Into the Heart of Picos de Europa
Trip Start May 12, 2010
13Trip End May 28, 2010
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Our group was reluctant to leave Cangas this morning, and our delightful parador, a lovely old hotel converted from a gracious 12th century monastery. We drove south through pastoral farm scenes, along a rushing river and, before long, the high overcast melted before the sun as we ascended windy mountain roads into the Picos.
The road threads north into the valley from Posada de Valdeon, but is far too narrow for our coach. We therefore hired locals who shuttled us in groups of 7 per SUV towards the village of Cain and the Cares Gorge, at the end of the road. After taking the shotgun position in the lead vehicle, I tried to explain to Carmen, our driver, where we wanted to start the walk. Last time we were here setting up this walk, the road was being repaired, and it looked quite different with its new coat of blacktop, and change in roadside landmarks.
We found our spot, said farewell to Carmen and company, and followed our feet down a dirt road that led mysteriously off the main access road to Cain. The morning was perfect! Sunlight glittered through the new green of the leaves and sparkled on the Cares River, our companion for the majority of the walk. The trail led gently downhill through groupings of stately old stone buildings, at one point joined by a picturesque old church.
These were abandoned, Nacho told us, over the past 50 years as the economic boom of the post-Franco years lured farmers and livestock ranchers to higher paying jobs in the cities. Now, they sat as mute memorials to a traditional way of life that has been largely replaced in the Picos by the tourist economy.
After an hour of strolling along the hillside, we crossed the Cares River once more, and followed the new road as it snaked its way along the river and past waterfalls into Cain. On the opposite side of town, a collection of about 20 homes and a handful of cafes and shops catering to hikers, we left the road behind and joined a narrow footpath that led over the river yet again, and into the Cares Gorge.
After clamoring through the tunnels, the trail opened out, flanking the gorge, which continued to deepen as we walked, flanked always by the stunning gray-white limestone cliffs of the Picos de Europa! The entire trail runs for 12 km, where it ends at the village of Poncebos in the north. Our plan, unfortunately, allowed for only the first few kilometers. At the second bridge, we paused to drink in the uniqueness of the setting, then reluctantly turned to retrace our steps to Cain.
Back in Cain, we rendezvoused with Carmen and her crew, and after a few minutes to enjoy a cold drink, taxied back to Posada de Valdeon for lunch. Following grilled sandwiches (love the local bread!) and beer, we loaded our coach bound for Leon. It was easy to find; ours was the only bus in the village, ours was the only group; we were the sole representatives of North America in this magical corner of northern Spain called Picos de Europa.