El Camino Primitivo is an ideal way to explore the first known way to Santiago de Compostela. It owes its origin to the King Alfonso II of Asturias who walked this route to visit the newly discovered tomb of the Apostle Santiago in the 9th century.
The way starts in Oviedo and winds through central Asturias and Galicia, and although originally not that famous, it has become increasingly more popular over the past few years. Nonetheless, the experience has little to do with the overcrowded Camino Francés as well as the overwhelming solitude of the other routes.
Overview of Route
Unlike the other routes, today’s itinerary of the Camino Primitivo stays faithful to the original, starting in Oviedo, it crosses the region of Asturias through municipalities of Las Regueras, Grado, Salas, Tineo, Pola de Allande and Grandas de Salime. Then, it joins Camino Francés in Melide which is only two days of walking from your final destination.
The huge advantage of Camino Primitivo is the fact that it almost always stays away from asphalted roads allowing the pilgrims sink in the natural beauties. Plus, there are numerous sources of drinkable water every few kilometers, so it is not really necessary to carry a lot of water on you.
One of the most known features of this route is its challenging terrain, a bit like the long distance walking routes in Scotland. The section from Oviedo, all the way to Lugo, is typical for its mountainous character. The route is a continuous series of ups and downs composed of forest trails, dirt roads, stone or lose-rock paths and occasional asphalt roads. The descent to the Salome reservoir and the ascent to Puerto del Palo are the two most significant level differences of the way and might be too hard to tackle in one go for some. Therefore, to undertake Camino Primitivo, at least some prior physical preparation is advised.
Waymarking on the Primitivo
The waymarking is excellent all along the route, mostly composed of concrete milestones with the shell symbol indicating the direction. From time to time, you will also come across painted yellow arrows or ceramic tiles on local houses.
Beware, that at the very start, in Oviedo, the signage is made with bronze scallop shells incorporated into the ground. While they are quite lovely, following them requires a lot of attention as they are not visible from a distance and, at times, may be covered by a car.
One of the most curious facts about waymarking on the Camino Primitivo is the direction of the shell, which changes upon entering Galicia. In Asturias, the shell works as an imaginary arrow with the narrower part “pointing” in the right direction. However, in Galicia, it is the other way around, the wider (opening) part of the shell point toward Santiago.
Cities & Distances
The Primitivo Way, from Oviedo to Melide, stretches over 261 km and passes through 36 towns with available services. Thus, on average, there is a town or village with services every 7.3 km. The settlements are pretty evenly distributed along the route. However, there are some sections without services you might want to keep in mind:
- From Pola de Allande to Lago (13.2 km), a mountain route including the ascent to Puerto del Palo.
- From La Mesa to Grandas de Salime (15.2 km), with no towns in between;
- From Castroverde to Lugo (22.2 km). Even though you will cross a series of small villages, there are no stores or bars, only a few vending machines offering food and drink.
- From San Roman da Retorta to Melide (30.2 km), again you will cross a few tiny villages some of which have grocery stores but with unpredictable opening hours. There is a tiny bar 4 km before Melide.
The two largest cities on Camino Primitivo are Oviedo, with over 200 thousand inhabitants, and Lugo, with almost 100 thousand inhabitants. The third largest town is Tineo, with 11 thousand inhabitants.
When To Go
Due to its rainy climate, the weather can be damp and colder even in summer. As in all high-located regions, the weather is very changeable. Whether you experience many days flooded in sunshine or will be forced to shuffle through mud and rain is a matter of luck. To minimize your chances of miserable weather, you should opt for the summer months of June, July, and August, read the best time to walk the Camino for more information..
The Camino Primitivo has a relatively good network of albergues distributed along the road in comfortable intervals allowing you to stay in pilgrim-only accommodation almost at all times. In general, the albergues are in good condition. Also, you might come across albergues located in villages without services, so always check and plan ahead, so you do not find yourself without dinner.
What to See
Besides the breathtaking mountainous sceneries, there are more than enough historical jewels on the way. Right at the very beginning, in Oviedo, do not miss the famous cathedral Cámara Santa as well as the three churches from the pre-Romanesque period at the outskirts of the city: San Julián de Los Prados, San Miguel de Lillo, and Santa Maria del Naranco. Monastery ruins in Cornellana and Obona are also worth a peak.
Best Guide Books for the Camino Primitivo
The best guide out there at the moment is The Northern Caminos (The Caminos Norte, Primitivo, and Inglés) written by Dave Whitson, Laura Perazzoli and published by Cicerone Press. The guide is incredibly detailed and what is most important, up-to-date. Besides information on the route, terrain, and accommodation, it includes colored maps, an overview of historical monuments along the way, advice on gear as well as a vocabulary of basic Spanish words and expressions.
Read the packing list page for a full list of gear.
Travel Along The Route
Why Camino Primitivo?
If you yearn to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilization and find your refuge in nature surrounded by stunning sceneries, the Camino Primitivo is the right choice for you. Contrary to some of the other routes, it is neither too overcrowded nor too lonely. However, its mountainous terrain with numerous ups and downs requires a healthy physique. Thus, if you are inexperienced or have trouble with your knees, you might want to choose another
route or undergo a suitable preparation.