Green Spain-Thursday

Santiago de Compostela
September 19 – 26, 2022


Thursday – Santillana del Mar – Picos de Europa
Map Link

Instead of sleeping in as originally planned, I was up before the sun and wondered what to do with the extra time. “Explore some more” seemed like the best option. I left Dan in bed and made my way out to the pre-dawn and blissfully empty streets. I love this time of day!

I tried to find a good place for an overlook of the town, but there weren’t a lot of hills near or high enough. I did the best I could and surveyed the scene. I was going to wait until the sun broke the horizon to get it lighting up the side of the church, but I didn’t have the patience.

I like how this looks more like an oil painting than a photograph

My best effort at a “village overview” once the sun rose a little higher

It really is a living museum – just try to ignore the car

Hola, neighbor!

A wood shop where the focus was hand-built furniture

The entire village is car-free, with the exception of locals and hotel guests.

When I returned to the church, I turned left and followed a road that led out to the area behind our hotel. I really had no idea what I would see, which was pretty much the point of the exploration. There were a couple of cats, but they had no interest in me. A hawk circled high above, calling to its mate as it looked for breakfast. Otherwise it was quiet and peaceful.

The old public fountain between the church and our hotel

The town “laundromat” still has its scrubbing stones in place – further to the right is the water trough for animals

I returned to the Marques’ house and joined Dan for breakfast. It was a light affair (thankfully) and we were soon out back with the motorcycles and getting ready to head out. Today would be spent entirely in the mountains, specifically Picos de Europa. I was looking forward to it, as we had driven through there before and I had been wishing then that I was on two wheels instead of four. Now would be my chance!

Leaving town in the morning sun

An expansive yard – that’s dedication!

St. Peter’s Church (Iglesia Parroquial San Pedro Advíncula) in Cóbreces

Ah, the Atlantic ocean (in Comillas)

I knew for sure I’d been here before when I saw this cemetery – it is very distinctive

In Comillas we stopped for gas at what was probably the most awkward gas station in the history of gas stations. It was a small, two pump affair located at literally the side of the road. Another road intersected right next to it, meaning that how the bikes had lined up also blocked this road. For whatever reason, we were using just one pump and it was a slow but not terribly inefficient process. Our little Swiss group had agreed earlier that Dan would pay for all of the fuel for the trip and then split the costs at the end. This saved a lot of time at the pumps, as only one person had to go up and pay once the four bikes were full. Efficiency at its best!

Heading south, away from the sea and into the mountains

What does anyone even do with ponies this small?

And into the forest we go!

I was told by the hostess at our hotel that the road were were going to follow today was known for its population of frogs, and to be please be careful of crossing frogs when we rode through. I was looking forward to seeing frogs, but alas! the only frogs I saw were on the sign.

This sign was the closest I got to seeing any frogs

The Canadians were once again at the head of the pack and Dan and I were bringing up the rear. The day had dawned with blue skies and those held even as we headed south and gained elevation. Therefore the dark grey smoke that was filling a valley was very noticeable: it was a forest fire, but it would not impact our travels – I hoped.

Forest fire smoke

The group had pulled over at the “Balcón de la Cardosa” viewpoint and we all gathered around the statue of the deer. It really is a nice statue but I just can’t get past the fact that it looks like it is pooping. And while I couldn’t find anything definitive online, and most people simply refer to the statue as “the deer”, I believe that it most likely representative of the Cantabrian chamois. It would make more sense and besides, it looks a lot more like a chamois than a deer. Prove me wrong!

Group shot

Super Zoom time! See that building in the clearing on the far hill?

Not just a building, but a couple of guys standing next to a car!

Another look at the forest fire smoke

Speaking of “Zoom” – Hi Dan!

The road was in excellent condition, the pace was good and the sun was shining not-too-brightly. We were following a ridge and the views were excellent no matter which way I looked, but I often found myself looking at the road itself in an attempt to avoid the frequent piles of poop. And not just the poop, but to watch out for the makers of the poop, as they had free range here.

Beware of the Poop Makers!

We were dropping in elevation and the valley before us was wide open. I was curious about the forest fire, even though we had left it behind us. The summer had seen a lot of fires in Spain, and quite a few even in this green and lush region. I hadn’t heard about any on the news lately, but I wondered if we might eventually run into something that would cause us to change our route. Not that I was worried about such things: I knew that our hosts would take care of us.

Traffic jam of the best kind

Down on the valley floor (deer sign)

It is always fun to dream…

The little town of Espinilla was our coffee stop for the morning. We had just come to the fertile countryside when a wild roundabout appeared! I was surprised when we pulled into the parking lot of “La Herradura Food & Drink” and shed gear in anticipation of our break.

Pre-coffee riding

It was a nice stop and we sat outside with our refreshments. That is one benefit to riding with a group: you get to talk about what you’ve seen and done, and you know that the other person understands you. And it is a bonus when they can offer their own take on things, sometimes giving you a different perspective.

As we mingled amongst ourselves, a large plane flew overhead: it was a water bomber that was fighting the nearby fires. While the camera does take great photos, in this case the quality of the photo (or lack thereof) is completely my fault. Trying to take a photo of a moving object while zoomed in is not easy!

Steep roofs of Espinilla buildings

With the steep roofs, I would have guessed that they get a lot of snowfall in the region, but everything I found online indicated that while it did cool down for winter, there was little to no snow. I don’t have any other reasons for such steeply pitched roofs.

As we left Espinilla behind us, the road dropped down a little further before continuing along a very arid valley. In addition to the news of forest fires this summer there had been also a lot of news of droughts. This region, while affectionately known as “Green Spain”, is not immune to a serious lack of rain. So far I hadn’t seen much evidence of it and assumed that it was “southern Spain” that was so badly hit.

A first: dedicated bicycle lanes!

Hana later told me that she had seen some large vultures on the ground in the valley photographed above and thought of me. I had not noticed them but I did, however, notice this murder of crows!

Not vultures

Running parallel to the rail line

Entering Cervera de Pisuerga

After leaving Cervera de Pisuerga

As we left the town behind and wound our way over some more green hills, I spied something interesting through the trees. It looked like a dry lake bed, and indeed, that’s what it was. We were nearing the Requejada Reservoir. “The Requejada reservoir (1940) has its dam in the town of Arbejal, floods the Vañes plain and is the first to dam the waters of the Pisuerga River, very close to its source. …(It is) suitable for almost all water sports, in which the motor navigation is included, and an ideal place for fishing of species like trout.”

Not much water sports taking place now

I got a chance to look a little more closely at the dried lake bed when Dan and I got caught at the red light on the one-lane bridge. But it wasn’t enough: I would have loved to have gone down to lake bed and poked around at what been submerged for decades. Sure most stuff had been washed away or buried in silt, but still… it would be so cool!

No trout here, unfortunately

Google view of an area of the lake bed (from this year)

The Puente de Polentinos (bridge), further “upstream” from the dam

From the dry valley we returned to the forests and fields. The group was strung out, but the riding was good and fast, and the weather continued to be absolutely perfect for riding. One thing that amazed me was just how little traffic we saw. There might be an occasional vehicle but they were always easy to pass and soon became a distant memory.

I mentioned earlier that I like to take photos as I ride (on the fly, I call it). For this purpose I leave the Super Zoom Lumix (German link) in my bag and instead use an Olympic Tough. I first heard about the Tough at a Horizons Unlimited meet in Switzerland, where multiple people all swore by its longevity in harsh conditions. They weren’t kidding: this camera is built to be abused and it takes that abuse well. Unfortunately for me, the “settings” dial is much too easily moved under my motorcycle gloves and sometimes I find – much later – that it is no longer set for “Panoramic” but instead to something stupid like “Macro”. Yeah, that never makes me happy. I had put a drop of glue on the dial to keep it from slipping, but apparently that drop of glue had come off. I was now shooting “Macro” photos from the back of a speeding motorcycle. Editing helps a little bit to correct the images, but never quite enough.

I have never seen rocks folded like this before! (street view screenshot)

A quick stop at the viewpoint, Mirador De Piedrasluengas

Not a great view due to the forest fires

The view point was a nice break – there was so much to look at while riding that it was good to actually be able to stop and take it in. Plus, this is where I noticed that my camera settings were wonky and I put the dial back in place – even if it didn’t stay in place for too long.

Nothing but fantastic riding today

It was lunch time when we pulled into the town of Potes, where Hana led us to a crowded parking lot. It was hot, with the early afternoon sun beating down upon us, and I was all too happy to put my jacket and helmet in David’s truck. Sometimes it is handy to have someone following along with a lockable vehicle! Hana gathered us around and explained that today was a “fend for yourself” lunch time. They didn’t have anything in particular picked out and we were to meet back at the bikes in an hour. And… go!

Dan and I had been here before on our previous trip, staying at a charming B&B just outside of town. We had come into Potes for dinner and had a lovely meal at a restaurant in the center of the town. Today we didn’t have that kind of time, and wanted to eat more on a budget, both in value and quantity. There had been too much food consumed so far on this trip! Dan and I led Mac and Micah through some side streets, looking for a quick bite.


The town was crowded! Most of the outdoor seating areas we passed were full, with frantic waitstaff running from table to table. We eventually found an open table and flagged someone down for drinks and a menu. We were getting hangry (hungry + angry = hangry) but fortunately the waiter came back, took our orders and brought out our meal in rapid order. Unfortunately, by the time we had finished our meal we had very little time to explore much of the town. It is a small place, and I’d seen most of it before, but it was still disappointing to have to rush back to the parking lot. Along our way back to the bikes I saw Hana and David – and the Canadians! – all sitting together, finishing up their meals. In hindsight I think that we should have just followed them for a lunch spot. Then again, we did get a better walking tour of the town than they did!

Our day was almost complete – at least the riding portion. It was just a short jaunt to Feunte Dé, our hotel for the night in the heart of the Picos. But first: a lovely roll through the mountains.

Getting close to today’s destination

Stuck behind some slow cars with nowhere to pass; Dan and I discussed it, but he wasn’t as keen as I was to get around them

Behold! The beauty of Picos de Europas!

The Parador at Fuente Dé was nice, but I swear they put us in the room furthest from the Reception hall. David had our bags waiting for us (a magician, I tell you!) and Dan and I lugged them, our jackets and helmets down very long halls, until we finally got to our room. The room was very basic – nothing fancy here. But the view out the window more than made up for anything that the room might have lacked.

I don’t have a view FROM the room, but here is a view OF the room (and the entire hotel)

The itinerary included a shorter riding day today so that if we wanted to, we could take the cable car up to the top of the mountain and enjoy the view from two feet rather than two wheels. I was all too happy to walk around a bit, and Dan and I headed out immediately on our own. We met up with some of the Canadians along the way to the cable car, which wasn’t too surprising since that’s the only thing to do in this area.

View from the cable car

The bikes – soon to be joined by a fleet of visiting Maseratis

Almost to the top!

After exiting the cable car at its upper terminus, we meandered around the relatively flat area just behind the lift house. There were still more mountains to climb, but I wouldn’t be doing that today. I did that last time I was here, and that was good enough for me.

The trail Dan and I took last time, barely visible in the above photo at the bottom of the scree field

As a casual group, we joined the Canadians for some photos and chatter about the day thus far. It was suggested that we walk along a road that led up to a saddle in the mountains, potentially giving us a view to the north, and possibly even the Atlantic if it was clear enough. The walk was nice physically, but also in the sense that I finally got to have a conversation with part of the group in a very comfortable setting. Dinners, while nice, were usually loud affairs, and you could only hold a conversation with the people directly around you. Here, in the fresh and brilliant open air of the mountains, talking at normal tone was easy and pleasant.

View to the north – no Atlantic today

A photo of the Canadians being photographed

Walking back down the road to the cable car station

Despite being here before, I hadn’t realized that this road was really a “road”. But today it was in frequent use, with at least three or four vehicles driving by during the short time we were on it. It is not a “through” road, and it starts from the northern side of the mountain and ends at the cable car station. I didn’t like sharing my hiking trail with vehicles – although part of me wanted to ride my motorcycle on it anyway.

Mac and Micah were already in line for the returning cable car when we got there. They had come up after us and not hiked as far as we did, but I’m glad that they made the trip. The “last call” for a return ride back to the hotel was coming up quick and there was a long line of people: I assumed that they wouldn’t leave anyone behind.

A couple of the massive vultures soaring overhead while we waited in line

The descent – and a view of the road we came in on

We all split up once we were back at the hotel and Dan and I used the additional pre-dinner time we had to wander around the hotel grounds and relax a bit in the room. Dinner was fantastic and held on the premises in a large dining hall. Bottles of wine were ordered, the conversation grew louder and more animated, and the food kept coming. Salads, mains, desserts… Once again, too much food. I was just happy that I had had a “light” lunch!

After we stumbled away from the table, Dan and I agreed that a short walk would do us good. It was a crisp and clear night and once we got away from the lights of the hotel, we could see a brilliant Milky Way lighting up the sky above us. I haven’t seen the Milky Way that clearly since I was camping on the shores of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Absolutely amazing. I wanted nothing more than a comfy chair to sit back in and stare at the immensity of our universe. Instead, we went back to our room where the gentle sound of sheep bells lulled me to sleep.