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Camino Primitivo -- Oviedo to Santiago

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I have just finished walking the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo to Santiago. It is a beautiful walk, more rural than most. There are guides to the route, the only one I know in English is published by the Confraternity of St. James in London. I worte these reports for a Camino-specific web forum that I'm active on, but I thought someone here might get the walking bug after reading them. The Camino is addictive!

DAY 1 – Oviedo to Cornellana (32 km)

If I were to do this again, I would shorten this day by walking up to see the churches in Naranco and then continuing about 9 km out of Oviedo the first day instead of staying in Oviedo for that night. It’s easy to find the way up to the churches and from there the CSJ guide tells you how to reconnect with the Camino Primitivo without backtracking into Oviedo. That gives you an easy walk to Escamplero, where there is an albergue and a couple of restaurants. And then the walk from Escamplero to Cornellana is a more manageable 23 km.

Grado is about 20 km from Oviedo and many people stay there the first night. Several pensiones and albergues. Some also recommend going on a few more km to stay in the albergue in San Juan de Villapanada, but I continued on to Cornellana. In Cornellana there is an albergue in an old monastery, the rest of the monastery is falling down, but this albergue has a kitchen with microwave, cold showers, and three rooms with sleeping for 8-10 in each room. It’s not dirty, but it’s not very well maintained either. There are a couple of good places to eat in Cornellana.

DAY 2 – Cornellana to Tineo (28 km)

Again, there’s an option in between – Salas is about 8 km from Cornellana, and many people do Grado to Salas for the second day. There’s a municipal albergue that, according to what I’ve heard, is in a very bad state. There is also at least one private alternative, a 2 star hotel in a XV century building (I had coffee there and it looked nice, but probably a bit pricey).

And about 6 km from Salas in a town called Bodenaya (about 1 km from a larger town La Espina) is the soon-to-be-famous private albergue run by Alex, who gave up his job as a taxi driver in Madrid and opened an albergue on the Camino Primitivo. I walked with several people who stayed there, and they all raved about it. Alex has put a lot of care into remodeling his house into an albergue, he lives right there too, and it’s one of those places where everyone eats meals together and pitches in together. I passed it too early in the day to stop, but if I walk this route again, I will definitely plan my walk so I can stay there.

Very nice walk, and I was happy to find that in spite of all the road construction that I had heard about, the detours were well marked and not even I got lost. Tineo’s albergue is very nice, clean, has a very helpful hospitalero, and the town itself has some charm. There is also internet in the casa cultural.

DAY 3 – Tineo to Pola de Allande (about 25 km)

It had snowed the night before (in the mountains, not in Tineo) so there were lots of snow-capped mountains in the background. This is a pretty, rural walk, a fair amount of road walking but all very secondary. The albergue in Pola de Allande is in an old school building, has about 28 beds, a kitchen with one glass, one pot and a plate or two. Showers have hot water. The town itself has several grocery stores and a couple of hotels. The Nueva Allandesa Hotel has a restaurant that attracts huge crowds on the weekends. I ate there on a Sunday afternoon and it was very good and quite reasonable. There is also another albergue about two km out of Pola, in an old school house, I think, with a bar nearby.

This is the stage where the choice has to be made between going over Hospitales or continuing directly to Pola de Allande. I met a guy who has done the Primitivo 9 times (!) and he told me that the difference between the two routes is not one of elevation gain, you have to go up either way. The difference is that the route through Hospitales has a 24 km stretch with no towns, no water, no human habitation at all. Because of my own complicated schedule, I had to take the route to Pola de Allande, and to tell you the truth, the climb up from Pola to the pass of Puerto de Palo was beautiful and one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. But the Hospitales route also has its attractions, so if you want to do it, here’s one way:

You will have to spend a night either in Borres or Campiello. Campiello is the Bar Herminia (she has beds now and is building an albergue) and it’s a few km before the public albergue (very basic) in Borres. But Borres through Hospitales to Berducedo where there is an albergue is 26 km, a very do-able day. But you have to plan your days in such a way as to spend a night in either Borres or Campiello, because from Tineo through Hospitales to Berducedo, I think it’s too long for most walkers. Those I met who did it said that it is impossible to get lost, the marking is done so that even in dense fog you will be able to stumble along and find your way. If you take the hospitales route, you will join up with the Camino at a small hamlet called Montefurado, and a few km on is the albergue at Berducedo.

DAY 4 – Pola de Allande to Grandas de Salime (a very long day, maybe 33?) (The Astur-Leonesa site says it’s 39 km, so who knows)

With one substantial ascent, and one very substantial descent, this is a very long day. I found the descent to the reservoir interminable, it was the longest 3.8 km I have ever walked, if in fact it was only 3.8 km. The scenery is terrific though, and that kind of keeps you going. But there are albergues at both Berducedo and La Mesa (Berducedo has the advantage that there are bars and food in the town, La Mesa is a hamlet with nothing) and they would make good stopping points, and making it so that you would do the ascent one day and the descent the next.

Grandas is a town with a of recent infrastructure improvements – there’s a new park, a new plaza, a new way out of town and some refurbishing of the old chapels along the way. There are “rural apartments” for rent in what look like beautiful old stone buildings, and there is a two star hotel that has recently been redone from a more basic pension. The one thing they forgot to improve was the albergue. It’s disgusting, sorry to be so blunt, and two people told me they saw rats inside it. I stayed in the hotel for 30E.

DAY 5 – Grandas to Fonsagrada (27 km) (plus one to the albergue in Padron outside of town)

The bar La Barra (owners of the hotel) opens up at 7 on the dot, and there were workers in there when I got down at 7:15 or so for a good café con leche.

There’s a private albergue at a place about 5 or 6 km beyond Grandas at Castro, where there are ruins of ancient settlements, going back many centuries BC. There is a substantial museum or some official building nearby, but it was too early in the morning for anything to be open. People I know who stayed in that albergue thought it was fine if a bit pricey.

The road between Grandas and Fonsagrada was being widened, so there was a lot of construction, but detours were well marked and it didn’t really interfere with the walking at all. There is a new bar about 5 km past the very basic bar at the Acebo Pass, it’s called the 4 Ventos (4 winds) and is run by a young couple who spent a year remodeling an old stone house. It’s right on the Camino and food was good there. This is a nice day with lots of mountain views. The albergue is in what used to be the priest’s house. Hot water goes on at 4 p.m. It’s only a km outside of town, so walking back to the good restaurants isn’t a problem. Recommended most often is Casa Manolo.

DAY 6 – Fonsagrada to Cadavo (about 22 km)

The walk goes through some beautiful hardwood forests, pine, beech, birch, oak – and NO eucalyptus! Although you’re not usually far from the road, the paths themselves are wooded and go up and down some little valleys through some small (and some abandoned) hamlets. The bar in Lastra was a great stop. One of the day’s highlights was going by a pilgrim’s hospital in ruins on the top of a hill.

Cadavo has a couple of bars, a couple of supermarkets. The albergue is newly constructed, good hot water, lots of places to dry clothes. Maybe 16-20 beds. There is also a hotel that looked pretty uninteresting but would be an option if the albergue is full (and the hospitalera says it does get full a lot in the summer).

DAY 7 – Cadavo to Lugo (about 30)

Going into cities is usually an unpleasant walk, and this was no exception. The first part of the walk was very nice, but the last 5 or 6 kms were hot, sunny, industrial, construction, detours, wide paths over the highway, all in all pretty draining. But Lugo was the reward. What a beautiful city inside those walls. It was also fiesta time, San Froilan is their patron saint and we arrived toward the end of a week of fiestas. I could have spent an extra day here to visit the Roman baths and some of the other monuments, but I was with a group of three others who were forging on, so I went with the crowd.

DAY 8 – Lugo to San Roman (22 plus detour to Santa Eulalia de Boveda)

Leaving Lugo there’s a lot of asphalt and you go through the new suburban upper middle class construction, but soon you are out in the boonies. About 10 km outside of town, I saw the turnoff for Santa Eulalia de Boveda, a church where some Roman paintings from the 4th century were discovered in the mid 1900s. I had read a bit about it and it seemed like it would be a pity to be so close and not visit. As I was standing there wondering how many kilometers of a detour it would be, a car turned off the main road to go towards Sta. Eulalia. I flagged them down and they not only told me that the distance to the church was 1 ½ or 2 km, they also drove me there. The posted hours said it opened at 11, so after a ten minute wait, promptly at 11, the caretaker drove in. It was definitely worth the little detour, IMO. The two km walk back to the main Camino went quickly. I later learned that if you take this detour there is an easy way to get from Santa Eulalia to the town of Bacurin, which is right on the Camino, but I would have probably gotten lost if I had gone that way anyway.

The albergue in San Roman (actually about 800 m outside of the hamlet of San Roman) is a small building with two sleeping rooms of 8 beds each, plus a tiny kitchen in the middle. Bathrooms and showers in another adjacent building. It is in an area where there used to be a huge market on a weekly basis, and some buildings are still standing, but mainly it is just in the middle of nowhere. Totally peaceful, just a beautiful place. The bar in San Roman sells sandwiches as well as food for cooking.

DAY 9 – San Roman to Melide (about 29)

Our hope had been to spend the night before about 7 km further than San Roman in Ferreira in a Casa Rural called “Casa do Ponte” but they were full. (There are only five rooms, and you should call if you want to stay there). If you call ahead, though, they will serve you breakfast (otherwise there’s nothing till you’re almost in Melide), so after about a 1 ½ hour’s walk, we were drinking café con leche. The walk was really pretty except for the last 5 or 6 km on asphalt, and then – BAM – we were on the Camino Frances and in Melide’s albergue with 50 other peregrinos. The albergue had been fumigated the week before, and they were giving out paper sheets and pillow cases, so I guess the battle of the bed bugs continues. We saw lots of people with bites.

DAY 10 – Melide to Arca (30-32)

The only alternative to this long day was to stop in Arzua, but that was only about 12 km from Melide, so we used it as a coffee stop instead. This part of the walk is probably well known to everyone, I was surprised that most everything was still open for business (including the private albergue in Santa Irene, even though it was mid October and all the books say it closes in Sept. )

DAY 11 – Arca to Santiago (20)

With a relatively early start, it’s easy to get into Santiago in time for the Pilgrim’s mass.

The Camino Primitivo, like all Caminos I guess, is enjoying a burst of popularity and the infrastructure and accommodations are lagging behind the demand. I was surprised to hear over and over how things are full early in the day in the peak season. With the “outsourcing” of the administration of the albergues to a company that hires hospitaleros who issue receipts for your 3E contribution, there are strict rules about no overcrowding in the ablergues. You can’t sleep on the floor, on a couch, or anywhere other than a bed. This may make it hard to do in the summer, but I was there in October and never had a problem. And the private initiative is starting to kick in, too, so I assume that before long the supply of private albergues will be much greater.

All in all, I would walk this Camino again in a heartbeat

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