When we talk about the Camino (or the Camino de Santiago) we normally assume we are talking about the French Camino, the way from France to Santiago across Castile and other Spanish regions as Navarra and La Rioja. It is probably the most recognised way of pilgrimage to Santiago, specially since it was inscribed as U.N. World Heritage in the 90’s. But there are many other historical ways to Santiago. At least 30 of them are recognised, linking the city with Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Lisbon, Rome or Southern England.
The oldest of the pilgrimage ways runs from Oviedo (the capital city of Asturias) to Santiago. Back in the Early Middle Ages, when most of the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the moors, there was a small kingdom in the North, beyond the Cantabrian Mountains, trying to restore the hegemony of christianity in what we know today as Spain and Portugal.
It was during that Asturian kingdom era when the city of Santiago was born and when the Asturian monarchs saw it as an opportunity to reinforce christianity in their kingdoms. And that is, basically, how the pilgrimage to Santiago was born. Later, when the central plainlands were re-conquered, pilgrims began to use the southern easier way we nowadays know as French Camino, but while this central plateau was a battlefield, they established a safe way from Oviedo, the capital City of the Christian kingdom, to Santiago or, more precisely, from San Salvador’s Cathedral to Santiago’s Cathedral. As the Asturians still say: “Quien va a a Santiago y no al Salvador, visita al criado y no al Señor” (those who go to Santiago and not to El Salvador, are visiting the servant but not the Lord).
Anyway, more than a thousand years after its foundation, Camino Primitivo is still one of the more picturesque ways to Santiago. During its official 13 days lenght the Camino Primitivo runs through impressive mountains and medieval towns and villages as Salas, in Asturias, os Poboa de Burón, in Galicia. This Camino offers, also, some bonus: it is easy to reach its starting point in Oviedo both by train or bus from Spanish main cities as Madrid or Barcelona, but also from Castile, Galicia or the Basque Country.
Asturias Airport is 45 km from the town, connecting it with the rest of the Iberian peninsula and with London, Paris or Lisbon. In addition to this Oviedo is a lovely town with a well preserved Old Quarter and a lively atmosphere. It is also known for its food and wine (or, more accurately, cider): the Old Quarter and its surroundings are full of sidrerías (cider houses) and popular restaurants, the perfect places for a first encounter with Asturian food.
Santiago is 13 days walking from Oviedo, a much sorter way than French Camino (33 days from the Pyrenees) and the way is nowadays much less crowded than other routes. The Camino Primitivo was inscribed as U.N. World Heritage in summer 2015, so it will probably receive more pilgrims in the next years but, since it is a harder way and not as easy to reach from other countries it will probably keep its quiet atmosphere.
From the first day of route the Camino Primitivo runs across rural Asturias. Less than 4 km from Oviedo’s Cathedral you will be walking through tiny villages as Paniceres or Llampaxuga. From there the Camino runs through towns as Salas, with a small Museum placed in its medieval tower (amazing views from its top) , the abandoned Monastery of Obona and up the mountains at Puerto del Palo, an impressive pass with two abandoned medieval hospitals and incredible views of the mountains.
From Grandas de Salime the Camino enters Galicia. There are still a couple of mountain passes left, such as Montefurado with another hospital for pilgrims, but as it runs West the landscape turns from isolated mountains to fields, orchards and small villages until the Camino enters Lugo, best known for its impressive Roman walls and its tapas atmosphere. Once it leaves Lugo behind and it crosses the Miño river, the Camino Primitivo soon reaches the French Camino, running along with it the last few days to Santiago.
What to eat
In Asturias you should try local cheese like Cabrales, Gamoneu, Casín, La Peral or Afuega’l Pitu. Asturias is also famous for its fabada (stewed beans), its smoked chorizo and morcilla (black pudding) and its ciders. If you have a sweet tooth, try Carbayones in Oviedo (a local almond cake) and Carajitos del Profesor (hazelnut cookies) in Salas.
In Galicia you should try octopus in Lugo or Melide, local cheese like smoked San Simón da Costa or young cow’s milk Arzúa-Ulloa, pork stew (cocido or its simpler versión: lacón con grelos) and local wines like Ribeira Sacra, grown a few kilometres from Lugo.
Where to eat.
In Asturias Sidrerías (cider houses) are the most popular places if we talk about local simple local food: fabada (stewed beans), cachopo (local version of veal cordon bleu), cheese and, of course, cider. At Tineo, in the mountains between Oviedo and Galicia, chosco (something between Spanish chorizo and Scottish haggis) is a specialty. If you are more into fine dining, try Casa Fermín or La Taberna del Zurdo, in Oviedo, or places like Casa Gloria or Naguar, similar to British gastropubs and run by well known Michelin-starred chefs, but with a more casual atmosphere and a lower range of prices than fine dining places.
In Galicia, try simple traditional dishes at pulperías and bars (remember: in Lugo you should expect at least a couple of free tapas with your drink. Rúa Nova and Rúa da Cruz are the perfect place to try different bars). If you are looking for a proper restaurant, try Campos (Lugo) if you are looking for traditional recipes and excellent shellfish, or España Restaurant if you are interested in New Galician Cooking.
Downtown Lugo is the perfect place to explore local products like artisan cheese (at Praza do Campo Cheese Store), traditional sweets (Madarro Bakery is more than a century old) or its Central Market. In Melide, between Santiago and Lugo, try local sweets such as Ricos (hard butter cookies) or Melindres and in Arzúa try Arzúa-Ulloa cheeses: soft young cheese is more popular, but if you find their matured version you will probably find it also interesting.