23 August 2018.
Austere mountain peaks dusted in snow, time-worn terracotta villages and spectacular valley views – this wonderfully uncrowded part of the Picos de Europa has it all!
This fantastic one day hike begins in Poncebos before climbing through the rustic jumble of Bulnes, offering sweeping views of the Naranjo de Bulnes, the region’s iconic pinnacle of stone, and meandering through lush pastures, past flocks of hungry vultures and along remnants of the ancient Roman road that leads out of Sotres.
It’s a long and rather challenging hike, but if you’re short on time, it makes an absolutely beautiful introduction to this corner of the Picos de Europa.
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The entire hike from Poncebos via Bulnes and Sotres is a tough 24 kilometres and took us around 8 hours with stops.
Though it’s certainly possible to break up the trip over several days by staying at the mountain cabins along the way, or taking a handful of scenic side detours, like a visit to the spectacular Naranjo de Bulnes (Pico Urrielu), if you’re short on time, this route makes an excellent day hike.
Distance | 4.6 km
Time | 1.5 hours
Leaving from Poncebos, cross over the Rio Cares and head straight up the valley beside the Rio Tejo toward Bulnes. It’s steep in parts with beautiful views looking back as you climb higher toward the peaks before the final zigzag that leads you into the village.
Until recently, Bulnes could only be reached on foot and was often left isolated during the winter months when a deluge of snow would make the valley trail impassable. Today, however, the Bulnes Funicular runs directly to the picturesque mountain village, so for those looking to make the walk slightly easier, you can jump straight to the top and begin walking from there.
Tickets are a little pricey though starting at €17 one way or €22 return. See here for more information.
Distance | 8.5 km
Time | 3 hours (including lunch break)
Winding out of Bulnes, the trail continues upwards toward the lush pastures of Collada de Pandebano.
Just above the terracotta rooves of Bulnes, you’ll find a small side path which leads to the Mirador de Naranjo de Bulnes, the stark snaggle-tooth pillar shooting up between the surrounding peaks. Onward, the trail emerges above the treeline. Lichen-covered rock walls crisscross vibrant green fields and rustic mountain huts dot the sweeping hillside, the dramatic spire of Pico Urriellu always peeking over the horizon.
Those looking for a mountain hut for the night or a lunch break can stop in at Refugio de la Terenosa. It’s basic but will do the trick you’re in need of shelter.
Over the pass, it’s a long descent down into the valley along a narrow dirt trail that eventually meets a paved road and winds down to the Rio Duje. Look out for vultures which can gather on the barren mountain slopes by the dozen.
Once in the valley, the final challenge of the day is the very steep ascent to Sotres.
Though the village’s location between the peaks is absolutely spectacular, growing development means Sotres has perhaps lost some of the charm it once had. You’ll find a handful of shops and restaurants here if you’re ready for a break.
Distance | 5 km
Time | 1 hour
Sotres is where the signage can get a little confusing.
After nearly 5 hours of hiking at this point and only just having passed the halfway mark, rounding a bend in the road to find a sign stating it would be another 4 hours to Tielve caused a slight degree of panic.
It turns out, there are two paths leading between Sotres and Tielve.
If you’re doing this trip as a day hike, we’d definitely recommend taking the shorter option, but if you’re spending the night in Sotres, the longer route which heads back into the mountains is likely far more scenic.
From the large parking area near the centre of town, follow the main road left where you’ll reach the stone remains of the old Roman road and a spectacular viewpoint. The path hugs the cliff’s edge above the road and eventually winds down to it just before reaching colourful Tielve.
Distance | 6 km
Time | 1.5 hours
Tielve marks the home stretch, and I’ll admit, by the time we stumbled wearily into town, I was pretty relieved.
Though you can rejoin the Roman road at the back of Tielve if you wish, we were told it gets rather sketchy in parts with loose rubble and a very sheer descent, so we’d suggest just sticking to the main road.
There’s not much shade for the final part of the hike, but the temperature definitely cools a little as you return to the gurgling Rio Duje and the collection of waterfalls that dot the roadside.
Though road traffic is rather light, you could also attempt to hitchhike back from this point if you’re not keen to walk on the road.
Once across Puente Poncebos, either hike the final stretch back to your accommodation in Poncebos, pick up your car at the parking lot or, if you’re visiting the Picos de Europa in summer, wait for a bus or taxi back to Arenas de Cabrales.
For this circuit walk, it’s best to be based in either Poncebos where the trail begins, or Arenas de Cabrales which is just a 10-minute drive from the trailhead.
We stayed at Hostal Poncebos, a cosy guesthouse with a beautiful setting right beside the Rio Cares between the soaring mountains. As virtually the only accommodation option in Poncebos, it’s a perfect place to use as a base for hiking in the region. The hearty menu del dia dinner option from the onsite restaurant is also excellent value, including copious amounts of food and wine, for a much-needed feast after a day in the mountains. In high season, prices are wildly inflated but rooms do book up quickly so be sure to reserve in advance.
If Poncebos is full, nearby Arenas de Cabrales has a number of excellent options as well.
Rental Car | Outside of high season, there is very little public transport in this part of the Picos de Europe so hiring a car is often the easiest option for accessing the hiking trails and exploring the many beautiful sights of the region.
Keep in mind though that traffic on the road between Poncebos and Arenas de Cabrales is heavily restricted during the day in summer and you might have to take a shuttle bus instead if you don’t arrive at the parking area early enough.
Depending on where you enter Spain, car rental is generally very affordable often costing less than €20 per day for a small car and full insurance. Oviedo and Santander, both within a 2-hour drive of the Picos, are excellent pickup points.
Bus (Summer Only) | As we visited in April, there was no bus to speak of, but according to Spanish bus company ALSA, limited buses do run during the summer months to help alleviate traffic on the narrow mountain roads. There are just two afternoon services from Cangas de Onis to Arenas de Cabrales and Poncebos, and one evening service completing the return journey.
Search the summer bus timetable here.
Take A Taxi | Particularly in high season, taxis sometimes wait around the parking lot for those without transport. From Poncebos to Arenas de Cabrales, taxis should cost around €10.