The Picos de Europa: our top picks

April 24, 2017

The rustic cottage we’d booked was located just two and a half hours drive away from Bilbao. Although we’d originally planned to stop in the capital of the Basque Country, we ended up heading straight to the small village of Trillayo. With a population of just 31, and the medieval town of Potes ten minutes away, it was an ideal base for our adventures. We’d totally fallen in love with this 200 year old cottage when we’d seen it online and really hoped it lived up to expectations. It really did, the views from our balcony of the Picos de Europa were magnificent. We’d enjoy breakfast there before heading out each day and evenings were spent watching the swallows fly in circles around nearby rooftops. There was only one day we weren’t out exploring but we’ve pulled together our top picks for things you really shouldn’t miss.

Catch the Fuente Dé cable car to the Picos 

We took the CA-185 route from Potes, the regional capital of Liébana, to Fuente Dé. The 30 minute journey took us between mountains with the Rio Deva river visible much of the way. As you approach Fuente Dé you can see the cable cars heading up to the Picos De Europa almost vertically. Although it looked a little daunting at first, taking one of these cable cars is the easiest and quickest way to reach the summit. There is the option to walk up from Fuente Dé to Liordes although that wasn’t going to be something we’d do with a five year old! We’d arrived later than we anticipated at 11am so our wait for a cable car was 1.5 hours. That said with so much to look at and an efficient set up at Fuente Dé, the time flew past. The cable car was much speedier than we’d anticipated and we were at the top within ten minutes. The views from there really are spectacular.

Located in the Cantabrian mountains, it’s taken 300 million years for the Picos to take on their current form. The park has the highest limestone formation in Atlantic Europe and is shaped by three regions – El Cornión in the West, Los Urrieles in the Central area and Ándara in the East. It is a Site of Community Interest as well as being a Special Protection Area and Biosphere Reserve. You’d think with so many people heading up to the Picos de Europa that it would be busy at the top but actually it’s so vast it’s remarkably peaceful. The scenery really does take your breath away and you can walk as little or as much as you like while watching the vultures and eagles circle above the mountains.

Take a hike and get lost somewhere beautiful 

Ok try not to get lost even if it is beautiful. We didn’t intend to when we took five year old POD on her first mountain climb from Dobarganes to Pico Jano. As it happens we were on our decent and didn’t turn where we were supposed to although we found our way again. There are lots of walking opportunities in the Picos de Europa region and I can imagine most have spectacular views. We opted for a walk from a small village called Dobarganes, which has a population of about 31, to Pico Jano (1,446 metres). Typically we timed our trek on a day when it was pushing 35 degrees but we had shade on occasions and of course lots of water. It was a zig zig kind of trail with lots to keep POD occupied like grasshoppers with red tummies and little blue butterflies. If you’re looking for something more strenuous there are an abundance of treks to choose from.

Explore the underground world of the El Saplao Caves 

Situated about an hour’s drive away from where we were staying, the El Saplao Caves are quite remarkable. El Soplao is part of Rionansa, Valdáliga and Herrerías which is 60kms away from Torrelavega and 83kms from Santander. With an altitude of 540m, the area boasts view of Sierra de Pena Sagra, valley of the Nansa river and the Cantabrian sea. Villages like San Vincente de la Barquera, Comillas, Santillana del Mar and the Hermida Gorge or Cabueniga are close-by which is good if you have to wait at the El Saplao Caves. They only do a specific number of tours per day so it’s definitely worthwhile arriving first thing. We had a bit of a wait but opted to explore the area and have a snack in the free time we had. Photography is not permitted in the caves themselves (check out our post to see postcard images) but they are incredible. With eccentric formations, stalactites, stalagmites, flow stones, columns and cave pearls, these 110 million year old caves really do blow you away. It’s said to be one of the most important sites from the Cretaceous period with 30kms of galleries, winding towers, roasting kilns and washeries.

Visit the medieval town of Potes

I’m sure locals would consider Potes to be busy what with it being the capital of Liebana. There are more people than any of the other villages we visited but not busy per se. We anticipated we’d only visit the medieval town of Potes when we needed supplies from the supermarket or fancied a restaurant meal. In actual fact, it ended up being somewhere we’d pop into on the way back to the cottage following a day out exploring. Set in the mountain ranges of Pena Sagra, Pena Labra and the Picos de Europa, it’s a quaint little town with cobbled alleyways and quirky shops. We tested out a few of the restaurants there and found the best offered a huge two course tapas meal and drink (including alcohol) for just €13. We found the most amazing handmade ice-cream shop too. The biggest discovery in Potes however was the river. Whenever she got the opportunity POD would be in it cooling off with the locals, it became a bit of a thing and she’d certainly say it was one of the highlights of her holiday.

Explore the local villages

We always love getting under the skin of a place and understanding more about the culture. The area is totally unspoiled and we only met two tourists on our entire holiday. We’d seen a village from our cottage balcony which was fairly isolated that we had to see. Colio is pretty self sufficient with many of those living there seemingly working in the farming industry. It’s a wonderful spot albeit a little too smelly for 5 year old POD’s liking. We also visited Mogrovejo which is said to be one of the most beautiful villages in Spain and was also used to film the Dorfli scenes in the upcoming Heidi: Queen of the Mountains movie.

The best places to discover however are the ones that are off the beaten track and we found ourselves coming across some absolute gems. Like eating a picnic with a couple of dogs and a few chickens (one was plucked but had obviously made a bid for freedom) to finding a random bar sign in the middle of nowhere. Funnily enough directing us to the village we’d just come from. Most of the roads are well made, each boasting stunning views. It’s a great country to drive around that’s for sure.

Linking up with Mini Travellers for #MondayEscapes and Flying with a Baby for #FamilyTravelTips

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  • Jane @ Raincity Librarian April 24, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    Those massive blue skies and expansive vistas are just breathtaking!!

    • Charly Dove May 4, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      It’s such a wonderful part of the world Jane, so unspoilt too. The views were just superb – everywhere we went pretty much 🙂

  • Sarah Chrsitie May 2, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Wow such amazing photos as usual, it looks the best place to visit and I would be dying to ride the cable car although I would be a little scared I am sure, thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes x

    • Charly Dove May 4, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Oh thank you Sarah, you’re so kind. I’ll be honest I found the cable car really daunting when I first saw it. That said it’s remarkably quick and efficient plus the views really do take your breath away x

  • Claire at Tin Box Traveller May 3, 2017 at 9:13 am

    What an incredible landscape. I love the smokey blue mountains and the crooked, rustic rooftops. It looks like you had a a wonderful time exploring #MondayEscapes

    • Charly Dove May 4, 2017 at 1:42 pm

      It’s so beautiful Claire, we totally fell in love with Northern Spain. Such a great spot to explore with the car too 🙂

  • Mini Travellers May 3, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Photos are stunning as always Charly, it’s an area I would love to investigate further and spend some more time in those mountains. Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

    • Charly Dove May 4, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      Oh thank you Karen, very kind. We loved exploring this part of the country, the North is so very different to the Spain I’ve experienced previously. It was really easy taking the car over on the ferry too, you’d love it 🙂

  • Travelling With Our Kids May 3, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    This is on my list. Such a stunning part of Spain. Your photos are beautiful and the views are amazing! #MondayEscapes

    • Charly Dove May 4, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Oh gosh yes do keep it on your list, we had an absolute blast. And thank you! The views are just incredible 🙂

  • Plutonium Sox May 8, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    Wow, what a place, it looks incredible! I love the idea of an ancient cottage in a place with a population of 31 people as well, idyllic! And I agree with you about finding out something about the culture of a place when you visit. This is especially true when travelling with children I think, they can gain so much from taking the time to understand where they are and what makes it unique. Thanks for linking up to #FamilyTravelTips.