Picos de Europa

July 5, 2018

After our trip to the Spanish Pyrenees last year we were looking for a similar experience this year. This is how I stumbled upon Picos the Europa. I had neven heard of it before. It doesn’t seem like a popular destination for Belgians. But is has been discovered by British, American and German tourists. We booked a 10 day trip, of which 4 days would be traveling days. Two days to get there by car and two days to drive back home. We decided to make a stopover near Bordeaux. From Bruges that would make an 8 hour drive to Bordeaux and a 6 hour drive from Bordeaux to Potes, the place we decided to stay in Picos. You can choose between, Potes, Cangas de Onis or Arenas de Cabrales as the most obvious places to stay. Some reading online told me that Potes was the most charming place of the three and the raving reviews of Hotel del Oso made my decision final. You have to book directly with the hotel, and they reply very swiftly by mail. Unfortunately the hotel was not available on all dates we planned to stay so we also booked two nights in Posada San Pelayo which we booked through Booking.com, but I think it is cheaper to book directly through their website. A month before our holiday the hotel informed us that the main road that leads to Potes, the Hermida gorge road (N-621 from Panes to Potes) would be closed for works on the bridges during weekdays and would only be open on weekend days. That limited our planning a bit, and put an hour extra on the traveling time to and from our hotel because we would arrive and leave on a weekday. But I was confident we could plan around this.

We found a great B&B , Crisalys Chambres d’Hotes in Pessac, a village south of Bordeaux, just of the highway. We were warmly welcomed by Isabelle who runs the B&B. You can park your car safely in front of their house. There are two rooms in a separate building in the garden. One room has one double and one single bed, the second room has a large twin bed. Both have a comfortable bathroom, air-conditioning, free wifi, a terrace, free toiletries, a bottle of water.

You can use the fully equipped kitchen and dining room to make coffee or tea or prepare something to eat if you do not wish to go out. You sleep soundly in the very comfy beds and quiet surroundings, and in the morning you get a wonderful breakfast with a choice of bread, croissant, cake or pancakes, freshly prepared eggs, yoghurt, fresh fruit salad, fresh orange juice, homemade marmelades, coffee or tea. The place is spotlessly clean and warmly decorated. It is cheaper to book directly with the B&B than via Booking.com. You do not have to pay in advance. It was a great experience and we were very happy to return on our way back home. Isabelle, the owner gave us the other room on our second visit so we tried both rooms. They are equally good.

On the way to Potes we made a stopover in Bilboa. We made a walk through the city and gazed at the Guggenheim museum, but did not have time to visit an exhibition.

We took lunch on the terrace of Sua San, just opposite the Guggenheim in Bilbao with a great view of the Guggenheim and a good stop for a drink or lunch. The menu of the day was a real great deal, and the dishes were really good. 14,5 euro, for two plates, dessert of coffee/tea and drinks included. Highly recommended and very popular with locals. We chose a salad, fish and cheesecake.

We drove on to Potes and had to make quite a detour because of the closure of the Hermida gorge road. But the scenery was wonderful, we enjoyed the views and made stops to take pictures. The arrival at Hotel del Oso was a pleasant surprise. The staff is very friendly, the hotel looks beautiful and the rooms are spacious and very comfortable.

In 2018 we had a room in the annex, in 2019 we had a room in the main building. The rooms here are smaller but the bathroom is of a more recent date. Both buildings have several lounges. On every floor there are apples which you can take for free. Every room had a litte fridge, which is very conventien to store soms foods to take as lunch on our walks;

We booked a table for dinner at 8:30 PM. As a hotel guest you can have a three course menu for 22 euro that includes mineral water and tea or coffee. You a have choice between several dishes for every course. The food is not of gastronomic level, but very tasteful and the portions are good, sometimes even a bit large. You should try their orujo ice-cream for dessert.

They have a wonderful heated outdoor swimming pool that does wonders after a days walk in the mountains. There is also a tennis court. The hotel has several beautiful lounging areas to read or watch tv. If you are not so hungry you can always have some tapas on the terrace from the bar. In the morning you can choose between a breakfast buffet in the restaurant or a mini-breakfast in the bar or on the terrace.

We took the mini-breakfast, still feeling full after the copious dinners in the evening. You get a tea or coffee, toasted bread and cake with butter and marmelade, and freshly pressed orange juice (4,3 euro). For lunch we bought some bread, fruit, ham and cheese in the supermarket of Potes as a small picnic on our daily walks.

During our stay in 2019 we also tried the Breakfast buffet on some mornings which is copious, with different kinds of bread, cake and cookies, yoghurt, fresh fruit, juices, eggs, coffee, tea, a really great and diversified choice.

Between Potes and the hotel you can visit the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, a Roman Catholic monastery. The monastery was founded prior to the 6th century. According to tradition, the monastery venerates that largest piece of the Lignum Crucis  (piece of  the Holy cross of Jezus) discovered in Jerusalem by Saint Helena of Constantinople.

The two nights we stayed at Posada San Pelayo were just as agreeable. The rooms are housed in a beautiful traditional farming house, the rooms are spacious, our bathroom was a bit on the small side. The view from our room was just splendid. You can have a larger room if you choose for a room with a balcony, which are a bit more expensive. The Posada also has a beautiful indoor and outdoor sitting area and a small pool. There is ample parking space for your car.

In the morning they serve a small breakfast buffet. In the morning the owner sets up his telelens in the garden to gaze up at the mountains. We spotted some Chamois buck through his lens on the snowcapped mountains. The Posada does not serve dinner, so we booked a restaurant in Potes for the first night.

The dinner at La Soldreria was great. The restaurant is very cosy, the food delicious, the service super friendly. The restaurant has an informal area and terrace for food and drinks, and a more formal restaurant area. You can only make reservations for the last one. The food is based on traditional dishes which have been reinvented and modernized a bit but with respect for the original recipe, while using good ingredients. We took a starter to share (coquille ), two main plates (lamb and cod), and a dessert (cheesecake). They advised us against two startes and two mains because that could be too much. We had some issues with the lamb, and the owner immediately came to apologize and offered us the lamb and the aperitif for free. A real beautiful gesture, and very professional. We were really glad to have found this restaurant for our dinner in Potes.

In 2019 we reurned twice to have dinner at La Soldreria. Both times we had dinner outside on the terrace, which was really nice in the cooler evening air.

On the weekend we decided to take advantage of the open Hermida gorge road, and drive up to the coast. We wanted to play golf. We visited the Club de Golf Municipal,  a 18 hole golf course in Llanes. The court is not the easiest and a bit technic, but its setting is really magnificent with views of the seaside on one side and of the mountains on the other side. The fairways and greens are well tended too. You first play holes 10 to 18, and then holes 1 to 9. There is a small drive range. The green fee is really not expensive at 30 euro per person on a Saturday. You cannot make tee reservations, but the man at the reception said that this was usually not a problem, you might just have to wait a little before your tee-off.  You can always hit some balls on the practice while waiting. We had wonderful weather and enjoyed it immensely. There are toilets and changing rooms with showers. They do only speak Spanish at the reception but are very friendly. Nothing posh or stuck up at all!

In the evening we drove to San Vincente de la Barquera, where we had booked a table at Sotavento, a small fish and seafood restaurant. And what a nice surprise this restaurant was. The owners give you a very warm and personal welcome. The menu is small but every dish is prepared with the freshest ingredients by the husband cook. He is a real good chef, who cooks with respect for the best ingredients.

We had two starters to share and one main also to share. The hostess warned us that two mains might be too much. Very thoughtful of her. The cook served us mussels in a great marinade on the house. We had the cuttlefish and langoustines, both prepared deliciously, and after that the monkfish. We also shared two desserts of which the orange ice cream with chocolate was a real delight. This is a real great restaurant if you are looking for freshly cooked seafood and fish to perfection. The owners speaks only Spanish but make every effort to explain the menu to you. And there is always ‘google translate’ in need. Be sure to make a reservation ahead!!

In 2019 we had lunch in a different restaurant in San Vincente de la Barquera: Las Redes, a bit more upper class, specialized in seafood and fish. There was a whole group of friends having lunch, and having a great time, creating a vibrant atmosphere in the restaurant. We shared several dishes; oysters, salmon tartare, squid… The oysters were not as fine as the French we are used to. The lunch was very tasteful, and the wine was splendid.

On our way back to Potes we made a stop at Santillana del Mar, a well preserved historical town with cobbelstone streets and flower-filled balconies, renowned for its medieval architecture.. A village handed down through the generations, it is still governed by town-planning laws created in 1575. The centre  is open only to pedestrians. The highlight of the town is the Colegiata de Santa Juliana – a lovely medieval church with a walled cloister of the twelfth century, an important center of pilgrimage, that can be found in the heart of the town. Many visit the town in combination with a visit of the Altamira caves.

On our way home we made a stop in Puente Viesgo. The area is famous for the caves of Altamira, with prehistoric drawings. The Altamira cave is closed for public now, and you can only visit a replica of the cave. In Puente Viesgo you can still visit two caves of which one of them, the El Castillo cave has more than 100 prehistoric drawings which are even older than Altamira, between 40.800 and 22.000 years old. It contains the oldest known cave art in Europe.  The paintings and numerous markings and graffiti span from the Lower Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, and even into the Middle Ages. There are over 150 depictions already cataloged, including those that emphasize the engravings of a few deer, complete with shadowing. Only 13 people are allowed in the cave per visit, and a visit with guide takes 40 minutes. If you want to be sure that you can visit on a certain time slot, best book your visit online at least one day ahead. The visit only costs 3 euro per person, so no big risk taken. The visit is worth a lot more than 3 euro though. The guided visits are only in Spanish up to now, but they talk very clear and you can understand a lot without really speaking Spanish fluently. The visit is visually impressive. Standing in front of stenciled hands, made 40.000 years ago by our ancestors is really mind boggling. The cave itself is quite large, with beautiful rock formations and  stalactites and stalagmites. You can visit a second cave, Las Monedas, about 600 m further. There is a small exhibition right behing the ticket counter, at the entrance of the El Castillo cave. You are not allowed to take photographs inside de cave. When Picasso visited he said: “We have learned nothing in 12,000 years.”

After one more night at Crisalys Bed and Breakfast we decided to visit Bordeaux. We visited Bordeaux once 20 years ago, and it did not make a lasting impression then. But things have changed and Bordeaux was named the world’s best city, according to Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 list. The Queen of England concluded that Bordeaux was “The very essence of elegance,”  last time she visited Bordeaux. So I got curious. We were pleasantly surprised during our two hour walk through this vibrant city. We rounded off our trip with a drink on Place de Parlement in cafe Le Parlement.

In 2019 we stayed at a Bed & Breakfast in Bordeaux centre, Vila Erizio, with newly decorated appartments. We received a bottle of wine on arrival, and two large bottles of water were complementary. The rooms were beautifully designed, the bathroom very comfortable, and in the morning a bag with croissants, pain au chocolats and baguettes was hanging from the door knob. In de fridge we found butter, jam and cheese, and we could make coffee and tea.

In the evening we walked through Bordeaux and had dinner at Le Petit Bec. You can share several small dishes or go for a large steak to share. You have to try their Glace a la Plancha! Anyway I really recommend this small but special restaurant!

On 5 of the 6 days we made long mountain walks. You can read about them in the following posts:




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