I arrived in Spain the day before orientation, but two weeks before work actually began. I knew I wanted to fit in a trip or two, but wasn’t exactly sure where to go. South of France? Stay in Spain? I also didn’t want to miss much of San Mateo, or any job interviews, and it seemed like everyone was going out every night in a desperate bid to avoid being friendless and alone.
I mapped out a trip to Asturias that would have lasted about three days, but we cut it down to two days, one night to avoid leaving Brady for too long/being away from all the action in Logroño. This worked fine, but was a LOT of driving. I basically lied to Gareth about the length of every leg of the trip, mostly because my brain refused to accept the fact that driving many miles/kilometers amounts to many hours in the car. Sorry Gareth. You can look below and see the actual estimates. Oops.
We rented a car in Logroño and drove to the Ikea in Bilbao first. I needed some things to set up my room–a mattress pad (fun fact, my bed is actually two twin mattresses of DIFFERENT HEIGHTS pushed together, which is even less comfortable than it sounds), a desk, a mirror, and some plants, obvs. My room is now amazing.
From Bilbao we headed to Asturias, first to the Mirador del Fitu. This was up some windy mountain roads, and I was 99% convinced I was getting us nowhere but lost until we finally arrived at a parking lot. The view from below the stairs was impressive enough, and once we climbed up, we were looking at one of the best views I’ve ever seen. We hung around soaking it in for a while before heading down to start the journey to the Covadonga lakes.
Note that if you’re following the same route, it’s fastest to continue driving the same direction you were going to get to the Mirador. We discovered this only after we had retraced our path down the mountain and got GPS signal back. We had to turn around and head back up which added like 20 minutes to the total driving time and did nothing to help my car sickness.
Also note that the drive up to the Covadonga Lakes is sketchy as hell. You are on the outside of a mountain road the whole way, and the drop offs are ridiculous. It was terrifying, especially with a Brit driving whose natural instincts were to do everything backwards. But, if you can get up there without dying, it’s so worth it. There’s free parking, the views were gorgeous, and you’re right in the mountains. There’s a lot to explore and a hike around the lake if you have time–we didn’t do the hike but still found enough to do to fill about an hour. It was pretty great and I highly recommend if you’re into lakes/mountains. Maybe find someone non-British to drive, though.
From the lakes we drove to Las Arenas, where we spent the night. The Ruta del Cares starts from Poncebos, but I had a hard time finding accommodation, so we stayed the next town over. We woke up at like 7am (before the entirety of Las Arenas/the sun), and drove the 15 minutes to the start of the hike. Again there was another free parking lot at the start of the trail. We had coffee/tea at a restaurant/hotel that was right there, and then we were on our way!
The hike was amazing. It was like being in another world, just up on the edge of a mountain. We started really early so we only passed a few other people on the way.
It is high. There’s really no getting around that, much as I hated it. But if you stay on the inside of the trail, you can’t really see the drop off, and it feels pretty okay. The biggest problem was on the way back, when we were on the outside and virtually none of the couples we passed would separate long enough to let us pass by without being forced to the very edge of the cliff. Tip: if you are on a narrow path with a million foot drop off, detach from your SO long enough to let the people on the outside comfortably pass. It’s basic human decency.
The trail is meant to be 3 hours each way, but we did it in 2.5 there and 2.75 back without trying too hard. The very beginning is the only real elevation, so it’s a pretty steep 20 minute climb. This was harder on the way down because it’s really easy to skid and the consequences of falling are pretty much life ending. So slower was good at that part, but after that bit the walk was flat and super easy.
You go from Asturias to Castilla y Leon, and you end at a tiny, tiny pueblo called Caín. It’s a few houses, I think four restaurants that cater to hikers, and a gift shop that looks pretty stuck in time. We got there before lunch, and had to wait for about an hour for any food to be ready. But then we got to have our second menu del dia of the trip, and man am I obsessed. You basically get bread, two large/medium sized plates, water/coffee/tea, dessert, and a BOTTLE OF WINE for like 10 euros. They have this in Logroño but it’s like twice as expensive and not as cost effective as pincho hopping.
After a big meal and a half a bottle of wine each, we headed back. This time it was much busier because the after lunch crowd all left around the same time, but even though it took longer it felt much faster. Maybe because of all the wine?
Notes for other people with a very rational fear of heights… there are only two points that really freaked me out–the two bridges. One is where the path has kind of given way. It’s really short and you can be over it in about 5 seconds, but there’s a point where the bottom is a grate you can look through the get a clear idea of how very heigh you are. I would suggest not looking. The second bridge was way worse because you cross from one side to the other and that is long and really high and I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Otherwise, if you stick to the inside you can virtually never see the drop and can pretend it doesn’t exist.
We finished the hike, and started the long drive back to Logroño. Did you know that road tolls in Spain are like 20 euros every time? Because we did not and that is something worth including in the old budget. Also gas is ridiculously expensive in Europe, but I think that’s more commonly known. We pulled over into some weird industrial space and I had my first lesson (of this decade) on how to drive stick. It was pretty easy but there weren’t any other cars around and I think that made a prettttty big difference. I can tell you this much, I didn’t like it. I don’t why you’d choose to make driving more complicated, but that’s just me (being logical).
We arrived home and collapsed in a heap of exhaustion. It was a lot of driving. Again, sorry G. But also totally worth it. (So, also you’re welcome.)