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Primitivo or Norte?

Susan B Johnson

PuraVida
Time of past OR future Camino
June (2016)
I have long wanted to walk the Primitivo and plan to go this summer with a friend. However, her knees aren't in the best shape and I'm concerned about the steep incline and declines of the Primitivo. So, I'm considering el Norte as a better option. My concern is I've heard it's not as picturesque as the Primitivo. Can you compare the two?

I did Ingles to Finsterre twice and loved it. So few people between Ferrol and Santiago. I loved how I could walk for hours in solitude. You mentioned el Norte as being "touristy." Did you find a lot of people on el Norte or just that touristy vibe when you came into a town?
 
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I’m surprised nobody has jumped at your question because I’m sure tons of people on here have done both. I’ve only done the Primitivo and Frances so I can’t compare to the Norte. I will say that I wouldn’t recommend the Primitivo for someone with real knee problems but then again I wouldn’t recommend many parts of the Frances to someone with knee problems. On the other hand, I expected the Primitivo to be really challenging and I can think of numerous places on the Frances that were just as challenging. Sorry I can’t add anything about the Norte but my guess is it’s not noticeably easier than the Primitivo.
 
I have walked the first half of the Norte, then turned on to the Primitivo. IMO, the Primitivo is more difficult, but mainly because the climbs come up more often until nearing Lugo. The first half of the Norte has a number of hard climbs, but they come up less often overall as I think they seemed to be more spread out. I walked both routes in the Spring and saw very few people while walking, but most lodgings were nearly full at day's end.
It would be a hard decision to decide which route because both are very different, yet each stunning in their own way.
 
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Hhmm tough comparison. I think the Norte from Irun to Bilbao (i..e the first week) is, day on day, one of the more difficult camino paths, with quite a few steep sections. Less so after Bilbao, though I’ve only walked as far as Santander.

I guess I’m biased because the Primitivo is one of my absolute favourite Caminos. There are plenty of up and down sections, and the significant ascent and descent over the Hospitales route. But having walked the Primitivo twice I didn’t find it as tough as is sometimes reported.

If your friends’ knees are the main consideration. I don’t think you would be putting her in harm’s way by choosing the Primitivo over the Norte. Another factor for her knees is the walking surface. On thé Norte, unless you seek out variants, there is quite a lot of bitumen (aka asphalt) which can be v tough on the feet, ankles and knees.

As for picturesque - on the Norte, you will have more coastal landscape and views - on the Primitivo the glorious mountains.

Is time a factor. Thé ‘full’ Norte is at least twice the distance of the Primitivo.

Sorry if that doesn’t help ☺️
 
Hi Susan
I have a couple of 'it depends' for you..
Yes, the Norte is more touristy - in the tourist season. So it depends when you are planning to go. And actually when I've been on the north coast in July, August and September I never felt it was overpowering. There are quite a lot of people, but that's because it's a lovely place to be. Also, while the coast from San Seb to Santander has towns with holiday apartment complexes and caravan sites, the last coastal section of the Norte is a more protected coastline and the tourism is more dispersed and generally just holiday homes and rentals.
The Norte has hilly and flat parts. It is more than twice as long as the Primitivo. So it depends which section you are are planning to walk.
If we say the Primitivo takes about 2 weeks. And we look for an equivalent for the final part of the Norte, finishing in Santiago, then Aviles is the obvious big town to aim for. Or perhaps taking a bus from there to be a couple of stages closer to Santiago, say, Soto de Luina or Cadavedo.
I had equally delightful experiences walking both of these. That Norte section has both beautiful coastline (and swimming opportunities in the warmer months) as well as having pretty countryside in the hinterland after Ribadeo. I'd say that Norte section is flatter than the Primitivo but has more road walking - on very quiet small roads, similar to the small ones you will have walked on the Ingles, particularly Betanzos-Sigueiro.
That final norte 2 weeks is definitely not a second-best compromise choice - it has some equally wonderful walking and delights, including the pocket cathedral at Mondonedo and the awesome Sobrado dos Monxes.
Cheers, tom
 
The focus is on reducing the risk of failure through being well prepared. 2nd ed.
I walked from Bayonne to Santander last autumn with a bad knee. There is a lot of tarmac with the possibility of taking the coastal paths, however, these are very steep. The 'up' was not so bad but the 'downs are quite something! The worst is the occasional concrete roads! Having said that, I wore a knee support at all times and I would say that sticks are a must! It is a truly beautiful route.
 
I walked both. If you compare the two caminos "as a whole", the Norte on average is surely more flat. The stretch from Irun to Bilbao is in my opinion comparable to the Norte, both in beauty as in difficulty. A disadvantage of the Norte is the many kilometers on asphalt. As others have said there are alternative paths that follow the coast more closely. These involve more climbs and kilometers though.
 
If you look at Gronze website it shows a chart of elevation on every stage, I walked the north route and changed for the Primitivo, both certainly have their ups and downs but also stunning scenery.
 
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I’ve walked both:
  • Del Norte starting in the first week of May.
  • Primitivo in June.
Both involve climbing, both sometimes steep. So it really depends on how bad your friend’s knee problems are. To minimise the risk of having to break your Camino off, you might consider walking part of the Del Norte. As someone already suggested, starting in Bilbao. Because the Del Norte is considerably longer than the Primitivo, starting in Santander (or so) might also be an option.

I can’t say that one is more beautiful than the other. I’ve walked several Camino’s so far, taking each Camino as it is and enjoying it. Yes, the Primitivo has gorgeous mountains, but it doesn’t have the absolutely magnificent coastline views that the Del Norte does. So wether you would prefer the one over the other is personal. If you’re living in the mountains you might enjoy the Del Norte. If you live in a flat landscape you might prefer the Primitivo.

You could even start walking the Del Norte (in Bilbao or Santander) and see how the knees are doing. Then, when reaching the town of Villaviciosa, decide:
  • turn left to Oviedo and the Primitivo.
  • continue straight ahead and finish the Del Norte.
 
I walked both. IMO the main problem of Norte is its poor historical value. So you’ll find many “variants of variants” without a clear historical track. Its main value are the sea views, I.e. the Santander bay. I strongly prefer the Primitivo. Hospitales route is really spectacular. I think that knee problems can be managed by reducing length and/or rhythm of the stages. Buen Camino
 
I have long wanted to walk the Primitivo and plan to go this summer with a friend. However, her knees aren't in the best shape and I'm concerned about the steep incline and declines of the Primitivo. So, I'm considering el Norte as a better option. My concern is I've heard it's not as picturesque as the Primitivo. Can you compare the two?

I did Ingles to Finsterre twice and loved it. So few people between Ferrol and Santiago. I loved how I could walk for hours in solitude. You mentioned el Norte as being "touristy." Did you find a lot of people on el Norte or just that touristy vibe when you came into a town?
For someone with dodgy knees the descent into Pasaje on the first day is about the most difficult challenge. The last time I did it I nearly sat down to wriggle my way along. My knees were so sore. The ascent on the other side via the stairs is not particularly pleasant either, but thankfully there is an alternative. The rest of the way is doable with an acceptable level of discomfort in a few places. The climbs on the Primitivo are more frequent and generally steeper. But the descents are not as severe. Though the descent towards the reservoir is very unstable with lots of loose broken slabs. I managed both with the aid of knee braces. The rest of the Primitivo is quite stable underfoot.

As regards scenery they are both good. On the Norte you have quite a lot of marine outlooks as against the mountain views on the Primitivo.

Good luck
 
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I have walked all of the del Norte twice and the Primitivo once. Both Caminos are beautiful and demanding. The Primitivo moreso, because for about the first half you walk more up and down because you are walking perpendicular to the folds of the mountains. On the del Norte you are walking down into delightful seaside villages. And then up and out of them. Take knee braces/wraps or buy them in the farmacias. Keep your toenails cut way short and follow the advice above and be sure to bring one or two trekking poles. Buen Camino
 
Hi Susan
I have a couple of 'it depends' for you..
Yes, the Norte is more touristy - in the tourist season. So it depends when you are planning to go. And actually when I've been on the north coast in July, August and September I never felt it was overpowering. There are quite a lot of people, but that's because it's a lovely place to be. Also, while the coast from San Seb to Santander has towns with holiday apartment complexes and caravan sites, the last coastal section of the Norte is a more protected coastline and the tourism is more dispersed and generally just holiday homes and rentals.
The Norte has hilly and flat parts. It is more than twice as long as the Primitivo. So it depends which section you are are planning to walk.
If we say the Primitivo takes about 2 weeks. And we look for an equivalent for the final part of the Norte, finishing in Santiago, then Aviles is the obvious big town to aim for. Or perhaps taking a bus from there to be a couple of stages closer to Santiago, say, Soto de Luina or Cadavedo.
I had equally delightful experiences walking both of these. That Norte section has both beautiful coastline (and swimming opportunities in the warmer months) as well as having pretty countryside in the hinterland after Ribadeo. I'd say that Norte section is flatter than the Primitivo but has more road walking - on very quiet small roads, similar to the small ones you will have walked on the Ingles, particularly Betanzos-Sigueiro.
That final norte 2 weeks is definitely not a second-best compromise choice - it has some equally wonderful walking and delights, including the pocket cathedral at Mondonedo and the awesome Sobrado dos Monxes.
Cheers, tom
Excellent Norte description!
 
As others have said the Norte has a lot of paved surface and road walking. This summer while walking the Norte again I found an app that described each stage on different caminos and the percentage of road walking vs dirt trails for that stage. For the Norte there were frequently days of 70% road walking. For the Primitivo there were frequent days with 70% trail walking. So this is a major objective difference between the two. Also remember that if you are walking on a road then there will be cars. For the most part there will not be what I consider a lot of traffic but on my third Norte trek I found that I was really annoyed and anxious by having to walk right next to cars. (I will try to remember the app, I don’t see it on my phone now.)

I recently posted that, “the Norte is …..everything.” It has great aspects and not so great aspects. The one great thing it has that the Primitivo doesn’t is spectacular views of the sea. The amount of ups and downs on the Norte really depends on which part of it to walk. The section from Irun to Bilbao is, I think, equally challenging as anything on the Primitivo. But the Norte has sections that are relatively flat as well.

I could write volumes on the Norte. But for the sake of brevity let me just say that I would bet $$$ that there has never been anyone who has regretted walking the Primitivo. It is a wonderful camino in all ways with the caveat that you have to tackle some big hills. Furthermore, to more specifically address your concerns about your friends knees, both these caminos could easily wreck a persons knees. I think if you feel you can do the Norte than you can do the Primitivo. I believe if you walk slow on the hills, take rest breaks, walk shorter stages, and pack light that you will be able to do either camino.

And if you have time you could walk the Norte until Villaviciosa and then detour to the Primitivo.
 
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I have long wanted to walk the Primitivo and plan to go this summer with a friend. However, her knees aren't in the best shape and I'm concerned about the steep incline and declines of the Primitivo. So, I'm considering el Norte as a better option. My concern is I've heard it's not as picturesque as the Primitivo. Can you compare the two?

I did Ingles to Finsterre twice and loved it. So few people between Ferrol and Santiago. I loved how I could walk for hours in solitude. You mentioned el Norte as being "touristy." Did you find a lot of people on el Norte or just that touristy vibe when you came into a town?
Hi, I did the full norte last year, it was busy around san Sebastian, & santander, but when you pass these places, it was lovely & quiet, with stunning scenery, there were days that I only saw a handful of other pilgrims...
Hope this helps
 
I had knee injuries on both caminos so bad that I didn’t think I could continue. It’s amazing what a days rest can do.
Elasticated knee bandage supports work wonders for me allowing me to continue I don’t usually walk with poles but they do help And make going up hill easier. The portion from Tineo to A Fonsagrada is the hardest with most elevations so you can expect 4-5 hard days but beautiful scenery. i would recommend Primitivo
 
I walked from Bayonne to Santander last autumn with a bad knee. There is a lot of tarmac with the possibility of taking the coastal paths, however, these are very steep. The 'up' was not so bad but the 'downs are quite something! The worst is the occasional concrete roads! Having said that, I wore a knee support at all times and I would say that sticks are a must! It is a truly beautiful route.
knee supports and sticks really help! 👊
 
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