The little mountain village of Bulnes in Picos De Europa National Park has no roads to it. Up until 2001 the only way to get there was by walking but they now have a funicular which travels 2km through a tunnel in the mountain, connecting the village with the outside world. It didn’t seem worth paying for the funicular seeing as we wouldn’t get any views along the way so we set off on a hike starting from Poncebos. We climbed up a track through a deep canyon, shaded from the low winter sun the entire time. Below us was a river that was the most incredible blue colour, if only it was warm enough to have a swim in. After an hour we turned off the path and headed to the first part of the village which sits high up on a hill. The sun was now hitting the steep walls of the canyon where we’d come from but we remained in the shade, zigzagging our way up a steep slope to the stone houses.
It wasn’t as picturesque as I expected, maybe it was because it was dark and cold, the mountain tops surrounding us were glaring in the sun so it actually made photography very tricky with the harsh shadows. We stopped for some snacks before making our way back down hill to the main Bulnes village. It had pretty stone houses with terracotta tiled roofs, cobbled lanes and bridges passing over a trickling stream. There was also a large welcoming committee; a big herd of cows. It’s a beautiful breed they have here, fawn coloured fur with black eyeliner, glittery eyelashes and horns shaped like half moons. Many of them had big metal bells around their necks, the sound of the jingling through the valley was delightful.
Not far from the village was a viewpoint of Naranjo de Bulnes, a limestone tower rising up like a spade. The view of it was pretty poor, it just peaked between a gap behind a dark gorge. Craig suggested scrambling up the rocky slope behind us to gain altitude but I suggested extending the walk considerably to an unknown area where I was hoping to get a better view. The trail was much less trodden now, still a well made stone track but a thick layer of ice covered most of it so we had to precariously hop along the edges of the track. Eventually we stepped out of the forest and onto a hilly pasture, hoping to finally get a view of the peaks. They were visible but it wasn’t much better than what we had at the viewing platform an hour ago. There was a rocky mound ahead of us though so we figured it was best if we climbed up it. It turned out to be a very evil hill, covered in prickly plants and sheer walls so after three attempts we had to give up. We did get a better view from half way up mind you, but we also got a lot of ticks on the journey, I found 3 crawling up my jumper sleeve.
We had a very late lunch in an abandoned stone hut with the sun on our faces and a herd of goats nearby. We watched as one discovered brambles in the barn and began eating them like it was spaghetti. The walk back took a long time but we were very happy to get back to Helga and heat up our hot water bottles as it was already 0°.
The following morning we set off on a hike up Cares Gorge which is known as being the most popular hike in the Picos de Europa National Park. The canyon is 10km long and at times up to 1km deep. A fabulous trail has been carved into the rocky sides of the canyon and we were very excited to explore it. It was due to be a very long day though with about 24km to hike. The canyon was impressive straight away, not only for the steep, grey walls but the Cares River below us was the most incredible blue colour. It was like a bottle of Bombay sapphire gin.
It was so much better than the canyon we walked through to Bulnes yesterday, this one had some fabulous sheer drops which we loved, however it would be a vertigo sufferers nightmare. There were lots of fun rock arches to walk through along the way and there was even a canal carved into the walls of the canyon. It appeared occasionally before going back through another tunnel. Apparently it was once used to move water to a hydro electric plant.
At about the half way point we started to see the mountain tops above the canyon and the drop down became even greater. At one point the path had totally collapsed from a rockslide and a new wooden bridge was built above the abyss. The canyon became its narrowest towards the end where our path went through a dark tunnel dripping with water. Occasionally a large opening was blown out the side to let some light in and a view of the canyon.
The canyon ended with a dam, spraying water out a chute with a rainbow cast across the mist. Suddenly the view all opened up as we left the canyon behind and entered a dreamy valley surrounded by mountains. A friendly cat with blue eyes greeted us as we made our way across to the village of Caín. The ground was still covered in frost and it was about 1pm! The entrance to the village was rather anticlimactic with a slightly tacky looking cafe which was only partially open due to it being the off season. We laid my plastic bag cover on the grass so we could sit down and have lunch but we later realised we placed it on a pile of horse poo.
The view further up the road was absolutely breathtaking though, the little stone village was built on a gentle slope and behind it were the most dramatic, spiky mountains. It literally looked like a movie set, it’s not often that I find views this impressive but WOW, this one was spectacular and well worth the long hike. There were a few cute dogs roaming around the village including an adorable puppy who sat on our lap. One thing we did notice about the village however was the locals seemed really grumpy. None of them smiled and they seemed reluctant to say hola back to us. It was a strange vibe, like they didn’t like tourists yet they lived in a village that receives hundreds daily during the peak season. Today, on a chilly January day there were probably only 30 people arriving in the village, it seemed odd to be so unwelcoming. But they couldn’t take the smile off my face, the scenery was too good! We did a loop walk around the village and back to the canyon for the long hike back.
This time though the sun was higher up so the canyon was lit up which was better in some sense but it lost the definition and layers that it had with the dim morning light. The pathway split towards the end and we opted to take the lower, less trodden route to get a closer look at the blue river. The track was extremely steep and made up of sharp rocks so it made sense that we were the only fools to be walking along it. Eventually we joined the lower track beside the river which was carved into the canyon wall.
We spotted a goat with a tiny baby ahead of us and suddenly she started storming towards us. We panicked and ran up a slope, she had big horns and we thought she was being protective over her baby. But then she just stared at me and I could tell she was begging for food because stupid tourists have clearly fed her in the past. Well she wasn’t getting any food from us but I did take a little video and just as I was filming the baby leaped off a rock like a base jumper which had us whooping for joy.
The trail we were on was clearly not supposed to be used anymore as we came across three rock slides covering the path. Some were covered in piles of small rocks while others had giant boulders the size of a yoga ball. After 8 hours we finally made it back to Helga with very stiff legs. We were shattered and in need of a shower but we were too exhausted for that and it was too cold to bare the idea of getting underdressed. So we had a quick baby wipe and got into our thermals, ready for another Arctic night!