10 things to do in and around Potes, Picos de Europa, Spain

The Picos de Europa are a small mountain range in northern Spain. It’s an incredibly scenic area with jagged limestone peaks and luxuriant green meadows; a world away from the Spanish Costas. Even as I write this I’m not sure why the Picos languished for so many years on my ‘must visit one day’ list as it’s a fabulous place to visit if you like the outdoor life.

Have I tempted you? If so read on for my list of things to do in and around Potes:

1. Discover Potes

Potes is an excellent base from which to discover the Picos de Europa. It’s touristy, but in a positive way. It has great facilities for visitors with plenty of dining and accommodation options, supermarkets and a smattering of souvenir shops. This is probably one of the best places to stay if you’re reliant on public transport. However to get the most out of the area I’d recommend a hire car.

Potes
Potes

Potes is a tourist attraction in its own right with a medieval town centre, bisected by a river and gorgeous stone bridges. Do climb to the top of Torre del Infantado for a birds eye view of Potes and the surrounding countryside.

View from Torre del Infantado, Potes
View from Torre del Infantado, Potes

Whilst vegetarian diners can face a rather limited menu in the Picos (even the side salads come with added tuna) I had a fantastic meal at La Soldreria de Potes. Along with great pastries and people watching at Pasteleria Wences. Both highly recommended.

2. Enjoy the view from Mirador de Santa Catalina, near Piñeres

Choose a clear day and you’ll be treated to a spectacular  panorama of Hermida gorge from this viewpoint. It’s possible to drive the whole way up although we parked by the small chapel of Ermita de Santa Catalina (near Piñeres) and walked the final stretch. It’s a steep walk up though the woodland; keep an eye out for carvings of mythological creatures.

View from Mirador de Santa Catalina
View from Mirador de Santa Catalina

Aside from the view I had an ulterior motive for visiting. I love butterflies so when I heard that swallowtails frequent the viewpoint I had to visit. I spent most of our picnic not looking at the view but watching these spectacular butterflies instead.

3. Ride the Fuente Dé cable car

We rode the cable car as part of a longer circular walk from Fuente Dé. Even if you don’t plan on a walk from the top it’s a fantastic experience to ride the cable car to the top station. Although if you’ve a fear of heights bear in mind this is the longest single span cable car in Europe.

Fuente Dé cable car
Fuente Dé cable car

If you are walking you’ll want to arrive early during peak season (before opening time). If you just want an up and down ride you can be more flexible with your arrival time although you may get stuck behind large tour groups. Choose a cloud free day to ensure you get the views. Even if you’re not planning a long walk do follow the track away from the observation platform for 15 minutes or so to get a flavour of the mountain scenery.

4. Go nature spotting

The Picos de Europa are a fantastic destination for those interested in butterflies, flowers and birds. The butterflies in particular were stunning, with varieties of blue and two different types of swallowtail widely seen. We found the best spots were the Santa Catalina viewpoint, the walk down from the Fuente Dè cable car and around Cahecho.

Picos de Europa butterflies
Picos de Europa butterflies

Mammals are harder to spot but we saw a red squirrel and a badger near our accommodation in Valmeo (just outside Potes). Watch out for badgers if driving on the roads at night. We both had a lucky escape!

5. Walk from Brez (Canal de las Arredondas – PR27)

This was our first walk in the Picos. It’s an easy low level walk with stunning views of the mountains. Park along the road into the village and follow the route outlined on the information board. It’s straightforward to follow and well signposted.

PR-PNPE 27 route, from Brez
PR-PNPE 27 route, from Brez

We saw several families on this walk. At around three miles long, it’s suitable for most people although there are a few ups and downs along the way. The route is circular, initially through trees, and then through the Valley of Camaleño. At the highest point there are great views of the massif. Don’t miss this walk!

Brez walk
Brez walk

6. Enjoy a drink with a view in Cahecho

There are many scenic watering holes in the Picos de Europa but my favourite was from the outside tables at Casa Lamadrid in Cahecho.

Terrace drinks, Casa Lamadrid, Cahecho
Terrace drinks, Casa Lamadrid, Cahecho

We’d initially started out on a walk from Cahecho but it was already late in the day so I decided to curtail and return to the village. Sipping drinks on the terrace, whilst watching vultures circling on thermals nearby, proved a much more popular choice.

7.Walk the Cares gorge, Cain

The trail through the Cares gorge runs from Puente Poncebos to Cain. Whilst most people tend to walk 24km out and back from Puente Poncebos, we drove to Cain and walked part of the route in reverse. Be warned, the drive to Cain is a little hairy, especially the last section from Posada de Valdeon. The walk itself, on a man made track through the gorge, is straightforward but there is a sheer drop down to the river at some points.

Cares gorge
Cares gorge

Now, an admission. The Cares gorge walk was my only disappointment in the Picos. It was stunningly beautiful but also incredibly busy in August. Perhaps I’d been spoilt by the low key tourism elsewhere in the Picos but it was a shock to encounter so many people in the gorge. Do walk the trail but perhaps not in August.

7. Explore the village of Mogrevejo

There’s a reason why this part of Spain is so green, and you can probably guess it. Yes, it’s rather more prone to rain than most of the country. That said, we were lucky with the weather in August and only had one wet day.

Mogrovejo
Mogrovejo

It poured with rain during our visit to Mogrevejo but that didn’t detract from its beauty. This tiny village, has traditional stone houses, a medieval tower and 17th Century church. There’s also a 10km walk signposted from here, best walked on dry days. When it rains head to a bar instead!

8. View from Collada de Llesba, near San Gloria Pass

The San Gloria pass, with an elevation of 1609m, is accessed via multiple hairpin bends, on a route popular with motorcyclists. Hopefully that doesn’t put you off because it’s worth every minute of your journey.

Collada de Llesba
Collada de Llesba

We stopped on the pass en route to and from Cain. It’s a good place to break your journey and take a rest from concentrating on the roads, although be aware there are no facilities. To reach the viewpoint you can either park at the pass itself and walk 2km along the road to the viewpoint or drive up and hope there’s a parking space. The viewpoint is also known as Mirador del Oso, presumably because of its huge bear sculpture overlooking the hills.

9. Visit the national park centre, Tama, near Potes

This wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it’s useful to get an overview of the Picos de Europa. The centre is housed in a huge building with displays on geology, ecology and the culture of the area. Entrance is free; it’s one of the few indoor rainy day options in this area.

View from Picos de Europa visitor centre, Tama
View from Picos de Europa visitor centre, Tama

10. Iglesia de Santa Maria de Lebeña

This small church is just off the main road though the gorge. It costs a couple of euros to get in and, if you speak Spanish, this includes a tour. If not there’s a leaflet in English which explains the architectural and religious features. The church dates from the 10th Century and is of the Mozarabic style. It is closed Mondays but is generally open mornings and late afternoons.

Santa Maria de Lebeña
Santa Maria de Lebeña

If, like us, you arrive when it’s closed you’ll find a small outdoor kiosk next to the car park serving drinks and (when we visited) fresh tomatoes for sale.

I hope you find this list of things to do near Potes useful. Anything you’d add?

More info:

  • This National Park website has a list of viewpoints and access details in English.
  • We found the Sunflower Guide to the Picos de Europa invaluable. Most of the main walks were too long for us but we enjoyed the shorter routes, driving and picnic suggestions.

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Suitcases and Sandcastles

A wander in and around Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Although I’m happy living in a town there are days when I imagine upping sticks and moving to a village. Not just any village though. It would have to be one with a thriving community, plenty of amenities and postcard pretty houses. A village like Ewelme. But I’d probably need to win the lottery first.

In the meantime there’s no harm in window shopping. Checking out the houses, deciding whether the locals are friendly and monitoring the cake quality in the village cafe.

Aside from sheer nosiness we were in Ewelme to walk another route from our AA 50 Oxfordshire walks book. The four mile Ewelme Chaucer’s walk was the perfect distance for a late morning stroll, and just the thing to work up an appetite for lunch. I’d even learnt from our mistake the previous month and came equipped with an OS map, no getting lost this time!

The walk started and finished in Ewelme, with a circular route that attempts to take in many of the local long distance trails. This included parts of the 65 mile Swan’s Way, the 125 mile Chiltern Way and the 110 mile Icknield Way Trail. Makes my feet ache just thinking about them.

Chiltern Way, near Ewelme
Chiltern Way, near Ewelme

Truth be told it wasn’t the most exciting of walks. Out in the countryside everything had that late winter feel. The mud, bare trees and grey sky didn’t help. And it was cold, so very cold. There’s joy in a winter landscape but in March I want spring sunshine, lambs and blossom.

Instead the star of this walk was Ewelme itself.

Ewelme village store

Starting with the village store. Perhaps not an obvious visitor attraction, Ewelme’s community run village store is well worth visiting. Primarily for its small cafe. It’s nothing fancy, simple rolls, soup and cake, but netherless it was busy on a Sunday morning with family groups and cyclists. The shop itself was packed with a variety of fresh food, household basics, local products and quirky gifts. It’s not surprising it won a best store in the south east award last year.

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The watercress beds

Ewelme is famous for its watercress beds, which flow through the village for almost a mile. This was once a thriving business, producing watercress for over a hundred years before its closure in the 1980s. The beds became overgrown and the site derelict until villagers helped with their restoration and the Chiltern Society purchased the land.

Watercress beds, Ewelme
Watercress beds, Ewelme

Nowadays the beds are run partly as a historical site and partly as a nature reserve, with open days and talks on the first Sunday of each month. Although the watercress is no longer sold commercially (due to strict water regulations) the water looked crystal clear and the beds well maintained. Not that there was much watercress growing in March!

Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme

From the watercress beds it’s a five minute walk, past the duck pond (another tick on my village requirements list), up a steep slope to the church and almshouses.

Inside the church are the tombs of Thomas Chaucer and Alice de la Pole, family of the poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer. I love reading but have never tackled his works; I fear I would be well out of my literary depth.

Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme
Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme

Outside there are more literary connections. The graveyard is the final resting place of Jerome K. Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat. I resorted to Wikipedia to find out more about him. An English writer and humourist he sounds like the Tony Hawks of the Victorian era (hope I’m not doing either a misjustice). And the K in his name stands for Klapka. What did we do before Wikipedia?

Jerome K. Jerome’s grave, Ewelme
Jerome K. Jerome’s grave, Ewelme

Lastly, and most excitingly for me, the church was also used as a filming location for Les Miserables. Two hundred and fifty crew descended on the village for five days to film three sequences (in the mayor’s office, the tavern and home of the Bishop of Digne). I can only imagine the excitement that would have caused!

From the church we walked back to the car park, passing the primary school. Built in 1487 it’s the oldest functioning maintained school in the country.

Ewelme Primary School
Ewelme Primary School

The PTA runs Sunday afternoon teas in the school once a month between March and September. Between these, cake at the watercress bed open days and the village cafe I think my cake requirements would be met living in Ewelme!

15 things to do with the family in Ghent, Belgium

After the success of our short break to Lille a while back I was keen to explore other destinations  accessible via Eurostar. Ghent fitted the bill perfectly; a Belgian city just a couple of hours from London.

What did we do in Ghent?

We travelled as a family of  four; two adults and two teenagers. With this in mind you’ll appreciate our sightseeing and food choices were attuned to pleasing the whole family. Or attempting to at least!

View from Kraanlei across the Leie, Ghent
View from Kraanlei across the Leie, Ghent

So, how did we spend our time?

1. Climb the Belfry

I always make a beeline for the highest viewpoint in any new city. In Ghent it’s the 91 metre belfry, the highest one in Belguim.

View from Ghent belfry
View from Ghent belfry

A lift can take you part of the way up but we climbed the steps (to offset the waffles later). At the top there’s a 360 degree viewing platform with excellent views over the town centre, churches and cathedral. You’ll also discover how much building work is happening in the city.

View from the Belfry, Ghent
View from the Belfry, Ghent

Aside from the views check out the Roeland Bell (which was chimed to warn of approaching enemies) and listen to the carillon which plays every 15 minutes.

2. Wander the streets around Graslei and Korenlei

In the Middle Ages this area was a busy port and the centre of the Flanders grain trade. Nowadays it’s tourism central but for good reason; cobbled streets, historical buildings and, in the summer at least, pavement cafes. It’s a good place to take a boat tour or simply wander.

Korenlei
Korenlei

After dark it’s a completely different view with the illuminated buildings reflected in the water. Visit it as part of the Ghent light tour (see below).

3. Visit Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts)

This medieval fortress has seen many changes of use in its lifetime. From the seat of the Council of Flanders to a prison to cotton mills; at one point it was even going to be demolished and the land sold for development. Fortunately saved by locals it was restored extensively and is now one of Ghent’s main attractions.

Gravensteen - Castle of the Counts
Gravensteen – Castle of the Counts

Don’t expect lavish decorations inside the castle. For me the appeal was very much around the physical architecture, the towers, turrets and staircases. Although, thanks to those restorations, it was rather weird to walk up a heated staircase; the last thing you expect in a castle.

One room that is decorated, in a macabre way, houses the torture equipment. A reminder of the castle’s gruesome history. I found this fascinating but you might want to avoid it if you have younger children.

4. Ghent by light

We missed the Ghent Light Festival by a few days. Held every three years this would have been a spectacular sight but sadly it didn’t correspond with half term.

Ghent belfry at night
Ghent belfry at night

Even though we’d missed the festival Ghent illuminates many of its key buildings and monuments after dark, making an evening stroll obligatory. We followed the route on the Ghent light plan which took us to parts of the city we hadn’t seen in daylight. I highly recommend the walk but wrap up warm in winter.

5. Eat frites with mayo

A Belgian classic. We got ours from De Frietketel, a student hangout famous for its fries and burgers. Oh my word, the portion size! We ordered two small portions with mayo between the four of us and couldn’t even finish one portion.

It’s not haute cuisine but is tasty and cheap. Veggies and vegans can have their fill of junk food too; there are loads of options for non meat eaters. Indeed Ghent is known as the veggie capital of Europe.

6. Discover the city history at Stadsmuseum Gent (STAM)

I really enjoyed STAM, a museum covering the history of Ghent. I’d suggest visiting as early as possible during your visit to get an overview of the city. I’ve chosen my highlights below.

City map, STAM, Ghent
City map, STAM, Ghent

The first room houses a huge map of Ghent printed on the floor. Once you’ve donned protective shoe covers visitors can walk across it. It gives a sense of scale and geography of the city, particularly outside of the main tourist area.

The museum also includes a room dedicated to the Ghent Altarpiece (evidently one of Europe’s premier art works) which is in St Bavo’s Cathedral. I discovered it’s the most frequently stolen artwork of all time; one of the panels is still missing from the 1934 theft. It was really interesting to read about the police investigation and conspiracy theories, even if, ahem, we didn’t visit the actual painting whilst in Ghent.

Lego building, STAM, Ghent
Lego building, STAM, Ghent

The family dived into the huge pile of white Lego bricks left out for visitors to enjoy. Experts can attempt to recreate Ghent’s towers. Mere mortals can build small block houses.

7. Enjoy some warmth at the Botanic garden

If, like me, you prefer warm weather then head for the greenhouses at the University botanical gardens. It’s a little way out of the city centre but you can combine it with a walk through Citadelpark.

Botanic garden, Ghent
Botanic garden, Ghent

The outside garden didn’t contain a huge amount of interest in February but there was plenty to see inside the tropical and sub-tropical greenhouses – and they were warm!

8. Eat waffles

Another Belgian speciality. I realised halfway through my chocolate and cream covered concoction that I’d never eaten waffles in Belguim. It bore no resemblance to any waffle I’ve ever eaten before. It was sweet, light and slightly chewy, delicious!

Waffles cost a couple of euros from most street vendors, more if you cover them in melted Nutella. Ignore the calories, you’re on holiday.

9. Saviour the view from St Michael’s Bridge

The three towers, Ghent
The three towers, Ghent

This is the quintessential Ghent view, described as the Manhattan of the Middle Ages. Or, in non-tourist talk, it’s the opportunity to see three towers in a row; those of the Belfry, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church. I think it’s the one picture all tourists attempt to take even if it does mean getting mown down by a bus whilst you’re standing in the road.

10. Wander the streets around Patershol

This trendy neighbourhood is a small area of cobbled streets and restored houses. A place to wander aimlessly.

Cobbled streets of Ghent
Cobbled streets of Ghent

We visited during the afternoon when it was very quiet. Lovely to look at but almost deserted. I assume the restaurants liven things up in the evenings.

11. See the vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey

We stopped here on our walk back from the botanical garden as I wanted to see another city centre garden.

Vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey, Ghent
Vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey, Ghent

This garden is unique as it contains a vineyard. In the middle of a city. Although only planted in the 1980s there are references to earlier vineyards onsite from the 9th Century. The monks must have loved their wine. I wonder what it tasted like?

12. Graffiti street, off Hoogpoort

This is a pedestrianised alleyway full of graffiti which gives you a break from the medieval-ness of Ghent. It is as its name says; full of tags rather than street art. The teens liked it.

Graffiti street, Ghent
Graffiti street, Ghent

13. Ride a tram

Ghent tram
Ghent tram

The centre of Ghent is easily walkable so there’s no great need to use the trams. However my son was desperate to ride one so we took a tram to the railway station on our final day. It would have been cheaper to use a taxi but nowhere near as novel.

14. Little noses (cuberdons)

Cuberdons, Ghent noses
Cuberdons, Ghent noses

These cone shaped sweets (like noses) are a Ghent speciality. You can buy them for around 3-5 euros from street vendors. Fruit flavoured, with a hard shell and soft filling, they were an acquired taste but my son insisted he liked them.

15. Visit the cathedrals and churches

I’m not religious but do appreciate the history and architecture of churches, particularly ones as huge and ornate as those in Ghent. That said, with teens in tow visiting the cathedrals and churches was never going to be top of the sightseeing list.

St Peter’s church, Ghent
St Peter’s church, Ghent

Despite this we visited St Bavo’s Cathedral, where we spotted a whale skeleton but missed out the Ghent Altarpiece.

We also popped into St Peter’s church (next to the Abbey) and admired several others from outside.

Ghent – the verdict

We loved Ghent and I’d highly recommend it as a short break destination. We easily filled two full days with sightseeing. Another day, or even two, would have been ideal so we could see more museums and perhaps take a boat tour.

View from St Michael’s Bridge, Ghent
View from St Michael’s Bridge, Ghent

Ghent isn’t as overtly pretty as Bruges but I preferred it. There are far fewer tourists (in February at least) but lots of students which gives it a different feel.

More info:

  • We travelled by Eurostar to Brussels. From Brussels we took a train to Gent-Sint-Pieters Station. The train takes about 30 minutes; we’d already bought a Eurostar ticket which was valid to any Belgium station so there was no need to purchase a separate ticket.
  • We stayed in a studio apartment which you can see on the Stay at Ghent website. The second floor duplex studio was perfect for us but had a mezzanine and is reached via a steep staircase so not suitable for those with mobility difficulties or young children.
  • Belguim has two official languages; Flemish and French. Whilst I can get by in French Ghent is in the Flemish speaking area. It pains me to say but you’re better off speaking English.

An autumn walk from Turville in the Chilterns, Bucks

Despite living only 40 minutes drive from the Chilterns we don’t visit as often as we should. Stretching across four counties, from Bedfordshire to Oxfordshire, they’re less well known than the Cotswolds but a great option for walkers in hill deprived southern England.

The area is characterised by beech woodlands, chalk hills and brick and flint villages. Autumn, when the leaves change colour, is impossibly pretty. It also seems to be the only time of year I remember that I live close to the Chiltern Hills. There is an inherent switch in me; falling leaves equals walk in the Chilterns.

Add into this mix a fantastic cafe whose existence I’d only recently discovered. It was time to head to the Chilterns.

Turville village

We started in Turville, a small village with an impressive screen pedigree. Scenes from Midsomer Murders, Lewis and Jonathan Creek have all been shot here. And you may even recognise St Mary’s Church, renamed as St Barnabas Church, which featured in the Vicar of Dibley. Of course all of this was lost on my Netflix generation of children.

Turville village
Turville village

Leaving Turville we walked up through Churchfield Wood, emerging beside the security cameras of Turville Court.

It’s fair to say many of the home owners round here are rather well heeled. Whilst Google couldn’t name the owner of Turville Court we did discover it was sold for £18 million in 2015. It has 26 bathrooms, 13 bedrooms and interior decoration which is definitely not to my taste.

The Chilterns in autumn
The Chilterns in autumn

As we walked on we were treated to the sight of about 30 red kites circling above a nearby field. Kites are common in the Chilterns but I did wonder what was attracting the carrion eaters. Or maybe I read too many crime novels.

The next property, Turville Grange, is the country retreat of an influential American family and has previously been owned by both the Henry Ford family and the younger sister of Jacqueline Onassis. The footpath passes between the house and walled garden so you can sneak a view of the estate. Oh how the other half live!

The Barn at Turville Heath

Pub walks may be popular for beer lovers but I’m not much of a drinker. I prefer a cafe with coffee and cake any day. When I heard about The Barn Cafe in Turville Heath I knew it would be a perfect lunch stop.

The Barn cafe at Turville Heath
The Barn cafe at Turville Heath

One niggling concern was that I wasn’t sure exactly where it was. I was therefore relieved our walking route took us right to the front door. This is one of its great features. It’s a no car cafe; you can only reach it on foot, bicycle or horse.

Burgers at the Barn cafe, Turville Heath
Burgers at the Barn cafe, Turville Heath

As befits the name it’s a cafe in a barn; keep an eye out for the old Land Rover in the kitchen! The cafe serves its own Dexter cows in the form of beef burger and ghoulash, along with other home reared and local products. I was pleasantly surprised to find several veggie and vegan options.

We sat inside but there’s limited seating so do come prepared for an outdoor lunch. After our excellent burgers we just about had room for something sweet so shared a slice of lemon and blueberry cake. Rarely get that in a pub!

Walking down to Turville Wood
Walking down to Turville Wood

Onwards towards Ibstone

It was time to walk off our lunch. From Turville Heath we took the footpath leading down to Holloway Lane, and back uphill the other side. Did you know Holloway is another name for a sunken lane? It described this road perfectly.

At Hell Corner Farm, previously owned by the Labour MP Barbara Castle, we turned towards Ibstone and walked a track through the woods. The kids found a rope swing and argued over it for a couple of minutes.

Park Wood, near Ibstone
Park Wood, near Ibstone

These woods were the reason I wanted to walk in the Chilterns. We kicked through leaves, spotted fungi and watched the sunlight filter through the trees. It really was the most gorgeous day.

We emerged onto the road near Ibstone House, yet another mansion owned by the super rich. After a short road section we headed back into the woods, eventually arriving near Cobstone Mill.

View through the trees, Park Wood, near Ibstone
View through the trees, Park Wood, near Ibstone

Privately owned Cobstone Mill stands proudly on a hill above Turville. The 200 year old windmill has starred in numerous TV programmes and films including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Somebody from the TV location agencies must really love this area. Or live here.

Cobstone Mill, Turville Hill
Cobstone Mill, Turville Hill

From the windmill it’s a very steep walk back down the hill into Turville. So steep that it was hard not to run down it. Although I’d probably end up falling over if I attempted to do so.

Back in Turville we mooched around the church and admired the houses. It’s a gorgeous area and we really must make the effort to visit more than once a year. Particularly now I know a great cafe for lunch!

More info:

  • The Barn at Turville Heath offers full service during weekends and a limited menu with self service during the week.