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My Vad stages - June 2016


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I posted about my Lebaniego stages back in July and meant to do the Vadiniense around the same time...
Just to recap: I walked from the coast at San Vicente (on the Norte) to Potes and then the monastery at Santo Toribio in two and a half days. I took the river option on Day 1, past Cades to LaFuente (very long) and at the end of Day 2 I stayed in the municipal albergue in the village of Cabanes. Day 3 was the short stage into Potes and then to the ST monastery and back to Potes for the night.
Because most people will do the Lebaniego and Vadiniense together I’ve labelled my stages as part of the same camino, so

DAY 4: Potes- Fuente De (21km if you stay on the road, 30.5km on the waymarked route – you might, like me, want to pick something in between)
From Potes I started early as Gronze rates the stage to La Fuente with its highest difficulty rating. The road to La Fuente is only about 21km and it was quiet in June and with sufficient hard shoulder to be viable all the way. However the waymarked route jumps off at various points on both sides of the road wherever it can find an option, usually some way up on the side of the gorge. I took some of the waymarked paths but not all. I skipped the final piece that adds about 5km but I’m told is very pleasant. I arrived much to my surprise at about 2pm. Gronze has definitely over-rated the difficulty.

You can stock up in the mini-market in Espinama, where there are several accommodation options but these are likely to be busy in summer and especially at weekends.

At Fuente De, after the ski lift there is a mountain refuge (Redondo) attached to the campsite (€15). Depending on the time of year the owners may cook meals in the bar/diner below. Otherwise there’s a basic kitchen in the main room of the refuge, which is also the dormitory. Some might find it rudimentary but I liked its old-skool feel. NB the ski lift shop/café was closed at the time, but the Parador in the resort makes a giant omelette bocadillo which will last you through the whole of the next day…

DAY 5: Fuente De to Portilla de la Reina (22km)
The camino goes from right outside the campsite, up (up, up, up, but never steeply) a track which is used by 4x4 recreation vehicles (for which there is a club in La Fuente). It is well-marked, so if you are an experienced hillwalker, this way (following yellow arrows) is viable in conditions of rain/poor visibility all the way up to the 1794m high point at Horcada de Valcavao. Astounding vistas. From there you take another wide track over to a mountain road and then follow that road for 10km all the way down to Portilla de la Reina.
The albergue here is also more like a mountain hostel/chalet, with old skis, toboggans etc on the walls. I think there is one other sleeping option in the village, so I’d advise phoning to book, or it’s another 13km to the next place. The young couple running the place are enthusiastic and helpful (Alejandro and ?). I paid €39 for a single en suite, evening meal and breakfast.

DAY 6: Portilla de la Reina to Horcadas (27km)
Charming walk down the narrow valley to the lake where you join the N-621 road, and walk beside the water. As you arrive at the village there’s a small road going down left to the water/quayside and it is best to take this even though the camino sign has been turned to aim you continuing along the main road. The Riano village is modern, because the original village sunk below the water when the valley was flooded in the 1980s for the hydro project. But there are plenty of places to eat and there’s a summer-opening albergue slightly out of the village.
I walked on to Horcadas, a little well-kept village where a group of canny but friendly dogs seemed to have the run of the place. I was the only person staying in the Albergue El Toril (€15), which is modern and well-provisioned, but mainly takes school groups so might not always be available. There’s also a tiny bar where I got the albergue key.

DAY 7: Horcadas to Cistierna (30.5km)
Glorious stage with some fantastic parts on the remains of the famous Roman road, part of which is now incorporated into the GR1 with which the camino intersects briefly (on its way from the Girona to Finisterre). After Cremenes they’ve done a great job of keeping the camino off the road as it follows the valley of the rio Esla. The municipal albergue San Guillerno (€5) in Cistierna can be a little hard to find, off to the left and up the hill from the main square – not to be confused with the signs to a recreational albergue which is signed right off the main street. The albergue is run by volunteers (whose phone numbers are on the door) and is clean and well-kept despite the slightly shabby exterior. You may be surprised to meet pilgrims here, as Cistierna marks the point where the Vadiniense crosses the Camino Viejo and this is becoming more popular it seems, although I failed to find any markers for the Viejo the next morning!

DAY 8: Cistierna to Gradefes (23km)
Another stroll down the Esla valley alongside the growing river. Mix of empty little road and nice paths. The only issue is arriving too early in Gradefes as the hospitalero for the Albergue de Peregrinos isn’t usually available until mid-afternoon. In the meantime there is the astoundingly beautiful church of the C12th Gradefes Santa Maria la Real monastery to visit. It may also be possible to see other parts of the monastery – I didn’t manage to. For a good midday meal you need to walk 1km up to a roadhouse restaurant on the N-625. I found lots of friendly, helpful people in this village.

DAY 9: Gradefes to Leon (34km)
I took the alternative (route of the monasteries) which branches off at San Miguel de Escalada to the ruins of the San Pedro de Eslonsa monastery, which was sufficiently well waymarked. The latter part to Puente de Vilarente (to join the CF) was on small quiet roads.

Final thoughts:
Overall, the facilities were excellent and the route well-marked. For a few days it just follows the rio Esla, so it’s hard to go seriously wrong. There is definitely a lot of road walking but the roads aren’t the scary type, so it’s all quite do-able. And the parts off the road are often fabulous. I only met two other pilgrims.

While I was walking it felt that the interesting parts of this camino were sort of petering out as it approached Leon. But in hindsight I can see that I missed some fantastic points of interest amongst the monasteries and ruined monasteries on the last two days. In particular I should have taken the small detour to the monastery of San Miguel de Escalada and read up more on the other monasteries in the area first.

Finally… I picked up a map/guide on the caminos de Santiago in the province of Leon, produced in collaboration with the Leon amigos. The map shows how the camino Viejo crosses from the Vadiniense at Cistierna to the San Salvador at La Pola de Gordon. Hmmm, I know the Viejo is not yet blessed with much infrastructure, but I wonder if anyone has explored that particular stretch across the high plain from Cistierna to La Pola de Gordon? If it is viable it could be a good way of starting generate some interest in the Viejo.

Cheers, tom
PS I picked up a guide to the Gradefes monasteries with opening times etc, so if anyone wants to know these, please say so and I’ll write them out.



Staff member
Donating Member
If it weren't for all the asphalt, I'd be chomping at the bit to get back there now.

Just one question -- is the albergue in Cabanes now a municipal (or pilgrim) albergue? When I walked I called the albergue from the church at Lebena, and learned that it was full with a school group. That meant hoofing it along the VERY dangerous highway all the way into Potes. Beautiful but very dangerous. Bummer.

Great description Tom, muchas gracias.


Active Member
Donating Member
Hi Laurie
There are two albergues in Cabanes - the private albergue that was open when you enquired and an unstaffed municipal albergue that is (I think) more recent and set up as part of the plans for this year's Lebaniego anniversary celebrations. The staff running the private albergue should be able to assist in getting a pilgrim into the municipal. In my case the private albergue hospitalero, after arranging for me to stay at the municipal, went beyond the call of duty and fixed an evening meal for me.
Just to add - that from Lebena there are I think, at least three different routes that go directly to Potes. One I know for sure avoids not just the highway but is 95% non-road all the way - at the main road, below Lebena, go over the bridge, turn right and counter-intuitively follow the signs up to the hamlet of Allende. There, come off the road where it curves up and right and veer left, take a little lane that points straight ahead back down into the valley in the direction of Potes. There should be a faded old deep red marker on the wall if you peer hard enough. This eventually joins with the camino path coming back off the mountain from Cabanes (via Pendes). Then it takes you all the way into Potes on the other side of the river from the highway on a nice track.
cheers, tom.

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