with tips for cycling & hiking
The motor home tour of the Picos had to wait until September 2014 as the weather in late May was wet and cold but as the result of an appalling crossing in May, LD lines provided us with a free crossing to Santander, which sadly proved to be their last crossing.
We certainly found LD Lines to be very acceptable in providing a no frills budget crossing and welcome competition to the main carrier, Brittany Ferries.
It seemed that virtually everyone we spoke to, before our first trip to Santander, said that you must go to the Picos and we would now add our voice to the scores of people who recommended this area.
Our thanks go to Bob Clewley who gave us clues with regard to access to the mountains. One of the disadvantages of a motor home is with gaining access to some of the more remote areas and the main attraction of the area for us was the available hiking, so it was crucial that we could access the main hiking areas.
The Picos de Europa, in English the: "Peaks of Europe" are a relatively small mountain range but what it lacks in size it compensates easily by grandeur. We started our trip at San Vicente de Barquera ,with its backdrop of the Picos and a view shared with the early explorers returning from America and allegedly the reasons for the origin of the name.
We stayed at Camping El Rosal at San Vicente and though the site was surprisingly busy, as we think they had had a festival in the town, we were fortunate in that we got a pitch overlooking the bay and the Picos.
A short drive from San Vicente took us to the small town of Arenas de Cabrales and our base for the Cares Gorge, at the excellent campsite of ‘Camping Naranjo de Bulnes’, which straddles the main road, on the outskirts of the town. On the right hand side of the road, the campsite is on the banks of the river Cares.
It is a short walk to the town, which is well geared to the tourist trade and there seems to be plenty of cheese outlets, as there are some excellent local varieties, the blue Cabrales being a superb blue.
On the way to the town there is a small supermarket for supplies and amazingly it had a well stocked but small fish counter. The assistant was fantastic, as not only did she offer us free tasters of anchovies in garlic and herbs, she gave us a free bag of them for our lunch and threw in a couple of langoustines, and a lemon and parsley for the couple of dorado we bought. This really epitomised our whole trip to Spain, the people were really friendly.
There are some local walks from the campsite and details are available from them. We chose to take the route which follows the river Cares but undoubtedly the main attraction here is the Cares Gorge, which can be accessed from the village of Poncebos, some 7 km from the site. It would not be too difficult to cycle from the campsite, it is not an alpine climb but we decided against it, as though it would be downhill, after a day’s walking we thought it would be more advisable to take a taxi.
With the help of the campsite we used a local taxi from the village who picked us up at 9.00 and dead on the dot at 6.00, from the entrance to the gorge for the return cost of 14 euros.
It would be possible to take your motor home to Poncebos, as long as it is not too big and you leave very early, as parking is very limited. To the best of our knowledge there are no buses and though we have seen reference to them, we think that this is a car replacement service in the peak period , when this area becomes rammed with tourists.
The other main attraction in Poncebos is the funicular railway which is the only way, other than walking, to the village of Bulnes ,where there are some very attractive walks and if you are feeling very super fit then you can access the base of the ’ Naranjo de Bulnes’, one of the iconic peaks of the Picos but be warned this would probably take nearly 10 hours. There is nothing to stop you, however, just doing a part walk and soak up the scenery.
There is a path that leads down to Poncebos from Bulnes.
Naranjo de Bulnes
Cares Gorge deservedly warrants its accolade as one of the most attractive and dramatic walks anywhere and it has the added advantage that it is accessible and not a particularly arduous walk. There is a short section at the start of the walk, where you have to climb but it is not too difficult and thereafter you follow basically level well made paths. Though you are high above the river, the paths are wide and unless you are a serious vertigo sufferer, then there are no real issues.
The trail consists of just under 9 miles along the Cares River and the Cares Gorge. Steep cliffs stretch up over 6,500 ft (2,000 m) on one side and the river can be as much as 650 feet (200 m) below. in the deep gorge. It is classic limestone scenery, which has been considerably modified by glacial action; it is absolutely stunning.
At the other end of the gorge is the village of Cain where you can, if you want to lose 120 euros, get a taxi back to Poncebos. A better solution would be to take lunch in one of the restaurants in the village and enjoy the route back. Three hours would be ample for each way and you could do it more quickly but why would you want to. We allowed a whole day to include lunch at Cain.
The trail is understandably extremely popular, particularly in summer but in September it was not too busy at all. The only downside is that I did not catch a glimpse of the very rare wall creeper, the gorge is one of its remaining habitats; that would have been a totally perfect day.
Make sure you take plenty to drink as it can get very hot in the gorge.Though it started off cool, it was very warm indeed by the end of the day.