Until two months ago I didn’t know the Picos de Europa existed. An aside: planning a trip like this becomes a blur, especially while on the road. I’m a big fan of guidebooks as a way to figure out where you want to go – a city, an area, a landmark. E-guidebooks? So much harder to use. You can’t page around, can’t really look at the maps… it takes forever to find the right sections. So when we were in Australia and trying to plan ahead to Spain, I basically found a Rough Guide page that mentioned mountains, checked that they were a reasonable distance from Jen’s place, and decided we were going to go there.
“These mountains seem OK to you?” I asked Julie.
“Sure,” she said. I think that was the extent of our conversation.
“I’ve been there!” Jen said when we told her we were headed there next. “We went with my sister, but when we got out of the cable car, it was so fogged in we couldn’t actually see any mountains.”
Not that inspiring. Luckily for us, the weather outlook for our days there was better than usual for early May – sunny and the upper 60s/low 70s. I figured we’d see some villages, go for a ramble or two, ride the cable car up a few hundred feet to a decent view, and generally have an OK time.
We left late from Aguilar and got to Hostal Remona in Espinama at around 7:30pm. Still bright and early by Spain time, but the sun was setting behind the hills, so we didn’t quite see what was coming. Still, the view from our little balcony wasn’t half bad…
The next morning, a good omen: A bunch of horses rolled through town while we had breakfast.
The Picos, like so many other mountain destinations in Europe, take some of the pain out of high-altitude hiking by taking care of the “altitude” part for you, via a convenient cable car to the good stuff. Shoulder season on a weekday meant there was no wait for us to get on, so after a ten minute ride, we were… here:
What? Photos don’t do it justice, and I’m not sure I have the words to describe how unbelievably astounding these mountains were. Massive, jagged, snow-covered peaks stabbing into the sky. We hiked a trail that alternated with melting snow (Fiona’s first snow! In Spain! Take that, California drought!), dotted with icy blue tarns. Tiny snowmelt creeks babbled everywhere. The sun shone as we shed unnecessary layers of clothing. Our fellow hikers were a mix of giddy retirees blissful at the scenery and the weather, and younger outdoors types with ice axes and crampons strapped to their backs, aiming for higher peaks and passes.
It was a full day of bliss. We picnicked on the shore of one of the alpine ponds, dipping our fingers into perfectly freezing water. We walked as high as we could until we were blocked by snow, then rewarded ourselves with french fries, ice cream, and beer back at the cafe near the cable car.
We took the cable car down and had a late dinner our our lodge, where the adventure-racer proprietor gave us more advice on what to do next.
Nothing else during our stay in the mountains quite topped that day, honestly. We had a little ramble the next day, but had to cut it short because it was too hot (!), so wandered around Potes and had a lovely bar lunch.
When we got home that night, we had a vision of going to the little plaza in Espinama and eating outside at one of the two little bars in town that advertised burgers/pizza/drinks. In theory, they both opened at 8:30 for dinner – we grabbed a drink at Remona and hung out on the couch outside until about a quarter to nine, when it was still very light outside. I went up and checked our restaurant options and… no dice. No tourists, nothing open.
So we went inside for a second dinner at Hostal Remona. This ended up being a good call; we ordered a chuleton, which is a T-bone roughly the size of Massachusetts. They bring it out to your table to look at, then sear it to just above bloody, bring it to your table, then bring a cast-iron plate right from the grill so that you can cook it to order at the table. Also served with French fries, vegetables, bread, etc.
That’s the Picos in a nutshell. Unexpected, amazing, and HUGE.