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.

Linking up with:

Suitcases and Sandcastles

Our holiday explorations in and around Ardnamurchan, Lochaber

I almost don’t want to publish this blog post. After spending four amazing days in the Ardnamurchan area I am hesitant to recommend it for fear of it becoming too busy. But, as my favourite part of our Scotland holiday how can I not write about it?

Ardnamurchan Peninsula is a 50 mile square area of land, famous for its remoteness. We stayed in a neighbouring district, Sunart, and explored both the peninsula and surrounding areas. So what did we do?

Strontian, Sunart

This was the base for our stay. It’s about 12 miles from the Corran ferry, which itself is 6 miles from Fort William. The ferry, which runs every 20 minutes or so, only takes a few minutes to cross Loch Linnhe. But on the other side you feel like you’re a world away from the busy A82.

Corran ferry
Corran ferry

We found the village of Strontian an ideal holiday base. Located at the northern end of Loch Sunart, there’s a couple of shops, cafe, hotel and campsite. There’s even a police station but I cannot imagine they’re very busy!

View from Strontian
View from Strontian

We stayed in a wooden cabin at Sunart Camping. Although small it was cleverly designed and included a small kitchenette and toilet. It’s not luxurious but a definite step up from camping and the kids loved staying in a fairytale cabin.

Our wooden cabin at Sunart Camping
Our wooden cabin at Sunart Camping

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide, Ardery

A few miles from Strontian, and overlooking Loch Sunart, this hide is evidently one of the best places in the country to see otters. That said, we visited on four occasions and still didn’t see an otter. Gorgeous sunsets though.

View from Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide
View from Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Aside from otters, you are near enough guaranteed to see seals and herons, both of whom live on the rocks opposite the hide. The seals can do a pretty good impersonation of an otter so they livened things up for us a couple of times. There’s a telescope but bring binoculars if you have them.

Drive to Ardnamurchan Point

Single track road on Ardnamurchan
Single track road on Ardnamurchan

A notice on the Strontian tourist office window states a driving time of 1 hour 30 minutes to cover the 35 miles from Strontian to Ardnamurchan Point. Hard to believe until you leave Strontian and discover it’s a single track road with passing places all the way to Ardnamurchan Point.

View of Ben Hiant and Camus Nan Geall
View of Ben Hiant and Camus Nan Geall

That said, it’s a fabulous drive. The road winds its way along the shore of Loch Sunart, curves around Ben Hiant and crosses an ancient volcanic landscape. It’s as spectacular as it sounds!

Ardnamurchan Point
Ardnamurchan Point

We stopped en route for morning coffee at the Ardnamurchan Natural History and Visitor Centre. Primarily a shop and cafe there’s also a small exhibition on the local wildlife. Golden eagle sightings appear to be common here. But I think they were off playing with the otters during our visit.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Accessed via the most westerly set of traffic lights in mainland Britain Ardnamurchan Lighthouse is one of a handful of tourist attractions in Ardnamurchan (aside from the amazing scenery of course) so near enough everyone ends up here. There must have been at least ten cars in the car park.

Most westerly traffic lights on mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Most westerly traffic lights on mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan lighthouse

The lighthouse was automated in 1988 and is operated remotely but visitors can climb both the tower and visit the slightly dated exhibition centre (check opening times first). We had a short wait before our lighthouse tour so temporarily retreated to the cafe to hide from the rain showers.

We worked off our cafe excesses with a climb up the 140 spiral stairs to the top of the lighthouse. Followed by another ten steps up a ladder. At the top we were treated to views out to the Small Isles, including Eigg which we visited a couple of years ago.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Ardnamurchan lighthouse

Ardnamurchan is one of the best places in the UK to see basking sharks and minke whales. The lighthouse guide pointed out a whale watching boat and we followed its course  in the hope of spotting whales, dolphins or porpoise. Anything really. Once again we were unlucky with our wildlife sightings. To add insult to injury our guide told us he’d recently watched an orca take a seal from the nearby colony, flip it in the air and eat it. Oh well, at least we saw the seals.

Walk from Portuairk to Sanna beaches

The weather had brightened by the time we left the lighthouse, which was fortunate as I had a walk planned.

Portuairk, Ardnamurchan
Portuairk, Ardnamurchan

Starting from the nearby crofting village of Portuairk we walked along the coast to the sandy beaches of Sanna.

Sanna beaches, Ardnamurchan
Sanna beaches, Ardnamurchan

You know those photographs which look like the Caribbean but were actually taken in Scotland? Well, this is where you’ll find some of those amazing beaches. And there’s hardly another person to be seen.

Beach at Sanna, Ardnamurchan Peninsula
Beach at Sanna, Ardnamurchan Peninsula

We walked as far as the car park at Sanna before returning to Portuairk via the same route. The beaches at Sanna are spectacular but be aware there are no facilities. No toilet, no cafe, no shop. Bring a picnic or stop off at the Ardnamurchan lighthouse cafe first.

Ariundle National Nature Reserve, near Strontian

The native oakwoods near Strontian offer a variety of easy walks. We followed the marked 3 mile Ariundle Trail which took us through the moss and lichen covered trees before we crossed the river and returned to Strontian.

Ariundle Trail, near Strontian
Ariundle Trail, near Strontian

In hindsight we should have walked the route anti-clockwise for the best views up the glen. But it was easy to turn round every few minutes to check out the mountain views behind.

Singing sands walk, near Kentra

This was an out and back walk of three distinct parts.

The first part of the walk follows a good track around the edge of a tidal mudflat.

Kentra Bay walk
Kentra Bay walk

The second stage took us though a rather eerie forestry plantation. We followed a large stony path through the middle, rather baffled at the seven foot wooden fence protecting one side. I later found out this was the location of a Channel 4 reality programme (Eden) where contestants spent a year living in the wilderness. Given the clouds of midges we encountered whenever we stopped to shelter from the rain I didn’t envy them in this location.

We finally reached the beach and the rain stopped sufficiently for a rainbow to form. There are, supposedly, otters on the beach but you can already guess we didn’t see any!

View from Singing Sands at Gortenfern
View from Singing Sands at Gortenfern

Castle Tioram, near Acharacle

Castle Tioram is a ruined castle on a tidal island. The castle itself is off limit to visitors as it’s awaiting restoration but we walked across the causeway for a closer look. We didn’t hang around as the weather was against us.

Castle Tioram
Castle Tioram

Fortunately we found a great tea room at nearby Acharacle. Perfect for drying off, eating cake and using Wi-Fi.

Despite the lack of wildlife (excluding midges) we loved our few days on Ardnamurchan. One of the highlights so far on my UK bucket list. And just for the record, we finally saw a golden eagle on our last afternoon!

More info

10 things our family enjoyed on the Isle of Anglesey

We recently completed another item on my UK bucket list and spent a week on Anglesey in North Wales.

Anglesey is the largest island in Wales and has plenty of tourist attractions for all ages. Read on to find out what we enjoyed most about the island.

1. Walking the Anglesey coastal path

This 200km path circles the coast and offers lots of walking opportunities. It’s a relatively gentle coastal path; whilst there are cliffs in the north we mainly walked beside heath, sand dunes and salt marshes.

Anglesey coastal path near Cemlyn
Anglesey coastal path near Cemlyn

Our favourite walks were along Aberffraw creek to the beach, a circuit around the northern end of Holy Island and an evening stroll to Llanddwyn along Newborough beach. Find out more about the stages and highlights on the Visit Anglesey website.

2. A behind the scenes tour at Halen Môn (Anglesey sea salt)

We spent an entertaining hour or so at Anglesey Sea Salt. We discovered how salt is harvested from the Menai Straits, processed and packaged in the onsite production facility.

Halen Môn salt tasting
Halen Môn salt tasting

Afterwards there’s an opportunity to sample table, rock and sea salts. You’re even given a handy little tin to take away your favourite; the smoked sea salt was to die for!

The tour is aimed at older children. If you’re travelling with youngsters Anglesea Sea Zoo (which we didn’t visit) is next door and might be a better option.

3. Spotting puffins on Puffin Island

Puffin island from Penmon Point, Anglesey
Puffin island from Penmon Point, Anglesey

Our boat trip with Seacoast Safaris took us out past Penmon Point lighthouse and around Puffin Island. The trip lasts around 90 minutes but is flexible to accommodate wildlife sightings. Our skipper tried to ensure both sides of the boat had equal viewing opportunities and was a mine of information about the area and its wildlife. Visitors usually see puffins between April to July but there are always plenty of other seabirds and seals to spot. We were even lucky enough to see porpoise – after we’d got off the boat in Beaumaris!

4. Watching the jets at RAF Valley

Hawk jet at RAF Valley, Anglesey
Hawk jet at RAF Valley, Anglesey

My son’s choice of activity; not an official tourist destination but very popular. The RAF station is used to train crew to fly fast jets and is also the base for RAF Mountain Rescue. There’s a public car park from where you can watch the pilots, usually flying Hawks, practise their take-off and landing skills. We watched for about 30 minutes or so; during this time we saw one take-off, a landing and a fly past. The take-off was the most exciting and is unbelievably noisy!

5. Visiting LlanfairPG

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Anglesey
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Anglesey

There’s not much see once you’re here but how could we resist stopping off to take a photo of the longest place name in Europe?

6. Following the boardwalk through The Dingles, Llangefni

Easily accessed from Llangefni (once you find the right car park) this is a wooded valley with a boardwalk running through much of it. Visit in spring and you’ll be rewarded with swathes of bluebells.

Dingle nature reserve boardwalk, Llangefni, Anglesey
Dingle nature reserve boardwalk, Llangefni, Anglesey

My partner was lucky enough to see a red squirrel so keep your eyes peeled.

7. Watching the sunset at Newborough Beach

Brent geese flying from Newborough beach
Brent geese flying from Newborough beach

If you’ve seen my previous post about Newborough Beach and Llanddwyn Island you’ll know why I’m including it here. This is, in my opinion, the best beach on Anglesey. Just go!

8. Exploring the copper mine on Parys mountain, Amlwch

Once the largest copper mine in the world this is a fascinating place to visit.

Copper mine at Parys mountain, near Amlwch, Anglesey
Copper mine at Parys mountain, near Amlwch, Anglesey

We followed the shorter waymarked walk around the huge open cast mine. The rock colours are amazingly vibrant and the whole area feels completely alien to its surroundings. There’s no entrance charge or visitor facilities aside from some information boards. Be aware it’s in an exposed location so prepare to get windswept!

9. Watching birds at RSPB South Stack and visiting the lighthouse on Holy Island

Two attractions in one. Watch seabirds on the cliffs and then, if you’re feeling fit, walk the 400 steps down to the lighthouse. Remembering that you’ll need to climb up 400 on the way back. Alternatively just sit in the RSPB cafe and enjoy the views.

South Stack lighthouse, nr Holyhead
South Stack lighthouse, nr Holyhead

The lighthouse was closed during our visit so check opening times before you go. You wouldn’t want those steps to be in vain.

10. Eating a massive scone at the Wavecrest Cafe, Church Bay

If you fancy a cream tea on Anglesey you really must treat yourself to a super size scone at Wavecrest Cafe. Just look at it!

Wavescrest cafe, Church Bay
Wavescrest cafe, Church Bay

Afterwards head to the beach at Church Bay to run around and attempt to burn off the calories.

Have you been to Anglesey? If so, what were you favourite things to do?

10 things to do in and around Hawes, North Yorkshire

I loved visiting the Yorkshire Dales last year. We stayed in the small market town of Hawes, which is a great base for a Yorkshire Dales holiday. There are several attractions in the town itself and there’s plenty to see in the local area. Read on for our suggestions:

1. Wensleydale Creamery

By far the best known attraction in Hawes is the Wensleydale Creamery, home of Wensleydale cheese. The centre offers cheese making demonstrations, a small museum and viewing gallery, cafe and shops. The creamery has a lot to thank Wallace and Gromit for; the animated duo helped increase production at a time when sales were slowing. Nowadays the creamery sells a cheese named after them, I bet it’s a popular choice for visitors.

Wensleydale creamery
Wensleydale creamery

The best part, for most visitors, is the cheese shop. It’s full of samples, even for those people who (dare I say this) don’t like Wensleydale cheese.

You can visit the cheese shop for free; a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) to the museum and cheese making area costs £7.50.

2. Hardraw Force waterfall

Hardraw Force is England’s highest above ground single drop waterfall, with a plunge of 100 foot. It’s a short easy walk to the waterfall through the grounds of the Green Dragon Inn. We visited during a dry spell; I’d imagine it’s even more impressive after heavy rain.

"<yoastmark

The waterfall is open daily from 10am. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £7.50.

3. Hawes Ropemakers (Outhwaites)

Outhwaites Ltd, Ropemakers, Hawes
Outhwaites Ltd, Ropemakers, Hawes

Located in the town this traditional ropemaker is worth popping into for 20 minutes or so. It’s mesmerising standing in front of the machines watching rope being made. There are machines making braids of all thicknesses and lengths from church bell ropes to skipping ropes. And if you’ve got a dog, their leads are available to buy and very popular.

Entrance is free.

4. Sheepdog demonstration

Countryfile have resurrected “One man and his dog” over the last couple of years which may account for the popularity of this evening out.

Sheepdog demonstration, near Hawes
Sheepdog demonstration, near Hawes

Run by a local farmer, Richard Fawcett holds weekly demonstrations in a field just outside Hawes throughout the summer season.

Visitors are introduced to the dogs and watch them working the sheep. They make it look easy even if the sheep don’t always behave according to plan!

Check Richard’s website for details of upcoming dates and times. Tickets cost £5 for adults, £1 for children.

5. Dales Countryside Museum

The Dales Countryside Museum is a small local museum that focusses on the Yorkshire Dales and its people. Housed in the old railway station you’ll find exhibits ranging from Bronze Age spearheads to a Victorian smithy. Outside there are railway carriages with activities for younger children.

Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes
Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes

The Dales Countryside Museum is open daily except over the Christmas period and throughout January. Admission is £4.50 for adults, children are free.

6. Red squirrel spotting at Snaizeholme

First, an admission. We didn’t see any red squirrels because we didn’t actually make it to the squirrel viewpoint. Why? We made the mistake of randomly driving to the area shown on the Red Squirrel Trail map without arranging parking first. Don’t make the same mistake as us. Call in to the tourist information at Hawes to arrange parking before you go! Alternatively you can book the on-demand bus service from the Dales Countryside Museum.

Once you’ve conquered the transport there’s a 40 minute walk to the red squirrel viewing area where, hopefully you’ll be able to spot one.

7. Drive up Buttertubs Pass

Buttertubs Pass links Swaledale with Wensleydale and has the rather dubious accolade of being Jeremy Clarkson’s favourite road in the UK. I can understand why petrol heads might enjoy zooming around the twisty turns and bends but I decided on a more careful driving style.

Buttertubs Pass
Buttertubs Pass

We drove up on a misty and murky day. About halfway along there’s a small lay by to pull in and view the buttertubs; deep limestone potholes once used to store (you can probably guess) butter. Heading back towards Hawes the clouds cleared and we were treated to great views, and a very low flying helicopter!

8. Aysgill Force

We walked from Gayle Mill, along the beck to Aysgill Force. It’s about a mile or so to reach the 40 foot waterfall. Well worth the effort, although be prepared for mud and slippy sections if visiting after rain.

Aysgill Force, near Hawes
Aysgill Force, near Hawes

9. Gayle Mill

Gayle Mill is a restored 19th century sawmill with working machinery and water powered turbines.

The mill can only be visited on a guided tour but, if like us, you arrive at the wrong time you can always browse in the craft shop. Gayle Mill also offers heritage craft workshops with some great options such as making your own cartwheel (sadly rather pricey).

Gayle Mill, near Hawes
Gayle Mill, near Hawes

10. Explore the village

I’ve seen Hawes mentioned as a tourist honeypot but I think it manages to absorb visitors without harming the character of the town. It’s easy to spend an hour or two browsing the shops and stopping at one of the cafes. Although if you visit on a Bank Holiday weekend be prepared for hordes of motorcyclists, all apparently visiting for fish and chips!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these suggestions. If you’re looking for an active break in the Yorkshire Dales you might also enjoy reading about our Three Peaks walks and our trip down Gaping Gill pothole.