She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes – A trip to Covadonga and Picos de Europa

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Europe » Spain » Asturias » Picos de Europa National Park
November 28th 2019
Published: January 28th 2020
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Greg’s alarm wakes me with a start this morning and I am still in a deep sleep after such a full day of walking and climbing mountains yesterday. We’ve more mountains in store today as we plan to head through Covadonga and then the Picas de Europa mountain range. We manage to leave at 9.30am, which is not too bad when we had agreed to leave at 9am. Its only about an hour and a quarter to get to Covadonga and I am so thankful we don’t have another full on day of driving ahead. Not yet anyway. The weather is a mild 14 degrees and it’s dry, so driving conditions should be quite good, always a bonus when driving through the mountains.

It’s easy enough to get to Covadonga and we follow the steep 15% gradient uphill to get to the Covadonga lakes. It’s a treacherous road which is only wide enough for one car in many parts, with lots of steep turns and a few which don’t even have a crash barrier so it is just a vertical drop to the ground if you miss. The scenery makes up for the danger and we almost forget about the road as we gasp at the roaming hills around us. The leaves on the trees on the slopes in front of us are all different shades of light green, yellow and burnt orange, whilst the mountains in the background are all covered in snow. We pass by a few pigs at the side of the road, then a few cows and finally, loads of wild horses. We also see some birds of prey circling in the thermals of the hills in front of us. After a half hour climb where we feel like we are actually driving in the sky, we reach one of the Covadonga lakes. Unfortunately the weather has gone a bit cloudy and grey, so it doesn’t show the lake in its best light, but its still very pretty with the mountains around it. There are a few horses eating grass at the side of the road and one eyeballs us as we pass by. I’m a bit scared of horses so swiftly move on. We walk down the path next to the lake and stop to take some photos. Then Greg spots something out of the corner of his eye and it is the herd of wild horses heading straight towards us. It’s quite a narrow path and not many places for us to escape to, and my heart starts pounding as they get closer and closer. We wait in the hope they will turn back around or stop, but they keep coming. One big black horse definitely has his eye on us and he starts snorting loudly and shaking his head around which doesn’t ease my discomfort. We veer off into the bushes at the side of the path to try and hide but they still keep coming and then stop opposite from us. Greg thinks we should wait it out but its freezing and it doesn’t look like they are for moving anytime soon, so I suggest we should just try and get by them quietly but quickly and back to the safety of the car before I pass out in fear. With the leader of the pack still eyeballing us, we manage to make it back to the car in one piece but we are both freaking out. I don’t think horses are generally aggressive, but I still don’t fancy being rushed at by a herd of wild horses. Perhaps that could be the sequel to my mega cow movie? The revenge of the wild horses?? Either way, I’ve had it with wild animals for this week.

We promptly head back down the mountain and stop in the town of Covadonga for a coffee and a wander around. It’s a really tiny but very pretty little place but I can imagine it gets super busy in the summer. In fact, I later read that between May and September private cars are not allowed on the mountain road at all and you can only access the lakes by public bus. We park up and stroll up to have a look at a little church called Santa Cueva de Covadonga, carved into the side of the hill with a waterfall cascading underneath it. Just as a school group arrive, we decide to carry on up to the cathedral at the top of the hill based on the fact Nacho might try to eat one of the children. I am bursting for the loo by now so we decide to stop for some coffee at a cafe that has some tables outside so we can sit with the dog. The temperature has dropped and the wind has picked up, so a nice hot coffee sounds fab about now. However, the waiter explains that they are currently fixing the water supply for the whole town, so there is no water and therefore the coffee machine is off. I’m suddenly reminded of a scene from an Alan Partridge episode where his foreign girlfriend Sonia tells a bad joke about a man who goes into a coffee shop for coffee and they say they don’t have any (“Brilliant story to tell. Last day I was in the coffee shop where I work, and then a man came in and said he wanted coffee. He was smelly man. Tomek did not like him. Tomek said we didn’t have any coffee. And then the man just went!”). We order some soft drinks instead so we can use the toilet, but its not until after I’ve gone that I realise there is no water and therefore I can’t flush it, oops. At least it was a number one!! We quickly pay and leave as I feel quite embarrassed, but we need to get to our next destination anyway.

Once again it’s super straight forward to get to the Picos de Europa, but the problem starts when we miss our turn for the hotel and end up on a wild detour via the back streets where there are many dogs running around barking (not more bloody wild animals to avoid!). We hit a dead end so have no choice but to reverse whilst trying to avoid the four dogs running around the side of the car. We head back down to the main road which is at the end of a short but steep hill. Greg takes it slowly due to the weight of the car and a second later we hear a huge scraping sound as the car suddenly stops and gets wedged on the ground. It sounds like the front bumper is about to rip off and we are literally stuck. There’s no way we can go forward but we can’t seem to reverse either as the hill is too steep and the car is weighed down with all the suitcases in the back. There is also a burning smell coming from under the car and the clutch as Greg holds the biting point trying to reverse. I can’t look as the next minute he shoots backwards and there is a further crunching sound as the number plate frees itself from the ground.

We inspect the damage and thankfully it doesn’t look like there is much apart from a slight scrape to the front of the number plate, which is just as well. We get back onto the main road via another road we hadn’t spotted before which is on the flat, and the hotel is on the previous turn off, doh! We get there, get parked and checked in and then head straight into town to get some food, and hopefully a well-needed coffee. We find a nice cafe which is selling coffee (hooray!) and we also order some more chorizo in cider which is just as tasty as we remember. It has started to rain that horrible drizzly rain by the time we have finished our lunch, so its hard to appreciate the natural beauty of the area in its full glory, including the river running along the side of the town. We are surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides and the scenery reminds me of both France (the houses) and Scotland (the fields) at the same time. The sound of the cows with their bells tinkling in the background is quite soothing.

The hotel is only one minute drive from the main road yet is surrounded by nothing but fields and darkness once the sun goes down. The illumination of the building makes it prominent against the petrol blue sky, and Greg suggests it looks like something out of the Shining. Thanks for that, I think I'll be sleeping with the light on tonight. My mind isn't exactly put at ease when the receptionist tells us we are the only guests staying tonight, and the hotel restaurant is closed on a Wednesday so there are no other staff around either. Our room is surprisingly nice for a one star (where does Greg find these places??). It has a huge, cosy looking king size bed, brand new bathroom with a futuristic shower and, although we can't see them just now as it has gotten dark, beautiful views of the mountains in the background.

We stay in for a few hours so we can spend some time with big Nacho, and decide we might as well have a big bottle of cider while we're here. It would be rude not to. Later, we venture out using the torch on my phone to light the way as there is no street lighting at all. Like creatures of habit, we head to the same restaurant we went to for lunch to have our dinner. In our defence, we already clocked it had fabada (chorizo and bean stew) and cachopo (a local speciality which can only be described as a huge cordon bleu for 2 people to share) which is already what we were in the mood for. The waitress smiles as she remembers us from earlier on and directs us to a table. We order the aforementioned dishes along with a cider, and it is just as good as we anticipate. The fabada stew has a smokey sweetness from the chorizo and ham and the beans are nice and creamy. The cachopo is not tough, and melts in the mouth as gooey mozzarella oozes out. Our original idea is to have a cheeseboard for dessert, but we are so full from the mains that we just can't face it. Instead we stop off at the bakery across the road, which seemingly turns into a bar at night, for an after dinner aperitif. Greg has his beloved Estrella galicia from the barrel one last time, and I have a baileys, which is definitely more than a 25ml measure. We're delighted (Greg in particular) when we pay and she tells us we owe her 4 euros! We walk back up to the hotel in the darkness and as we get to the hallway just inside the hotel, all the lights overhead flicker on one by one down the hall. It really is an eery moment and Greg, not having learned his lesson from earlier, proceeds to wind me up by suggesting the two twins from the aforementioned movie will be standing there if we close our eyes. Yep, definitely sleeping with the light on! It’s even more weird when we spot tons of dead flies scattered all over the floor and window frame, which definitely weren’t there earlier on and it grosses me out (but I guess that’s what you pay for in a one star lol). Our room is super cosy though and with a comfy bed in front of me, it's not long before I fall asleep, albeit with the light on.

The next morning reveals a sunny/cloudy day and as mentioned, the views from our room are stunning. I know we're in Spain not Switzerland but I am reminded of the scenery from The Sound of Music, especially with the sound of the cow bells tinkling in the distance. Breakfast is more than adequate and we are both delighted when she offers us some eggs as a hot option. It fills us up in anticipation of another mammoth drive. This is probably the one we have been dreading the most, as it's the longest and most boring journey of our trip so far, with no reward at the end. The journey is indeed as long and boring as expected, and even though we opt to take the toll roads (which hammer us every couple of miles!) it still takes us 10 hours including rest stops to get to our next hotel in Beaumont. Bless Greg for thinking ahead and booking a hotel right next to the motorway, but unfortunately he didn’t realise it's not next to an actual slip road, so it takes us about 20 minutes on tiny little back roads to get there from the motorway, doh.

The hotel is actually a cave house, which we've never stayed in before, so it's a unique experience I'll give him that. The lady who owns the hotel doesn't really speak english, so we use hand signals to get checked in and for her to explain the facilities, and tell us where we can get something to eat. We are both absolutely starving once more and she recommends a pizza place not too far away. My gluten free diet has taken a battering over the last few days and I'm not sure I want to upset my stomach further, but it seems there may be no other choice as France is definitely not the most coeliac friendly (I can only imagine the shouts of ‘sacre bleu!’ at the thought of a gluten free version of the traditional baguette). When we drive to the pizza place, there is a kebab shop next door, so we opt for a plate of chicken kebab meat with salad and chips instead of pizza. It might not upset my stomach as much, but I'm sure it's probably just as many calories if not more. The 5 minute drive back to the hotel is torture as my mouth is salivating with the smell. Once again we inhale our food, even though I try my best to put my fork down at least twice in between mouthfuls. There is an electric heater on in the kitchen area, so we try to put it off before we head through to the bedroom, but Greg touches the plug and jumps back in fright as he gets a huge electric shock! The plug must be faulty and his hands are tingling all over. He still has his timberland boots on and we wonder if that helped ground the electricity. Not really what we need when we are both tired and stressed and I’m panicking at the thought of a hospital visit when we don’t have our E111 cards!! It's freezing in our cave bedroom without any proper heating on, so we get cosy under the thick blankets and try to sleep. Nacho won't settle either and ends up sleeping on the bed with us. We get a restless sleep worrying about the next part of our journey with the dog and his pet passport, and whether Greg will need any further medical treatment after his eventful episode.

Thankfully Greg seems totally fine but we won't be touching that plug again anytime soon. They've left a basket of bread out for us (of course it’s not gluten free as Greg already asked them before we arrived if it was possible and they said no) with some coffee, orange juice and the smelliest cheese I've smelt for a while. We get organised and are on our way again by 10am. Greg has booked the eurotunnel for 10.50pm tonight but our sat nav tells us that even taking the non roll roads, we will get to Calais around 6pm, so just a few hours to wait then! But at least we don't need to worry about getting caught in traffic and missing it. I am super nervous about Nacho and his pet passport as it's the first time we've had to use it to visit the UK or vice versa. I’ve heard horror stories that they are super strict and will refuse you if there is any inaccuracies at all, so keep praying our vet has stamped and signed everything correctly.

We stick to all the little roads for the first few hours (mainly to waste time) but its frustrating that we have to stop at roundabouts every kilometre and a half. Getting to Tours would’ve probably taken us about 40 minutes on the toll road but takes us about 2 hours on the back roads. Still, it's not like we're in a rush. Once again time starts to go backwards as we get to about the 6 hour mark. Eventually Greg can't take any more of these little roads and so we opt to take the toll roads for the last hour or so. It only costs us 6 euros so it's well worth it. We reach Calais for about 7pm but we can't check the dog in until quarter to 9 so we have a look for somewhere to get dinner. It could prove difficult with the dog as nowhere has their outside tables out due to how cold it is. There is a large shopping centre next to the eurotunnel check in point which has a few different restaurants so we drive round to see if there is anywhere that looks suitable. There is one restaurant that looks pretty quiet so in broken French Greg asks if we could take the dog in with us. She asks if it is 'petit' and Greg is like em, not quite! We risk it anyway and when we bring Nacho to the entrance her eyes go wide in shock as she realises the size of him. She somewhat apprehensively lets him in anyway and uses her good sense to put us in a table in the corner. We enjoy some nice food, both taking it in turns to eat whilst watching and holding onto the dog, as we don't fancy a repeat of when we were last out for a meal and the dog spotted something to chase and dragged the table halfway across the restaurant floor. By the time we are finished, the restaurant has filled up and there is hardly a spare table available apart from the one right next to us which the waitress tried to give to a family with small children but we frantically shake our heads to say please no! And thankfully she doesn't seat then there. It's our call to leave and we promptly pay and exit (stage left). I feel like a tramp anyway as I'm wearing my 'driving clothes' which consists of an old but comfy stained jumper and a pair of joggies alongside my beanie hat to complete the ensemble. It's now quarter past 8 so we ensure a nervous half-hour wait before getting Nacho checked in. My heart feels like it is beating out of my chest and I silently pray and cross my fingers, legs and toes that everything will be ok. When the time comes, we head inside and my legs suddenly feel like jelly. It helps that the woman behind recounted takes a shine to Nacho straight away. She sees our face and sympathetically asks if it is our first time, I don't know how she knows! A few tense minutes laterand we have the golden ticket which is the pet sticker for our windscreen, woohoo!

We decide that even though our train isn't for another hour and a half, we might as well get checked in. It's even more good news as we check in and she asks if we would like to go on the earlier train at 9.50 instead of the 10.50 as there is room available, so if course we say yes! The eurotunnel is the strangest thing I've ever seen as it is basically just a normal train but with all the seats stripped out so you can drive on with your car. Like a car ferry, a man in a high viz vest directs us where to park so he can squeeze everyone on. We're advised to turn our engines off and then before long the train gets going. we have no idea if we are actually moving at all as all we can see is darkness all around us outside. Even still, there are still a few people out of their cars looking out the window so we're a bit perplexed as to what they expect to see.... Only half an hour later and we are back on British soil and it feels amazing. We give each other a celebratory drive and welcome Nacho to the UK. The drive to the hotel is only 10 minutes and we're delighted to be able to speak to the receptionist in english. The only problem is, I realise all my chargers are with spanish plugs, doh! But the receptionist kindly offers to charge my phone up for me behind reception using a spare charger he has.

We feel a bit grubby after another full day of travelling so reward ourselves with a nice, hot shower. But it turns out the shower rail is quite fragile, so whilst trying to adjust the shower height, Greg manages to knock it off the wall. He then wrestles with it for another 20 minutes trying to reattach it, all the while with the shower still running. I suggest it might be easier if he turns the shower off but I'm met with a glare so I leave him to it. 5 minutes later and he's managed to fix it, but the bathroom is now like a sauna with all the steam from the hot water. A minute after Greg gets out, the fire alarm starts sounding so we are all evacuated outside. We have to wait for the fire brigade to arrive which takes a good 20 minutes or so, which is frustrating when we had planned to sit down and reward ourselves with a little pint. After they have arrived and inspected the building, the owner lets us all back in and apologises, offering us a tea or coffee on the house as an apology. I comment I'd rather have a pint instead and so she happily pours us both a guinness, which is like liquid gold. Just then, the fireman walks in and asks who is staying in room 11. Em, that would be us then..... He says the alarm was triggered from that room and did we spray anything. we say no, but deep down i have a feeling it was probably the steam from the bathroom..... We hide behind our pints of guiness as everyone else glares at us as we protest our innocence. Never a dull moment when we are around!


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