Round Trip of the Picos de Europa

Being based in Cantabria, we’ve been to the Picos countless times, but this was the first time in Berta.  We’re mountain lovers here, so were very excited about this trip!

Day 1

We actually started off down at the beach in San Vicente de la Barquera for an evening surf and first night stop.  This time, instead of staying down at the beach, we stayed along the seafront in the main town, near the bus station.  High season this would be impossible I suspect, but off season we’ve managed it a few times now for a night, nice parallel parking with a view over the bay, and relatively flat and quiet considering.

Day 2

The next morning after a morning surf, we headed off south to the mountains.  Driving up to Potes is one of the most beautiful roads in Europe in my view, the Hermida gorge is second to none, and although a little hairier in a van than a car, still totally doable (I always think, if the local bus can do it, we can!).  We stopped halfway up for a leg stretch in lovely Lebeña with its chapel (if you go past which, you can walk down to the river).

We then continued up to Potes…where it turned out there was a market on and people everywhere!  We managed to park in some guy’s field round the back near the schools, paid, but cheap, and easy walk into town from there.  We’d heard about people sleeping round there in fact, but that wasn’t our plan today.  We had a nice walk round Potes, I never tire of the place, even packed, along the river, and had some drinks by the river.

Then we left the madness behind and headed up towards Puerto San Glorio.  Berta’s first mountain pass drive – and she did well!  We just about managed to park in the roadside parking at the top long enough to take some photos and admire the view, before hoards of motorcycles descended on us.

Then a random occurrence, as seems to happen in Spain.  Driving down the other side of the pass into León, we randomly stopped to pick up Gonzalo’s brother and girlfriend who were, you know, just walking down the road on the way back from a hike, as you do, 2 hours from home.  They were grateful of the lift anyway (and are now preparing themselves to buy a camper after being inspired!).

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Picking up the in-laws on their walk

Driving on (and on) we finally made it to our night stop on the Leonese side of the Picos at Posada de Valdeón.  This pleasant little town (a couple of bars and restaurants) has the most excellent AC area we’ve stayed in to date.  Next to a huge sports hall (random, this is in the middle of the mountains!), with climbing wall, showers and toilets, and with electricity, picnic tables and full water services, for 8 euros a night, it’s a bargain (collected by a lovely lady who comes round periodically).  We got to test our new Fiamma chocks here too though, as not all the spaces are completely flat.  There were some HUGE vans here too, including a converted bus (God knows how that had managed to get here!).  And the views.  You wake up surrounded by mountains.  Stunning.

So we parked up, changed waters, and then went for an evening walk along the river, which ended up being right down to Cordiñanes de Valdeón and back, making a circuit.  Not sure I’d recommend this at that time of night, was a little scary coming back in the dark!

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Walking around Posada de Valdeon

Day 3

The next morning, the weather was clearer and we got more mountain views over breakfast.

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Waking up to the potential of mountain views in Posada de Valdeon

We were heading down to the village of Caín for our hike today.  Now, two things about Caín.  It’s a pretty hairy drive down there in a Berta-sized van, but luckily most people are heading down at the same time, so not much traffic coming the other way!  And Caín is the one end of the famous Cares Gorge Walk – one of the most famous walks in the north of Spain, and very very busy.  Actually, since we were last in Caín doing said walk, things have improved services-wise, there are now several restaurants, souvenir shops and bars, and, importantly for us, lots of fields opened for parking, so surprisingly we parked right in the centre with no problem at all.  A small fee (a few euros) to the guy whose field it was, and we were sorted!  Now, since we’ve done the Cares walk many times, our objective today was the much lesser known and lesser trod PR PNPE13 Caín de Arriba y Cueva de Santibaña.  Being one of the national park trails, it is very well signposted in general, taking in the cabañas (stone shepherd’s huts) of Caín de Arriba, with great views back down over Caín and the start of the gorge, before going up through the forest and sharply up to the Santibaña cave, used for cheese making in the past.  We had a great picnic up here imagining the bears and wolves around us (they’re there somewhere I’m always sure!), before dropping back down to Caín for an ice cream.

We then continued back up towards Posada de Valdeón, stopping on the way at the old wolf traps (very interesting), Ermita de Corona chapel and the Mirador del Tombo.

On we went, this time going west up to the Puerto de Panderrueda.  We stopped here for a quick walk up to the Mirador de Piedrashistas viewpoint, worth the short uphill for the beautiful views back down over Posada de Valdeón and the surrounding mountains.  Then we had a siesta stop back at the parking area of the Puerto – large, flat area with great views again.

Post-siesta, we continued on down the other side, dropping down and down and down (fine tuning our engine braking skills) into Asturias and the Beyos gorge.  While not as spectacular or hairy as the Hermida gorge to drive, it’s still a beautiful gorge.  Continuing northwards, our stop for the night was the AC area in Cangas de Onís, the Picos’ Asturian base town.

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Beyos gorge

On arrival in Cangas, the town was heaving, and so were the parking areas.  The main AC area in Cangas is simply 4 spaces in a car park with water services, the rest of the car park being used as a base for the Covadonga Lakes shuttle buses in high season (in low season it appears that more ACs park here, but high season it was full of cars).  So not a place to stay in peak season.  However, there is an alternative parking for ACs, which is much nicer and quieter!  This is located here along the river just past the Colegio Publico Reconquista, next to the Frontón Municipal (which appears on Google maps).  We found it a little complicated to get to, but once there, a great base.  Quiet at night, with a few other campers there too.

Day 4

The next morning we walked into Cangas along the river, which was very pleasant, and headed for the best market in the north of Spain – the weekly Sunday morning cheese and produce market in Cangas (all year).  If you’re a cheese lover like us – this is heaven.

After stocking up, we went back to Berta and headed off east to our next little detour stop, the Romanesque church of Santa Eulalia in Abamia.  What a lovely setting, had it been a bit later we would have had lunch here, but we continued on, as we had another walk planned.

Our next stop was a rather curious walk we’d read about, starting in the hamlet of Venta de los Pobres, on the AS115 heading towards Llanes.  Here starts El Camín Encantau, a fun walk with statues and carvings of mythical Asturian figures along the way.  It goes around the Valle de Ardisana, taking in some lovely villages with their traditional grain stores (horreos) and rolling hills, many with bars and several restaurants too.  We of course had our cheesey picnic lunch, but enjoyed and ice cream half way round too.

After getting back to Berta, who we’d had to park half way along the circular route rather than at the start, we then headed back into Cantabria to San Vicente for one last evening surf before heading home.

Sidenote – as frequent visitors to all sides of the Picos, it has to be said we’re not covering the main attractions or walks here, as we’ve done them many times before.  We have, however, covered the three main bases of Potes, Posada and Cangas.  Typically from each place you’d visit:

PotesFuente De cable car, PR PNPE 24 Puertos de Aliva walk, PR PNPE 27 Canal de Arredondas walk, Santo Toribio Monastery, etc.

Posada de ValdeónPR PNPE 3 Ruta del Cares walk

Cangas de Onís – Covadonga Lakes & Sanctuary, PR PNPE 2 Ruta de los Lagos de Covadonga walk, Olla de San Vicente walk, PR PNPE 3 Ruta del Cares walk, Bulnes funicular and walk etc.