Camino Primitivo Albergue Review

Recommended stages on the Primitivo

One of the key skills one must have in life is to master the art of cut and paste. This year I decided to share my opinion of the albergues I stayed at, so before putting them up on Google or whatever, here they are. I like to stay in public albergues whenever possible, but sometimes my daily stage did not finish at a village with a public albergue, so I stayed private. I only saw one parochial / church albergue housed in the monastery at Cornellana, but my daily stage did not stop there.

Oviedo

This albergue which is run by the Asociación de amigos del Camino Astur-Leonesa is housed in the old seminary. So basically, it is a plug and play albergue, the infrastructure is all there, all that is missing is the future priests cramming for their Theology exams! The rooms house 2 bunk beds and are equipped with lockers and a handy sink in which to brush your teeth! Oh, and it is right downtown, so you are literally steps away from the Cathedral and the old part of town, right where the Camino starts. I shared a room with Vicente from Valencia whom I would continue bumping into throughout my Camino.

The old seminary is now an albergue in Oviedo

Grado

The public albergue is run by volunteers of the International Fraternity of the Camino de Santiago and it is housed in the old horse auction building – which explains all the iron rings attached to the wall next to the building. But do not fret, it was remodeled in 2016. It was a great little albergue, and the volunteer hospitalario Guy was great!

La Espina – El cruce (Private)

This is as basic and as homey as it gets. It is run by Carmen who had a space above her tiny supermarket and opened an albergue! It has one room with 10 beds which I shared with three American teachers. The village is pretty basic, so it comes in handy that there is a supermarket below the albergue where you can buy groceries and make your own dinner! Apparently, this is a good place to stop if you are planning to take the “Hospitales” variant (which coincidentally I did).

Campiello – Casa Ricardo (Private)

This has to be one of the top albergues I have ever stayed in! it is a restored farmhouse with great facilities: kitchen, bathrooms, patio and a great restaurant/bar and supermarket on the other side of the road. The sleeping room is relatively big but with brand new bunks and exposed stone walls it offered a great night’s sleep.

Berducedo – Camino Primitivo (Private)

After the exhausting (but highly recommended Hospitales variant) I unfortunately skipped the municipal albergue (there had been rumors on the Camino that there was a lack of beds in Berducedo) to go to the private Camino Primitivo . Camino Primitivo was a horrible experience despite good facilities, a despicable albergue only focused on squeezing every last euro from the pilgrim. You cannot order a la carte for lunch, you have to order the full 20 Euro menu (which was good, but way more than what I wanted), when I had an issue with other pilgrims over the washer/drier they did nothing to help our situation and worst of all: they had just done a fly treatment and the whole albergue was full of dead flies -and they did nothing to clean them up. The owner was simply rude, so I refused to stay there for dinner and went to the lovely Araceli instead where I chatted with a bicycle pilgrim (if such a thing still exists) and had a great meal.

What good laundry facilities look like

Castro – Albergue Juvenil de Castro

This restored schoolhouse run by a lesbian collective was a great acquittal of the Berducedo fiasco. These women were generous, funny, hospitable, and when I told them a sad story (they asked for it), affectionate. I loved it. They also had a simple but delicious “meal plan”: they had a refrigerated showcase full of prepared foods; if you order a small plate you can choose two foods and it costs 3 Euro, the big plate with up to three combinations, 5 Euro. It was freezing that evening, so I had a big plate of spaghetti Bolognese. I loved my stay there.

Vilardongo – O Piñeiral (Private)

Another private choice, but what a place! This is a luxury albergue with amazing facilities (at regular albergue cost) each bunk bed has a little curtain to separate it, and since the place did not fill up and nobody came above me, I had a bit of a private “suite” for the night –nice!! The food was excellent, and they even had a little room with a yoga mat, where I was able to do some much needed yoga.

Castroverde

This is a Xunta de Galicia (i.e., public) albergue and it was impressive! Modern installations in a minimalist setting. It even has a stream running through the back yard where I was able to dip my legs to rid them of 8 hours of hiking worth of inflammation! Public albergues lack kitchen equipment to encourage you to eat in the village which I did for lunch, but a classic tuna empanada (pie) was the perfect dinner, and it needed no cooking!

Guntín

This might be the smallest albergue in the Xunta’s portfolio, only 12 beds! It is so small; the bathroom and showers are in a modern annexed outhouse! This albergue is literally in the middle of a forest but fortunately there is a great private albergue, O Candido across the trail. The exposed wooden beams in the ceiling really made this a rustic experience!

Boente – Albergue Boente (Private)

Once you merge into the last 100 km of the French Way, there are plenty of albergues. Pro tip: if you are a seasoned pilgrim doing more than the last 100km, try to stagger your stages so you only walk with the turistas for a few hours in the morning. What I mean by stagger is that you do not sleep in the main recommended end-of-stage towns. By doing this, you get a few quiet hours in the morning (the day trippers don’t get up early) and quiet afternoon. Boente is 6 km away from Melide, and it is far away enough that I had the albergue all to myself!! It also had a tiny, freezing pool where I had a quick dip to remove inflammation.

Monte do Gozo

This is the largest albergue in the Xunta’s portfolio, only 5 km to Santiago. It has 400 beds in a number of pavilions that are opened as needed. They only had one opened when I arrived, exhausted from a 42 km day. It is a Xunta albergue, so it is fairly standard and basic. Since the Monte do Gozo is a massive complex with an open-air auditorium, a private hostel concession, etc., there is a big industrial brewery where I had a great meal -and a beer! Before hitting Santiago the next morning!

Camino de Santiago #3, the Camino Primitivo

The Camino Primitivo is not only the original Camino, but also the most intense. Yes, it is half the distance of the other “main” Caminos, The Francés and the Norte, but what it lacks in length, it makes up plenty in beauty, ruggedness, physicality, and authenticity.

As you know I had been planning this Camino since I finished the North route last year. It did not disappoint. Here is the story:

Around the year 800, a hermit in Galicia called Paio (or Pelagius) was guided by lights and angels to St. James’ tomb. After telling his local bishop, king Alfonso II “El casto” went to check out what the fuss was about, thereby creating the first pilgrimage. As the Reconquista developed, new routes were established leading to the North and eventually the Francés route, which is today the most popular.

So, I took a train to Oviedo, the ancient capital of Spain during the Moorish occupation. It is a high-speed train only halfway, as the mountains that separate the plateau from the shore has not been breached by the high-speed line yet, making it is a five-hour journey. I arrived in Oviedo just in time to run to the albergue -an old seminary- before it closed!

I shared room with Vicente, a retiree from Valencia whom I would continue to bump into well into the Camino.

Downtown Oviedo is lovely, clean, and full of sculptures! It is so cool! The walk out of town was pleasant enough, and soon you are in the middle of the countryside in total pilgrim mode. The first day is an easy 24Km to Grado, where I had been years ago with my Land Rover. A dip in the frigid river quickly got rid of the day’s hiking inflammation. The albergue is an old horse brokerage house, and there is a cute town square with restaurants and a working church where the priest is happy to give me a pilgrim’s blessing.

The second day brings the first important climbs of the pilgrimage. With hot temperatures and sun, the last climb took a toll, but fortunately I would not have to tackle it first thing next morning.

The next five days are a thing of beauty. I chose the Hospitales variant which takes you up over the tree line for a day of ridging 1000 mts over sea level. Amazing, you do not even miss the cafés! The following three or four days are just as impressive: natural, rugged, and fairly uncivilized. although without the altitude,

About halfway through you cross the grassy paths of Asturias to the dense forests of Galicia. After the city of Lugo with its amazing Roman walls, you have a day of a lot of asphalt, although the views are lovely, your feet pay the price. Then you have a final day of hillside living, before merging into the popular Camino Francés with all the “tourists” doing just the last 100 km (62 miles) to say they have done the Camino. So, the last three days are crowded and rainy on top of that.

But nothing compares to arriving at the plaza del Obradoiro and standing in front of the Cathedral. For me it was 310 km (200 miles) in 11 days.

The Cathedral has been totally renovated and I could finally go down to the crypt to see the tomb of St. James third time is the charm –it had been closed for restoration all my previous times. Lunch was at the amazing Santiago market, where I had the best hake I have ever tasted. With no train spots available that day, a flight to Madrid that afternoon ended my adventure.

How does it compare to the other Caminos? Well, the obvious facts are that while shorter, it is indeed more intense, beautiful, natural, and rugged. I loved every step of it, even the hard climbs and descents.

Which shoes to wear on the Camino

Shoes are arguably the most crucial element in your Camino kit. You are going to walk many hours a day for many days. The number one issue with pilgrims is blisters. You have been warned.

I am really excited to walk my third Camino this Summer, and I needed new shoes. For my first Camino I used Salomon XA Pros, and they were formidable I did the whole Camino with nary a blister (I might have gotten a couple of “hot spots” -pre-blisters- but never developed full blisters).

For my second Camino I chose the same shoe, only newer model in bright blue. Unfortunately, these did not perform as well as the first pair, and I ended up losing both my big toenails, twice (yes my toenails were cut very short, but wet feet in a steep downhill are going to slide). If you have never lost your toenails, it is not painful, but it is a bit of a nuisance, and they take almost a full year to grow back out.

This year I did my homework. I did a comparative spreadsheet checking out a few internet websites. (attached) –it is in no way comprehensive, or professional– it is just a few references from a few random running shoe websites. Once I had my ranking, the move was to find the best price, that is where the Palm Beach Outlets come into the picture. New Balance, Nike, and Asics all have shops there, and the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 came in as the best ranked at the best price. I “broke in” the Nikes during Easter break and loved them! I will give you a full report after my Camino…

Here are a few pointers on Camino shoe buying:

  • Unless you are doing the Camino in the Winter, you do NOT need boots. Most pilgrims walk in the warmer months, and you do not want your feet baking inside of boots.
  • I once met a very bright German pilgrim; PhD in math, an internet startup in Berlin in their fourth round of capitalization… but his feet looked like steak tartare from wearing Alpine hiking boots!!
  • On the other hand, you do not want to wear sneakers/running shoes/tennis. They are not designed to pound the ground for miles with a backpack on, and you will also soon develop blisters.
  • The ideal shoes are trail running/hiking shoes. They are designed for this kind of thing.
  • When you are at the shop, with the laces undone, inch your foot all the way forward, you should be able to put a finger between your heel and the shoe. This means that your shoe should be half a size to a full size bigger than your “normal” shoes. Your feet will expand when walking for hours every day.
  • Gore-Tex or no Gore-Tex? When it rains, your feet will eventually get wet, Gore-Tex or not. So, I opt for NO Gore-Tex, this way when it is not raining my feet will breathe, and when it rains, they will get wet either way. Remember if you are in the Gore-Tex club you are going to have to stop and take your shoes and socks off every so often to let them breathe a bit. A rhythm busting nuisance when you are walking.
  • Soles: the terrain you are going to walk on is going to differ vastly from long stretches on tarmac (yuck) to grassy fields, but most of your walking is on dirt tracks, so you do not need a super aggressive pattern (unless again, you are going to walk in the mud of winter)
  • Once you have your shoes, make sure you break them in. Try to walk at least a few miles with your new shoes in order to avoid any unwelcome surprises.
  • Your feet do most of the work on the Camino so make sure you take care of them! Remember to have your toenails cut very short.

A whole blog post could (and might) go into socks. For the time being remember wool and no stitching…