No great September without a good roadtrip and this year was no different! With corona still not entirely out of our lives, I once again opted to depart from home rather than fly somewhere and rent a car on location. This way we were always able to go home in a worst case scenario.
Fortunately there was no real danger of having to head home last minute. Also because we wanted to count in last minute changes, we had decided not to book anything in advance. With websites like booking.com and the tent in the trunk of our car we never had any issues finding a place to spend the night.
And the added bonus; we could adapt our itinerary last minute to the weather. So when the first days of our trip promised sunshine, we immediately continued towards what I expected to be the highlight of our trip: Picos de Europa.
Picos de Europa is a national park situated in the provinces of Asturias and Cantabria and León. It was the promise of amazing rock formations that made me want to have a closer look at this park. I had never heard of it before planning our trip which made me all the more shocked of the amazing places to visit.
We’d pulled out little more than two days to discover the area which was enough to see all the highlights but a day extra wouldn’t have been boring either. There are three parts of the park that I want to highlight which impressed me greatly. These are however also the most touristic sites. But if you travel low season, you’ll most likely have no issues with loads of tourists.
The first part of Picos de Europa we aimed to explore was around Fuente Dé. We had spent the night in Espinama, a town just a couple of minutes outside of Fuente Dé. This way we were able to take the first cable car up to the top of the mountains. A roundtrip costs 17 euros and brings you in no time to a height of over 1800 meters. The weather wasn’t perfect, but it was more than good enough to admire the amazing peaks in sight.
From the top station of the cable car, there are multiple paths leading along the mountains. We didn’t want to start a too long and heavy hike as we had plans for a big hike the next day, but not exploring a bit of these gorgeous trails would have been a disgrace. We ventured a bit along of a couple of the paths and were already amazed by the stunning views we were surrounded with. From distant views, to close-up rock formations to even feeling like you’re hiking through a moon landscape. Breathtaking!
To get to Fuente Dé, you have to drive through the town of Potes. A little charming place I can’t help but mention as it was my favorite urban place around the park. Maybe it was because the sun was always shining on each of our three passages through this place, but the atmosphere there was just amazing. If you can spend the night in this place, do it!
Ruta del Cares
The main attraction of our Picos de Europa trip was the Ruta del Cares, a 12km one-way hike through a narrow canyon. There are two starting points, Coin and Poncebos. We wanted to do the whole trek from Poncebos the next day, but as we were riding the outer borders of the national park we suddenly found ourselves pretty close to Coin. I had had some trouble with my knee the week before as I had competed in the Olympic Distance Triathlon in Belgium and my father had pulled his back a couple of weeks before as well, so we were pretty scared of not being able to finish the whole 24 kilometer to-and-back hike the next day without slowly dying. And then suddenly we saw the light. Why not hike a bit of the trail from Coin already and head back and then just to the remaining kilometers the next day?
Sure it wouldn’t feel as much as an accomplishment, but in the end, we both just wanted to see all the sights along the train. So off we went.
We were able to park our car near the head of the trail, but parking options seemed limited as Coin wasn’t very big. So keep that in mind if you’re traveling during a busier time. Starting from Coin, the trail isn’t very challenging. It’s fairly flat, but you’re walking through the most narrow part of the canyon. So damn spectacular!
It was hard to decide on a point to return as we were continuously eager to see what was around the bend. Just a little bit further. Just around that corner maybe. But after about three kilometers one way we figured we had to leave some of it for the next day to discover. But what a first taste!
The next day, it was time to conquer the remaining 18 kilometers. This time from Poncebos. Once again, not that many parking options. We were lucky to find one of the last spots along the road at the head of the trail. It was right after sunrise, so not that many people were up and running just yet. And it was low season as well. In high season I fear parking may be an issue there, but I’m not sure. I didn’t get to check if there were other options nearby.
Full of energy after yesterday’s discoveries, we started our hike. And this time it was a bit heavier at the start. The first two kilometers you’re continuously climbing. But the views are so worth it!
Once you’re past the first climb, the trail is more flat and very easy to walk. My dad, who is scared of heights, was mostly afraid the path would be too narrow but there wasn’t a single place where he got scared, so that’s definitely no issue.
From Poncebos, the hike leads through a less narrow part of the valley offering wider views on the mountain tops. It sort of felt like another hike than the one we started the day before. High peaks and beautiful rock formations accompanied us along the way. Nature at its finest!
Because of our impromptu idea to split up the Ruta del Cares in two parts, we were back at the car earlier than expected. Fortunately there is still plenty to see in Picos de Europa, so we didn’t hesitate to continue exploring!
Lagos de Covadonga
Our extra point of interest on the itinerary was the Lagos de Covadonga. Two glacial lakes in the middle of the park. At first we had opted to leave those out as during the summer months (and Easter) you’re not allowed to drive to the lakes with your own car. A shuttle service is provided from the several parking lots further away. But now with an entire afternoon left at our disposal, we figured it would be worth it to sit through the wait for the bus.
And boy was it worth it! The bus ride to the lakes alone offered stunning views over the national park. Definitely worth the nine euro roundtrip fee! Especially my dad – who drives most of the time – was happy to for once be able to take in all of his surroundings.
Once off the bus a guide informed us – in Spanish unfortunately – of the hiking options in the area. As we had already walked quite a lot in the morning, we decided on the short tour of three kilometers. This way you’re going through the old mine section on site and of course to both lakes.
Close to the Lago de la Ercina, there is a cafeteria where you can have lunch or buy something to drink. The terrace was completely full when we arrived, so we just grabbed an ice cream to go. Plenty of places to sit on the grass with a stunning view on the lake.
As we were enjoying our refreshment, out of nowhere the clouds came rolling in. Uh-oh! Done with the fun. Without the sun, there was no more fun in lounging around at the edge of the lake, so we finished our hike and went to wait for a bus to take us back.
Many people seem to be thinking the same, but the shuttle service still ran smoothly. Until the point where the driver didn’t stop at our stop. Great. He didn’t speak any English so it was pretty confusing for us what his reasons were. Thankfully he had to return back to the lakes to pick up a next batch of tourists so after dropping off everyone else at the last stop, he returned with us to our stop. Aside from some time lost, no harm done!
I’m so grateful we ended up being able to see most of this gorgeous national park and with reasonably good weather. This area in Spain isn’t exactly known for its great weather, but we were lucky to have no rain when we were hiking and even got a bit of sunshine along the way. A top destination I can only warmly – but with a rain coat closeby 😉 – recommend!