We went to Picos de Europa, a mountain range which covers areas of Cantabria, Asturias and Castile and León. We explored all three regions going from high altitudes to sea level. Here’s the report.
Day 1 – Valencia to Potes
The trip started by driving across Spain with stops in Calamocha, Soria and Burgos. Burgos was especially impressive with its grand entrance gate and gothic cathedral. However, this was all overshadowed when Dmitry found a bar with his name on it!
700km later, we arrived in the Medieval town of Potes in the west of Cantabria. A walk around the town soon demonstrated why Potes has been awarded the title of the prettiest village in Spain.
Day 2 – Dmitry Slipped into a River
In a change from the relentless Valencian summer, day 2 started with clouds and light rain. We started in Navedo and walked down through the village, past horses and into the forest. The forest trail climbed steeply but it had lots of interesting plants, fungi and giant slugs. When we came out of the woods we found that of course there was a much easier trail that we could have followed.
We took the new trail through the woods before arriving at the Shrine of Saint Catalina via a very wet field. Our route continued to a village where we made friends with a cute kitten although sadly her owner wouldn’t let her join our hike.
We walked through the valley and followed the river from above. There were plenty of epic views of the mountains and the caves. The trail had a good mix of rocks and vegetation to keep things interesting. For lunch we stopped on a big rock overlooking the river. Milton and Dmitry went for a swim, Milton did it intentionally but Dmitry slipped into the river. It was hilarious.
We got down to river level and followed the road before rejoining the trail to walk back up towards Navedo via pools and waterfalls.
We went to St Catalina’s viewpoint. From here we got great views of the Picos de Europa. There were also some interesting features like cave paintings and the statue of Osa de Andara, a mythical Cantabrian bear woman!
Day 3 – We Got High!
It was an early start to catch our 9:30am cable car from Fuente Dé. The cable car takes 4 minutes to travel 753m through the clouds to an altitude of 1823m. Despite being August there was still ice in the crevices although that did not seem to bother the mountain cows.
The trail is linear and follows the ridge of the valley before splitting to a refuge or the Horcado Rojos summit. The path to the Collados (2343m) is easy to follow. But the last 150m to get to the peak itself is via a steep path with loose stones and scrambling. At the peak we got 360° views of the Picos de Europa range and enjoyed watching the birds and the one bee that was at 2506m up.
We returned on the same path. The slopes were a lot of fun to run down. At the cable car viewpoint it was interesting to see how much the view had changed as the morning clouds had gone.
Once back in Potes, we tried the local sidra by using a traditional pumping machine to aerate the sidra. The general consensus was that pouring direct from the bottle is far more efficient and just as effective. Although some people had the more extreme view and suggested we thrown the pump in the river. Cantabrians don’t do things the easy way though as we would find out tomorrow.
Day 4 – An Easy Hike? That’s Hill-areas.
Day 4 was meant to be a rest day but the group wanted to hike, so what was meant to be an easy hike to a village with a pub was planned.
We walked out of Potes, enjoying a nice flat route through farmland. The hills then started abruptly and didn’t stop. Some of the hills had between a 30 and 40% gradient which left us wondering what could come up here and why hadn’t Cantabrians zig-zagged the road. Just like with the sidra pump, they don’t make things easy.
After a lot of up, we finally started our descent to the village of Tudes. This charming village has everything you’d expect, old buildings, a haycart, a church…. and an English pub?!
Of course we went in the English pub. Being the only English person in the group I’m pleased to say it was quite accurate. There are beams, a pool table and a dart board. The walls are decorated with paintings of famous English people from Shakespeare to Freddie Mercury along side the owner’s family. They also served tea in China tea cups.
Leaving Tudes, we went downhill again to Porcieda which Howard was very excited about. It has a small shrine and some ramshackle abandoned buildings but not much else.
It was shortly after this village that we found a strong contender for the best bench in the world. The bench has stunning views of the Picos de Europa and blackberry bushes nearby.
The potential best bench in the world certainly beat the ants nest in the tree that Dmitry sat on. He found out that the ants bite! Having broken his personal altitude record yesterday, I think he broke his record for the most curse words said in a minute.
Antsy to get away from the ants, we walked down to the Shrine of Valmejor. The shrine has a great viewpoint but the benches all face the wrong way! From there it was a short walk down to Potes for delicious ice cream.
Day 5 – Ruta del Cares…and Cabras.
We left Potes and made a quick stop in Mogrovejo, another winner of Spain’s prettiest village. The hillside village has an Arab tower and great views of the mountains, which Eric enjoyed posing in front of.
We drove out of Cantabria and into Castille y León where the roads get a lot worse so the drive to Cáin was not fun. Ruta de Cares is the most famous and popular route in the Picos de Europa. We did it backwards by starting from Cáins and walking to Poncebos in Asturias.
The fluvial route follows the River Cares. We took a small detour at the beginning to splash around in the clear but very cold river. The route rises above the river and goes through many rock caves. The vast majority of the route is flat or downhill so we could appreciate the beautiful scenery and photo opportunities.
Towards the end of the route we met lots of cute goats. When we arrived in Poncebos we were greeted by yet another goat. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the river and star gazing when it got dark enough.
Day 6 – Finally Some Zig-zags
From Poncebos we hiked to Bulnes via the Ruta de Reconquesta. The route is named from the time the Christians had chased the Muslims through the mountains. The path to Bulnes is mostly uphill but unlike the Cantabrians, the Asturians use zig-zags so the hour and a half route was not too strenuous.
Bulnes is another pretty village where many of the buildings haven’t changed for centuries. We explored the Shrine of Our Lady of Snow and Dmitry found a mountain cat which he soon became acquainted with.
We took the 10 minutes walk to a viewing platform that didn’t actually offer the best views because of the overgrown foliage. Some of us decided to walk to Upper Bulnes. From here we got much better views of the valleys and the Naranjo de Bulnes peak. After the crowds on the Ruta de Cares it was nice to hear only the river and chickens.
We took the same route back and relaxed by the river before catching a bus to Las Arenas and then going on to Cangas de Onis, a pretty town with the famous Roman Bridge complete with an Asturian cross over the River Sella. That night we consumed plenty of unbrielevably grate cheese and sidra.
Day 7 – Life’s a Beach.
In a change from the original plan, we decided to go to the coast. We went to Ribadesella, a seaside town at the mouth of the River Sella. First we walked up to the Shrine of Guía for views along the coastline and walked back in to town via the ceramic panels that told Ribadesella’s history in both an artistic and entertaining way. Then we found an amazing chocolate shop 😃.
We were amused by the different social distancing shapes drawn in the sand that we saw when walking along the seafront. We then took the river path and stopped to try out at a very fun play park. For lunch we ate local seafood and then spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach. It was a very good way to spend a day.
That evening we stayes in Riaño in León. There was a sign for the “best bench in Leon” so we had to investigate this bench. The bench overlooks the Riaño reservoir which was constructed in the 1980s by flooding Old Riaño and six other villages. It’s a good bench but the road underneath it means that it doesn’t come close to reaching the benchmark set by the bench on Day 4. Our last day ended by watching the sunset over the Picos de Europa.
Day 8 – Here We Go Again.
It was a long drive back to Valencia but we had time to check out one more of Spain’s prettiest villages, Covarrubias. It made for a interesting stop as it has a tower, church, traditional wooden houses and a Norwegian Princess. However, just like on our first day these were all overshadowed by Dmitry’s name, this time on the Casa de Dimas (yup, there’s more than one 😬).
In conclusion, The Picos de Europa are well worth a return visit as there’s plenty more to explore. The area has great routes like to Horcado Rojos and lots of quieter paths (sometimes with English pubs) to enjoy if you don’t like crowds. The cute villages are certainly worth stopping in and you can see why so many in this area have earned the title of prettiest village in Spain. And if that hasn’t convinced you, there’s also goats, wildlife, beaches, sidra and cheese!