were difficult to notice as they were faded or washed off. On the aqueduct route in the last stretch, I didn’t see any arrows for about 2 km.

Roads and traffic

On both routes, you sometimes walk on the road but those roads are more like streets through towns and villages with no sidewalks. Locals use them to move around. The only time on the river route I really had to walk on the road (highway) was 1 km before Arcos when I went over the bridge. There were no cars at all and the road had a wide shoulder. 

The last 3 km to Rates the aqueduct route were on a sidewalk along a busy road and on a road with not much traffic. The last 3 km on the river route were through the countryside.

I walked the river route from Vila do Conde on Friday morning (between 10 and 12) and the aqueduct route on Saturday morning (between 8 and 10). You’d think that Friday morning would be busier but there wasn’t more traffic on the river route on Friday than on the aqueduct route on Saturday.

A road with little traffic between two high walls on the river route
A short 50 m stretch of walking on the road on the river route from Vila do Conde.

Easiness to navigate

The river route in my opinion is easier to follow than the aqueduct route. It’s very straightforward. I think I had to turn 2 or 3 times during the walk. For most of the day, you follow the same street/road that goes through towns. Even if you don’t see arrows you just keep going straight. Every time you have to turn there will be a Camino sign. On the aqueduct route, there are many turns you really have to pay attention to route marking or use an app. 

The river route merges with the Central Portuguese Camino route in Arcos, 3 km before Rates. From there on it’s easy to navigate there are many Camino signs. The aqueduct route merges with the Central Route in Rates the last kilometer is marked well but the previous 2 km have barely any signs.

Praça da Republica in Vila do Conde, a view from the bridge
Praça da Republica in Vila do Conde

Difficulty

My walk from Vila do Conde to Rates on the river route was 13 km and on the aqueduct route – 15 km. My walk on the aqueduct route was 2 km longer but I had to do a 700-meter detour to cross the road outside of Vila do Conde in a safe place and I walked 300 m extra in Vila do Conde when I missed the turn. Both routes are quite flat with no significant ascents or descents.

Scenery

I really enjoyed walking along the aqueduct for the first 4 km on the aqueduct route. Walking out of Vila do Conde on the river route wasn’t that impressive just walking along a quiet street past houses. As for the rest of the walk, I liked the towns and villages on the river route more than on the aqueduct route. On the aqueduct route, you walk through towns on a street between high walls or fences you can’t even see houses behind them. Overall the towns on the river route looked more like old towns while on the aqueduct route, they looked more like newer neighborhoods. 

Both routes have cafes and bars every couple of kilometers.

You get some countryside scenery on both routes. And a short patch of forest on the aqueduct route. 

A beautiful pink house with walls covered in red flowers on the route from Vila do Conde to Rates in Portugal
Houses in one of the town on the river route from Vila do Conde to Rates

Walking surface

Both routes from Vila do Conde are almost entirely on hard surfaces such as asphalt or cobblestones. The river route has more sidewalks with even surfaces (tarmac, asphalt), and the aqueduct route has a lot of cobbled streets which in my experience are harder on your feet. It might not matter as the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino has plenty of walking on cobbled streets.

Conclusion

If you want an easy and straightforward walk I’d recommend taking the river route. Even if you don’t see yellow arrows it’s not difficult to navigate. The roads are not as bad and busy as sometimes described. I can’t say that the Vila do Conde to Rates stage in the sense of traffic was, in particular, bad compared to the other stages of the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino. 

If you want to walk a more scenic route (the first 5 km) and don’t mind using a Camino app or GPS navigation then the aqueduct route is a good choice.

Santa Clara Aqueduct in the fields outside of Vila do Conde
Santa Clara Aqueduct is the highlight of the route form Vila do Conde to Rates

Which route from Vila do Conde to Rates is described in Brierley’s guidebook?

The guidebook gives a brief description of the river route from Vila do Conde to Arco from where you continue to Rates on the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino. As much as I like Brierley’s Camino guides I find the description of the route is somehow confusing. Even after walking it, I’m not sure I entirely understand the instructions from his Camino Portugues guidebook.

I didn’t use the guidebook for walking the river route but we have one at home the 2022 edition and I checked the route description out of interest.

The river route from Vila do Conde to Rates

  • Distance – 13 km
  • Time – 2h30min. – 3 hours
  • Ascent – 155 m
  • Descent – 107 m
  • Walking surface – mostly asphalt, some cobblestones
A route map of the walk from Vila do Conde to Rates
A map of the river route from Vila do Conde to Rates. AGLA and Medieval Bridge are two points where you turn right.

The river route GPX file

A detailed description of the river route 

The river route starts at the bridge over the Ave River. Once you cross the bridge turn right. You’ll see a yellow arrow pointing in that direction. Follow the river for about 200 m till you get to a road split. Take the left street (Av. Figueiredo Faria) that goes away from the river. Continue straight past the roundabout following Av. Bernardino Machado. There will be some yellow arrows on the sidewalk on the right side. Follow the street till the end, it’ll take you out of the town. 

Santa Clara Monastery in Vila do Conde, Portugal
Santa Clara Monastery from the bridge that you cross to get to Vila do Conde

After 2 km at a T-junction (the end of the street) turn right. You’ll see a building material store (AGAL), a car service center,

Follow the same street for the next 3 km. It goes through a town with a couple of bars and a private albergue.

Between 3,5 km and 4,2 km, you walk on a road with not much traffic. There was a very short part (in the photo) between two walls that I didn’t like too much.

At 4,5 km you reach a small town with a cafe (Cafe Novo) and a supermarket. Continue walking along the main street for about 300 m till an intersection where you turn right towards the bridge. There will be a couple of Camino signs indicating the route.

A Medieval bridge on the Camino between Vila do Conde and Rates in Portugal
A beautiful town with a river and an old bridge on the river route from Vila do Conde

From that point for the next couple of kilometers, the route marking is better you’ll see many yellow arrows.

Continue following the same main street/road through towns and neighborhoods. Don’t turn anywhere. 

Somewhere around 6 km, you stop seeing yellow arrows. Just keep following the main street.

At 6,5 km you’ll walk past Ramos and Ferriera cafe/bakery. It’s a nice place to stop for coffee and pastry. There is a split right after the cafe where you take the left street. For the next 400 m, you walk on the road through the town. There will be a couple of cafes in the next kilometer. 

7,5 km you get to a beautiful church. From the church, the street goes left. You walk on a narrow road for 400 m till you reach a village.

A traditional Portuguese church in Junqueira on the Camino route
The church of Junqueira one of the highlights of the river route

Between 8 km and 9,6 km, you walk on the road including a short part over the bridge that you walk on a highway, about 400 m. The highway wasn’t busy and had a wide shoulder. The bridge part has a sidewalk. 

9,4 km you reach Arcos where the route connects with the Central Portuguese Camino. In Arcos, there are a couple of cafes and guesthouses. 

The route between Arcos and Rates is marked very well. After leaving Arcos it goes through the countryside to Rates. 

13 km you arrive in Rates. You can stay there or continue walking to the next town.

The aqueduct route from Vila do Conde to Rates

  • Distance – 15 km
  • Time – 3 – 4 hours
  • Ascent – 159 m
  • Descent – 127 m
  • Walking surface – mostly cobblestones, some asphalt, and 500 m on a footpath

The aqueduct route GPX file

A route map of the aqueduct route from Vila do Conde to Rates
A map of the aqueduct route from Vila do Conde to Rates.

A detailed description of the aqueduct route 

My main recommendation for walking out of Vila do Conde on the aqueduct route is very simple just follow Santa Clara Aqueduct for the first 4 km. It starts at Santa Clara Monastery about 300 m after the bridge over the Ave River.

Once you cross the bridge over the Ave River to Vila do Conde go straight for about 300 m following N13 road. Then turn right to Calçada do São Francisco, a long narrow street with many stairs. Walk up the street to Santa Clara Aqueduct. Once there turn left and walk along the aqueduct for 1 km.

Santa Clara Aqueeduct in the historical center of Vila do Conde, Portugal
The impressive Santa Clara Aqueduct at the start of the aqueduct route to Rates

There is a part where you can’t walk next to the aqueduct. Once there (at the wall) turn left and walk for 100 m then turn right to a small street Rua das Mos that will lead you back to the aqueduct. I missed the turn and did a longer detour. Just remember to stay close to the aqueduct. 

Follow the aqueduct for the next 1,5 km till you get to a busy road (Avenida do Atlantico). You have to cross the road to continue walking along the aqueduct. Don’t run across the road cars drive at a high speed from around the corner it’s not safe. You have two options; to turn left and walk along the road till you find a crossing (if you follow the Camino app it’ll lead you to a safer crossing) or turn right and walk along the highway till you get to a tunnel (as I did). If you walk through the tunnel you’ll walk an extra 700 m but you get to cross safely to the other side of the highway. 

Once on the other side of the road continue walking along the aqueduct for another 1,5 km

4,5 km turn left away from the aqueduct towards the road (Rua dos Arcos) and then right. Walk to the pedestrian crossing and cross the road. There are yellow arrows painted on sidewalks and walls marking the route. That part of the route is marked quite well I didn’t have any problem finding the way.

At 7 km there is a bar. 100 m past the bar take the right street and walk under the aqueduct. After that, you’ll walk on the road for about 300 m. 

Between 7,5 km and 8,5 km, you walk through neighborhoods with a couple of cafes.

9 km – 9,5 km you walk on a footpath through the forest.

A short walk through the forest on the aqueduct route from Vila do Conde to Rates
A short part of walking on a footpath through the forest on the aqueduct route

At 10 km there is a cafe. From somewhere around there for the next 2 km, I stopped seeing Camino signs. I just followed the same street till I reached the town of Rio Mau and the highway (N206). Once at the highway I turned left and continued on the sidewalk along the highway for another kilometer. 

At the intersection on the left, you’ll see official Camino signs. From there, you just follow the signs till you reach Rates. The last kilometer is on the road with not much traffic.

15 km you arrive at the church in Rates.

The Portuguese Camino de Santiago planning resources

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