The POD Father, as he’s known on POD Travels and our parent blog, and I have travelled much of our lives. From Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific to the Caribbean, North and South America. Not forgetting of course sun, ski and city breaks across Europe. We relish the kind of holidays that enable you to immerse yourself in a country’s culture and lose yourself a bit. Adventure holidays are certainly the most favoured and they often lead to the most spectacular experiences. That’s what we relish and to us it’s what makes a holiday truly memorable.
Our trip to South America for example saw us sleep in the Venezuelan jungle a few nights. Canaima National Park is only accessible by air so we’d taken a cessna from Puerto Ordaz following a short flight from Caracas. We were well looked after by the indigenous Pemón Indians who imparted their knowledge and shared their traditions. We stood behind some of the most spectacular waterfalls including Sapo Falls – said to feature in the Daniel Day Lewis film Last of the Mohicans. The highlight being our trip to Angel Falls – one of the highest waterfalls in the world with an 807m uninterrupted drop. You cannot forget these kinds of places and that’s what makes adventure travel so enthralling. This one hasn’t had an experience like this yet but with destinations like Costa Rica, Sri Lanka and Cambodia on the bucket list, she won’t have to wait long.
As a family, five year old POD has inherited our love for discovery, adventure and exploration. She recently showed her mettle in the mountainous region of Northern Spain which is a stark contrast to its southern counterpart. Our route from the UK was with Brittany Ferries – a fun-filled ferry cruise which saw us spotting dolphins with ORCA in the Bay of Biscay. And we did too much to POD’s delight.
We drove from Bilbao to a quiet village called Trillayo (population less than 50) in the Liébana region some two and a half hours away. Our accommodation was a beautiful 300 year old cottage with stunning views of the Picos de Europa – the jewel in Green Spain’s crown. The garden smelt of ripening peaches, the breakfast table was a millstone and above it hung vines adorned with hundreds of grapes. It was the perfect base from which to explore the mountains, located just ten minutes away from the town of Potes.
We’re not the type of family that likes to loll around, nice as that is, we enjoy exploring from the off. Potes was our first port of call in this instance as we needed a supermarket. The town is the capital of Liebana in South West Cantabria located among the mountain ranges of Pena Sagra, Pena Labra and of course the Picos de Europa. There’s little tourism in Potes with plenty of places to eat. Two courses for only €13 too (including drink) which is a win win in our book. We ended up spending a lot more time than we anticipated in Potes during this holiday, purely because POD loved spending time in the river with the locals. She even swam in it on several occasions. It kind of turned into her treat at the end of a day. Get back, potter around in the river and follow up with an ice-cream.
Our first full day saw us take the CA-185 route to Fuente Dé. The cable car there is the easiest and quickest way to reach the Picos de Europa. POD was very excited about her first cable car experience and handled it like a superstar given how steep it was. Honestly my stomach felt like it was in my throat. The views from the top are quite magnificent, we were somewhat surprised to find wild horses up there. A National Park since 1918, it’s taken 300 million years for the Picos de Europa to take on their current form. It’s the highest limestone formation in Atlantic Europe and shaped by three regions – El Cornión in the West, Los Urrieles in the Central area and Ándara in the East. Parts of it were strangely reminiscent of the renowned Tongario Crossing in New Zealand – a 20km trek we took in-between three volcanoes.
From one mountain to another, this time climbing one albeit not the same day. We picked up the Pico Jano trail in the small village of Dobarganes which was seemingly home to a few cows and a farmer. It was 35 degrees when we set off so we were thankful of the forest shade. Our route then took us along a dust track where we discovered hundreds of grasshoppers with red tummies and the tiniest blue butterflies. And a stick shaped like a duck’s head. The views, as we’d come to expect in Northern Spain, were simply magnificent. There was not a soul around, just us and our comedic chitter chatter. POD walked for three and half hours that day, not many five year olds can say they’ve climbed a mountain. We’re not sure how but we got a little lost on the descent. Our off the beaten track wander through woodland however brought us out right by the car via a detour through a farm. More on that another day.
We’ve been lucky enough to see the Glowworm caves in Waitomo in the past but El Soplao is pretty special too. Located an hour or away from the cottage, we were stopped en route by a cow in the middle of the road. POD nicknamed him “naughty cow” and whenever we talk about the El Soplao Caves, he always gets a mention. On arrival we discovered there was a four hour wait for a train into the caves so we opted to explore locally instead of waiting. The terrain was very different to the limestone mountains we’d been surrounded by but no less extraordinary. Considered to be one of geology’s great wonders, even POD was mesmerised by the different stalactites, stalagmites and eccentric formations at El Saplao. Photography wasn’t allowed so we opted to photograph a few postcards – you can read all about the El Soplao caves here.
We saw many incredible sights on this trip including a superb picnic area set high in the hills. With swings, a ‘football pitch’ and ancient trees, it was great spot to lose half an hour. We then drove to Cahecho where we had a meal at the Pena Sagra restaurant. It’s said Casa Lamadrid in the same village has the best views in Liebana but as always we went for the authentic option. That said, our waitress was actually Mexican!
The family that owned the cottage we were staying in told us the Heidi trilogy was being filmed in the area. The beautiful village of Mogrovejo represents Dorfli in the film and the setting is so well suited to how I remember it. We explored every inch of the village before locating the grandfather house in an isolated location half an hour away. Bill Nighy plays the grandfather and we can’t wait to see the first film when it comes out next year.
We had one afternoon chilling but the rest of our time in Northern Spain was spent out exploring, it was impossible not to. We stopped for an impromptu picnic in Tudes one day – only to be joined by a few dogs and chickens (one was half plucked so it must have made a bid for freedom). As was the case with much of Cantabria, all the villages we visited were full of character and provided us with a few surprises too. Like more wild horses on the tops of mountains or a bar sign in the middle of nowhere. A superb setting for a family selfie albeit with comedy facial expressions!
We did far too much in Northern Spain to include in a single post but what a brilliant family adventure it was. We sailed back to the UK from Santander but even managed to entertain ourselves on the way there. There were pony rides with a ranch hand by the side of the road and we found a brilliant cove where POD body surfed for hours. We love these kind of discoveries where you go against the grain and really embrace what’s around you. Even the ferry home was amazing, it’s not every day you see pods of dolphins while you eat your breakfast. It was just glorious, the best family adventure holiday so far from beginning right to the very end.
Disclaimer: This post is our entry in the #WhatsYourAdventure challenge with the Family Adventure Company and Trips 100. The prize is a family adventure holiday in Cambodia so wish us luck!