Spain & Portugal

Picos de Europa

Picos de Europa

After we left our campsite in the beautiful Rioja Valley, we made our way to the Northern Coast of Spain. As the sun finally started to shine for extensive periods of time, we felt we could use some pre-summer warmth and enjoy the Spanish beaches. We made our way to the surroundings of Llanes, a small town on the famous Camino de Santiago.

Our campsite was probably on of the most beautifully locations we experienced in Spain and Portugal, as it was situated on the cliffs of Asturia overlooking the Atlantic. It was layout in different terraces and we were lucky there was hardly anyone else camping down at the front row overlooking the ocean.
We moved our campervan down the narrow road (fairly doable with a 7m van) and positioned it right off the edge of the lowest terrace with a wonderful panorama of the cliffs and beach in front of us. The sun was out and we decided it would be the perfect opportunity to fully enjoy the sun and have our first ocean swim. Short conclusion, the ocean was still chilly in early April and we massively underestimated to intensity of the sun on the other hand, ending us up in a similar colour as the delicious shrimps we cooked that night – although that color looks a lot better on the shrimps than it did on our skin. Lesson: sunscreen :).

Northern Spain close to Picos de Europa

Camino de Santiago & Llanes

The next days were spent catching up on some work on Laura’s company, trying to not intensify our sunburn while still enjoying the good weather and grabbing our daily swim and I took a good hike down to Llanes, which was following the Camino de Santiago trail for about 15 kilometers from our campsite to the town. The hike follows closely along the shoreline or slightly inland crossing beautiful countryside and the Picos de Europa mountains in the backdrop, which is a beautiful scenery to cross through. I came across many others hiking the (likely) whole Camino de Santiago, hence I was surely packed lightest, which caused some frowning by some other – more dedicated – hikers. After a short break in a picturesque town called Aldrin, I made my way up the cliffs enjoying the wondering rugged cliffs of the North coast of the Iberian peninsula once more. It took right about 3 hours to reach Llanes, a vibrant little town with a couple of ancient buildings, towers and a lot of good small restaurants and bars. I had a quick lunch at the waterfront, did some grocery shopping in town and got back to the campsite.

Beach at sunset North of Picos de Europa

Picos de Europa

The next day it was time to move on, although we really enjoyed our campsite, we did feel it was overpriced for what it was and clearly we were paying for the views mostly. Also, our sunburn didn’t allow us to enjoy the sun all day and we were looking forward to enjoying the nearby mountainous area called Picos de Europa (after all we kind of missed the Norwegian mountains after a year’s living in Norway).

Viewpoint visit in Picos de Europa

The drive from the campsite into the mountains was only about 1 hour. The winding road and steep incline, as well as the changing vegetation welcomed us to a completely different Spain than the one we had experienced so far. We decided we wanted to visit some “Miradouro’s” – basically viewpoints, on the way to our next stop. One in particular promised to give stunning views across the wide mountain range, hence we decided we were going to definitely visit it. As we were following our navigation towards the point, in the middle of a little town, we were suddenly pointed to take a sharp right. As we followed further, the road narrowed and the corners because sharper, making it harder to turn North smoothly, but we managed to get further up. At some point, our van basically covered the width of the road and we’re relieved we didn’t meet many people driving the opposite direction, until we met some other road users… plenty in fact. Right in front of us we were greeted by a large herd of sheep, moving at about 3km/h up the road. By no means they were willing to share the road or were they afraid of the oncoming van, meaning there was no way for us to pass until they were finally guided out of our way by the shepherd who caught up with them. Somewhat later than intended, we arrived at the Mirador Pedro Udaondo, a wonderful viewpoint with splendid views all the way to Naranjo de Bulnes, a characteristic shaped mountain peak that reminded us somewhat of Half Dome in Yosemite. We enjoyed a small break as the sun was out and of course took out the camera as well, before heading back down to our next stop. On our return, we were lucky the sheep were herded into the valley and we could smoothly roll down the hill (hands on the wheel though).

Our stop for the next couple nights was situated just East of Las Arenas, on the river front, providing the necessary facilities like well overdue laundry, some shade to finally get the hammock out and great sanitary facilities for a good long shower (yes I like showers, a lot).
The campsite were staying was close enough to Las Arenas to reach by foot (about 15-20 minutes) and was about 15 minutes drive away from the famous Cares Trail, one of the best hiking trails in the park.

Picos de Europa Cares Trail

The Cares Trail

A Steep Start

During one of the next mornings, when it was slightly overcast and therefore not too warm, I started the Cares Trail, which leads from Poncebos in Asturia to Caín in the Léon. Back in the old days, this used to be the only route to connect the two locations. Today there are faster routes around, but they are unlikely to be as beautiful as the walk through this magnificent valley. When starting from Poncebos, most of the elevation sits right at the first 2km of the 11km hike to Caín (one-way). As I was fairly early in the day and it was off-season, I didn’t see anyone ahead of my on the way to Caín. While reaching the peak, I was greeted by some wild goats grazing in the early hours. As I looked over my shoulder, I witnessed the sun’s rays glimpsing through the clouded sky, casting a wonderful golden light on the valley in between the mountains I was crossing through. I gratefully grabbed my camera and took a while to soak the sight in while capturing some shots.

A lengthy but beautiful walk

The majority of the part of the trail after reaching the initial peak is actually far more relaxed and more of a walk than a hike. It is relatively flat and continuous along the valley wall, with continuous views of the river Rio Cares (Cares river) below. In the early hour of the way it was still shaded for certain parts, as the sun hadn’t risen high enough the lighten the deep valley floor. After about 2 hours walk, the trail crosses through some very narrow and dark caves (dark is to be taken with a pinch of salt here, as I’m pretty blind in the dark), where water seeps through the mountain walls and creates little waterfalls on the outside. For a Dutchmen of 1.9m tall, it isn’t exactly a comfortable passing, but luckily it only lasts a few minutes and it also signals the end of the trail. Once you exit this section, you basically reach Caìn, a gorgeous mountain village with a few restaurants and bars, lying in the middle of multiple mountain peaks. I arrived somewhere before 11AM, which meant I was too early for the restaurants to be open (most open around noon). I was lucky I found a very kind lady who was out early to get her restaurant ready for the day, who was so kind to cook me a nice omelette and some tasty bread for an early lunch, which I had been looking forward to.

Picos de Europa Cares Trail
Picos de Europa Cares trail

After a good hour around town I returned the same route back towards the van, once more enjoying the splendid views across the valley, which were now fully lit by the sun which had risen to the sky. All in all the trail takes about 6-7 hours up and down, including the break in Caìn. It is definitely well worth the time and effort and offers some wonderful sights, although I was happy to do it off-season and early in the day, to both avoid the heat and the crowds, which I can imagine can be rather intense during summer.

Las Arenas

The same night we enjoyed Las Arenas, the neighbouring town to our campsite, where we had a delicious small diner in a tiny garden restaurant offering the famous (local) Cabrales cheese. We got it served inside some sort of a wrap, which was extremely tasty and we are still trying to replicate those by cooking them on the road (although non has proven to be as delicious as the one we had in Las Arenas).

After a couple of nights in Las Arenas and the Picos the Europa, we moved our way further West since a bad weather front was approaching and rain and vanlife aren’t best friends. Our next destination was to be Santiago de Compostela.

Like our page? Stay updated on all content by registering your name and e-mail!