The Camino del Salvador at about 130km is in north central Spain and links the French Camino to the Camino Primitivo starting in León and ending in Oviedo. The Salvador has an extensive variety of scenery and pathways and in many commentaries is described as one of the most beautiful and spectacular of any Camino with incomparable beauty of valleys, rivers and mountains.

I walked the Camino del Salvador in September 2017, having been drawn to its scenery and tradition while on my first Camino on the French route a few years previously. The scenery and views of its mountains, the Picos de Europa, stand out majestically with their barren peaks and green foothills as they flank along to the north along the central sections of French Camino.  

An old tradition of the French Camino was to take the Salvador from León to Oviedo and then continue to Santiago on the Primitivo route. This was reflected by the saying which roughly translates as ‘he who goes to Santiago but not to Salvador, visits the servant but not the Lord’. The reason for the diversion to Oviedo was to visit the ancient relics there, which according to tradition were taken from Jerusalem at the time of Christ. The many relics, which include the Sancta Ovetensis, (Holy Shroud) are kept in the Cámara Santa (Holy Chamber) in the Salvador Cathedral in Oviedo and indeed for several hundred years from the mid 8th century, Oviedo was the most important guardian of relics in Europe outside of Rome.

The 130 km of the Salvador Camino can be completed in 5 to 7 days and as a Camino less travelled, the day stages are set by places to stay. There is plenty and varied accommodation along the way and I had no issues in finding accommodation even when I arrived late in the evening. The Salvador starts in León, always worth a nights stay with its atmosphere, history and places to visit.

Stage 1 is typically to La Ropla and is about 27 km. The majority of this stage is along river side walks, pathways through hills and shady woodlands, and on quiet rural roads, with a few passing villages. La Ropla is a small town with an Albergue, hotels, restaurants and shops. It is important to stock up on supplies here as the next town is 2 to 3 days away in Camponanes, depending on how long you wish to linger in the Picos.

Stage 2 is typically from La Ropla to Poladura de la Tercia and is about 26 km. The path rises to a peak of 1,642 metres dropping back to 1,230 metres at Poladura and with several ups and downs along the way.  From about the 8km mark at La Pola de Gordon, the scenery really opens up and becomes spectacular. The path now follows hillsides and wooded areas, with many places commanding a stop to enjoy the scenery, only to find that at the next turn the view becomes even more beautiful and panoramic. On the first ridge, the path was covered with wild autumn purple crocus. The path next descends before rising again to the next ridge and then opens out to a valley with small hamlets and farmsteads below and which appears to be surrounded on all sides by mountains topped with barren peaks looking spectacular in the sun. The route at this point is just a narrow walking path but is marked well by the familiar yellow arrows painted on rocks along the way. It then drops into Poladura de la Tercia where there is only an Albergue and a Casa Rural but no shops or restaurants. The 2 options for an evening meal are at the Casa Rural or to cook your food which was bought at La Ropla. The Casa Rural needs to be phoned ahead on the day before as meals are only prepared for the requested number.

Stage 3 is typically from Poladura de la Tercia to Herías and at 31 km can be long for one day. It can be split into two about equal sections staying overnight midway in Pajares, which is my recommendation, as the walk commands time to enjoy the scenery and has a long descent into Herías. Starting at 1,230 metres in Poladura de la Tercia, the route rises to the highest peak on the Salvador of 1,568 metres at El Canto de La Tusa on section 1, down to 970 m at Pajares and then to 560 m in Herías, with the usual ups and downs along the way. The day starts on rural roads, but the majority of walking is on hill and mountain paths to Pajares. The views out of Poladura open up on the ascent with vistas on all sides. The narrow path to the high point of El Canto de La Tusa is among heather and fern to the Cross of Salvador which is perched at the peak. After a slight descent it is up again to the last peak with more breathtaking views. From here the path rambles through trees and fields down to Arbas with its beautiful 13th century Romanesque church. A final climb to the last ridge at Alto de Pajares crosses into the region of Asturias and it’s downhill most all of the way from there. The early descent is along wooded and fern lanes with views above to the peaks and outwards across the valleys, passing old farmhouses along the way. There is an Albergue and Casa Rural only in Pajares, and as with Poladura given its relative isolation, a call ahead the day before or on the day if an evening meal is needed.

Section 2 of this phase is along lanes many of which are arched with oaks, along narrow paths, and along the sides of fields. The views back to the mountains give a great sense of achievement and the landscapes across the valleys below are captivating. The Albergue in Bendueños is one that is most memorable on the Salvador. Located about 2km from the village of Herías, it is an old teacher’s house, with views over a valley at the rear. Sandra, the hospitalera serves up a delicious evening meal, and as with Pajares given its location a call ahead is needed for the meal.

The next Stage to Mieres del Camino is about 27km, primarily on a slight downhill. A must stop is the 9th century Pre-Romanesque Asturian church of Santa Cristina de Lena which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. From the mid stage point of La Pola de Lena there are now cafes for the obligatory café con leche stops. The final section into Mieres is along river side pedestrian paths. Mieres has a central pedestrianised area with restaurants. Sidra, the local cider, is a must try, and the real treat is the pour into glasses from a height in one of the many Siderias in the town. A good option is to stay in one of the reasonably priced hotels in the town centre as the albergue is an area with few facilities a few km outside the town.

The final 19 km stage into Oviedo is primarily on quiet country roads and lane ways, passing through several small villages with their Asturian stone and wooden hórreos grain stores. The approach into Oviedo is well marked with a short suburban section to the city centre to the Camino finish at the Salvador Cathedral in the Plaza Alfonso.

Oviedo, like many of the great Camino cities is full of charm and interest with the pedestrianised centre area with cafes to enjoy Asturian food and drink and places to linger. The 9th century Pre-Romanesque Asturian art and statues in the Holy Chamber of the Salvador Cathedral as well as the churches of Santa Maria del Naranco, San Miguel de Lillo and San Julián de los Prados are a must see. As with Santa Cristina de Lena, check opening times before your visit.

The Camino del Salvador has its own unique Compostella – the treasured Salvadorana and is issued at the office in the Cathedral.  Along the way people can either use the normal credential passport for the stamps along the way, or the unique Salvador passport available only at the Albergues in León.  

And as with all Caminos, the best place to start looking for information is the information centre of the Irish Camino Centre at James’s Street in Dublin or at www.caminosociety.com. There are no guidebooks per se available for the Salvador, and from searching through the various Camino forums the guide that is most recommended is the on-line ‘Enders Guide’. It was compiled by local voluntary groups in León and Asturias and gives descriptions of the route that are clear, unambiguous and has pictures of key points and turns. I found it an excellent guide and used it all along the way. A full English translation of the guide is available on docplayer.net.

The Salvador is well marked all along the route. The tourist office in León has a compact guide which outlines the path, profiles and places to stay.  The starting point of León is easy accessible with both bus and train services from Madrid airport. To return home, there is a bus service from Oviedo to the Airport in Santander for people not continuing onto Santiago on the Camino Primitivo. In chatting with locals along the route, the consensus for the best time on the Salvador is May and June and from mid August to early September. The summer heat is not a problem in June and late August on the Picos, but by the mid September there is a higher risk of hill fog.

By chance, I arrived in Oviedo during the festival of San Mateo, an annual event on the 3rd week of September. There were free open air concerts in the main square and the place was buzzing with festival atmosphere. It was an unexpected and most enjoyable end to my Camino del Salvador, which I hope to walk again and next time I’ll continue onwards to Santiago on the Camino Primitivo.

And the joy of the Salvador, like any Camino, is not just the walk and time out, it is talking with and listening to the people we meet with along the way, the evening meals together and just sharing the moment and being there. The exposition of landscape, scenery and architecture that the 130 km Camino del Salvador gives this Camino a real edge.

Sean McCarthy