Days 6-10: The Picos de Europa mountains

The Picos mountains are stunning. Neither of us have really “done” mountain type holidays apart from the Lake District before, so were unprepared for how immense and awe inspiring they were. 

The drive to our destinations was as much, if not more, of an experience than the places we intended to visit. The only roads in the Picos follow the rivers through steep winding gorges, which open out in to bustling tourist villages every 30km or so.

The roads are incredibly winding, and regularly carved out from overhanging cliff faces. Hamlets of 3 or 4 buildings cling to the riverside, including La Hermida, so deep in a gorge it gets no sunlight between November and April.

Our first destination was Fuente Dé, 2 hours from our caravan. With no knowledge of the roads, I (Laura) had underestimated how long the distance would take. I therefore felt obligated to take part when we got there, you can’t drive 2 hours just to look at something and get back in the car, can you?

The road through the mountains stops in an abrupt sheer sided cul de sac at Fuente Dé. The Teleferico (cable car) already starts 1000m above sea level, before steeply climbing 900m up a rock face to one of the higher parts of the Picos. I’m terrified of heights, especially ones dangling from a cable.

Before I could let nerves get the better of me, we bundled in to a cable car and started climbing. My god it was steep. And high. The final stretch felt like we were being winched vertically up the cliff face.

It was definitely worth the terror. The views from the top were stunning, and watching more cable cars drag their way up the mountain just reinforced what an amazing engineering/ physics feat it was.

There wasn’t much to do at the top, unless you’re really in to your hiking, in which case you can trek to a different village and get a funicular down from there, but there are plenty of posing spots, one of those ridiculous grates over nothingness, and a cafe.

Having typically arrived late in the day, we didn’t have long to look around before we had to get one of the final cars back down. On the way up there’d only been us and another couple, but now they were clearing the mountain top and there was a backlog. 20 of us (plus Evelyn) were shoe horned in and thrown off the mountainside. That was a long 3 1/2 minutes. Not only Had I fully digested how ridiculously high and close to death we were and was getting more than mildly panicked, but our ears also popped. Which meant Evelyn’s probably did too, except she was pinned in a sling and we didn’t have a dummy. Cue a very high pitched protest and a lot of very relieved passengers when we finally made it back to base.

Another day saw us follow the mountain roads east to Cain and Cares gorge. Although we appreciated the windiness of the roads by now, so knew not to trust the sat nav arrival time, we were still stunned at both the beauty of the mountains and the trickiness of the roads. By the time we turned off the “main” road through the mountains, the road to Cain was no more than a single lane, winding through hamlets and hairpinning down mountainsides.

1000m deep and 12km long, the Cares gorge bores through awesome terrain along a footpath hacked out of the cliff face. It was built to serve a hydro electric dam so is in excellent condition and while it’s predominantly downhill from Cain, any gradients are easily manageable. The path is tunnelled through the rock at the start, before opening out on to a footpath hewn from the cliff side. While you start next to the river, it drops steeply beside you, down to 300m below by the end.

You can walk all the way to Poncebos, but there’s no easy way back around to Cain to make a loop of it, even if you had a car it would take over 2 hours! Most people do an out-and-back as we did, or are trekking the Picos and start their next day from Poncebos.

With Evelyn in the sling and a packed lunch in the rucksack, we left Cain in the heat of the day. We quickly lost the crowds and had the path pretty much to ourselves, awed by the mountains at every turn in the route. 

I (Laura) managed not to freak out too much about the heights, although was relieved on the return journey when we passed others on the cliff side, rather than deadly ravine side of the path. The only really hairy moment came when the lovely sturdy path had been cut away to create a viewing platform, complete with “contemplate your own meager existence” grate. The crowds were bundled around it and I admit to losing my shit when people didn’t clear a path for me to get to the other side fast enough. 

We made it to the half way point before deciding to turn around. We’d have loved to carry on longer, but the fine balance of feeding/ nap times and the knowledge of a 2 1/2hr drive home forced us to head back. Luckily the viewing platform was clear on the way back. 

On the way back we made a quick stop in Cangas de Onis to see the so called Roman bridge, which has been rebuilt a number of times, most recently in the 20th century, but which is still an impressive, and iconic, sight. 

Our final stop of the day was Mirador del Fitu at the pinnacle of the hill out of Picos, with views out over the coast and the villages we’d visited over the last few days, and over in to the mountains. The steep route in to the west Picos goes over this summit, so we’d passed the mirador in the morning, but at that point we were driving through cloud so there wasn’t much to see. At this time in the afternoon the cloud had burnt off and we were treated to views for miles. Simon even considered cycling it for his next outing.

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