As a Spain-based travel specialist, there’s nothing we love more than exploring this amazing country. We (that is Ken and Belen of Totally Spain) have just returned from a Winter weekend break in the Cantabrian Picos de Europa Mountains with our two daughters and friends, Juan and Veronica, and their two young boys. The tourist season is about to kick off there and we were delighted to revisit this stunning part of Cantabria known as the Liebana Valley and see what it had in store for us and our clients. The result was a stunning weekend where we all agreed that the Great Cantabrian Outdoors is heaven made and ideal for visitors of all ages to enjoy. You simply have to go there. It’ll do you good.
We stayed at the Hotel del Oso in Cosgaya which is scenically located between Potes and Fuente De and is always a winner. Only 90 minutes drive from Santander, this surely has to be one of the best small, charming hotels in Spain. From the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, you feel at home and welcome. It’s a pleasure to stay here and to be attended to by such warm and efficient staff while enjoying the facilities and the grounds that are meticulously maintained.
As usual the drive there through the Hermida Gorge after we left the motorway near Unquera was beautiful. And historic Potes town, as we passed through, was buzzing in preparation for their annual Hunting, Fishing & Farm Foods Fair. We were looking forward to visiting the next day.
After checking in to the hotel we let the kids loose to enjoy the hotel’s excellent play area and to unsuccessfully stir the hotel’s resident pair of docile Saint Bernard dogs. They are a permanent fixture by the hotel entrance and are just another one of the many lovely elements that make this hotel what it is. We settled in for a drink with our friends on the covered porch while enjoying the relaxing sound of the nearby river and distant views of the snow-capped Picos Mountains where we would go tomorrow. Later we only had to stroll across the road to the Restaurante Urogallo where we had a tasty, casual dinner in their bar-restaurant. Perfect for the first night.
Well-rested and after a delicious, abundant homemade buffet breakfast; all of us set off the next morning to meet our mountain guide, Oscar, with whom we had planned a snowshoe hike in the Picos Mountains. It had snowed heavily during the week and so conditions were ideal. As agreed we met Oscar by the cable car in Fuente De, a 10 minute drive from the hotel. We gathered our gear along with our extremely excited children and jumped aboard the cable car which whisked us up in 4 minutes atop the Picos Mountains, 1823 metres above sea level. The most magnificent views along with miles of pure white snow greeted us. Promptly we all snapped on our snowshoes and after a few minutes of getting adjusted and accustomed to walking in them, we set off. It was magical from the beginning.
We all loved it. It was physically tough at times but the rewarding views and lung fulls of clean mountain air made it so worthwhile. And as parents it was heart warming to see how our young kids rose to the challenge. Each of us fell over at one time or another but never once felt in danger as our guide led us safely all the way. Oscar was born and bred in the Picos area (Espinama) and for 40 years his father operated the cable car. So no one knows the area better or appreciates it more than Oscar who has also lived, worked and studied in Italy and New Zealand. Perhaps as a result of his travels he has a very nice way with people and an abundance of patience. A great asset to this area and someone we’ll be very happy to have lead any of our clients.
After our hike we had a simple picnic and then took the cable car back down to Fuente De from where we headed to Potes town to visit the fair. The cheese producers of the Liebana area were well represented and we got to taste many and buy several delicious cheeses from cheeseries such as Rio Deva and Las Brañas whose sheep and goat’s milk cheeses are mouth watering. The Picos winery was also present promoting their red mencía wines and Orujo liqueurs as was the Cantabria artisanal brewery from Ampuero called Cierva, also local cider producers and not forgetting the producers of tasty cured meats. A feast for the eyes and mouth, to be sure.
After we had nibbled our way around the fair, we strolled the cobbled streets to the Taberna Majada by the Infantado Tower where we quenched our thirst outdoors on two other Cantabrian craft beers – Colegiata de Cantabria and La Cervezuca. The microbrewery concept is really starting to take a hold in Cantabria and very welcome it is too. (It would be a crime to write about Cantabrian breweries without mentioning the grandfather of them all Dougalls in Lierganes!) We then went in search of ‘chocolate con churros’ for the kids and promptly found ourselves in a scrumptious pastry shop by the bridge which fit the bill perfectly.
Nicely tired but very content we returned to the Hotel del Oso and that evening enjoyed a lovely dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and some good chat and after dinner drinks in one of the cosy lounges.
The next day, the first day of Spring in fact, we opted for the hotel’s lighter continental breakfast as we had planned later to have a traditional hearty Lebaniego stew for lunch. Not however before we got out and stretched our legs. This time we set off directly from the hotel. There are many walking routes that you can do from the Hotel del Oso and we chose a 9km route that took us via Cosgaya up a gradual climb alongside the gushing, downhill flowing Cubo River with its many wonderful bubbling waterfalls.
We were all in great form and the kids were happy as Larry. The weather was ideal, warm but not too sunny and a gentle breeze was blowing. The typical kind of weather you can expect in Cantabria.
Time and time again we stopped to admire the wonderful scenery. It reminded us often of the White Mountains in New Hampshire and we even found the Cantabrian version of the ‘Old Man of the Mountain‘ along the way. We didn’t meet a single soul in nearly 3 hours except for herds of grazing mountain goats. It was priceless to have the great Cantabrian outdoors all to ourselves although, outside of the summer months, that’s just how it is here. Cantabria is a wonderful place to visit all year round. As we came to the end of our walk we passed, once again, through the village of Cosgaya where a statue has been erected to Don Pelayo who is credited with beginning the Christian Reconquest of Spain from the Moors. So often associated with Asturias where he founded and ruled the Kingdom of Asturias, this famous historic figure was actually from the humble Cantabrian village of Cosgaya.
After our walk we were treated to an excellent Lebaniego stew for lunch in the lovely rustic surroundings of the Restaurante Vicente Campo in Espinama. We had our guide Oscar to thank for that too as he had recommended it to us and boy was it good!
All round it was a superb weekend in the Picos Mountains and Liebana Valley and a further reminder to us at Totally Spain just what a great tourism product exists in Cantabria. If you haven’t been before you really should think about visiting Cantabria. And do please contact us here at Totally Spain as we would love to share our knowledge with you and assist with planning your trip uniquely to Cantabria or as part of a more extensive Northern Spain Tour.