Today we will discover the oldest route of the Camino de Santiago: the Primitive Way
More than a thousand years ago, it was the Camino crossed by the King Alfonso II when he visited the grave of St. James the Apostle.
The Primitive Way is one of the most beautiful Caminos to Santiago de Compostela, but it is the most physical demanding way because of its arduous trail.
- 1 Brief history
- 2 When is the best time to do the Primitive Way?
- 3 Where can you start the Camino Primitivo?
- 4 What about the accommodation?
- 5 Looking for more information?
- 6 A social camino
The Primitive Way, also known as the Original Way, is the oldest pilgrimage route to Santiago, although one of the less known paths too. It is an arduous and physical demanding path, but it comprises the richest adventure for those who are looking to find themselves.
The solitude of some of the stretches makes of the Primitive Way a paradise for those people who are looking for a discovering and getting to know with themselves. This is also one of the most beautiful and calm routes of all the peninsula.
But, why did this path become a peregrination route? More than one thousand of years ago, the king Alfonso II the Pure took this way to visit the body of Saint James the Apostle and he started what nowadays is known as the Primitive Way. For centuries, Christian people from all around Europe followed his steps. Nevertheless, now is one of the less popular ways. This decreasing of the amount of pilgrims is due to the popularity of the French Way during the Middle Ages. The physical requirements needed for the Primitive Way were a contrast with the good accessibility of the French Way, so a lot of people decided to abandon the first option.
Saint James the Apostle or Santiago the Greater was an evangelist in the ancient Gallaecia before his dead. Between the years 41 and 44 a. C he was murdered by order of the emperor Herodes Agripa I in Jerusalem. His disciples, when they discovered that it was not possible to buried him in that land, decided to transport his body in a small boat made out of stone to Galicia. Among the legend, they carried him until the point where the rivers Ulla and Sar join together. Near this place, they buried him in a roman pavilion in the middle of the forest.
The legend says that in this place lived many years after an hermit called Pelayo. This man started to hear celestial voices and to see lights that guided him to the tomb of the Apostle. The bishop of Iria-Flavia, when he knew about this happening, went there to check. It was 813 a. C.
The bishop Teodomiro from Iria confirmed that in that tomb were the body of Saint James the Apostle and of two of his disciples, Athanasius and Theodore. He ordered to notify this to the Asturian king Alfonso II, that started his peregrination to the place where Santiago was buried. Here he verified that the body was from the Apostle and, in this way, the Camino de Santiago started.
For this reason, Alfonso II the Pure is known as the first pilgrim of the history and the Primitive Way is recognised as the original one. After this king, many pilgrims decided to walk to Campus Stellae (Compostela).
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
In addition, Alfonso II the Pure commanded to build up a chapel in the place where the body of the Apostle appeared. This chapel was modified and it became a church in the 829 and a pre-Romanesque church in 899. Less than one century after, the building was destroyed by the troops of Almanzor. In 1075, under the kingdom of Alfonso VI and the sponsorship of the bishop Diego Peláez, the current Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela started to be built.
The Primitive Way suffered some modifications since Alfonso II arrived for the first time to the place where the Apostle was buried and as time goes by some official new routes started to appear. The Primitive Way is closely related to the Northrn Way and the French Way, that nowadays is the most popular.
When is the best time to do the Primitive Way?
Any of the Camino de Santiago Routes can be done when the pilgrim decides to do it. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind the meteorological conditions.
For example, if you bring yourself to do the Primitive Way, you should have in mind that the coldest months are not recommended. The rain, the snow and the wind of the Asturian mountains make of this route a risky path. In addition, the number of accommodations is not as high as in another ways, like the French one, and some of them are not open during the winter months. However, it is a good opportunity to enjoy the solitude. During winter, just few pilgrims take the risk to do this way, so the amazing landscapes will be just for you.
As spring arrives the temperatures increase, even if it still exists the risk of rain. Nevertheless, the temperatures aren’t too high, what makes more comfortable walking day by day. We recommend you, anyway, to be ready and bring sun cream and a raincoat.
Summer is the most popular time to do the Camino de Santiago. The temperatures are usually high but they shouldn’t be a problem if you drink enough water and you wear appropriate clothes. Also, there are more available accommodations… and more pilgrims. Summer months are full of sunlight and for this reason it is possible to get up earlier and walk during the morning to the next stop to rest.
The tonality of autumn transform the natural environment of the Primitive Way in an unique landscape. Our advice is to go ready for rain. The trail has no asphalt and the water can make more difficult your walk. For this reason, it is fundamental that you choose properly shoes and clothes to wear during the way.
Where can you start the Camino Primitivo?
The complete Primitive Way starts in Oviedo (Asturias) and it has 317 kilometres long. It is a route that must be more complicated that others like the French Way but it worth it if you want to enjoy nature. It goes across a big number of natural places and small villages that seem stopped on time.
The more than 300 kilometres of the Primitive Way from Oviedo can be walked in two weeks divided on stages from 13 to 31 kilometres. In the last part, this route join together with the one of the French Way and the attendance of pilgrims increase a lot.
Nevertheless, for those who have not enough time to start in Oviedo, they can do it from Lugo. This option means to walk more than 100 kilometres divide usually in five days. If you stamp your Pilgrim’s Passport at least twice a day, you can get your Compostela once you arrive to Santiago.
In any case, many of the stops during the Primitive Way are in small villages where the pilgrim services are not as broad as in other more popular ways. However, the inhabitants from those villages are very hospitable.
The alternatives for the Primitive Way
As it is one of the less popular ways, it is also one of the Caminos with less detours. It is possible to choose the route of the hospitals, that is the most ancient, or the one of Santa María de Burón. The last one was the main way until the XVIII century, when A Fonsagrada started to gain importance and the camino diverted to this town.
The route of the hospitals crosses the mountain chain of Fanfarón, around 1,100 meters high and without any village on it. This path receives this name from the Middle Ages, when there were on it two hospitals for pilgrims called Fanfaraón and Valparaíso. The walkers that passed near could get help form these medical centres. Nowadays, the main way pass through the bottom of the valley, safer and with some villages on it.
For those pilgrims who want to do the Camino Primitivo by bike, it is better to avoid the mountainous areas because of its danger and take a main road. Anyway, try to miss the route of the hospitals.
What about the accommodation?
Despite the fact that it seems to be wiped off the map, the Primitive Way is back in entire splendour. This doesn’t change the fact that sometimes it could be hard to find proper lodging along the route. That’s the reason why at Galiwonders we have been trying to find the most suitable accommodation along with a tailor-made itinerary for you.
Most of the places we can discover along the Primitive Way don’t have a variety of accommodation suppliers. Sometimes, they are only available during some months a year because of the weather conditions. So, rain, snow or wind may become your travel partners in the mountains of Asturias.
Looking for more information?
The cultural richness on the Primitive Way is amazing, both from the artistic and ethnographic perspective. From small churches to cathedrals, dolmens, fortresses, stately mansions, hórreos and thousand-year trees. But also delicious comfort food, legends and traditions. Those are exactly the reasons that make this way have such a profound spiritual sense.
The Primitive Way shows a big part of this heritage to the pilgrim. From Asturias to Santiago there are many signs of the cultural evolution from the medieval period until today. For instance, the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo or some of the most popular sweets in Asturias, like the Carbayones, are a good example of them.
GRADO, magnificent architecture
26 kilometers away from Oviedo we find the medieval bridge of Peñaflor, as we continue we reach a variety of manor houses as Casa La Quintana, El Capitolio or El Calabión.
Every Wednesday and Sunday people from other villages come to Grado to enjoy one of the most traditional markets in Asturias, the Market of Grado. Many local peasants and residents sell traditional products there, like the flavorful cheese Afuega’l Pitu.
The ancient trees of SALAS
Salas has a great diversity of natural resources, scenery and beautiful trees, as the centenary yew next to the Church of San Martin. Moreover, there is an impressive religious architecture around, as the Monastery of San Salvador de Cornellana (S.XI), or the Colegiata of Santa María. Placed in the old town, the Medieval Palace and Tower of Valdés let us to enjoy beautiful views of the village.
In this municipality it is also possible to find the Palace of the Doriga. This building is half residential half defensive and it was started to be built in the XIV century. It is placed on the route that goes from Grado to Salas (23 kilometres).
The treasures of TINEO
Not only Salas has a great cultural heritage, but there is also Tineo to be considered. Following the Primitive Way there are many important samples of artistic and natural heritage. We can find palaces, like Rozadiella or Palacio de Merás. Also monasteries as the Monasterio de Obona, enclosed in a fantastic place for resting and meditation on the Camino. The church of San Martín de Calleras or the hermitage of San Roque are other examples of it.
We can also discover the remains from the roman gold mines, ancient dolmens and the millenary Oak of Valentín, next to the San Pedro Church.
Apart from the cultural and artistic heritage, two beautiful rivers can be found in Tineo, the Navelgas and Bárcena. Both rivers were fundamental for the old mining and gold extraction in the region for centuries.
POLA DE ALLANDE, the “Cortines”
Besides the astonishing palace of Cienfuegos, on the top of the village, we can find great examples of the traditional Indianos houses in Allande.
This region is very popular because of its honey. It’s still possible to find some unique stone constructions, the Cortines. These structures were originally made to stop the bears from stealing the honey.
The journey continues along a very picturesque scenery. You will find magnificent mountains; from those you could contemplate the lush valleys. The route passes along small and isolated villages that seem to be waiting for new itinerants.
LA MESA, beautiful landscape
The stage from Pola de Allande to La Mesa has 23 kilometres. This distance is considered one of the most beautiful of the Primitive Way. Nevertheless, be ready: it has many slopes and inclines that can make it more difficult. It is the case of rises like the one of Puerto del Palo, pretty dangerous when it rains.
From La Mesa to Grandas de Salime there are only 17 kilometres that cross rural areas.
SALIME, the enchanted village
As we reach Grandas de Salime, we will find Navia’s river valley and Salime’s reservoir. Part of Salime still remains under the water today, including a church, trees and many other human constructions that seem to have become frozen in time.
A few derelict buildings served as an accommodation to the workers of the reservoir in the past. They can still be found in the surroundings. At present, we can only stay at the Hotel Restaurante Las Grandas, which offers great views into the valley and a quiet place to rest and recover before continuing.
In this municipality you can find the Chapel of Carmen de Grandas. Also, the Hermitage of Padraira (1689) still conserves the memories of the old hospital for leprous of San Lázaro. Here, the pilgrims with leper found shelter.
A FONSAGRADA, the sacred fountain
As we leave Asturias and its beautiful landscapes, we may finally reach Galicia through A Fonsagrada village. The astonishing mountain sceneries, fertile valleys and deep humid forests may give us the chance to stop and contemplate.
We can still find the ancient Fons Sacrata in the village, which gives its name to the town. A miracle was attributed here to Santiago Apostle; the legend says that he transformed the water from the fountain into milk in order to give it to a woman who looked after him in a hospital.
This town has been closely linked to pilgrimage since the end of the XII century, as the broad historic documentation attest. One of the last hospitals from the Galician Caminos could be found here as well, which remained active until the early XX century.
The Primitive Way continues towards Lugo, sprinkled with numerous pallozas and other singular constructions. They testify the change that traditional architecture has been suffering along the time.
We may also find some abandoned villages, like Soutomerille, until we may finally reach Lugo, passing through the “Puerta de San Pedro”.
O CÁDAVO, almost in Lugo
O Cádavo is just 25 kilometres away from A Fonsagrada and it is the capital of the municipality of Baleira. As many other Galician villages, it is suffering a deep depopulation. Here, pilgrims can rest before walking the 31 kilometres to Lugo, one of the most important cities of Galicia.
SAN ROMAO DA RETORTA, a small village
After leaving Lugo and walk for 24 kilometres, you arrive to San Romao da Retorta. This is a very small village of the municipality of Guntín. Near the church of San Román a milestone from Caligula time that signalled the existence of an imperial path was found. Now there is a replica replacing the original.
This is the first break after leaving Lugo. It can happen that from this point you find more pilgrims doing the Primitive Way, as Lugo is the first stop for those that do the last 100 kilometres to get the Compostela. In addition, as there is not a big supply, it can happen that you don’t find where to expend the night. For this reason, we recommend you to do a reservation. Galiwonders can help you with this process, don’t hesitate to contact us.
San Román da Retorta is the last stop where the pilgrims from the Primitive Way can enjoy the calm of this route. The next stop is in Melide, 26 kilometres far away. In this municipality the Primitive Way joins the French Way and the amount of pilgrims increase considerably.
OVIEDO, the starting point
The capital of Asturias is also the starting point of the Primitive Way. Many pilgrims choose Oviedo to begin their way to Santiago de Compostela, 317 kilometres far away. The historical centre of this city is known as the Ancient. We recommend you to get lost on its streets and get to know the past of Oviedo through its buildings. Also, the Cathedral of San Salvador deserve a visit. As it happened with the Cathedral of Santiago, this one was originally a pre-Romanesque basilica that Alfonso II ordered to build.
The Museum of Fine Arts from Asturias and the Archaeological Museum are also interesting visits, but for any of them you would need some time.
If what you want is some calm, move to the Park of San Francisco. This space came up with the idea of being a relaxing place. Now, many families and groups of friends go there to expend the day.
Apart from all of these locations, Asturias and in concrete Oviedo are known because of its sweet shops. If you have time, stop and eat a good cake before starting the Camino de Santiago. And if you are still waiting for it, don’t lose the opportunity of tasting the Asturian cider.
LUGO, the oldest city
The ancient wall of Lugo, dating back to the III-IV century, makes contrast with the development of this renowned city. The remains of the roman baths can also be found on the Miño river banks.
Nowadays we still enjoy Lugo’s medicinal water at the local spa, along with a beautiful old town and rich heritage architecture.
The capital of the namesake province was founded in the 25 b.C. as Lucus Augusti and it is the oldest city of Galicia. We recommend you to visit the Cathedral of Lugo and the Santa María square. Also, don’t forget to walk the Lugo’s wall, the only Roman wall that is still full preserved.
If you have time, go closer to the Church of the Agustinas, the Convent of San Domingos and visit the Roman bridge. And for relaxing, you can sit in some of its bars, where it is more likely you will receive a tapa with your drink.
We may follow the Camino and keep finding a wide variety of churches and chapels, as well as the omnipresent hórreos and cruceiros, emblematic constructions of Galician heritage.
We will find also manor houses as the one in Palas de Rei, known as Casa da Ponte, just before continuing our walk-through Ferreira river and the old roman bridge.
MELIDE, merging ways
A few stages before reaching our final destination we will find Melide, in A Coruña. From now on, the Primitive Way may become a gathering point for many other pilgrims coming from the French Way.
From Melide and stopping by in Arzúa and O Pedrouzo, you will go with many other pilgrims until you reach Santiago de Compostela. That is due to the popularity of the French Way.
Reaching Santiago may turn into a more rewarding experience as we accompany other itinerants. So, we can exchange experiences and feelings about our wonderful trip.
If the Primitive Way’s 300km route seems too long for you, we could simply do the final stage from Lugo instead. This will also allow us to obtain the Compostela after 100 kilometres of incredible experiences and peace.
ARZÚA, the house of the cheese
Arzúa is known because of its cheese, that has its own party on this place every year. Here, the pilgrims that arrive from Sobrado dos Monxes doing the Northern Way join those that come from Melide.
Between Arzúa and Melide there are only 13 kilometres. The difficulty of this stretch is acceptable, even if near Arzúa there is a part without asphalt and with an irregular path that you must need to do with calm.
O PEDROUZO, a small village on the way
The small village of O Pedrouzo is part of the council of O Pino and it is one of the most chosen stops by pilgrims to rest before continuing to Santiago. From Arzúa to O Pedrouzo there are 18 kilometres and from this place you only have to walk 15 kilometres more to reach the Cathedral.
This village expanded a lot because of the Camino de Santiago. Nevertheless, its offer regarding to accommodations can be not enough due to the big amount of pilgrims that arrive here, mostly during summer. If you want to be preventive and book before arriving to be sure you have where to sleep, contact us and we will help you to find a place in A Rúa, O Amenal or Lavacolla.
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, el destination
The feeling of arriving to the Praza do Obradoiro is one of the most special for every pilgrim. After all the walked days, the ones that want to go to Santiago de Compostela finally reach their destination.
Once here, remember to lay on the square to observe the Cathedral in all its splendour. Also, you can go to get your Compostela certificate to the Pilgrim’s Reception Office.
Santiago is a calm city that contrast with the hustle of the pilgrims during the high season. Enjoy its streets and get lost in the “old part” of the city, walk on the Park of Alameda and relax after all the kilometres you have done.
In case you need any additional information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Galiwonders team in order to get a tailored route matching your very own preferences.