Picos de Europa July 2010

One big advantage of living in SW England is that it is so easy (though a little pricey) to get to Spain. Its 24 hours door to tarmac from Plymouth to Santander with Britanny Ferries. Though the time table has become less convenient with alternate trips of the ferry oscillating between Portsmouth or Plymouth to Santander. I took my aged Raleigh Record Ace with double butted 531 frame but with a lot of new stuff like metric wheels (but built with some old campag hubs), chainset etc, bull bars and two huge rear Altura panniers but no other panniers. Tyres 35 x 700 rear which is a bit of a squeeze with the frame and 32 x 700 on front - they are Schwalbe Marathon, they just never puncture and they did not on this trip. I carried a tent and all camping gear.

I used the orange covered Michelin regional España map sheet 572 which covers the Picos at 1:250,000 or 1cm to 2.5km. The odd tourist map of the Picos which show some of the tracks can be picked up en route. This map does mark campsites and tourist offices provide more. I tend to stop at these when ever I see them. The 10 day trip was between ferries on the 4 July and returning 15 July. Map of the first and last part of the route - Santander to San Vicente - opens in new window which you can zoom to fullsize Each days ride is shown as either red or purple.

Map of the route from San Vicente to Picos and back - opens in new window which you can zoom to fullsize Each days ride is shown as either red or purple.

San Vicente de la Barquera.

I caught the train down to Plymouth and cycled down to the ferry terminal, wheeled the bike on and removed the one pannier I needed while the bike was secured and checked this was done adequately. The number of bikes is steadily increasing on this trip, I think there were about 10 of us, though we are still hevaily outnumbered by motor cyclists.

Day 1

The ferry arrives late morning which means the best part of a day's cycling can be fitted in. Santander is not the best city to cycle out of and many choose to catch the train. There is a sweet single track line along the coast which can be used - more of this later - and the station in Santander is very near the ferry terminal. But I again voted to cycle with San Vicente de La Barquera the first nights goal - initially along the N611 which is a bit up and down for the first 20ks and becomes fairly quiet once away from Santander.

I took the coast route CA131 via the touristy Santillana del Mar through Comillas, where the Gaudi house is well worth looking at and doesn't take long, to San Vicente. Campsite is signed just before you cross the long estuary bridge and is in a good location with restaurants nearby and on site. San Vicente is a lovely small town and the church - Santa Maria de los Angeles on top of the hill is worth the climb - the floor is composed of timber covered tombs.

Day 2

Cangas de Onis is the day's destination taking the N634 or the smaller yellow AS263 in places. In 2010 some of the sections of N634 between Colombres and Llanes were taking very heavy traffic because the autopista was not complete here - not helped by a drizzly day. This must now be finished I think (writing in December 2011). Getting out of Colombres on the correct road was also difficult but this too should now be more straightforward. Its nice to keep to the smaller coastal route where possible - there are some lovely little bays and settlements and every now and then the single track narrow guage railway from Santander comes into view. Ribadesella is an attractive small town from where the route follows the Rio Sella gently uphill to Cangas de Onis. The campsite is about 3 k out of town on the As114 towards Covadonga/Cabrales. Cangas is another delightful town and I found a ferreteria to get a a small nut and bolt which I'd lost from the pannier fixings - 'tuerca' and 'tornillo' are the words you need!

Canoeing is very popular on the Rio Sella, near Cangas de Onis

Flooding the month previous on the Rio Sella - level of floods cleary visible from the flood debris along the river

Day 3

A day of hard climbing, for me at least. 1600m up along the Rio Sella via the Disfilador de los Beyos and just into the province of León and the Puerto del Ponton. I shared the last few kms of the climb with a bloke who ran a centre for youngsters with learning difficulties somewhere near Llanes (on the coast) just out for a days ride to the top of the pass and back. It is hard to have a conversation when climbing hard and made harder by the very hot day! This guy was the only cyclist I saw all day.

The meadows become wonderfully rich in flora as one climbs and the better the higher one gets. Just after the top of the pass there is a small road LE244 which drops down into Valdeón. This rapidly descends through georgeous meadows to Posada de Valdeón.

Species rich pasture on limestone with Centaurea, Stachys and Scabiosa, Asturias, Spain

By now it was mid afternoon and the heat was intense, the campsite marked at Soto de Valdeón no longer exists and Posada provided the excuse for a beer and information - thnakfully a small site at Santa Marina de Valdeón is open but it is a few kms up a steepish hill . . . to which I walked! A lovely site with a restaurant to boot. The two settlements just visible in the pic are Posada with Santa Marina nearer the camera. The photo is from someway above the campsite which must be obscured by the tree front left.

Valdeón, Picos de Europa, Spain

Day 4

This side of the Picos is much quieter and more beautiful than around Fuente De. I decided to explore some local tracks on foot and investigate the possibility of travelling off road over to Fuente De and Potes. The meadows here are truly beautiful and with a wonderfully diverse range of plants. I saw fields of hay being turned by hand just outside Santa Marina de Valdeón. Got back to the campsite to enjoy a meal in the restaurant and Spain winning in the world cup semi final.

Valdeón, Picos de Europa, Spain - the main road in from the south!

Day 5

Set off at 7.30am following the longish ascent up the road shown above from Santa Marina de Valdeón to Puerto de Pandetrave - arrived there about 9am. It was a misty morning after heavy rain and thunder last night. Near the top a wild boar and I frightened each other. I didn't see him but he beat a hasty retreat into the trees while I peddled harder in the opposite direction.

At the top is a track towards Fuente De - one of the local maps came in useful here - I had picked it up in San Vicente. Once the mist started to lift I made progress. My bike is a tourer with fairly rugged wheels and tyres and I was able to carefully cycle on nearly all the track down to Fuente De where the tarmac starts again. Initially the track traverses around some mountains before descending quite steeply and eventually joining the tarmac at Fuente De. The track is used by a few stock farmers and small numbers of cyclists and walkers. Great flora and wonderful views all the way. Once on the tarmac road the tourist buses are in evidence disgourging their passengers onto the ski lift to enjoy the peaks nearby. From here it is a very rapid descent to Potes and the campsite.

Potes with Camping La Viorna in foreground

Day 6

Decided to spend today investigating the route over the top on another track to Sotres - going right through the very centre of the Picos. Climbed some kms back up the road towards Fuente De and then branched off to Mogorvejo and climbed further up a track beyond to join the Espinama to Sotres track. It was a long steep ascent which then traversed around the side of the hillside, all pretty much cyclable and through open meadows. Lots of horse flies but also plenty of butterflies including Dark Green Fritillaries and Marbled Whites. Descended the direct route down to Espinama and then back along the tarmac to Sotres. Probably climbed 1100m.

View from Mogrovejo looking NE

Day 7

Left Potes at 6.45am, 2hrs uphill to Espinama then 2hrs up to Ermita de Aliva and another 2 hrs to Sotres. Some of the track was quite rough and had to walk but much is passable on a road bike with great care. Saw some off road bikes tearing along. There were a few squeaky clean 4 x 4s slowly traversing the route. According to a stockman I spoke to, anyone can take a car up here - a great shame. Great scenery between Aliva and Sotres - rugged limestone mountain stuff but, once over the cattle grid before Aloiva, too heavily grazed by sheep to see much vegetation. However above Sotres the pasture management is truly excellent and incentivised by suitable payments to keep it so. Last time I was here, 2 years previously, I spoke to an elderly stockwoman who said she was paid to keep stock off certain areas at certain times of year. I spent some time above Sotres - perhaps the most beautiful village in the Picos and then descended rapidly to Arenas de Cabrales and the campsite which is 1k out going east. Did about 60k and 1400m climbing.

Track above Espinama looking towards Ermita de Aliva and Sotres - note heavy grazing pressure

Above Sotres

Descent from Sotres through limestone gorges towards Arenas

Sheets of carniverous plants on descent from Sotres

Day 8

Walked up the hill behind the campsite and above Arenas de Cabrales today and took this shot looking back down to the town. The NW of Spain isn't called the Costa Verde for nothing.

Arenas de Cabrales

Ancient Chestnut woodland gives way to Quercus ilex then open hawthorn scrub. Quite cloudy which slowly lifts to catch butterflies at their torpid best - basking in the sun to warm up. Climbed 900m. Even better, enjoyed the craic in the bar on the night of the Football World Cup final and Spain won!

Day 9

Left Arenas at 7am and climbed to Salce where the route turned right and descended all the way to the coast at Niembro.

On the coast near Miembro

From the vegatation its obvious that frosts are rare - The Brugmansia in the pic will stand very little cold. Quite an unspoiled part of the coast. A local farmer told me he last saw snow here 40 years previously but he was within 500 metres of the coast. Plenty of red and purple Bourgainvillea, Campsis and Plumbago. That old farmer was still tilling his patch but he said the younger ones were not bothering and their fields were left untilled and neglected. Camped at Celorio on site by the coast - In the evening after a damp and misty day it suddenly became bright. Walking on the coast as it brightened there were suddenly dozens of Humming Bird Hawk months feeding on the Echium vulgare - Viper's Bugloss on the stretch of coast shopw in the pic below.

Coast at Celorio

Day 10

Having cycled along the unpleasantly busy bit of road (while Autopista being built) on the trip out I decided to catch the narrow guage train back to San Vicente and then stay again at the campsite there. A good choice.

An old art deco fish cannery in San Vicente

Day 11

Decided that there was time to cycle to Santander and catch the boat if I got a move on so left campsite at first light and cycled via Cabezon and Torrelavega to Santander and arrived in good time to cath the ferry back to UK.

Santander in July

Boris' Bikes in Santander


Just cracking scenery and stunning flora. Tracks in the Picos and certainly do-able with a touring bike - given care and robust tyres and wheels.