Potes, Hermida Gorge, Spain

Picos de Europa seen from San Vicente de Barquera, Cantabria, Spain

The Picos de Europa seen from San Vicente de Barquera in mid summer.

This is the harbour beach of Playa de Tostadero but there is a much better beach – or series of beaches – just five minutes along the coast outside the harbour at Playa de Meron.

Picos de Europa, getting there via Hermida Gorge and Potes

The East approach via Unquera, Panes and Potes is on this page. It’s closest to Santander by air or sea or Bilbao, Basque Country.

We drove to Unquera and Panes from Santander (Cantabria province) on the fine and fast A8 motorway, taking less than an hour to reach this point (add another hour if coming from Bilbao).
From Unquera/Panes we expected an uphill and seriously winding struggle on narrow roads. Wrong on two counts. Through the Hermida gorge the 20 km road was more-or-less horizontal and not scarily narrow, though quite winding. Cars and vans had no problems though a vast tourist bus we came across was having to take a lot of care not to lose the top deck on rocky overhangs.
The mountain views were excellent in this direction, but a lot better coming back, and not just because the early evening sun was lighting up the rocks.

Buses serve the same route from Santander to Potes (via Unquera) several times a day in summer and once or twice in winter. Change at Potes for a bus to Fuente Dé.

The East approach via Panes and then east to Arenas de Cabrales

The North approach(closest to Oveido, air, Asturias province)

Via Cangas de Onis and south on the magnificent 10kms (6 miles) Desfiladero (Gorge) de los Beyos.

Desfiladero de la Hermida from Potes, Picos de Europa, North Spain

The Hermida Gorge, Desfiladero de la Hermida at about 7pm in July. The gorge sides are so steep that it spends 6 months a year without sunshine.

Camino de Santiago and scallop shells

A statue of a pilgrim walking the Camino Santiago, near Potes, Picos de Europa, North Spain

The Spanish do love their bronze statues.

This fine piece of bronze can be seen on the road to the Fuente Dé Teleferico (cable-car) from Potes, gateway to the south eastern region of Los Picos de Europa and a simple starting point that offers a variety of short staggers, fair walks or strenuous hikes.

The statue is clearly a young pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago trail, not only because he has a cross around his neck but more tellingly a scallop shell. The scallop sign is a recognised route mark for pilgrims, probably because they are commonly washed up on the Galician coast – Santiago de Compostela’s home state.  Scallops were historically useful as simple eating and drinking vessels, but also the scallop’s natural design of lines converging at one point nicely symbolises the various trails from around Europe converging on Santiago’s cathedral.

Turning left at this junction takes you to Santo Toribio monastery where you may see a remnant of the ‘True Cross’, Lignum Crucis, inside a reliquary. If you make contact you will apparently earn an indulgence, so it’s worth a crack at time off from Hell.
The best bet is to attend a mass in the monastery church and hope that the relic makes an appearance, as it often does. Otherwise it’s locked away.

Picos de Europa Weather

The southeast Picos are considerably drier than the north as the wet winds blowing in from the northwestern Spanish coasts tend to dump their loads on the 2, 000m northern peaks before reaching the Liebana Valley in the south. There’s frequent cloud of course, but it tends not to be rain-bearing, especially in the summer.
Spring and Autumn months are popular with hikers as it’s still warm and may be sunny but the crowds of tourists have disappeared.
Diehard hikers also enjoy winter when the bare trees, snow on peaks and clear air make for spectacular panoramas.
Most rainfall occurs November-February.

Picos de Europa museum

Museu de Picos de Europa, Spain

Disappointed! What a waste of space and money is this Picos de Europa museum. No doubt funded by useless bureaucrats of the EU who only travel by limousine and have no concept of intelligent spending.

This vast and impressive structure towards Potes contains a mass of exhibits regarding the geology and nature of the Picos but not a word about walks/hikes/routes/weather. Surely 99% of tourists passing by are planning a walk? And could use some advice on difficulty/length/access/parking etc?
Check out the little kiosks on the way (both before and after this brown elephant) that do provide maps and information, though precision is not a part of the Spanish vocabulary. But don’t worry, we are going to tell you how to get high in the Picos, and in English!

Potes

A medieval bridge in Potes and Picos de Europa mountains, Spain

Potes medieval bridge with Los Picos rearing their arid heads in the background. There is a large, free car park just beyond the bridge.

The 15th century Torre del Infantado, Potes, Picos de Europa, North Spain

Potes’ most impressive structure, the 15th century Torre del Infantado.

Potes covered walkway, North Spain

A stroll around the small but quaint old town, perhaps a bite of lunch, or perhaps not if your primary target is the Massif de Picos de Europa at Fuente Dé via cable car.

The church of the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana

the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana at Mass, with the reliquary containing the True Cross on the altar's left side, Picos de Europa, North Spain

The church of the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana at Mass, with the reliquary containing the True Cross on the altar’s left side. Photo by Cruccone.

The wood in this reliquary was tested in 1958 and found to be extremely old, 2, 000 years plus, and of Mediterranean Cypress wood that is commonly found in Palestine.
However, if all fragments of the True Cross in the world were assembled they would apparently fill a good size ship.
Some other competing claims to ownership of a piece of the True Cross come from Santa Croce in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, Pisa Cathedral and Florence Cathedral, and all these are made from olive wood, not cyprus.

Santo Toribio church, inside this Roman Catholic monastery, is believed to house some of the wood of the True Cross, Lignum Crucis, built into a gilt silver crucifix reliquary. We believe that the cross is brought out during Mass and not visible at other times, except perhaps with a tour group. The church is closed between 1pm-4pm.