Walking the Camino Primitivo

The Camino Primitivo or Original Way is arguably the oldest Camino route. It travels from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela directly over the mountains. This is one of the most challenging routes, but the pilgrim is rewarded with amazing views and a beautiful walk. This Camino is not meant to be walked in the winter as dangerous conditions exist during the winter months. The total distance of this Camino is approximately 321km.

The reason that this Camino is called the first Camino is that in the year 813 after the discovery of St James grave, King Alfonso II of Gallaecia walked to Santiago. He started in Asturias and traveled through Asturian villages on his way to Lugo. From Lugo, he continued to Santiago de Compostela. When he arrived he ordered that a church be built upon the site when the grave was discovered. Today that church is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Many people followed in the footsteps of King Alfonso II and thus the Camino Primativo was born.

This is considered one of the hardest Caminos as the trail travels through the mountains of Asturias and Galicia. There are few albergues, there are, however, many private hostels, casa rural’s, and hotels. The main cities along the way are Oviedo, Lugo, and Santiago de Compostela. There are many ups and downs along the way as the pilgrim will travel along many mountain trails.

Favorite Albergues:

Bodenaya – A favorite of many and a great place to stay.  Only 11 beds, They serve delicious vegetarian meals.  Call or email Allison or Alberto at bixbemus@gmail.com 
+34 645 888 984

Samblismo – A perfect stop before walking either the Hospitalas or Palo de Allende route.  Located at the beginning of both routes this is a small Albergue, with only 12 beds.  Reservations are a must and I recommend that you consider reserving several days before arriving. Javier is the hospitalero and the owner. His WhatsApp is +34 623 19 00 06  He makes the most amazing vegetarian meal that I had on the Primitivo. 

Berducedo: Albergue Camino Primitivo – This is a private Albergue which I stayed at after walking over the Hospitalas route.  I simply loved the people who run the Albergue. Vanesa Lopez Salas is the owner and Alberto is the head hospitalero.  Both were amazing and so nice.  The food was delicious, they have a washing machine and dryer and the beer was cold. It was a great place to stay.  vanesalopezsalas@gmail.com  or +34 985 906 670 for reservations. 

A Pocina de Muniz in the village of Villar de Cas gets amazing reviews. I did not get a chance to stay the night but had a great second breakfast there.  If you are close, it’s worth a stay.

Getting to Oviedo:

The traditional starting point for the Camino Primitivo is the Asturian city of Oviedo.  Oviedo has an airport so it is possible to fly from Madrid and other cities directly.  I flew to Madrid and then took the train to Oviedo. You could also take the bus. 

On a side note, you could also train to León and walk the Camino San Salvidor.  It takes about 5 days, and from hearing the stories from my friends who had just done just it, it is a very beautiful Camino.  

What to Expect:

For the first 6 or 7 days of this Camino, there are many mountains to climb. It is strenuous but not so hard that you cannot do it if you are in reasonable shape.  For those who have walked the Camino Frances, I would liken it to walking from SJPP to Roncesvalles or Vega del Valcare to O’Cebrero each day.  The views are amazing and it is worth the effort.  

Albergues are available but sometimes a bit spaced out.  Many villages have no services and there are days when it is advisable to carry all of the water and food that you will need for your entire day.  That being said the days can be kept to 15 km to 20 km if you choose so it is not like some of the other routes which require 40 km on some days.  It is worth it to take the time to plan a route on this Camino.  Although it is not so crowded it helps to have a plan.

Stages

The Camino Primitivo, also known as the Original Way, is one of the oldest and most challenging routes to Santiago de Compostela. It starts in Oviedo and traverses through the rugged landscapes of Asturias and Galicia. There is a key decision point on this route where pilgrims can choose between the Hospitales Route or the Pola de Allende alternative. Here are the stages of the Camino Primitivo with distances for each, including both options:

Standard Stages (Before the Split)

  1. Oviedo to Grado: Approximately 25 km. This stage takes you through Asturian landscapes with some elevation gain.
  2. Grado to Salas: Around 22 km. A journey through rural areas with rolling hills.
  3. Salas to Tineo: About 20 km. Continues through the Asturian countryside with moderate climbs.
  4. From Tineo, you have the option to walk the Hospitales Route or Pola De Allende Route. Weather can be a determining factor. The Hospitales route goes directly up to the top of the mountain and can be very windy, wet, and foggy (which would be very dangerous).

Hospitales Route (More Challenging)

  1. Tineo to Samblismo: Roughly 28 km.
  2. Samblismo to Berducedo via Hospitales Route: Roughly 28 km. Known for its remote and rugged terrain, this route has no services and requires good weather and preparation. Samblismo is at the split of the two routes. Javier the hospitalero will offer a talk after dinner and give a weather report. Reservations at Samblismo are a MUST.
  3. Berducedo to Grandas de Salime: About 20 km. Descending from the mountains into the valley.

Pola de Allande Alternative (Less Challenging)

  1. Tineo to Pola de Allende: Around 28 km. A less demanding route than the Hospitales Route, passing through villages with services.
  2. Pola de Allende to La Mesa: About 23 km. Similar to the Hospitales Route, descending into the valley.
  3. La Mesa to Grandas de Salime: About 17 km.

Remaining Stages (Same for Both Options)

  1. Grandas de Salime to A Fonsagrada: Approximately 27 km. A challenging stage with steep ascents and descents.
  2. A Fonsagrada to O Cádavo: Around 25 km. Continues through Galician landscapes with rolling hills.
  3. O Cádavo to Lugo: About 30 km. A long but relatively flat stage leads to the historic city of Lugo.
  4. Lugo to Ferreira: Approximately 26.8 km. A stage through the Galician countryside.
  5. Ferreira to Melide: Around 20 km. This stage marks the point where the Camino Primitivo joins the Camino Francés.
  6. Melide to O Pedrouzo: About 33 km. Continuing on the Camino Francés through Galicia.
  7. O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela: Around 20 km. The final stage to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

These distances are approximate and can vary based on the specific path taken and the exact locations of accommodations. The Hospitales Route, while more challenging and remote, offers stunning landscapes and a sense of solitude. The Pola de Allende alternative is less demanding and has more services available along the way. Both routes converge before reaching Grandas de Salime and continue towards Santiago de Compostela. The Camino Primitivo is known for its physical challenges, but it’s also renowned for its beautiful scenery and quieter paths, offering a deeply rewarding experience for those who undertake it.