Vilanova de Arousa to Iria Flavia: Spiritual Variant Day 3
Updated: Oct 22
This post is part of a series of guides about the Portuguese Coastal Camino. If you're looking for the full rundown on that route, have a look here: What do you REALLY need to know about the Portuguese Coastal Camino?
We’re veering from the main route onto the Spiritual Variant. If you want a guide to the alternative sections along the main route, I like Pilgrimage Traveler, if you’re looking for a comprehensive turn by turn, or Stingy Nomads if you’re looking for more barebones logistics.
Rejoin me at Padrón if you decide against the Spiritual Variant.
Distance: Vilanova de Arousa to Iria Flavia
Boat - Vilanova to Pontecesures: 27.4 km/17 miles
Walking - Pontecesures to Iria Flavia: 4.2 km/2.6 miles
For most of today's trip, you'll be on the water. Put on your jacket and enjoy the trip. (Full details for booking your boat are in this prior post but the main thing to know is that most people use the large tour operator, La Barca del Peregrino. Their office is obvious as you walk into Vilanova de Arousa. Book at least a day before, and find out the departure time from the operator, because it fluctuates with the tides.)
Then, it's a few flat kilometers to Padrón, an extremely important spot in early Camino history, and on to Iria Flavia if you like. It's pavement the whole way, if I remember correctly.
The water route between Vilanova de Arousa is also known as The Translatio, and it follows the same route that St. James' bones were meant to have followed when they arrived in Galicia from the Holy Land. Along the way you'll pass through what is reportedly the world's only maritime stations of the cross. If you take La Barca del Peregrino, they'll explain, and point out the 12 cruceiros along the way.
It's a beautiful ride along the river, and from start to finish it only takes about an hour and 45 minutes.
The ride itself is really pleasant. It’s easy to imagine St. James passing through here himself, even if the stories about him are almost definitely legendary. The stations of the cross lend themselves to reflection. We had a nice morning with fog breaking up in the hills and adding an air of mystery to the whole experience. Not a bad way to cruise into the final day of this pilgrimage experience.
The boat lands just a few kilometers from Padrón, in the smaller town of Pontecesures. Grab a coffee and some breakfast if you'd like, then follow the Way through the outskirts of Padron along the river. It's nothing spectacular initially, but it’s flat and short.
Padrón and Iria Flavia (just a short walk to the north) are the site of a few crucial bits of Camino history. Not only is this where St. James' bones are meant to have landed, but also this is where St. James himself was meant to have landed on his evangelistic mission in Galicia.
Pilgrims have been passing through here since the 9th century, and some of the very first pilgrims to the shrine at Compostella came through here. After a monk named Paio was said to have rediscovered St. James' burial place, the first person he alerted was the bishop based at Iria Flavia, who was instrumental in establishing Santiago as a pilgrimage site.
Modern day Padrón is a lovely place. As you come into town, you’ll walk right through a serene botanic garden with a nice view of the striking Convent of San Antonio de Herbón across the river. Franciscans have been doing what monks do here since the 1300s.
Even if you're just passing through, absolutely don’t miss the Church of Santiago in Padron. Built originally in the 1100s, with renovations through the centuries, this church houses an artifact called the “Padron,” which is said to be the stone to which James' boat tied off when he arrived. This is a funny syncretistic bit of nostalgia because it’s actually an old Roman altar to Neptune, and the inscription on front says so. Still it's a sacred bit of history and it’s generally not busy. A visit here is a much more tranquil experience than the Cathedral in Santiago, but it's a place with very strong Camino ties tracing back to the earliest days of the Camino.
Padrón is also famous for it peppers. If you've walked this far on the Camino, you will almost definitely have encountered them already. Even so, you have to try some in their home. You’ll see and hear the tag line. Padrón peppers: Some are hot. Some are not. Served with salt and olive oil, they're great, simple food. The hot ones actually aren’t very hot either, so don't be put off. Interestingly enough, the peppers are here because a few Friars brought seeds back to the area from Mexico and developed the local distinctive variety. Their touchdown was at the Convent of San Antonio.
Iria Flavia is just a short distance north of Padrón on the Camino, and it is the site of Santa Maria la Mayor, one of the oldest temples dedicated to Mary in the world.
You can walk through Padrón in no time and be on your way, but for me it’s worth hanging around, seeing the sites, and soaking up the ambiance in one of the most significant towns in Camino history outside of Santiago. There are plenty of cafes, bars and accommodations. If you took the boat, it makes for a short walking day, but what's the rush?