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The Primitive way (or Camino Primitivo) is the first pilgrimage route, the oldest. It links Oviedo with Santiago de Compostela and runs largely along Roman roads. The first pilgrim king was precisely the Asturian-Galician monarch Alfonso II the Chaste, who, in the first third of the 9th century, wanted to travel to Santiago to confirm that the remains that had just appeared in Compostela were really those of the apostle.
The king’s devotion to the Jacobean cause —he had grown up in the Lugo monastery of Samos and was a follower of the Beatus of Liébana— was decisive in laying the foundations for the new cult. Alfonso II ordered the construction of the first church in the nascent city.
In addition, he granted various donations and promoted the establishment of the first monastic community destined to meet the demands of the cult at the altar of Santiago, the monastery of Antealtares.
The Primitive way was an itinerary much frequented by the Asturian-Galician people during the 9th century and much of the 10th, and it also attracted pilgrims from other parts of northern Spain and Europe. And through it walked —on two occasions— the successor of Alfonso II: Alfonso III the Great, architect of the consecration in Santiago of the second basilica in the year 899.
Then, when León became the new capital of the kingdom, the monarchs (11th-12th centuries) promoted the Camino Frances as a privileged route. Even so, the Primitive way continued to be an alternative for pilgrims devoted to the great collection of relics in the cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo and Lugo, which enjoys the papal privilege of displaying the Blessed Sacrament day and night.
In addition, its importance today is attested by the remains of many pilgrim care hospitals: some in high mountain areas, and others in the city of Lugo itself.
In 2015 the Primitive way was recognized by UNESCO, along with the Camino del Norte, as a World Heritage Site, the highest distinction that a cultural asset can receive.
Now less than 5% of pilgrims walk the Primitive way. Impressively scenic and diverse, the Primitive way is one of the hardest routes; with technical terrain, undulating paths, mountain climbs, and elevation changes, this promenade demands stamina.
This sequestered experience walking the Primitive way provides the optimal environment for self-reflection and reconnection. Wander through the lush countryside, navigate the mountainous region of Galicia and walk through charming medieval towns that exhibit the history and religiosity of Northern Spain. Immerse yourself in nature and disconnect from the real world along the Primitive way.
Planning an epic adventure such as this one can be time-consuming, so here we are to help you!
The Primitive way is ideal for adventurers, boasting impressive scenery and technical terrain. Travelling through diverse topographies warrants ever-changing weather conditions. The total distance of the Primitive way is 321 km it can be completed in two weeks. The route passes through two Spanish provinces – Asturias and Galicia and offers a great in-nature experience combined with good infrastructure.
Oviedo is the capital of Asturias. It is located in the northwest of Spain, roughly 20 kilometers away from the northern coast. The city is famous for its old architecture and its many historic sights. Furthermore, Oviedo is the only university city in Asturias. This will be your starting point for your Primitive way.
This first stage already gives you a serious warning that the Primitive way will not be a walk. Except for the departure from Oviedo, the day takes place mostly along trails and paths in a pleasant rural environment, with frequent slopes, crossing forests, meadows and small villages. Enjoy it!
You start the day with an ascent of 300 meters of unevenness in 5.0 km to Alto del Fresno; then, a steep descent takes you to the bottom of the Narcea valley, where Cornellana and its magnificent monastery of San Salvador is located. From Cornellana to Salas you go up the valley of the Nonaya river, crossing small parishes without services.
Another fully rural day, between meadows and forests of oak and chestnut trees. In the first eight kilometers you ascend from 240 meters of altitude in Salas to 660 in La Espina; then you advance with gentler slopes, although frequent, reaching almost 800 meters of altitude. La Espina is the only intermediate town that has all the services. So be sure you take something for lunch!
First of the three stages that define the character and essence of the Primitive way, due to its ecological richness, fauna and flora, its harshness and its landscapes, and which have made it one of the most successful pilgrimage routes in recent years.
The mountains of western Asturias are the magnificent setting for today’s unforgettable stage. Leaving Pola de Allande (525 meters above sea level) you begin a long climb to Puerto del Palo (1,147 meters above sea level); the ascent is progressive, except in the final stretch. You finish the day in Berducedo, a small town with all the services.
Another beautiful stage: although you start it with two moderate ascents, 100 meters (at the exit of Berducedo) and 175 (at the exit of La Mesa), today the route is characterized by the long descent to the Grandas reservoir, for dirt tracks and, in the final sections, by path; In 8.2 km you go from 1,040 meters to 210 meters. A Pyrenean descent. Then you ascend to Grandas de Salime along a monotonous road, although taking advantage of some beautiful wooded shortcuts.
If you have reached Grandas de Salime unscathed, the tomb of the Apostle Santiago is within your reach. Today you are advancing through a territory that is more docile than that of the previous stages, through rural, agricultural and livestock areas, leaving many small parishes behind us, some with services for pilgrims.
The day is marked by the long, but smooth and progressive ascent to Alto del Acebo, a mountain range that separates the communities of Asturias and Galicia.
This first fully Galician day runs basically on dirt tracks, following the axis of the LU-530 road, with continuous slopes although, in general, moderate (with the exception of the tremendous climb to A Lastra). Today you pass by the ruins of the Montouto Hospital, founded in the 14th century to provide shelter and assistance to pilgrims.
Long stage, on comfortable dirt and asphalt tracks, and with very gentle slopes: between O Cádavo and Castroverde you overcome a modest hill; then, you flattened through the Lugo plateau to the capital. The only intermediate town with services is Castroverde, although in some villages they have taken advantage of the continuous passage of walkers to install vending machines.
Today you finish in Lugo, the largest city on the Primitive way: visit for sure the Roman wall and the Santa María Cathedral. It is possible to divide this stage over 2 days. Or maybe you want to stay an extra day in Lugo. Just let us know.
Both San Román da Retorta and Ferreira are two logical stage finishes if you divide the 46.5 km from Lugo to Melide into two days. Today the stage has little history: most of the kilometers run on local roads, and the rest on comfortable tracks, most of which are also paved, and with few slopes.
Rural stage, along small dirt tracks and, above all, asphalt, with frequent slopes although, in general, moderate, and with small villages, a few of which have restaurant services. Today you finish in Melide. Here comes the Primitive way together with the Camino Frances.
The next stage on your Primitive way goes to Arzua. You walk through meadows to the cobbled passage of the River Catasol and let yourself be seduced by the beauty of the landscape, almost like a postcard. Once in Arzúa, try its famous local cheese, as well as visit the churches of Santa Maria and A Magdalena.
On this stage of the Camino Primitivo you will start walking downhill and then pass through beautiful forests, quiet villages and several streams throughout the day. When you are in A Calle de Ferreiros you should take an exit to the right and cross the village of Boavista. You will have the opportunity to visit the Chapel of Santa Irene, with its famous statue of Santiago, just before making the last stretch of the stage before entering A Rúa.
Once you leave A Rúa, the next point on your route will be O Pedrouzo. Once there, you will have to take Calle Concello and, when you pass by the football field, turn left onto a dirt track. You will cross San Paio, just after bordering Santiago Airport and, a little further on, you will pass in front of the Church of Lavacolla. You will continue the pilgrimage to Monte do Gozo from where you can contemplate the majesty of the Cathedral of Santiago. When arriving in Santiago, you will be able to admire its rich local architecture and delight in its historic centre declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
If you want to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass, in Santiago de Compostela, start your route very early in the morning so that you will have finished your Camino before noon.
After breakfast you can enjoy the pilgrim town for a while before your journey home starts. If you want to extend your Primitive way with an extra day in Santiago de Compostela, let us know. It’s definitely worth it!
Do you want to extend your Camino Primitivo to Finisterre or Muxia? This pilgrimage is easy, you will not encounter huge climbs or descents on the way. Nature is also beautiful. Especially green. After all, you are in Galicia. The route is well signposted so you don’t have to be afraid to get lost.
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