Earth’s force is the only thing interrupting sporadically the serenity of Triacastela valley, a place that got famous in 1997 for being the epicentre of one of the strongest earthquakes recorded in Spain in the last century. Nevertheless, we can assure your steps will go by with the same peace as the Oribio River outlines the oak and chestnut forests unique to this place, closely related to the Camino.
According to legend a significant part of the material used to build the Cathedral came from Triacastela mountains. Many pilgrims took a stone from a calcareous quarry located in the area and carry it with them around 100 kilometres to the site of Castañeda, in Arzúa. Once there they left it in the lime oven working on the construction of the temple, so that everyone arriving to Santiago made his contribution.
The origin of Triacastela is not very clear. Not even its name. Some link it to the existence of three castles, depicted on its church tower. Another versions report that it is due to the three Celt settlements that existed in the area, all of these documented and classified. The only certainty is that Triacastela was already mentioned as the end of the eleventh stage of the Camino in the Codex Calixtinus. Remains of old buildings as an ancient hospital or a prison are the noisy testimonies of the Jacobin attachment of this town, which precisely owing to the influence of the Camino changed the dedication of its church: initially Pedro and Pablo were venerated, now Santiago Matamoros presides the altarpiece of this baroque temple, main monument of this town.
Perhaps Triacastela will have an extra appeal shortly, since in 2012 a team of Santiago de Compostela University has discovered in the near Cova de Eirós the first signs of paleolithic cave paintings found in the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. At the present time the access is only allowed to archaeologists but it may be without any doubt a wake-up call for a municipality of barely 700 inhabitants that will receive you with a bunch of services despite its small size: health centre, banks, grocery store, bars, six hostels and five country houses.
You’ll feel welcomed in Triacastela but it will make you doubt: at this point the Camino forks and you’ll have to choose whether arriving to Sarria through San Xil or Samos. Purists say the first option is the original one. In this case you’ll complete one of the shortest stages of the Camino (18 kilometres) although not without difficulties. The pronounced climb at the start until the Riocabo High and the stony and soil surface complicate the path. The great views over the valley and the uniqueness of the small town of A Balsa will balance out, there you’ll find an ecological hostel built with donations by two pilgrims that fell in love with the Camino and decided to change the course of their lives.
The alternative of Samos has been traditionally secondary. The major drawback is the long asphalt part where a road with no hard shoulder becomes the Camino. However, the big attraction of this variation is the impressive Monastery of Samos and the chapel of Salvador with its centenary Cypress, considered among the 50 most notable trees in Spain. The bridge and washing site of San Cristovo or the Renche mills add a final touch to the charm of this stage of 21 kilometres that is really worth it.
San Xil, Samos. Samos, San Xil. The dismissed option will provide a good reason to repeat the Camino.