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Since every other week our schools have arranged for us to have a four day weekend, Andrew and I took an incredible 2 night, 3 day trip to Los Picos de Europa. We rented a car on Friday morning and were on the road before 9:30 am.  Andrew adapted quickly to driving a stick shift and I served as our somewhat fearless navigator.  After a short two hours driving time (What freedom we felt with our “own” wheels! No stinky bus neighbors, no sick man behind you, no sharp curves into the mountains while riding on the back row of the bus, hooray!) we arrived in the National Park.  We still can’t believe how lucky we were:  the skies were clear for two entire days, the weather was perfect, temperatures stayed in the 60-70’s, we had our own bathroom at the hotel (!) and were served coffee and hot milk along with our buffet breakfast.

Our first order of business, once arriving to our final destination within in the park, was making PB & J sandwiches with the peanut butter Mrs. Dauna sent us in a package that arrived just in the nick of time.  With a sack lunch in tow, we ascended to the top of one of the peaks from the teleférico, cable car, that leaves from the tiny village of Fuente Dé.  We hiked down the mountain on a 14.5 km trail that wound around through a refugio, past billy goats and dairy cows, into a forest that is similar to what you’d find an East Tennessee- type landscape. That’s one of the wonders of the Picos: one second it feels like the Rockies, the next it feels like the Smokies. The hike overall deserves an A- rating, which means we thought it was a great trail.  It was difficult enough to keep us entertained, and the most frightened we felt wasn’t caused by the steepness of trail, but rather by the threatening warning of a billy goat to get out of his territory.

Our hotel, La Cabaña, was located in the touristy, but inviting, town of Potes.  We can definitely recommend this jewel as a home base for your adventures in the Picos.  It boasts scenic views of the Macizo Oriental and is located minutes from amazing hiking.  On day 2, we took another 10km hike that started in the sleepy mountain town of Espinama.  After we had finished our hike and explored the charming streets of Espinama, we treated ourselves to a menú del día of cocido lebaniego.  Since the people that live in the mountains year round are exposed to harsh conditions during the winter and early spring months, the typical food of this region of Spain is a hearty stew that is made with garbanzo beans, roasted lamb, spicy chorizo sausage and lots of pork fat.  While it was quite rich and delicious, it was also a shock to our normally vegetarian systems to digest.  That said we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and left fat and happy.  To work off our intake of extra calories, we headed up to the fourth holiest pilgrimage site in the Catholic church (according to something Andrew read):  the monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana. Supposedly the largest piece of the original cross is housed there, but we were more impressed by the views back on Potes and of the surrounding countryside.

Our last morning in Potes offered a few clouds, but we loaded up the yellow Fiat Panda and headed toward the other side of the mountain range, which is located in the Principality of Asturias.  We expected more accessible hiking and fairly easy driving, but were quickly intimidated (or at least I was) by the vastness of the cliffs before us.   Somehow we ended up driving up a steep incline to a Mirador (lookout) to check out the most iconic peak in the park, Naranjo de Bulnes.  The cloudiness impeded our view and the incline up was too much for me.  Andrew did a stellar job driving even though I wasn’t too much help in the passenger seat, sweating bullets.  We decided to skip the hike we had tentatively planned from Poncebos to Bulnes since it was starting to spit rain (not because we were a little scared off the difficulty and danger).  We continued our day in the car by heading to los Lagos de Covadonga.  After another insane drive 12km straight up the side of a mountain face, we reached the aquamarine lakes that are nestled dramatically in between mountain peaks.  We were too tired and sore to do any real hiking, but we did check out two different lagos and in the meantime were almost blown away by the fiercest wind I have ever experienced.  This is definitely a popular local tourist site, since the park here was crammed full of grandmas and parents pushing strollers.  We headed back down the windy road, ate a sandwich in front of the cathedral in Covadonga and bid farewell to my favorite part of Spain thus far.  A quick historical note: Covadonga is also quite important in Spanish history, as the Reconquista began here after the Spanish were able to stop the Moorish invaders.  You could see why it would be tough for the Moors to continue on their rampage once you saw the geography of the area.  On the trip home, we stopped in Llanes, a sweet coastal town in Asturias, and took a quick stroll along the port.

I was actually sad to see the park fade away behind us.  It is a unique place in Spain that is relatively unknown by tourists outside of Spain. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves the outdoors and hiking and I’m crossing my fingers we’ll have a reason to go back!

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