The Primitive Route

Also known as El Camino Primitivo or La Ruta del Interior. Many pilgrims left the Camino Francés at León and travelled 121 km north to visit the Cámara Santa (Holy Chamber) in Oviedo Cathedral.  Extra indulgences were thus gained.  Quien va a Santiago y no al Salvador, visita al criado y deja al Señor (“Whoever goes to Saint James and not to the Saviour, visits the servant and misses the Master.”)  The primitive route was the shortest viable route to regain the Camino Francés to Santiago.

Pre-Romanesque church of San Miguel de Lillo on the outskirts of Oviedo

Pre-Romanesque church of San Miguel de Lillo on the outskirts of Oviedo

The Route. El Camino Primitivo takes a direct route from Oviedo to Lugo and onto Melide, which lies on the Camino Francés. There is a fair percentage of road walking although probably not much more than on the Camino Francés.

From Oviedo the route passes through: Grado, Cornellana, Salas, Tineo, via Pola de Allande or the “Hospitalles” route to Berducedo, Grandas de Salime, Fonsagrada, Cadavo Baleira, Castroverde, Lugo, San Román, Ferreira, As Seixas and on to Melide.

In places, there is new road building that occasionally impinges on the Camino; it is therefore difficult to make sure that the Confraternity guides always reflect this accurately.

A suitable point for leaving the coastal route and going to Oviedo is Villaviciosa.  This gives the opportunity to visit the monastery at Valdediós and make use of the Albergue de Peregrinos at La Vega de Sariego.

Distances. Villaviciosa to Oviedo 47 km, Oviedo to Lugo 220 km approximately (shorter via Hospitales route), Lugo to Melide 50 km and Melide to Santiago 53 km.

Terrain. It is a hard route through the mountains with a great deal of climbing and descending, but mainly on well-made paths. There is also a fair amount of road walking, especially between Villaviciosa and Oviedo and after Lugo. There are some fantastic views if the weather is kind.

Waymarking.  This is good overall.

Camino Primitivo at the border with Galicia

Camino Primitivo at the border with Galicia

Weather/When to go. The weather can be harsh, even in summer, damp and cold.  As in all high regions it can change very quickly. You can have many superb days of sunshine with magnificent views, you can also be shrouded in damp mist for the whole day and become wet through and miserable.   You should really have had some other hill walking experience before going this way. It would be wise to restrict yourself to the summer months if you are contemplating taking the high-level option.   This route is very popular in July and August.

Accommodation.  There are Albergues de Peregrinos at: Sebrayo (before Villaviciosa), Valdediós, La Vega de Sariego, Oviedo, Escamplero, Villapañada (5 km after Grado), Cornellana, Salas, Bodenaya, Tineo, Borres, Berducedo, La Mesa, Grandas de Salime, Padron (2 km after Fonsagrada) Cádavo Baleira, Castroverde, Lugo, San Román da Retorta, Ponte Ferreira, As Seixas and then onto the Camino Francés. Details of the albergues along with hostales and pensiones are in the CSJ Guide. There is private accommodation at one or two points once Galicia is reached, since the towns and villages are quite small, it is well worth phoning ahead to book accommodation.

What to see. Oviedo: Cathedral, Cámara Santa, the three pre-Romanesque churches on the outskirts (San Julián de los Prados, Santa Maria del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo).  The ruined monasteries at Cornellana and Obona, old pilgrim hospital and the dolmen at Montouto.  Mountain scenery which is quite dramatic at times, especially near Grandas de Salime.

Oviedo cathedral

Oviedo cathedral

Guide books.

  • Los Caminos del Norte, F: Camino Primitivo, Villaviciosa – Oviedo – Lugo – Melide. (Pilgrim Guides to Spain # 4). Chris Lennie and Eric Walker. Confraternity of Saint James, 2013.  Detailed route description and accommodation.  £5.00.
  • The Northern Caminos Cicerone Guide by Laura Perazzoli and Dave Whitson 2015 318pp, colour maps throughout, colour photos, 172 x 116 mm, paperback, £15.95, ISBN:9781852847944.                                                                               This guide to the Northern Caminos describes the 300 km Camino Primitivo (Villaviciosa – Melide), as well as well as its final sections after it leads into the Camino Francs to continue its journey in Santiago de Compostela and from there, if required, on to Finisterre (84 km) and/or Muxa (29 km more). It provides route-finding instructions, information on accommodation, services, some background information and places of interest and basic maps from the Spanish IGN (Instituto Geografico Nacional) at a scale of 1;50,000 (1 km = 2 cm).

Both available in our online shop.

Pictures. For pictures of the Camino Primitivo, visit the Pictures Pages of the Camino.

Discussion Forum. Visit the Camino de Santiago Forum to join in the current conversation.

Cyclists. Perfectly feasible for normal touring cycle, the road surfaces are generally good and although many of the roads are narrow the traffic in most places is quite light.  Some of the off-road sections can be taken by mountain bikes although. restraint should be exercised to avoid damaging the tracks and causing annoyance to pilgrims travelling on foot.

What’s it like? Although it is a comparatively hard route there are sufficient compensations in the scenery and the experience of travelling through relatively remote areas to make it worthwhile.

Hermitage beside the ruins of the Hospital de Montouto

Hermitage beside the ruins of the Hospital de Montouto

Spanish. There is no doubt that a reasonable grasp of the language essentials will enhance the experience.

Website.  Good information is available from Spanish Websites: www.jacobeo.net, www.mundicamino.com   www.caminodesantiago.consumer.es

Update Chris Lennie, May 2015

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