A few weeks ago Gareth came back to Logroño so we could work on our new goal to do all the best northern Spanish hikes, and do a few days of the GR-93. I heard about this route before coming to Spain and it was at the top of my list because it was supposed to offer amazing views with tons of fall foliage–basically all this New England girl could ever want. Spoiler alert, it delivered.
The portion we would be doing would start from Ezcaray, with a night in San Millan de Cogolla, and the bus back to Logroño from Anguiano.
We left Logroño Friday morning on the only early bus (6:45 am) and we arrived in Ezcaray at 7:30 am. It was dark. It was FREEZING. Apparently it’s much colder in Ezcaray than the surrounding areas, which on the plus side means come winter there’s skiing, and on the terrible side means we were dropped off on the outskirts of a freezing, empty, dark town. Guys it was so cold. We walked the most intuitive way, and ended up in the town center. No food places were open yet, but there was a tiny shop open that served coffee and tea. We went inside and pooled all the clothes we had to try to warm up (read, I stole every article of clothing Gareth wasn’t wearing, and one he was). We had tea, watched Spanish news tear into Trump, and then when the sun came out and a few other shops opened, left to find breakfast. Also in the light of day this was one of the prettiest little villages I’ve seen so far!
The great thing about this hike, and all Spanish hikes I’ve experienced thus far, is that they are all very well marked with paint. This route was red and white, and it became a game (though not a fun one because my competition was not nearly on my level), to see the markers first.
The first day was amazing. We basically hiked up a mountain, down a mountain, walked through the town, and back up the next mountain. Did anyone else, as a kid, ever see mountains or hills in the distance and really want to climb them just to see what was on the other side? That’s what this was like. And these villages… I honestly didn’t know people lived in villages so small. I’m still not sure they DO because we never actually saw any people in the smallest ones. To be honest, we didn’t see many people in the larger ones either. It was strange. We didn’t prepare well, and only had a little bit of food for the journey, so every time we did see a person we asked if there was anywhere to buy any food and the answer was always no. Even in San Millan de Cogolla, the much more populated village where we spent the night, the nearest supermarket was 5 kilometers from town. What!
Right at the end of the first day, my knee started hurting. I injured in a million years ago doing gymnastics, and we have worked out a deal where basically if I don’t use it, it won’t bother me. So I don’t do lunges or high impact activities, and it pretends it’s a fully functioning knee. But descending five different mountains in about six hours was pretty much its breaking point, and I hobbled the rest of the way into San Millan.
San Millan, it has to be said, is COMPLETELY gorgeous. The walk in is along a river and a really cool stone wall/orchard. The village is fairly big, and has a few different monasteries (one of which houses the first record of written Spanish), and we saw more than five people just out and about, which is a real crowd in smaller Spanish villages. You might say San Millan was hoppin’. (But you shouldn’t because it was still only about five people.)
In my research I couldn’t find anywhere in San Millan to stay, but I found a few options on airbnb in Berceo, which was only 1.5 kilometers away. The only downside is you have to walk down a fairly busy street, which was fine during the day, but after seeing the way people were whipping by at night, and how dark it was, we played it safe and had dinner at the one restaurant in Berceo instead of heading back to San Millan.
Berceo kind of freaked me out at first. There was no one around. Small Spanish villages often feel like ghost towns, or like you accidentally just wandered into Roanoke. Add to that the fact that there was nowhere to buy any sort of groceries or pharmacy related items, my knee was killing me, we were trapped and couldn’t safely get to San Millan, I started feeling like we were in a horror movie. We found the one dinner place, and were two of about four patrons there when we arrived at 8:00. They told us the kitchen was open yet, because this is Spain and 8:00 is still way too early for dinner, but they were super nice and gave us snacks while we waited.
So we played cards–side note, the most common deck of cards here only has 40 cards in a pack! There aren’t any face cards, and the whole thing is pretty confusing. We invented a bastardized version of golf, drank some more wine (which helped me switch from thinking we were in a horror movie to a tiny romantic village), and by the time the first of our three courses arrived, I was feeling much better.
Better mentally that is, physically my knee was at about a code red/black. Whichever is worse. We went to sleep knowing that we might not be able to continue the next day, and planned to walk to the bus stop in San Millan to assess how I felt and potentially go back to Logroño. There were only two buses from San Millan, one in the morning and one at night, and the smaller villages we were passing through didn’t even have people, let alone bus service. So we woke up early, walked to the bus stop assessed. I decided I was being insane and if I could barely walk for five minutes, a seven hour hike up and down a bunch of mountains was a terrible idea.