There was a real egg shaped chocolate shortage in the lead up to Easter in Spain. No foil wrapped cheap chocolate in sight, no box sets of cartoon themed cups and hollow eggs, no Cadbury creme eggs. It made us start to wonder what countries shared the commercialised traditions that we’d grown up with. New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom – of course. America? Probably. I could imagine Belgium parents would gift extraordinary eggs. But I’m starting to doubt it happens everywhere, or anywhere else.
In our little pocket of the Picos de Europa National Park, we had to deal with the possibility of shops being shut for some of the Easter break – the shadow of doubt over how many days being a direct reflection of our written Spanish comprehension. The main supermarket in Potes was definitely shut (or definitely not shut?) on the 1st and 2nd. And maybe the 4th. Because carrying more food equals weight (not fun over the hills) we planned to wait the festive period out. First with an extended stay at the campsite in La Vega and then a quick cycle through Potes to Pension La Pisa run by an English couple we had met on the ferry from England. They had invited us to camp in their backyard and have a hot meal on them, if we made it to their village.
Walk from La Vega
After explaining that local walking was badly signposted and barely marked in places, the girl manning the Information Hut in La Vega (these are found in most villages in the Picos) told us we might be better going on one of the free guided walks in the region. ‘They’ll be small – not like 20 or 30 people, and they’ll take you on different routes,’ she explained.
The next day, Easter Friday, there was a morning walk up Pico Janu, where you could see a 360 degree view of the mountains around you. Only problem was the 10am starting point was 5 km up the hill towards San Glorio, then another 4 up a steeper hill to a tiny village, so underestimating how fast we could move without loads on our bikes we both arrived completely out of breath just as the group of about 20 people was moving off – no time to explain to the guides that we didn’t speak Spanish then! Despite lack of comprehension during the bits where they stopped and explained the local flora and fauna to the group, the route took us in a circular direction to the peak with as promised amazing views. We spent the afternoon in the campsite, only interrupted at dinner by the entire village population lining up to visit the cemetery behind us as part of their Easter rituals. Not much later a runaway cow on the road prompted us to go on an evening walk through the village, where we were astonished that every bar in our sleepy enclave was heaving. Seems that this is how the Spanish celebrate Easter.
Pension La Pisa
We’d been trying to get in touch with Gwyn and John for a few days to ask if it was still okay if we’d stayed after Gwyn’s kind invite as we were disembarking the ferry in Santander. We had a UK phone number where we reached their daughter Clare but she had said to try them in Spain. With no luck getting through on the phone we decided to try to get there reasonably early on Saturday morning so we could continue on to another campsite if it wasn’t convenient for us to stay. I had a moment of doubt as I knocked on the door but it was instantly swept away as Gwyn opened the door and embraced me, inviting us to stay in the not yet open hotel in the bargain.
We were soon with a load of washing getting put through a washing machine, hot drinks in hands and conversation between us and these two keen walkers and cyclists bubbling away like we’d known each other for much longer. They were meant to be working towards opening the hotel for the first few bookings but with us at their disposal for a few days they took some time off and drove us to one of bigger tourist attractions Fuente De that afternoon. Then the next day they guided us on a walk to the church La Ermita which sits high on the mountain behind the valley they live in and is beside the highest bowling green in Cantabria.
John fed us fantastic dinners even more extraordinary after two weeks of gas cooker cuisine and loaded us with information about the local area, including recent bear sightings. We talked late each night and slept late in comfy beds. Justin and I felt completely spoilt and it was all too easy to imagine us staying the summer to help out around the hotel.
The Spanish take the week before Easter as their first holiday of the year, so they don’t have an Easter Monday like the UK. With shops again open, and four days with very little cycling we peeled ourselves away and cycled out of the Picos area. As they waved goodbye Gwyn and John said ‘Enjoy the Gorge’. The Picos had one last treat for us in store – blue skies above and about 20 kilometres of a gently winding downhill through the Hermita gorge. Fantastic cycling.
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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.