Disclaimer: at this point in our Europe trip there are no ‘sunhats’ in Backpacks and Sunhats. There is either rain or even occasional snow, like in this post. We are looking at a rebrand… Backpacks and Pack a Macs? Backpacks and Umbrellas? Or in the Kiwi way: ‘Backpacks and Gumboots visit Picos de Europa?’
Visit Picos de Europa
From La Rioja as we drove west into Portugal, we decided to visit Picos de Europa on the way. We didn’t camp here because at the end of May it was cold and wet. In fact many of the local campsites didn’t open until June. Instead we stayed in a gorgeous little apartment with beautiful views of the hills and valleys.
Getting to our accommodation was an adventure. The drive from Haro was long but incredibly scenic. We had some trouble finding the apartment, this was not helped by google maps sending us down the wrong small street and it being impossible to turn around, so we were forced to back out. If you’ve seen pictures of our car when fully packed, you’ll know there is zero visibility through the back windscreen. There were stone buildings, narrow gaps and a bridge to negotiate backwards. All of this was topped off by the kids being desperate for the toilet!
Apartamentos La Cotera
…But we arrived and opened the doors to a gorgeous apartment with a fantastic view and it was all worthwhile. We were staying at Apartamentos La Cotera and would recommend it as a fantastic base for exploring the Picos de Europa area, assuming you have your own transport. Otherwise it would be too remote. This has been the first of several ‘Casa Rural’, local accommodation, in Spain and Portugal. These give us a nice break between camping and some lovely, local interaction, with hosts.
When we felt somewhat recovered from the trauma of the journey we headed into the town of Potes to explore.
Potes is charming, picturesque and very Spanish. Nestled in the valley with the river running through the centre, and surrounded by forests. The village itself has interesting shops with local products and lovely stone buildings. It is busy in the summer hiking season, but was quiet when we were there.
We had decided to visit Picos de Europa because Paul’s Spanish lessons showed video clips and some were set in the area, including the town of Potes. He was impressed with the scenery and it fitted into our planned route, I was so pleased we decided to visit because it was different to anywhere else we’ve been in Spain. Unfortunately we had just 2 nights, one day, and the weather still raining, so we were limited a bit in what we could do, but we got a small taste of the beauty of the area.
Museum Casa del Oso
We had hoped to see the Catalan Brown Bear but it is rare and not easy to see in the wild. In Potes there is the Casa del Oso, House of the Bears. Run by the Foundation Oso Pardo, the Brown Bear Foundation, the organisation that advocates for these adorable brown bears in Spain. This small but very informative and interactive museum, had plenty of English language and was great education for young children. It covers the bears history in the area, their habitat, diet, breeding, and threats to the population. L and S enjoyed learning about these adorable bears through touch screens, movies, questions and even a bear’s cave to learn about hibernation. This was a good afternoon of worldschool that reminded us of aspects of our time in Borneo. In particular learning about endangered animals and the threats to their survival.
Fuente De Cable Car
The following day we headed to Fuente De, the base for the cable car, (in Spanish they call it the teleferico), which takes people to the top of Picos Massif. This short ride is not for those who are scared of heights. It rises 753 metres in less than 4 minutes. The bottom station at Fuete De, is at a height of 1,090 metres, the top station is 1,850 metres.
On the last day of May this was high enough to still be in the snow! Our kids haven’t seen a lot of snow, and the fact that we were not adequately dressed did nothing to deter them from getting into it. Although the clouds meant we didn’t get a crystal clear view for miles, it did add an interesting element to the view.
Many visitors take the cable car up, take some pics, walk around, have a coffee and go back down. There are lots of walks to do also. Our eldest, L, loves the countryside. It is where he is happiest. He find busy places too overstimulating and gets very stressed in cities. He loved our visit to Picos de Europa and begged for a walk, but it wasn’t safe at the top of the mountain with cloud and fog.
We weren’t prepared in any way for a hike and visibility was bad. L was quite grumpy with our refusal to let him hike away into the snow.
Instead we spent some time at the exhibit about the building of the cable car, that was fascinating. On our return trip we met two Irish hikers that had set out earlier that day to do a full day walk. They had to turn back due to poor visibility and unsafe conditions. This confirmed for us that a walk at the top was not a safe option. We headed back to Potes instead to have tapas (always a good solution), and to do one of the walks around the village.
Riverside walks Potes
The tourist office in Potes can give you a map of some suggested walks around the village. We chose the riverside walk, which was very pretty.
Until the littlest member of backpacks and sunhats fell and had to be carried back to the car… Time to call it a day!
Despite the rain, cold, twisty roads and google maps dramas, we were happy we detoured to visit Picos de Europa. A little known place in Spain, far from the tourist resorts of Benidorm and Malaga.
A stay in a Casa Rural should be done at least once in a Spain visit. It takes you to places you wouldn’t normally go, to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. It is extra special with children whom the hosts will dote on and spoil.