… To the End of the World
The thousand-year-old Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James,
also known as the Road to Santiago or simply The Camino (the road), is located in
northwestern Spain and is the oldest tourist route in Europe.
There are numerous routes that make up the Way of St. James, all leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and the most popular starts in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. Pilgrims travel five-hundred miles through the vineyards of Rioja and the former Kingdoms of Spain. The original Camino actually begins in France, crosses the great Pyrenees, and once on the Spanish side, enters the old city of Pamploma, famous for the running of the bulls and a favorite place of author Ernest Hemingway. The entire hike is said to take up to three months.
Without three months to spare, I decide to join an REI tour, guided by local Spaniards, and take the trail-less-traveled along the northern coast of Spain and through the forests, known as the Camino Primativo (The Primitive, or Original Way). While the Camino, commonly referred to as the French route, is traveled by bike, foot, donkey or other modes of transportation, the Primativo trails are traversed on foot. I look forward to not seeing all the bikers, donkeys and a plethora of other pilgrims. As I soon discover, the Primativo is quiet and pristine, deeply spiritual and cleansing.
Our first day of hiking begins in the small oceanside town of Llanes in the Principality of Asturias. Exploring the Costa Verde, walking atop the cliffs at the ocean’s edge, is stunning. As we wind our way along the magnificent rocky coastline, the sounds of the waves crashing into the cliffs commands our attention.
The second day starts with exploring the winding streets of Llanes, an historic and traditional Walking various paths of the Primativo Camino through the woods, along river beds and through cow fields, we see wild horses roaming, and reach the mountain top in Allande.
fishing port whose economy was based on whaling for eight centuries. We walk along coastal paths, rolling hills that connect hidden coves, rocky bays and sandy beaches as we make our way to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. We meet a local guide to tour Oviedo’s impressive San Salvador Cathedral, a magnificent Gothic masterpiece alive with electric energy. This stand-out attraction is considered the city’s heart. Built in the 13th century, it is known for its soaring towers, flying buttresses, and breathtaking interior.
At sunset we are treated to Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra, performed by a full symphony orchestra in one of the municipal courtyards. Of course, no music, or concert in Spain would be complete without flamenco dancers – truly a special and unexpected treat.
It’s here, in Oviedo, that on day three we begin our hike along the Camino Primitivo, the oldest of all the Camino pilgrimage routes. The landscape becomes quite hilly and forested, with paths through the pastureland. Our hike takes us towards Tineo, one of the highest towns in Asturias, where we spend the night. Our stay at Hotel Palacio de Meras in Tineo is quite comfortable, and the hotel offers spectacular hillside views.
The trail on day four is perhaps the most spectacular of the entire Camino Primitivo and the most difficult trail to find. Wading through waist-high grasses, with no visible trail in sight, our guide seems indispensable. We find the path, and climb uphill through one of Spain’s most uninhabited regions, the Galicia Forest. The name itself elicits thoughts of mystery, and it is the epitome of an enchanted forest: we pass abandoned medieval pilgrim’s hostels and wild horses grazing on the hilltops. Our day ends in Lugo, a third-century town surrounded by Roman walls that are a UNESCO World Heritage site. A mix of Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque and Neoclassic styles, the main basilica here is an outstanding example of the architectural influences that shaped the buildings of Galicia.
We awake in Lugo on day five for what is to be our last hike on the Primitivo. We follow forest paths through tiny hamlets scattered about the Galician countryside. We have lunch in Melinde, a village where the Camino Primitivo merges with the Camino Frances. We finish up the hike, counting our good fortune to have narrowly missed the rain each day, for in this part of Spain it is known to rain. Sure enough, as we head to our hotel, the sky opens up, throwing ping-pong-ball-sized hail our way, along with fast, furious, frozen rain.
The next day, we transfer to Monte del Gozo (Mount of Joy), located on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela. The hilltop viewpoint provides pilgrims with their first glimpse of the city’s famous cathedral spires, and is where we begin our walk to Santiago. The city of Santiago is one of Christendom’s three principal pilgrimage destinations. Since the ninth century, millions have come from all over the world to visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, said to house the remains of Santiago Apóstal (St. James the Apostle). His tomb was supposedly rediscovered around 814 by a religious hermit following a guiding star, from whence came the name ‘compostela,’ derived from the Latin campus stellae, field of the star. As with their medieval predecessors, the motives of those taking the “route of forgiveness” today can be spiritual or not, but all say it is a trip that stays with them for life.
By Cinda Sherman