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Camino Primitivo de Santiago 2023

A couple of years ago my younger daughter had plans to hike the Camino de Santiago in Spain. She is fluent in Spanish, and thought it might make a nice adventure. Since I lived in Spain for five years (long before she was born...but I'm still fluent in Spanish) and also love hiking, I subtly (well, maybe not that subtly) suggested I would be happy to join her. But due to a number of circumstances, her plans changed and she never made the trip.

But then she dropped me a note and laid out some dates. And after a bit of back and forth to make sure it worked for both of us, we settled on a timeframe and a route. We'll be doing the Camino Primitivo--the original route hiked by Spanish King Alfonso II when he made the first pilgrimage to visit the tomb of St. James, Santiago, back in the 9th century. It is considerably less traveled now than the more popular Camino Frances over the Pyrenees.

That's Alfonso himself, left.

It starts in the ancient town of Oviedo (some start it on the coast, but we took it from Oviedo) and hikes over mountains and through small towns until we join the Camino Frances and its thousands of pilgrims in Melide.


At that point, the last 30 miles or so, it's a different experience!


The total miles is something over 200 and should take around two weeks, if all goes according to plan.


Here's a link to more background on the Camino Primitivo:,had%20been%20discovered%20in%20Compostela. 


Because this is a pilgrimage route, we stayed in hotels and hostels, rather than camping out. For an experienced backpacker, that makes a big difference--no tent or ground cloth to lug along. And we ate in cafes and bought food along the way, so we didn't need the stove or the cook kit, either, although I took along a simple set of bamboo silverware in case we wanted to buy food and eat it along the way. And no water filter


Of course I took rain gear, and a down vest, along with a couple of shirts and two pairs of hiking pants. Add in some socks, undies, and pjs, and that pretty much summarizes the clothing end of things. We each tool a very light (40 degree F.) sleeping bag, just in case we need it in one of the hostels. Some toiletries and a very basic first aid kit were in my pack, along with a couple of headlamps. mosquito headnets, buffs, bandanas, platyupus bottles, sewing kit, extra shoelaces, and other accoutrements of the backpacking life--I would just hate it if we needed one of these and I'd left it at home. They weighed about a pound, total.


I took a pair of camp shoes (Crocs) to give my feet a rest in the evenings, and my phone and charger so I could post these updates. And please don't mention this to the TSA, but I took along a folding hiking pole to take some of the strain off my knee on the downhills.

The whole pack weighed in under fifteen pounds at home. For a more than two week backpacking trip, that  seems like luxury.

And for image's sake, we hung a scallop shell on our packs, to correctly identify ourselves as pilgrims. As a backpacker, I was hoping that I could find multiple uses for it!


Oviedo is an ancient city, one time capital of the Kingdom of Asturias. The city has a lovely "casco antiguo," the oldest part of town, plus a nice archeological museum, and a nice fine arts museum.  It's quite walkable, at least in the center, and both of the museums are free!

It's also famous for heavy stews and cider(not wine--the culture here runs to bagpipes, wooden shoes, and cider!), so we often had limited options for food, since Estelle is a vegetarian.  But we liked our short time here...

For the full logs of all the photos from our trip:

More thoughts on the Camino Primitivo

Other thoughts--Things changed once we got on the Camino Frances. Now other hikers were shipping big suitcases ahead, and just hiking with little day packs. Almost nobody did this on the Primitivo. And they talked--loudly to each other, on the phone. They listened to music on boom boxes. And the electric bike guys were the worst, speeding by, yelling at times. Complete jerks. A far cry from the fifteen people a day quietly walking near us on the Primitivo.

If we got up early enough to start walking while it was just barely getting ligh, we still had a few miles of peaceful progress, even on the Camino Frances. 


And I did attend a pilgrim's mass on my last night in Santiago, but they did not fly the botafumeiro {the huge censer) but I am not sure why.


We also noted that the total climbing on our route is more than 27,000 feet, so almost an "Everest" for those who such silly things 


Food: Asturias was stews and meat, which limited our choices for Estelle, so we did lots of tortilla espanola and cheese. We got a little tired of that. The orange juice, on the other hand, was consistently excellent and fresh squeezed. Our friend Irene would point out that the oranges must be from Valencia.


We did order a lot of ensalada mixta -- a Spanish version of salade nicoise, that was usually available. Many hostels had vegetarian options, some of which were quite good. But Galicia had seafood, and we loved it. All kinds, from shellfish (scallops, mussels, calamari, etc.) to bacalao, hake, and cod...and always octopus. What a luxury.


Estelle -- I could not have asked for a better hiking partner: cheerful, strong, and always willing to help. She carried a heavier pack (she took most of the food) and made all the pension reservations flawlessly. And we took care of each other, reminding ourselves to eat, drink, and use my hiking pole on the descents! She was enthusiastic about so many things, she added joy to so many experiences. A true joy to be with her every day on the trail. Truly the best part of my Camino.

It's a memory I will always treasure. 



We spent the rest of day fifteen in Santiago, but that's not the end of the story. By the end of the day, my ankle had swollen and was causing considerable pain. We iced it some more, I took more Advil, and was glad that I only had to get on airplanes from here on out. We were tempted to stop at the pharmacy at left ...


Estelle woke up in the middle of the night with what seemed to be food poisoning -- she guessed it came from the unrefrigerated tuna empanadas she ate yesterday in O Pedrouzo...and spent a couple of days  taking lots of Pepto-Bismol.


It made for a rather more subdued pair in Santiago, but we're grateful all of this happened in the last day, and not somewhere in the middle of our trek.


It's not an adventure until something goes wrong...Meanwhile we've heard from some of the friends we met on the trail, and we caught up with them around Santiago--quite joyful. 

A Day by Day Blog of Our Trip

Oviedo to Villa Palatina

Villa Palatina to Cornellana and Roca Madre

Day One



Day Two



Cornellana to Salas

Day Three



Salas to Tineo

Day Four



Tineo to Borres

Borres to Berducedo (Hospitales) 

Berducedo to Grandas de Salime

Grandas de Salime to

Fonsagrada to O Cadavo

O Cadavo to Lugo

Rest Day in Lugo 

Lugo to Ferreira 

Ferreira to Melide

Melide to O Pedrouzo

O Pedrouzo to Santaigo de Compostela

Day Five



Day Six



Day Seven





Where did we stay? We spent about $50 a night to stay in private rooms for all but one of the nights on the Camino. Given that the average cost of a bed in the dormitory was usually around $15 for one person, we thought the extra $20 a night was worth it for a private bath, private room and no snoring or 5 am departures by our roommates. From all we heard, we were right.

Below, those marked with a + we'd try to stay in again. Those with a - we'd choose somewhere else. The rest (=) were fine but not remarkable.


And in the cities (Oviedo, Lugo, and Santiago) we paid more for real hotel rooms.


Oviedo: Sercotel--Great location wonderful staff. Expensive. Good breakfast. +


Paladin: Villa Palatina--very nice. It had an above ground pool! But also more expensive for both food and lodging than other places. Huge amounts of food, but does not allow outside food, and is adamant about it. Pablo, the host, is a character. Shared bath and shower with a few other rooms. -


Cornellana: Roca Madre--our favorite of the trip. Irene and Diego were wonderful hosts and ate dinner with us. Lots of good, healthy--home grown food. Tasteful remodel of an ancient farmhouse, with modern and tasteful bath/shower room. Nice 20-outlet usb charger for all to use. Clean, organized, classy. Diego meets every guests with a cold beer during registration. The town had shops for food. And Roca Madre runs a clothes wash every day for camineros. ++

Salas: Tulipanes--Dutch host Nicholas is working on this, but it's still a work in progress. We had an odd shower bath across the hall and through a storage room. Food was delicious and plentiful, and vegetarian. Nice group dinner. Great location, and the town is charming. -


Tineo: Posada--a more traditional pension, right in town, without a lot of character. Just 50 m away was Bar Tineo, which served massive amounts of cheap and delicious food, and we also loved eating at the senior center, where the hostess made us feel like family. Not much to do in Timeo. =

Borres: Albergue la Montera--really nice room here, and the place was spotless. Nice terrace under the panera to sit and chat. Only one restaurant in town, just 30m away, which served massive amounts of food but would NOT allow anyone to share plates. This is a key jumping off spot for the Hospitales route, but there is absolutely nothing to do in Borres. + The only option


Berducedo: Albergue Camino Primitivo--after the nasty weather on Hospitales, we just wanted rest. Lovely upstairs room with big exposed beams. A group of us wanted to wash clothes here, but we had to negotiate a bit to do it. All fine here, including the food, but we were all a bit shellshocked from the day's hike. +


Grandas de Salime: Porta de Grandas-- lovely spot just steps outside town, with its own garden park. Nice, clean, and modern, with exposed beams and a glass balcony. We found a wonderful restaurant here, A Reigada, and ate there twice, loving it both times. And breakfast at Cafe Jaime was also good. The Ethnographic museum here was sensational, with locals staffing the exhibits. 1.50 to enter. What fun. +


Fonsagrada: Portico hotel--a real hotel with lots of rooms, only $60. Older style, but beautifully done, with nice historic artifacts about. Our room was huge, with room for four. More exposed beams! After the brutal climb to get into town, it took us a while to recover. Center of town has a bank, bars, grocery store, etc. And Cantabrico restaurant was delicious and cheap. +


O Cadavo: Pension Porta Santa--a more traditional pension for the Camino. They also have an albergue nearby. Nice modern room with fully ADA compliant bath. No food here, but they offer a kitchen. The restaurants in town were packed with locals, and we had to struggle to get a table at the only bar. Happily, the same bar was open early for breakfast. =


Lugo: Two nights at Hotel Mercure, including one rest day. A very modern and stylish hotel that's 1km from the city center. We felt a bit out of place here in our grubby clothes, but Oscar and his staff were almost overly friendly. And the room was luxurious, the bath even more so. We liked Lugo--great food and lots to see from Roman walls and a Cathedral to museums and cafe-filled plazas. Next time we'll stay in town. A special thanks to cafe Las Brisas who got in early to greet us with an amazing breakfast and bocadillos for the trail, all before 7 am. - for location


Ferreira: A Nave--a more informal albergue with a big lawn and dining area, but no restaurant. That's next door at the Cantina Ferreira. Nice, simple room that was clean, and a modern bath. But the vibe and crowd here is more youth hostel/summer camp. A bit noisy and busy. Maybe it's the new crowd from Lugo. The Cantina served massive tortillas. -


Melide: Hotel Lux--maybe the best place we've stayed. Beautiful small hotel, very modern, right in the middle of town. Efficient, classy, warm, and professional. Lovely rooms, one more modern bath. First class. We ate octopus and more at Casa Ezequiel, which is a Camino institution, but found it crowded, slow, and unremarkable-- overhyped for what it was. +


O Pedrouzo: Codesal Pension--this was a perfecty normal and nice pension with one drawback. It's almost a km from the center of town. True, there's a supermarket almost across the street, but no other options for food unless you want to order take out. We didn't. We ate salads and empanadas from the store, but missed the comraderie and service in a restaurant. Too far out for us. -

Santiago de Compostela: Hostal San Clemente--this is part of the Pousadas group that I stayed in my first night in Santiago. Lovely place with security codes instead of locks. We had room #4, which is across the patio and very private, and large. Included a bathtub and very soft sheets. 1st class. I stayed at the more traditional Virxe de Cerca hotel (same group) my first night in Santiago and loved it. +

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