Cycle touring in the Picos de Europa – Potes to Posada de Valdeón

This summer I spent a week bike touring around the Picos de Europa in northern Spain. I wrote here about my plans for the trip and the kit I used. It’s a wonderful, beautiful part of the world, perfect for cycling, and I would definitely recommend a holiday there!!

We flew into Bilbao late on Friday night after work and the next day set off to the national park – the Picos are about a 2 hour drive from Bilbao, mainly on motorway until we turned off and the road got gradually narrower as we headed into the Picos. You can get buses along the coast and then head off on your bike from there, but then transporting the bike becomes more difficult as you have to either not use your usual bike bag and use something discardable, or find a place to store your bike bag. We were short on time and could afford to rent a car so went for the easy option.

Once we turned off the coast road (which was a stunning drive), the first town we drove through was Panes. We had considered stopping here and cycling on to our first hotel but as we were later in the day than planned we decided to keep going, and so arrived at our first town, Potes, by car. The drive from Panes to Potes was gorgeous, the road narrowing through a steep gorge, rocky cliffs either side as we wound either side of a small river.

Potes is a cute but touristy town (although almost all Spanish tourists, I heard barely a word of English). It’s centered on an old bridge over the river below with lots of restaurants overlooking it. Handy for bike touring, as most of the town is pedestrian-only and there are therefore a few large, free car parks.

We parked the car, put our bikes together and wheeled them to our hotel, a little guesthouse called Hostería La Antigua just off the main street. They had a locked shed for us to put our bikes in which was great as our room was tiny. We had a lovely tapas dinner and lots of cider before early to bed.

Day 1 of cycling began with a big mistake. Somehow I had thought we only had 20-30km to cycle. So we decided to do something else while we still had the car and we went exploring, ending up doing a via ferrata (which I wrote about here).

We were both really keen for this but it did mean putting back the start of our cycle… At which point I looked up the route and realised we actually had 70km to cycle. And it was mainly uphill. It doesn’t get dark until 10pm, we told ourselves. We’ll be fine. And if it’s looking like we won’t make it we can always turn around, come back and get the car.

So we rolled out of Potes about 6pm, wobbling slightly as we got used to cycling heavily laden bike for the first time. Very quickly the road started to climb, gradually, not steep, but definitely uphill. It was hot and there was little shade from the sun. Then it got steeper and the switchbacks started, extra hard with all the luggage we were carrying. Our speed dropped drastically.

We climbed up for 27km, the pain in our legs offset by the gorgeous countryside around us, rolling green hills and the jagged peaks of the Picos. Near the top was a viewpoint where we stopped for a short rest before continuing.

The top was pretty barren and reminded me of the Scottish Highlands as we started descending down an empty road, through a gorge with sheer cliffs towering up either side of us.

We came to a small town where we turned right to reach Posada de Valdeón. Now we were on an absolutely deserted road, not a single other person or car, no sign of human habitation anywhere. The road began to climb again for another slow and steep 10km.

Dusk was falling by this point and it was cold, a biting wind howling across the top of the mountain and a light drizzle soaking everything. I stopped at the top to pull on my waterproof jacket before we began the descent.

This was gorgeous – another 10km on smooth, wide, empty roads so we were able to zoom down the switchbacks using the full road. We rolled into Posada de Valdeón shortly after 10pm, just as it was pitch black, so perfect timing!

We were staying in Hostal Casa Abascal which was great – our bikes were locked up in their storehouse, there was a small restaurant downstairs serving cheap and simple food, we had a clean and comfortable room with a hot shower. All we needed before bed given we were absolutely exhausted!!

Click here to see the ride on Strava.

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