Calmness: this is what I feel when I enter a narrow wooden path that leads from Espinho to Vila Nova de Gaia. The Passadiço de Arcozelo is one of my favourite places in Northern Portugal. On the right side, I can still see the railway through which an intercity train passes at high speed. On the left, the ocean continually brings shells and stones to the shore; in exchange for that, it takes a bit of sand and some careless boy’s shoes back to its depths.
With steady steps I keep walking, as the whole route leads through 16 kilometres. But what interests me most is more or less in the middle of the trail. The walk is pleasant. A flat footbridge is a good observation point. The carpets of yellow flowers spread till the beach. A soft breeze brings light sand from the beach, and even if it looks like an idyllic view.
I know that nature is working hard – in a few years, single grains of sand carried by the wind will create another dune.
The steady rhythm of the waves soothes the senses. The characteristic smell of the ocean fills the air and makes me breathe deeper.
The ever-changing ocean
I have visited this place many times, in different seasons. Each time it has been stunning. I could never get bored with it, as it is everlastingly changing. I am sure that for the people behind me and those who walked through the same place two hours before, the experience, the light, smell, everything was different. That is the magic of the ocean: it seems always to be the same in its wholeness, but details change every second.
The main point of my walk is Miramar. Even though I could get a train directly there, I prefer to start the walk in Espinho. This way, while approaching Miramar from the south, I can see its main attraction looming in the distance, a little chapel located on the huge rocks that are growing from the sea. The whole structure gradually arises as I approach, revealing more and more architectonic details. All of a sudden the wind intensifies, as if I am entering through some portal to another world. It is hard to recall the calm surface that I saw just a while ago as I see huge waves approaching the shore. I speed up a bit. The waves scatter on the high rocks that stand lonely at the line of the water before Miramar Beach. Water quickly engulfs the land, covering the sand and spilling foam onto the beach.
After a while, I stand in front of the Capela do Senhor da Pedra (the Chapel of the Lord of the Rock). Before Christians created the little chapel, Lusitanians were coming here to worship pagan gods. The huge rocks on which the chapel now stands were considered a sacred place, where mortals could connect with a higher power of nature.
According to legend, in 1686 people on the beach saw Jesus Christ. He was floating above the surface of the ocean and, after a while, sat down on the rocks.
When I see the wild waves hitting the rough rocks, almost covering the whole church, I think about the old pagan beliefs, when nature played a major role in humans’ lives, when people lived with magical gods enchanted in the rocks, trees or rivers.
The wave scatters on the unmoved rocks. Two elements, Water and Earth, clash with each other. Both of them are powerful and relentless. The ocean angrily hits a cliff which stays in front of it, throughout ages, imperturbable. This scene reminds me of two Lusitanian gods, Duberdico, the god of water, and Endovellico, the god of the earth. The ancient spirits, personified in nature, having an everyday battle for power.
I sit on the sand, enchanted with this spectacle, and wait until the waves ease. It takes a while for these magical powers to bury the hatchet. The power of nature calms just when the sun starts painting the first pink and yellow lines on the horizon. I walk on the wet beach to get to the stone steps of the chapel. In front of me two panels of azulejos, hidden in the shade of the porch, inform that this is one of the oldest places of worship. The smell of salty water and algae fills the air and mixes with a heavy scent of humidity that lurks from the cracks and little windows of the wet building.
A sense of mystery and magic
I keep climbing the stairs. They are still covered in water and lead upwards, surrounding the hexagonal structure of the chapel. Behind it, I find a gap in a stone wall. Feeling invited, I step on the big boulder, one of the many from this group. The view is splendid, colours of ochre, red, violet, and pink cover the horizon and the water that reflects the sky. The waves still hit the rocks, but with less power, like the colours have eased their anger. I crouch on the boulder, delighted with this day. I am impressed with this natural and mystical spectacle that happens in front of my eyes. The ancient power of the ocean was exchanged with its calmness and infinity. I feel the stable ground of the smooth rock and, looking at the seagulls crossing the coloured sky, I know that I found myself in one of those sacred spaces, where people lived with a magical god and powers. I can hear the echo of those days in the calm waves that now softly hug the boulder.
I go back to the beach to get to the train station. The last strip of pink light reflects in the big puddle that remained on the sand after the big waves. I turn around to look again at the Capela do Senhor da Pedra. It disappears slowly, together with the sun. The darkness of the upcoming dusk covers it gently, hiding its magical secrets. Who knows? Maybe when no one sees, Duberdico and Endovellico appear on the beach to walk and talk in a very humane way.
How to get there?
From Porto: take the A44 and then the A29
From Aveiro: take route A25 and then A29.
By urban train:
To Miramar station. Or to Espinho and then walk 7km.
Where to stay?
Miramar is not a particulary popular tourist spot, but there are some Airbnbs and hotels. For example, Apartamentos Turísticos Céu Azul or Quarto Moutadas Miramar. You will find more places in Espinho, Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto.
Where to eat?
Solar do Senhor da Pedra
Each year on Trinity Sunday, a big procession takes place in Miramar from the town to the chapel. Celebrations usually last three days, until Tuesday.
Chapel of St. Maria Adelaide
Passadiços da Ribeira do Espírito Santo