The last chapter of my stay in León will recount some additional activities one can enjoy in this beautiful region apart from those covered in my previous posts. There will be no incendiary content this time. Probably. Unless some sudden change of heart occurs later in the writing process. Not that there is a shortage of topics. But (breathe out with relief, everyone) right now I really cannot be bothered to articulate (and vent here) my disappointment, despair and anger at the current situation and political climate pretty much everywhere in the world, or the fact that even in these difficult times people seem to be incapable of not treating politics in the same way they support their preferred football club.
Ruta del Cares – yeah, hence the title of this blog. That’s an exceptionally bad pun, even for my mediocre standards. Anyway. The path leading through the gorge of river Cares between the villages of Caín (León) and Poncebos (Asturias) is one of the best known walks in Spain. It’s about 12 km long one way (and because the distance on the road is over 100 km, you will have to do a round-trip or arrange for a very expensive transport), and it’s mostly flat. You can easily achieve it without any prior hiking experience and you’ll be ok with flip-flops, children, dogs, prams (probably), or a mountain bike (if you have a death wish). That last bit is a joke, bikes are not allowed. At least I hope. The trail is literally carved into the cliff, only a couple of metres wide at times, and the precipice is almost entirely unprotected. The views make it one of the most spectacular walks in Europe. It is also very busy (it doesn’t seem busy from the photos, but that must be attributed purely to my photographic genius and interminable patience while waiting for people to kindly ef off from my shots).
During the last week of my stay in León, a group of friends from Madrid that I hike with were staying in the neighbouring valley, therefore I took a few days off and met up with them for some hiking and adventure sports. Ruta del Cares was one of the activities. The original plan was to walk the entire 24 km of it, but as instead of leaving at 8 am to start hiking at a reasonable hour, we were still having breakfast in Cistierna at 9.30, and then kept stopping for Instagram photoshoots around Riaño reservoir every few minutes, we effectively set off way after midday. Therefore, we barely walked 4 km into the gorge (admittedly the most spectacular part, so it doesn’t really matter), then turned back and enjoyed an hour of chilling by the river and swimming, which was great too.
Via Ferrata in Posada de Valdeon: if you are after a little adrenaline rush, like the idea of climbing a mountain, but cannot actually climb (or have never climbed before, like me), this is the perfect way to start getting a feel of the rock under your hands. Via Ferrata in the village of Posada de Valdeón is categorised as D difficulty (K4 on the Hüsler scale), therefore not suitable for beginners, however, if you don’t suffer from vertigo and are reasonably physically fit, you will be fine. If you know what you are doing and own your equipment, all you need to do is reserve your spot online – and pay 3 (!!!) euro – and you are good to go. Otherwise, any agency in town will provide an experienced guide and all the equipment for something like 40 – 60 euro per person, depending on the size of the group. Consider you’d spend at least three times as much for the same adventure in Italy or France. The route starts with crossing a Tibetan bridge some 50 m above river Cares – so if you suffer from vertigo, you will find out in the beginning and avoid being left hanging on a rock somewhere inaccessible, paralysed by a panic attack. Straight after that, you have to climb a 100 m wall. Fear not, looking down will be the last thing on your mind. You’ll be too busy worrying about where your hands and feet are, what to chain your rope to, and what to do next. And you will be distracted by the beautiful scenery around you.
When times get back to normal again, the village is bound to get super busy, so make sure you arrive early enough to park. Posada de Valdeon is tiny and even the road that leads there is tricky (one lane with no hard shoulder and 100 m of void below you, I was praying every god I could think of for no incoming cars) and parking is limited. I almost ripped off my front bumper. While reversing. You don’t want to hear the story. Admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that parking in Posada is difficult, just that in my head parking the smallest car is about as complicated as docking a transatlantic cargo ship.
Watersports: the reservoir of Riaño offers a lot of possibilities: sailing, water skiing, there is a touristic boat that takes takes you around the fjords several times a day. Head into the port/nautical club on the right side of the bridge and pick whatever you fancy. I rented a kayak for two hours, which according to the owner should have been sufficient to arrive to the dam and back, but I either misunderstood what he mean by the “end of the fjord”, or you need to be an olympic athlete to achieve that. It took about an hour to get to the point marked with red cross on this map. To actually kayak all the way to the dam (provided it’s even permitted) would take at least another 90 minutes and then 2.5 hours back. 2 hours on the kayak hit the sweet spot between entertainment and exhaustion (but you can add an additional hour, get to one of the islands and go for a swim instead).
Rafting: possible on most rivers in the area. On Esla, the trait between Valdoré and Sabero is navigable, and you’ll get a chance to test your skills on a world-class canoeing/kayaking channel at Alejico, that will host European wildwater canoeing championships in August 2021. We rafted with Kayak Pico Azul on river Porma and it was great fun.
Canyoning: this sport gained popularity in Spain over the last few years, but was unknown to me (see, there are things I do not know, albeit not very many). I had no idea what I was getting myself into. They told me: “basically you walk down a river”. Basically, yes. Only sometimes you swim, slide, jump or abseil down a waterfall. We “walked” about a kilometre in the gorge of the river Curueño, it was awesome, and I didn’t even notice how freezing cold the water was. In my next life I want to be an otter. My friends organised it, I think it was through the same company that we rafted with (see above). The guides were super-experienced, and of course the agency provides the wetsuits and all the equipment. You will only need a pair of shoes (there are specific shoes for canyoning, but a pair of trainers will be sufficient for this difficulty).
This post marks the final entry about my summer adventure in the north of Spain. Given the circumstances, the best summer it could have possibly turned out to be. And I did manage not to rant this time. But fear not, I will, soon. As a bonus, a video of me abseiling a waterfall in the river Curueño. Thank you for reading!