Why: Last July’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.
This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us. That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers plus lunch and water in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.
Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:
Day 0: Travel to London
Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
Day 10: Fly to London
Day 11: Travel back from London
Steffi has booked flights and Alfonso is booking hotels and the refugios (turns out four clients is a good number, as is Alfonso’s price), so we are All Systems Go!
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.
Day 2: Drive to Poncebos, walk easy footpath though the Cares River Gorge to Caín and back. Busy with Sunday strollers. Lots of limestone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saturday, 27 July 2019: Las Arenas de Cabrales – Bilbao – London Stansted (No photos)
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.
OK, there is a bit of rain, but not many millimetres.
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.
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:
Grade 1 and 2 only
So it’ll be that or a visit to the coast, or maybe another day out in the Picos….
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?
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.