The very first jacobean route
Learn all the details of the oldest route of the Camino de Santiago. Discover all the stages of this route that starts in Oviedo, crosses the Asturian Principality and merges with the Camino Frances in Melide, just 55 km away from Santiago.
Remember you don't have to compelte the whole route in order to experience the Camino de Santiago. You can choose any intermediate departure point and compelte the number of stages or miles you want. If you walk 100 km on foot, you will receive the Compostela upon your arrival at the Cathedral of Santiago.
Image: Muralla romana, Lugo.
194.5 miles (313 km) / 14 days on foot / 6 days by bike
The Camino Primitivo starts in Oviedo, a good land for gastronomic purposes and where you can start enjoying the great food from the north of Spain. In this path you will enjoy magnificent landscapes crossing the mountains of Asturias to Galicia for 14 days.
This is the very first path to Santiago, the initial one. It is the way that started all the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela during the 9th century, after Santiago's tomb was found. The king of Asturias, Alfonso II, was the one of first walked this path. After hearing the news of the discovery of Santiago's tomb, he left from Asturias taking the path than runs through the interior towards Lugo, to finally reach Santiago de Compostela.
The highlight of this route (in addition to its rich history) is its difficulty. It is harder than other ways to Santiago, since it has considerable ups and downs (like the one in Puerto de Palo, in Asturias). You should bear in mind that this Camino can get harder if the weather is not favorable, since rain can produce annoying mudflats. However, you will enjoy a total contact with nature in many of its stages. This will allow you to appreciate extremely beautiful lands. The strong points of this itinerary are the good signposting, the short stages (most of them are less than 12.4 miles) and the broad offer of private accomodation and restaurants
But the combination of hardness and beauty makes the Camino Primitivo a wonderful route. It is a bridge between two northern lands: Asturias and Galicia, which share history, beauty and magic.
The Primitive Way receives this name because it follows the path crossed by Alfonso II the Chaste, considered the first the pilgrim to Santiago. It is one of the most challenging roads because, although its distance in kilometers seems small, its stages are much harder than other routes. You will find steep slopes that make walking on this route difficult in some sections, but you will also cross landscapes of enormous natural beautyand places of great heritage and historical importance. In fact, the Primitive Way stands out for its archaeological and monumental heritage, but also for its delicious and varied cuisine.
The length of the Primitive Path is 194.5 miles, which are divided into 11 stages. You will travel throughout the Principality of Asturias, starting from Oviedo. You will enter Galicia through the province of Lugo and continue to Melide, which is just 21 miles away from Santiago.
The Camino Primitivo has 194,5 miles, divided in 14 stages on foot and 6 stages by bike.
You will take the same steps as Alfonso II the Chaste, the King of Asturias, and as other pilgrims who arrived along the Camino del Norte. You will start in the old Oviedo and continue, towards San Juan de Villapañada, passing through Grado. While you're in the Asturian part of this route, don't forget to try the fabada, the callos a la asturiana, the bollos preñados, the cider and the frixuelos as dessert. With this route, you will discover many natural and historic wonders, but also a great gastronomy.
In this stage you will travel between two rivers - the Nalón and the Narcea. You will start the day in San Julián de Villapañada traveling towards El Fresno, where you can visit the Virgen del Fresno Sanctuary, a monument from the 16th century, one of the most visited in Asturias despite the difficulty of access. From there you can see the Mount Naranco. Then you will descend to La Doriga, on the right bank of river Narcea. If you still have time, try the pote (also known as potaxe de berces), one of the most traditional dishes in Asturian cuisine.
You will arrive to Salas, the "Gate to the West", as many tourist guides say. You will then continue towards the town of La Espina, where there were several pilgrim hospitals and where the famous crossroads of Alto de la Espina is located. There you will be able to go towards Tineo, crossing small inhabited nuclei, visited by thousands of pilgrims during centuries.
In this stage you will ascend and descend several times, through forests and valleys bathed by rivers. On this route you will arrive at Pola de Allande (or La Puela), one of the places where the Eonaviego language (or Galician-Asturian language) is still spoken. This is a variety of a Romance language, spoken (as its name suggests) between the Eo and Navia rivers. Another highlight in this parish is the Palace of Cienfuegos de Peñalba, a monument of cultural interest from the 14th century. You may like to try the pitu caleya, a kind of native chicken, naturally and freely bred, and served with cider, tomato, etc.
This is one of the most beautiful stages of the Primitive Way. You will climb to the top of Puerto del Palo, over 70 feet (1,000 meters) high, from where you will have a spectacular view of the Nisón valley and the nearby Lugo mountains. This rise, with slopes of up to 5 %, will be the price you have to pay to appreciate all the beauty of the borderlands from the top. And since you have spent a lot of energy, you can recover by tasting the Oscos cheese or the mantecadas.
After climbing during the previous stage, you will now have to descend down the Salime reservoir, created withe the retaines waters of the Navia river. The construction of this reservoir completely changed the orography, flooding several inhabited areas. After crossing the reservoir, you will ascend towards Grandas, the last stop in Asturias.
You will enter Galicia by the Alto del Acebo, the starting point chosen by those pilgrims who choose to do the Primitive Way only through Galicia. With this change of communities, the signposting will also change. In Asturias, the scallop signs point the route with their narrow part. In Galicia, the open part of the scallops is the one that points towrds tha path. Then you can rest in A Fonsagrada, the most extensive municipality in Galicia. If you have time, you can recover with a butelo, a smoked sausage typical of the Lugo mountains, made with pork rib, paprika and other condiments. Its size is considerable and its taste, unforgettable.
This is a hard stage, but it has beautiful roads and views to enjoy. The descent from Hospital de Montouto (which is named after the Pilgrims Hospital built by Peter the Cruel in the mid-14th century) will put your back to the test. You will continue down to O Cádavo, a route between woods and quiet and beautiful trails. Do not forget to try the cocido from the mountain of Lugo, the cottage cheese with honey and chestnuts (in season).
You are about 18 miles away from the Roman city of Lugo. To cover this distance, you will pass through several villages, including Castroverde. This municipality has a beautiful fortress from 14th century and a magnificent church from 15th century: the Church of Santa María de Vilabade, also known as the Cathedral of Castroverde. If you have enough stamina when you arrive at Lugo, you can go for a walk along the Roman Wall, visit the Cathedral of Santa María, or the Convent of San Francisco. Even more important is that you try the pinchos and tapas, for Lugo is one of the cities with the best Galician food and wines. Hence this well-known saying: "And to eat ... Lugo!".
This stage is only 12 miles, so you can take it calmly. You can finish in San Román or continue to Ponte Ferreira, in the town of Palas de Rei. In this route, you will find both asphalt and dirt roads. You will see remnants of the Romanesque and unique medieval constructions, such as the sanctuary of Santa Eulalia de Bóveda. This is a late-Roman sanctuary (there are references from the 8th century) dedicated to the goddess Cybele, who later reconverted to worship Santa Eulalia. It is a unique monument in the Peninsula that is worth visiting. After this, you will enter dirt roads and forests of chestnut trees. You will see several pazos and other samples of Romanesque architecture, before arriving at A Retorta, in the area of Guntín.
In this stage you will meet the pilgrims who arrive from the French Way, and you will continue with them until Santiago. The villages and roads you will cross have been trodden down for centuries by many pilgrims. In fact, on this route the Order of Malta established several pilgrim hospitals and this is also reflected in the toponymy, as for example in Hospital de Seixas, a village located in the Serra do Careón through which we will pass. When arriving at Melide, already in the province of A Coruña, don't forget to try the octopus. And for dessert, try the famous melindres- a sweet that is also perfect for breakfast.
Upon arrival in Arzúa, you will join the pilgrims coming from the French Way and the Northern Way. Before this, you must cover 8.7 miles through well-preserved (and not so well) rural roads. This is a demanding stage, due to its broken and irregular profile, but the land of Galician cheese with designation of origin (Arzúa-Ulloa) is waiting for you at the end.
You are only 25 miles from Santiago, and you can feel it in the air. This is a stage where 3 different ways have come together (the French Way, the Northern Way and the Primitive Way), so many other pilgrims will keep you company. Here you can choose between three options: to spend the night in Pedrouzo, to continue to Santa Irene (where there is a public and a private hostel, and the beautiful hermitage of San Pedro) or to continue until Monte do Gozo (right before Santiago, so you can arrive early the nex day). If you have not yet tried the fish and seafood, the protagonists of Galician cuisine, you can wait until you get to Santiago or try them all along the Camino.
Today is the big day: you will arrive at Compostela and the city is waiting for you. You will feel this in the athmosphere: some pilgrims walk swiftly and others take a relaxed pace, but all of them are eager to reach the end of this adventure. The majestic Praza do Obradoiro awaits at the end of the Camino, showing the baroque façade of the Cathedral. Ahead you have a short and simple stage, with moderate slopes. Go ahead, because your destination awaits!
As you have seen, this is a harder path. But even if your legs and back are tired, it will be woth it because of the magical roads, the beauty and the history of this path, travelled for centuries by your fellow pilgrims.
The important thing is to be well equipped, to be prepared for rain and mud, and to be careful. You will find many ups and downs, steep slopes and descents that can hinder the passage, so it is convenient to plan the daily route based on your skills. You should avoid walking during the night. If you have reduced mobility or if you travel by bike, bear in mind the extra difficulties of traveling on wet or muddy slopes. Also, if you travel in winter you may find a harsh weather - snow, for example.
However, as in any stage, it is convenient to do the Primitive Way at your own pace, depending on how you feel at the beginning of the day and according to your abilities and experience. If you are a foodie pilgrim, this is the best route you can choose!
A basic useful tip is to get used to the footwear you will wear along the way. If we decide to buy some boots or sneakers, don't use them on the Camino for the first time. You will suffer discomfort in the soles of the feet that can embitter our experience. It is absolutely recommended to take short walks during the previous weeks with the footwear that we are going to use during the Camino.
If you are not used to exercising in your daily life, it is recommended to do stretching and warm-up exercises both before doing the Camino and during it. Pay special attention to the calf muscles and anterior and posterior parts of the thigh (quadriceps and hamstrings).
"Quien va a Santiago y no al Salvador, visita al siervo y deja al Señor". ("those who visit Santiago and not Salvador, visit the servant and not the Lord"). This is a well known saying in Asturias. It refers to the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo, implying that this part of the route is an essential part of the whole Way of Saint James. According to the legend, the first pilgrim was Alfonso II, the King of Asturias. During his reing (791-842), the remains of the Aspotle Santiago were discovered. Nevertheless, there is another distinguished and historic pilgrim: the Bishop of Santa Maria de Anis, in Le-Puy-en-Velay (Aquitaine, France), Gotalesco. Gotalesco is considered the fist pilgrim to arrive to Santiago. He arrived with his entourage, including other members of the clergy, troubadours, pages, soldiers and nobles, from beyond the Pyrenees.
A Fonsagrada is a strategic point of the Primitive Way, since it is the starting point for many pilgrims, as well as an important stop for others. This town is the capital of the largest municipality in Galicia. It is named after a fountain located in the town center, the "fons sacrata" or sacred fountain. The legend says that the fountain did not send water, but milk, to provide sustenance to a widow and her three children - they the only ones who helped a group of pilgrims. Another legend tells that centuries ago the fountain did not exist, and that the inhabitants had to go down mountain to find water. Then a family welcomed a bruised, tired and hungry woman (a pilgrim or a saint) and that she worked the miracle of the appearance of such a long-awaited fontain.
If you decide to spend the last night on the Monte do Gozo and see the towers of the Cathedral from above, there is a curiosity here too. The name of this mountain was also "Monxoi". The legend says that this is the phonetical adaptation of "Mon joie !" (French for "My joy!") - this is what French pilgrims exclaimed when they arrived here.
If you start the Camino Primitivo in Oviedo you can get your Credential in the cathedral, the city's tourist offices or in the pilgrim hostels. In addition, you can also obtain the "Salvadorona", a credential that testifies that you have also traveled the Camino del Salvador or San Salvador - an extra route from León to Oviedo. You can seal your credential in the Jacobean Associations, in the main churches along the Primitive Way and also in some shelters and hostels along the route.
Despite not being one of the favorite ways by pilgrims due to its hardness, the Primitive Way has a good network of hostels throughout its stages, so you will not need to resort to more expensive hotels or pensions as it happens on other routes.
In addition, the state of these shelters is quite good, with new and renovated facilities in most cases. Here are some options for the main stages up to its junction with the French Way.
Grandas de Salime
San Romao da Retorta
The French Way (Camino Frances) is the most popular one, but there are many other ways you should know.