Planning the Picos

This year I have written off, or had cancelled, many trips. Most notable of these was the trip to the Isle of Man with two very close friends from the US. I should also mention the Mediterranean cruise booked for my 30th wedding anniversary. Should that have taken priority of a mention over the TT?

Could and would we travel?

A few months ago it would be unthinkable to consider planning a trip in the shadows of the cancellations. Despite this I kept a plan on the back burner. We had earmarked October as a potential window of opportunity for a trip to the Picos. The route would takes us across the picos in Northern Spain and the drop down into Portugal before looping back. We didn’t know how the Covid situation would play out but it looked like we could plan and book things at the last minute.

As it happened things moved on rapidly. While it would be naive to think that the pandemic has gone away, we felt confident to proceed. With sensible precautions in place of course.

It was the rapidly changing situation and the opening of borders with removal of quarantine periods that forced our hand. Realising that availability was quickly being booked on the ferries I made this my first priority. This triggered the rest of the skeletal planning to be brought to fruition.

Picos and Asturias
The Asturias

Picos, Asturias, Galicia and Portugal

The ferry crossings times from Portsmouth were not ideal. We would be going outbound to Santander on an early evening cruise. This meant that the following day would be a tedious sea voyage. At least with an early sailing you can hit the bars and have a good nights sleep. The following day you can get breakfast and disembark in good time in the morning. The return to Portsmouth was via Bilbao and the sailing was pretty much the same story.

Knowing that we would be arriving late into Santander we knew we would be losing the light. All the advice had been get to Potes from the ferry. While there is no problem riding in the dark it would not be ideal on twisty mountainous roads. Besides, you’d miss the views in the dark.

Santillana del Mar

Looking at all the available options I opted for Santillana del Mar. This was around thirty minutes ride from the ferry. It was also around the amount of light we would have left. It looked a nice busy place, not that we were looking for crowds. The hope was that it would give us ‘options’.

As is my usual approach I draw up the route in sections. I know roughly the milage window given the road conditions. What did we do before Street View? It wouldn’t be until my first pass of the route that I would go back and look at accommodation. Only then would I find out what the state of play was with hotels. Under Covid-19 safe precautions this was a big unknown.

Potes Triangle

I now had a clean run at the roads around the Potes Triangle. I’d scoured all my usual sources in print and online and had a feel of the area. The triangle is one of the most famous rides in the Picos de Europa. The triangular route is Potes to Riaño to Cangas de Onís and back to Potes. Mountain passes, gorges, lakes and amazing views.


We wouldn’t be doing the complete loop as we would be heading off to the coast. We would head down the N-621 through Potes then head up the N-625. Breaking off onto the PO-2 we would pick up the AS-621 before the AS-339. We’d then continue in a NW direction through the Asturias to our second stop of Gijón on the coast.

The next leg was revised numerous times. The final revision came after I had done my first complete route. I offered it up to the groups on the Internet with one overwhelming response. Don’t miss Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. It is the alleged burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James. His remains reputedly lie within the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, consecrated in 1211, whose elaborately carved stone facades open onto grand plazas within the medieval walls of the old town.

Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela

Leaving Santiago de Compostela we head south towards Portugal. The route takes to toward the Peneda-Gerês National Park. We cross the border from Spain to Portugal and on to Porto.

The road from Porto

I’m told that the N-222 road from Peso de Regua to Pinhao is arguably the best road in the world. The highway has been named the best for its location, cutting through the heart of the stunning Douro Valley. It provides spectacular views it of the wine region below.

I hope it lives up to that reputation as we seen almost the whole day on the road. We traverse the full width of Portugal, from the coast to the border with Spain. Heading into Parque Natural do Douro Internacional we stay over in small village on the Douro River.

Parque Natural do Douro Internacional

The following day takes us through the Parque Natural do Douro Internacional, snaking up the border of Portugal and Spain. We end the day at Ponferrada which I selected for no other reason other than the milage was right.


Ponferrada is a city in northwestern Spain. It’s a major stop on the French Way Catholic pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Los Templarios Castle has a moat and drawbridge, and houses the Knights Templars’ Library. That should provide some good bedtime reading. Not that we shall need it as there seems to be plenty of restaurants and bars to explore. Whether we get chance to fully enjoy them will depend on what Covid-19 safety measures they have in place. We will be well into the trip by then so hopefully will have a good idea of what to expect.


As we approach the end of the trip we head back towards the Picos. We just touch the outbound route briefly at Riaño on the Potes triangle before heading for our overnight accommodation. We pass through the Natural Park of Fuentes Carrionas and Fuente Cobre-Montaña Palentina to Camasobres.

Camasobres, in the mountainous Natural Park, is a remote village surrounded by scrublands. I found a tranquil guesthouse in a quaint 17th-century building, where we can relax and reflect on the trip.

Bilbao – homeward bound

The next day is a leisurely 137 miles to Bilbao. We travel through Valles Altos del Nansa y Saja y Alto Campoo. Then keeping just far enough inland to keep things picturesque and interesting we reach the return ferry at Bilbao.

If you are interested in taking a look at the Picos, Asturias, Galicia and Portugal route its available on MyRoute-app.

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