Picos de Europa national park is one of Spain’s largest nature reserves situated in the north of the country. English Wikipedia would tell you that Picos de Europa is the literal translation of Peaks of Europe which is true, but a Spaniard would translate “picos” as pecks or little kisses. It’s one of those places that are picture-perfect everywhere you turn and the rock formation also reminded me a lot of Yosemite national park in California, the US. Of course the two are incomparable and each has its own beauty. A weekend is too little time to explore everything, but still enough as an introductory trip. And for those who work Monday through Friday, there are still ways to make the most of your weekend in this picturesque national park, I recommend this route for those who go for the first time which has personally worked out great for me and my travel buddy.
We made a reservation with Europcar the day before and picked the car up on Friday morning. We left Madrid at 5pm and arrived to our campsite Naranjo de Bulnes (named after the mountain there, don’t try to look for orange trees here) at 9:50pm just ten minutes before the the reception closed. We did call in the morning but there seemed to be plenty of space so we didn’t have to book anything. We picked a spot at the campsite among many other campers including anyone from families with kids and pets to the loners. The spot was super spacious for our car and tiny barely-fit-two tent.It rained the whole night but I still slept soundly in the tent. Naranjo de Bulnes has everything we could ask for: running hot water, clean toilets, bathrooms and even coined washing machines. I was looking into a few other campsites too but I’m glad we went with this one.
We got up when it was still dark outside and got to Poncebos which is only 7km away in order to hike la Ruta de Cares as early as possible – well, at least that was the plan. Beside us there was just one other lady. We wanted to make the most of it as the campground receptionist had warned us there would be a lot of people later during the day. Turned out that it was so dark, we misread one of the warning signs and hiked on the wrong trail for two hours. We did think it was strange that there was no one else other than us and the other lady. But just at described, this trail was beautifully paced at first. We kept going until we couldn’t go further as it was too dangerous.
On our way back we ran into two other hikers who were also in doubt and we all decided to head back. Once we reached the starting point, we palm-faced ourselves realizing we had totally missed the real trail. This 12km trail is very scenic, connecting Poncebos and Caín which takes about 3 hours from one side to the other. More importantly, it’s probably a level 1-2 in term of difficulty so everyone can enjoy it.
We got to Caín at 2:30pm and took the bus back to Poncebos at 3pm. We had no idea it was another 120+km of mountain road which took another 3 hours to reach our destination where we parked our car. Another thing that caught us off guard was the 12 euros per bus ticket!
So you have a few options here: (1) hike from Poncebos to Caín or vice versa for 3 hours and take the bus back to your starting point like we did; (2) Hike half way and return which takes a total of also 3 hours (There are signs at midpoint to guide you so don’t worry. I personally think this is a smart choice especially with a “no-peak” trail like this one, you’re not missing out on anything); or (3) if you’re a hardcore hiker, you can do a full 6 hours round trip.
After the hike, we were ambitious to see the cheese cave Cueva de Cabrales; however, we would have to wait for at least an hour for the next available tour and our growling empty stomachs would not allow any further delay. We checked TripAdvisor reviews and decided to call it off.
Food highlight: We went for dinner at a highly rated local restaurant el Urogallo that was a few steps away from our campsite and it surely didn’t disappoint. We had two menus with four dishes: the regionally proclaimes famous fabada, grilled vegetables with goat cheese, cachopo de tenera and grilled mujina. Everything was bomb especially in the fresh weather and for the portion we got, it was worth every penny. I approve this place with every satisfied fiber of my tummy!
After paying the campsite and checking out, we drove to Covadonga and found a parking space by right next to the basilica. The surrounding is beautiful to walk around but there’s no need to waste time inside. We went to the santurary cave Santuario Cueva de Covadonga where there was a mass. There are two lakes Enol and Ercina which are breathtaking and you have to either drive or take the bus to. In short, COVADONGA IS A MUST!
For the lakes, we took the bus since we couldn’t access by car during the summer. The bus costs 8 euros round-trip (you can book online to avoid the queue). I would have opted for a hike to see the lakes if we had had more time. The line could get pretty long at times but keep your ears out, if you go alone or in pair, chances of you skipping the line is pretty high as they would need random amount of people to fill up the buses. So pay attention!
Afterwards we went to Cangas de Onis hoping to explore its market and the current cheese festival. The town itself is very touristy and finding parking was a big hassle. Therefore, by the time we got there some time after 3pm, the market was closing and there was not much left to see. We did managed to get some goat cheese and ingredients to experiment some homemade fabada in Madrid. I can’t wait to return, go on more hikes and further explore what this beautiful national park and the surrounding are have to offer.