Upon leaving Triacastela the Camino forks and you’ll have to choose inevitably: continuing along the towns of A Balsa and San Xil or crossing the old Sámanos (Samos), as the Goth called the settlements where people devoting their lives to God gathered and prayed. Samos is, without a doubt, one of the most significant places in terms of history and religious tradition of the Camino.
It bears witness not only its name but also its monuments and legends, such as the one that served to name the first iconic point that you’ll come across if you choose the path going through this town. We refer to the Desfiladero de Penapartida (the pass of Penapartida), a place where the road and River Oribio passes surrounded by rocks and vegetation. The legend has it that at this point the Virgin, on her pilgrimage toward Compostela, encountered a large rock obstructing the way. She called for the Angels and asked them to destroy it with a lightning. Hence its name; since the rock (“pena” in Galician) was split to allow the Virgin to continue her path.
The Desfiladero of Penapartida gives access to a part of the path known as the Camino Real as it was used by the monarchy to reach the monastery of Samos, one of the oldest in the Western World. Built in 906, its beauty and grandeur explains that many pilgrims prefer to walk 5 kilometres more and not to go through San Xil.
In the surroundings of the monastery the Chapel del Salvador or the ciprés Chapel is constantly visited, which was raised at the end of the IX century. It’s one the few Mozarabic temples remaining in Galicia and was declared national monument in 1944. The millenary cypress tree located at its foot gives its name to it, which is also included among the 50 special trees of Spain. Standing 25 metres high and more than 3 metres in diameter the imposing sobriety and serenity of the cypress of Samos has been immortalized in the verses of one of the most renowned Galician poets; Ramón Cabanillas:
O tronco forte, ríxido e cincento
(The strong trunk, rigid and ash-coloured)
enmantado en follaxe verdemoura,
(wrapped in foliage with green tones)
vive sereno, estático, calado,
(lives serene, static, silent,)
The famous cypress is only the most visible icon of a region rich in natural resources. The geographical site of Lóuzara stands out, it makes a large natural reserve for the municipality of Samos that will call your attention due to its hilly relief, with high mountains and deep valleys.
Another claim of Samos is its gastronomy. The trouts and European eels are very appreciated as the single way of preparing these attracts hundreds of dinner guests to Samos during fishing season. Besides, this town can boast about having its own traditional pastries. Among the proposed the Manjarín sponge cake, conceived in the monastery kitchen over 250 years ago, stands out. Don’t miss it!
Samos is a city of many assets. Maybe for this reason at the stage of Triacastela – Sarria, the variant of Samos, that has traditionally been secondary, hosts an ever-increasing number of pilgrims. One of the advantages offered is the concentration of services and bars and restaurants, virtually lacking or non-existent on the traditional variant, the San Xil one. However it has some negative points such as two long asphalt sections, something that will be easily compensated by the beautiful views over the valley of Samos and the enjoyment of its monastery.
The stage between Triacastela and Sarria through Samos is 21 kilometres long and is characterized by continuous ascents and descends, with several stretches over 20% slope. The itinerary will bring you some hazardous areas as the Camino runs through the road itself (without hard shoulders and sidewalks), and some quiet and safe areas covered by leafy chestnut and oak forests.
Pay attention, because the Camino will provide you with interesting examples of rural Romanesque Galician art, old bridges, traditional washing places and even valuable ethnographic remains, such as the Renche mills, located 16 kilometres away from Sarria.
The Samos variant has much to offer; it isn’t a mandatory stop but surely a strongly recommended option.