Picos De Europa – A Ride In The Park

posted by: Emma

I caught sight of the Cantabrian mountains as our ferry pulled into Santander, big giantLooking west towards Picos beasts of mountains with snow stuck to them which loomed over the city. While the coast embraced spring, the mountains stayed in view for the first few days as we acclimatised to Spain and headed slowly West towards the Picos de Europa national park. Though the place we were cycling to was right next to them, I rashly decided that the Picos wouldn’t be as high, or as snowy, more an easy warm up before we tackled harder things such as the Pyrenees. Slightly wrong there as Justin’s post shows.

We did ease gently into the park. After our first afternoon pedalling down through theSunrise at Las Arenas campsite first of many breathtaking limestone gorges (fixing just one puncture along the way), we stopped at the campsite outside Las Arenas for two nights. Views of the hills around us were hypnotic and I soon got used to the sound of hundreds of bells almost creating a melody as the cows bent down to graze. The weather was warm and we walked past the cemetery behind our campsite and watched a field of cows at close quarters, before heading to the town itself to watch the locals over a bottle of cider poured through an electronic pump.

After an easy 30 km or so to Cangas de Onis, we turned South and hit the mountains proper. It also became apparent that late March is still off season. Some campsites weren’t yet open for the summer trade, restaurants and cafes in the smaller villages weren’t open, and on some of the roads we only saw the occasional farmer, some who just stopped and stared open-mouthed as we cycled past with full loads. The only other cyclists we saw were kitted out in racing lycra and would have thought a single bottle of water was excess weight.

Between mountain passes we were invited to pitch our tent under the eaves of the reception area of an empty campsite at Santa Marina, the caretaker holding Justin’s cheeks towards the North and telling us that it would be mucho frio overnight. We spent that evening sitting on wooden steps sheltered from the wind by the corner of the building watching the weather change on the mountains around us and spying a herd of horses being brought down the road in the far distance. It might have had no facilities but it was one of the best campsites yet.

Pass at Puerto de Pandetrave

Some of the landscape was desolate and bitterly cold but we were climbing mountains, (in sight of snow, then in snow, then… its snowing!) and saw flocks of tiny birds everywhere, interspersed with the occasional sighting of bigger birds with gigantic wing-spans swooping down valleys with only us as witnesses. We followed rivers uphill until they turned into streams, we found tiny bits of farmland etched into the mountain side. The mountains were all around us and every corner brought another view to drink in. We saw the beginnings of spring with tiny mountain flowers, rivers full of melted snow and calves and foals taking their first steps.

After five days in the Picos we reached Potes, a tourist hub still busy in the winterSpring Blossom La Vega months and what should have been our last night in the Picos. We had found an open campsite with proper hot showers 8 km up the road at La Vega and were so charmed by what we had seen already that after our first night at the campsite we decided to stay on for another two.

Maybe its the sense of space in the off season, or maybe the closeness to the wildlife, and quietness when you walk up mountain tracks, but the Picos are really special and I can’t believe we had the opportunity to cycle through them so early in our trip.

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3 responses to “Picos De Europa – A Ride In The Park”

  • Beautifully written Emma, I hope it only gets better for you on the way down. Chiwi sends love and kicks, we are 29 weeks only 11 to go, we started antenatal classes on Wednesday, 3 couples about the same age in our area which is lovely. The blokes major concerns were pain relief, what to do during labour and how to prevent contractions during the world cup! The first ever televised Uk leaders debate starts on Thursday, very exciting. I’ll try and pass on their main points, expect bais. The campaign proper has been under way for a week with much muck slinging. Tories say NI insurance increase is a tax on jobs, many industrry leaders signed and publisised agreement. Labour attacked tory economic recovery package as uncredible, with no explaination of savings. Tories promoted a £150 tax cut for married couples and got slammed. LibDems still at 18-20% Labour about 32% and Tories 37-40%. But important marginal seats are in Labours favour and put them 2% above Tories. Manifestos come out tommorrow, which is where the real meat is.Lol take care of yourselves X

  • Andrea on April 11th, 2010 at 9:55 am
  • HI Guys, you asked about down under. My wife and I use the company for our van and small car we pullbehind mostly because they are the only ones who will cover us (being Australians) – I normally only use email so please dont respond by any other means – i will let you know more if you write. We spend six months in Europe each year. Leaving this year on 16th April. Terry

  • Terry on April 12th, 2010 at 4:17 am
  • Hi Terry

    Thanks for your reply about Downunder Insurance. We are curently on the road (in San Sebastian, Spain as I type) and ended up getting insurance with Campbell Irvine as they had the best cover for cycle touring that we found. Downunder Insurance had limited personal liability and medical cover when cycling although the rest of their policy was really good.

    Enjoy your trip later this year.


  • Justin on April 12th, 2010 at 4:58 pm

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route map for this post

The map below shows the waypoints for this blog post. To view the details of our trip to date take a look at our complete route map.