One of Cantabria’s main draws is its mountains, and the Picos de Europa, which cut across Cantabria and part of Asturias, are the region’s major mountain range. Bears, wolves and mountain goats all roam its peaks, which can be covered in snow for a large part of the year. The best way of visiting these craggy outcrops is to head to Potes, known as the gateway to the Picos de Europa.
Potes is a quaint mountain town, which lies on the river Reva in the Liebana valley. The best way of getting to the town is by bus, which leaves two to three times daily from Santander. It’s a rather long and twisted journey, but certainly worth it once you arrive in this pretty little town. Jazmin Cabrera, who spent a year in Cantabria in 2007, would certainly urge people to visit. She says, “Potes and the Picos come a close second in my highlights of Cantabria. People should definitely go and visit if they get the chance.”
There are few attractions in Potes itself apart from its alpine houses and spectacular views. There are numerous restaurants and shops full of local produce including cheeses. Taking a stroll through the town is a great way of getting a small taster of what is ahead before you make your way to the mountains. As you walk across the numerous bridges and admire the town’s centuries-old buildings, including the Torre del Infantado which dates from the 15th century, it is impossible to not notice the imposing grey spiky peaks rising up in the background. Once you have taken in the buildings and eaten a hearty Cantabrian stew, it is time to make your way along the road to Fuente De, where you can make the journey on the cable car up to the Picos themselves.
Reaching Fuente De without a car is tricky at best, as no buses run between Potes and the site of the cable car. The best, and possibly, only option, is to try to find one of Potes’ taxis and get them to take you along. Make sure to keep a phone number so you can call them when you need a lift back again. At Fuente De there is a refuge, although it is more of a hotel, where you can rest for the night or eat some more local cuisine, which according to Sean McLaughlin, a Canadian writer who lives in Santander, is one of the best reasons for visiting the Picos. He says, “I’d recommend the Picos de Europa for hiking, caving and of course, the local food.” He adds, “The local cheese is excellent, especially those that blend two or three types: cow, goat, and sheep’s cheese. I’d never had blended cheese before and now I’m hooked.”
The cable car is open from July to September from 9am-10pm in the summer and costs 15.50 euros for a return ticket. Once on top of the mountain there are a number of different routes for hill walkers to take, all with differing levels of difficulty and of differing lengths, depending on whether you fancy a simple stroll in the immediate vicinity or a hardcore hike across the National Park for a few days. Remember to take all the necessary equipment needed for hill walking, take care to keep track of weather conditions and try not to run into any of the bears.