Picos de Europa: Photos & Notes

We’re back after a mixed week walking in the Picos de Europa. We had a smashing guide, Alfonso, and Hotel Torrecerredo is a great base where Jim and Pilar provide good accommodation and wonderful food. But …. the weather, local fiestas and preponderance of biting insects meant that the overall experience didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations.

The days (and nights) alternated between hot and humid, thundery and wet, and bad weather put paid to two of the more challenging walks – the Lakes of Covadonga, Majada de Belbin & Peak Pandescura (day 6) and the twin summits of Mancondiu plus San Carlos Peak (day 7).  EasyJet delays both ways made for long travel days at either end and the all night fiestas for the first few nights resulted in poor sleep. Horseflies, mozzies and midges speak – and bite – for themselves.

But we did have a fabulous day on the Thursday when Alfonso took us on the Peña Maín walk we’d not been able to do on Tuesday due to orange weather warnings. The best day by far, although it inevitably came with the downside that it that made me realise what we were missing on the other days. So Steffi, Hazel and I are keen to return to tackle the El Anillo de Picos next June or September.

Also on the plus side, the wildflowers were beautiful – I was particularly taken with the sea holly – and I’ve returned with Pilar and Jim’s recipe for Sopa de Lentejas. The food really was wonderful.

Sea Holly, Cabeza Juan Robre walk
Sea Holly, Cabeza Juan Robre walk

Photos from the week are in my Spain, July 2019 album on Flickr.

Here’s what we did on Exodus’ Walking the Picos de Europa, day by day:

Saturday, 20 July 2019: London Stansted – Bilbao – Las Arenas de Cabrales (No photos)

Weather: Rain.

Day 1: EasyJet U23227 from Stansted to Bilbao. Scheduled departure 11:50 arrival 14:50. Delayed almost 3 hours.

Alfonso and his fellow driver met us at the arrivals hall for the two and a half hour drive to Las Arenas de Cabrales. The first of many excellent evening meals at the Hotel Torrecerredo.

Sunday, 21 July 2019: Cares Gorge (photos)

Weather: Overcast, hot & humid.

Day 2: Drive to Poncebos, walk easy footpath though the Cares River Gorge to Caín and back. Busy with Sunday strollers. Lots of limestone.

Cares Gorge walk
Cares Gorge

Monday, 22 July 2019: Cabeza Juan Robre (871m) (photos)

Weather: Overcast, clearing occasionally, hot.

Day 3: Walk from the hotel, into Las Arenas and along trails up into the high pastures of Nava, full of wild flowers. On up via limestone bowls and paths to Cabeza Juan Robre (871m) which we can see from the hotel. Lunch at the top watching the clouds clear from the main Picos range to our south, then a long ridge descent back into Las Arenas de Cabrales, with great views of the town and valley en route.

Cabeza Juan Robre and Las Arenas old church
Cabeza Juan Robre from Las Arenas de Cabrales

Tuesday, 23 July 2019: Hoyu del Tejo – Tresviso – Urdón (photos)

Weather: Thunderstorms threatened. Overcast, hot & humid.

Day 4: Bad weather meant we had to forgo the scheduled walk in favour of a lower level alternative. Alfonso and Nanni drove us to the car park above Sotres (CA-1, Hoyu del Tejo) where it was extremely windy. From there we dropped down into the shelter of Vau los Lobos, turning off to follow Arroyo de Valdediezma down to Río de Sobra, crossing via an old stone bridge and skirting abandoned summer farms to get back up to the CA-1 and walking on into Tresviso for elevenses at La Taberna de Tresviso. Then the famous zig zag descent via Barrio Tresviso to Río Urdón. We met the minibuses at Urdón on the N-621 and then drove back to Las Arenas.

On the Treviso-Urdón trail
Treviso-Urdón trail

Wednesday, 24 July 2019: Celorio – Llanes – Celorio via the Coastal Path (photos)

Weather: Overcast, hot & humid.

Day 5: Free day. Hazel, Steffi and I, plus others, opted to take the hotel minibus to the coast to walk the coastal path from Celorio to Llanes. Lunch in the old town then back to Celorio for 4.30pm pick up and the hour’s drive back to sunny Las Arenas.

“Wine Wednesday” mojitos in Cafe Jardin La Palma followed by raciones at La Plazuela.

Thursday, 25 July 2019: Peña Maín (1612 m) (photos)

Weather: Blue skies, growing cloudy later.

Day 6: Leaving the minibuses at Tielve we walked up through shady beech woods to Peña Maín (Cabeza La Mesa, 1612 m) for splendid views of Naranjo de Bulnes / Pico Urriellu (2519 m), the rest of the main range and mountains all around.

Descending through wildflower meadows towards Sotres, picnicking en route, brought us down to the Pandébano Col from where the trail continued downwards through more meadows and on slippery tree shadowed cobbled paths sunk deep into the hillside, to bring us into Bulnes for ice creams and a final descent along a classic Picos limestone river gorge back to Poncebos.

A fab day.

Peña Maín panorama
Peña Maín panorama

Friday, 26 July 2019: Refugio Casetón de Andara & Carreña to Las Arenas de Cabrales (photos)

Weather: Rain, easing off later

Day 7: Low cloud and rain meant zero visibility and another bad weather alternative, driving back to the car park at Hoyo del Tejo (CA-1, above Sotres) where we donned full waterproofs and warm clothes to walk the old mining track to Refugio Casetón de Andara and back. Picnic lunch and warm drinks at a bar in Sotres before driving back to Las Arenas.

Me and Steffi arriving at Refugio Casetón de Andara
Me and Steffi arriving at Refugio Casetón de Andara

In the afternoon, Steffi, Helen and I, accompanied by Alfonso and the GPS download, took Pilar’s recommendation of a 3 hour walk between a drop off in the Arroyo de la Ría above Carreña and Arangas. Technically it’s part of GR-109 Ruta Asturias Interior, Etapa 2: Alles – Carreña and whilst a lot of the trail is along disused concrete roads the connecting cross country paths proved tricky to find at times. Lots of bramble bashing and nettle dodging was required.

On our way back along the AS-345 into Las Arenas we stopped off at another of Pilar’s top tips: Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru where we enjoyed a leisurely hour meeting the goats and sheep and then tasting (and buying) their cheese, and sampling the local cider. Excellent.

Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru
Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru

Saturday, 27 July 2019: Las Arenas de Cabrales – Bilbao – London Stansted (No photos)

Weather: Rain.

Day 8: Two and a half hour drive to Bilbao to catch EasyJet U23228 to London Stansted, scheduled departure 15:20, arrival 16:10. Delayed 1+ hour. Smooth journey on the Stansted Express back to Central London for wine and pizza à la Waitrose.

Picos de Europa: Final Count Down

Not long now before Hazel, Steffi and I head off to Northern Spain for our week walking in the Picos de Europa, with Exodus*.

Weather

The Yr.no forecast for Las Arenas de Cabrales says it’s going to be sunny!

Weather Forecast: Las Arenas de Cabrales
Weather Forecast: Las Arenas de Cabrales

OK, there is a bit of rain, but not many millimetres.

Packing

Looking the spare bed pile I reckon I’m going to be taking more to the Picos than I do to Nepal. Probably not a bad thing seeing as we will be in company and it’s not really de rigueur to wear the same clothes for a week on the trot.

Having read some of the recent reviews and refreshed myself on the trip notes, I am taking:

  • ear plugs …. due to cow bells!!!!
  • a brolly. There must be sections when we won’t need to use poles. And hopefully I won’t need it.

Money

I have my Euros, just as the exchange rate drops even further. Thanks for nothing, Brexit.

Insurance / Optional Activities

I checked my travel insurance cover regarding the optional activities on offer for the spare day:

Today is free for you to visit the coast or try a spot of caving, self-guided canoeing or canyoning. Our local staff will be able to help organise any of these activities.

and only canoeing gets a mention:

Canoeing/Kayaking
Grade 1 and 2 only

So it’ll be that or a visit to the coast, or maybe another day out in the Picos….

Other

I am looking forward to there being a bar….


* If you want details, you’ll need to find the trip on the Exodus website. They don’t like me linking to it. It spoils their SEO. Really?

Picos de Europa: Counting Down

It’s less than a month now until Steffi, Hazel and I head off to Northern Spain for Exodus’ Picos de Europa walking holiday, challenging version.

The final departure info arrived over the weekend, and I’ve done EasyJet online check-in for both flights (there and back) this morning. We’ve got adjacent seats, which is nice. I’ve also worked out what time we’ll need to get the Stansted Express (09.10) to allow plenty of time for some delay and airport queues.

On the money side I’m allowing EUR 300 to cover tips, a spare day in Bilbao, spends (I want to buy the Adrados Ediciones – Picos de Europa Central and East: Massifs Los Urrieles and Andara Adrados (1:25,000) map in Arenas de Cabrales) and “treats” (you can buy wine and beer at the hotel…). There’s an ATM in Arenas de Cabrales if I do find I need any more.

I’ve checked the personal BUPA travel insurance I’ve bought through work will cover this type of trip (tick), so all I need to do is to get my euros from Thomas Exchange Global, print everything off and pack!

Where next: Picos de Europa

All of a sudden our tentative Picos de Europa plan has firmed up!

Steffi, Hazel and I had talked about doing Exodus’ “challenging” version in July *, and so – pending Brexit – I’d been keeping an eye out for offers and availability. And today I spotted they were down to three places!

Wah!

Crazy busy week at work. Hazel is on hols. So Steffi did the honours and we are booked. 

So we’re off to sunny Spain for a week’s walking in the mountains.

Just like that, as Tommy Cooper used to say.

Now all we have to hope for is that Brexit doesn’t bollix everything up … Will our airline flights fly? Will we be able to get entry visas into Spain? Will our travel insurance still be valid?


Why this trip?

One of the ladies on last year’s Walking in Northern Albania trip had been on a walking holiday in the Picos the previous year and loved it. She had some super photos on her phone.

Susa raved about the region too – you really can go from peaks to playa in a matter of hours. So perhaps we’ll manage a bit of beach and seaside on our free day.

Here’s the itinerary (‘Challenging’ version):

  • Day 1: Travel to Arenas de Cabrales: London Stansted – Bilbao (EasyJet). Transfer to Arenas de Cabrales. Settle into our base in the Picos, Hotel Torrecerredo.
  • Day 2: Classic Cares Gorge Walk.
  • Day 3: Up to the high pastures of Nava; on to the summit of Juan Robre; descend back to Arenas de Cabrales.
  • Day 4: Summit Main range; descend to the area of the Pandebano Col then to Bulnes.
  • Day 5: Free day. Optional activities include caving, self-guided canoeing, canyoning or a trip to the coast.
  • Day 6: Lakes of Covadonga; Majada de Belbin & Peak Pandescura.
  • Day 7: Twin summits of Mancondiu; on to San Carlos Peak.
  • Day 8: Arenas de Cabrales. Transfer to Bilbao. Fly to London Stansted.

We wondered if July might be too hot. But Exodus’ temperature graph suggests it won’t be too bad because we’re at altitude – relatively – and it should be dry.

We’ve gone flight inclusive – mainly for the transfers again, but even without that as a factor looking at the cost of doing our own flights suggested that the Exodus flight-inclusive option was competitively priced.

Exciting to have something in the diary between now and Nepal in November.

To do: Pay back Steffi. Purchase travel insurance (post Brexit!). Put together prep spreadsheet.


* If you want details, you’ll need to find the trip on the Exodus website. They don’t like me linking to it. It spoils their SEO. Really?