Asturian Cycling Adventures, La Rioja's City Life & The Pyrenees' Abandoned Railway Station

After the beauty of the Galician coastline, we headed inland to discover more Northern region of Spains. First up, Asturias. We stopped over for a couple of days at a laid-back campsite, Camping Amaido, at the entrance of the small village of San Tirso de Abres (also known as El Llano) (Click on the link to read our review of the campsite).

Once plugged in, filled up with water and a few more chores around the van, we went for a short ride to familiarise ourselves with our new surroundings. San Tirso was a pretty village with an old church, a nice river and an abandoned railway line converted into a “via verde” running alongside it. Plus, the family-run campsite offers a simple and appetising menu in its agroturismo restaurant and the small & friendly local bar, La Farrapa is where it’s at for sipping a few drinks, checking emails (free wifi available) and listening to the locals.

Exploring the village of San Tirso de Abres.

The river running through the village.

Old coach train outside San Tirso De Abres where the via verde runs from.

Coming to San Tirso. Camping Amaido's entrance is on the left where you can see Jamie on his bike.

The village's main square and church.

What looks like to be the church's original bell tower seems well-preserved.

Our campervan pitch at Camping Amaido.
Next day, Jamie had planned a great 40km-cycling route from San Tirso to the furnaces of A Pontenova (formerly known as Villaodrid) via the via verde, then ploughing on to Taramundi and back to Tirso. It was sunny, but not too hot as we were in “green land”; trees, bushes and grass surrounded us all along the abandoned railway line. That’s what Jamie and I love about via verdes; there’s no big climbs or ascents and pretty much straight on all the way, passing through lovely countryside and, if you’re lucky, abandoned railway stations. They are perfect for everybody to enjoy; from the very young to the elderly.

As usual, I’d made a packed lunch and brought a few snacks with us. We enjoyed it all in picturesque Taramundi, sat on benches overlooking the main cobbled narrow thoroughfare. 

Where the "ferrocaril" (railway line) started; San Tirso de Abres (El Llano)'s former train station. This is the start of the via verde.

In case we didn't know which way to go...

The via verde crosses three to four mostly short tunnels except for the last one. Don't forget head torches & other layers (fleece & rain coat).

The countryside's very green and lush - it's beautiful.

The last tunnel, which is the longest of them all, but not too bad - a few hundreds meters.

That's why I previously mentioned to bring headtorches. It is also a lot cooler and humid inside, hence fleece and raincoat.

The sign gives a little bit of historical background on the railway line which was originally built to transport commercial freight.

The end of the via verde, A Pontenova (formerly known as Villaodrid).

The former train station and furnaces of A Pontenova now used as a tourism office and square with playground respectively.

A Pontenova (Villaodrid) old train station, now the town's tourism office.

The furnaces dating from 1900s were used to burn coal and ore to be sold on European markets.

Time to head to Taramundi for some lunch!


Time for our well-deserved packed lunch.

I think Jamie's a little bored of me taking pictures and just want to go home...:)

On the way back, not far from San Tirso, we pass this weird house with many icons and ornamental objects...

We both respect people's beliefs and religions, but, this looked more like a sort of witchcraft area rather than a shrine...

Once back at the campsite, showered and refreshed, we treated ourselves to a dinner “en tête-à-tête” at Amaido’s agroturismo restaurant. We had actually asked the previous day if the restaurant was opened (it was still low season – 28-29 April) and arranged a time we’d come along the next day. The wife welcomed us and told us the simple set menu; two choices of starters and mains with desert and drinks; all for just 9Euros!

It was all fresh and good quality. Our bellies full and washed down with mint teas, we headed to La Farrapa for a few drinks and to watch Real Madrid v Bayern Munich. Quite nice to know for the few football fans out there that San Tirso’s little bar can show matches on their TV screen. A few locals, young and old were out too. It was a lovely evening. A shame we couldn’t much converse with the locals including one of the elderly who was amazed by Madrid’s players prowess, shouting: “Increible, incredible!” Our little Spanish wasn’t good enough. Everything cannot be perfect, can’t it? One day, Jamie and/or I would love to take some courses. I did learn it years ago now and was actually better at it than English – how crazy is that?! Things change, we move on.

Next, we were heading to the mountains, Potes in the Picos de Europa stopping en route in picturesque villages, Villanueva De Oscos and Grandas De Salime to name a few, and many scenic routes such as the AS14, which I’d read about in our Lonely Planet travel guidebook.
High up in the mountains, we enjoyed some of our best free camping spots inland Northern Spain. The first, off the main road passed the col, “Puerta Salinas”. It was near a church and a few GR walks not too far from the Picos de Europa National Park. Our second wild camping spot was off the N621, passed the Mirador De Llesba with the Oso (Bear) statue (Click on the links to read short reviews of these two wild camping spaces under "Spain", bullets 6 and 7).

Historical village, Villanueva De Osco.

Villanueva's former 12th century monastery, "Monasterio De Santa María".

The river running alongside the monastery.

Part of the monastery has been left in a state of disrepair such as here.

The monastery was given a new life and converted into a school, but this shut down too.

A very old "horreo" (granary).

Later on that day, we stopped off at Grandas De Salime.

Grandas de Salime's main square featuring an old granary.

We didn't actually go in, but had to take a picture! It was Jamie's very own Spanish café.

The next day, we stop off at the picturesque village of Llanuces Pola De Lena on the AS230.

Unfortunately, quite a few houses are abandoned and others ruined.

Back to the van to drive off again.

Acebedo's local bar for cafes con leche.

Nice views en route to Soto de Sajambre.

Soto De Sajambre.

Is the crossing going to be fine?

The old school building.

Pictures of  mirador de Valdeon and mirador de Llesba.

Some beautiful rocky snowy peaks in the background.

And driving through a gorge on the way to Mirador de Llesba.

Finally at the Mirador de Llesba at the end of the day. Time for stretching our legs and pictures before the sun goes down.

I think I've inadvertently created many clones of my husband...

I obviously had to cuddle the bear statue! Bears have always been my favourite cuddly toy since an early age.

And time for a selfie!

A bit further on from the Mirador, the landscape's amazing...

 ... We find a wicked wild camping spot!

Making it through the many “cols” (summits), we parked leisurely during the day in Camping La Viorna in Mieses (1.5km from Potes) and enjoyed very hot showers! We went for a walk around Mieses and Potes bringing back souvenirs for Jamie; old time passed with his sister, Sallie and brother-in-law, Dan. As Dan runs the Saddle Skeddadle branch of Spain, they used to live in the North to run Summer cycling trips, hence Mieses and in the South, for Winter tours.

Jamie and I had talked en route about doing a wicked bike ride in the heart of the Picos National Park: cycling from the campsite to Fuente De to catch the cable car up to the Park and cycle back down to Mieses via one of the park’s hiking trails (cyclable too). Unfortunately, Jamie woke up with a very bad hay fever – he didn’t look well and certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed any outdoor activities. I felt bad for him, especially since he hadn’t had such a bad hay fever attack in a while! I didn’t want to leave him at first; I wanted to stay and look after him and, plus, I had never attempted a long distance cycling trip alone since we’d started our trip in August 2013.

The other thing was that I’d always depended on Jamie for bike repair assistance – barely able to putting a chain back on, I’d never even attempted to use our small pump or other tools. But, we’d never had had any puncture on our trip... So far.

Yes, I did adventure it out, all on my own, equipped with bike pump, tyre repair kit and set of tools. The road to Fuente De was smooth and quiet passed the few towns, the weather was on my side and beautiful views already. I couldn’t wait to be up there. Sweaty, wearing only long shorts, and T-Shirt, I waited for the cable car next to a 50yr old skier in full gear. Unfortunately no pictures were taken to immortalise the moment, but you can imagine the two extremes! To be fair, outside the cable car, it was pretty white... Snow covered the hiking trails over a few hundred metres, so I did put a few more layers of the termal-type on! I followed  the PR-24 hiking trail to Espinama. I had to walk a bit first to pass the powder and had to get off my bike a few time to avoid big rocks and puddles. I didn’t care, the views were outstanding and the sun was out. It was all good...

... Until I went too fast down a rocky part of the track and started feeling the rocks a lot... I’d got a puncture! The tyre was completely flat. I stopped and tried to continue a bit, but I knew I’d badly damage the wheel if I continued. I stopped and started using the pump, well I should say trying to use it! I felt so unbelievably dumb and foolish then. But, Jamie must have been looking over me, I had passed who I’d thought were two hikers a bit back, as they reached me, the man asked me if I needed any help. Fortunately, they spoke good English and happened to be park rangers! Within 15-20mins I was sat on the back seats of their colleagues’ pick up with punctured-bike in the back – how lucky.

7.10am, time to get on the bike.

7.36am. After Turino, passing through Quitana, it's a slow climb. I'm starting to be warm...

7.55am. After I passed the next village, Camaleno, I take some layers off! I can breath again!

8.28am. Passed Los Llanos, I stop to take a picture of the pretty scenery in the next village, Cosgaya.

A big hotel in Cosgaya. I think this is a nice version of a big modern hotel and very fitting in the heart of the Picos de Europa.

9.02am. The last village before Fuente De: Espinama.

9.26am. Horses can be seen roaming in a farm's field.

9.34am. Entering Fuente De.

9.45am. The cable car's opened, it will be leaving in the next few minutes.
The bike's on!

9.49am. Time for a selfie!

Nearly at the top, the view's fantastic, but the drop's quite scary!

9.55am. Time to put my thermal back on and fleece, I make my way outside towards the hiking trails.

Just a short stop looking at the map and double-check which hiking trail I need to get on... PR-24.

10.02am. As soon as I get back on the bike, I realise that I need to get off it after seeing all the snow at the start of the trail...

I passed what I think was a refuge in the distance. I had get off my bike again due to snow/rocks and water on the track.

Quite a posh-looking refuge... Looked more like a proper house.

More snow.

This is a hotel which was shut, but I think is opened from June to September or October.

The trail curves around the hotel. 

A few kilometres later, I got the puncture, what a shame!

The lovely park rangers brought me to a garage which could repair bikes (they’d rung beforehand to double-check they could do it!) – Taller/Garaje De Liebana in Ojedo. My tyre was actually fine, it was the inner tube that had a few holes which needed replacing. I’d set off early which meant that, once the bike repaired, I had time to peruse through the market stalls in Potes.  And Jamie felt well enough to meet me.

My tyre was ok in the end, it was just the inner tube. I paid 10Euros for inner tube and fitting. A bit expensive, but happy it was fine.

Potes' nice town centre.

A lot of narrow cobbled back streets.

One of the pretty little square. This one's a lot quieter as in the back streets of Potes.

Back to Camping La Viorna.

The campsite's swimming pool (only opened in Summer) and the main reception/restaurant building.

We would have loved to stay longer in the region but, if we wanted to discover the Auvergne and Alsace-Lorraine regions at our own pace before meeting our friends at the end of the month (May 2014), we knew we needed to move on.

Jamie had done a bit of research about which route to take to cross the Pyrénées. The small and, probably less heard of-, Spanish region of La Rioja, unless you’re a wine connoisseur, intrigued us. Although it is the smallest region of Spain, La Rioja boasts one of the biggest wine-growing areas of Europe. Our aim was to stop in the capital, Logroño before heading to the border.

En route to Logroño, we stop to look at Poza De La Sal ruined castle.

The view from the top onto the parking/picnic site below.

The nice village below.

We stop next at the picturesque village of Poza De La Sal.

With many historical buildings.

The pretty main square.

A few kilometres on, Jamie managed to find Poza De La Sal abandoned train station. This is the old railway line track.

We drove onto the track a little and continued on foot.

Inside the building, it is all falling apart.

La Rioja being one of the main wine regions of Spain, we thought we’d have a look at two famous wine places not only for their wine production, but also for their architecture. One main hotel in El Ciego stands out, not for its wine production, but for its Guggenheim-style Frank Gehry-designed luxury hotel, Hotel Marques de Riscal. Unfortunately though, one cannot approach it to take a mere picture. To do so, you have to be a hotel customer (and pay more than 500Euros a night) or go to its cafe/bar area. We didn’t like its very secured area. It’d taken the fun of it all. We moved on.

Bodegas Ysios in La Guardia is a lot more accessible. We were able to drive and stop near the building and vineyard to take a few pictures without a problem. Looking back at the picture, the building do look impressive with its silver wave-like roof contrasting with the rest of the wooden structure. At the time though (back in May 2014), I hadn’t thought it was as grandiose as what the descriptions I’d read made it sound. I was expecting an even bigger building with part of the structure AND roof forming waves.

The Guggenheim-style hotel Marques De Riscal in El Ciego.

Bodegas Ysios in La Guardia.

After a month in the countryside, we were looking forward to a hint in La Rioja’s capital, Logroño. Jamie had researched about safe motorhome parking in the city and found out through our motorhome apps (CamperContact and Camping Car Info) that there was a mixed parking aire by one of Logroño’s many sports centre: “Centro Desportivo Las Rionas”, only 1.5km from the centre via a lovely walking/cycling trail. – getting a little tipsy in the busy and buzzing student city.

The aire in Logroño. The sports centre's on the right centre, behind the fence.

Parked and ready to set off around 4pm, we walked through the old centre, stopped for some delicious pinxtos at the Taberna Del Tio Blas before heading out to the big mall for a bit of late shopping. By the time we got there, I was pretty tired from our walk and got bored of it pretty quickly. Something that would have never happened back in England. I guess back home, I considered shopping a treat after a hard day’s work. Nowadays, I’m a lot more aware that I don’t need more clothes, shoes or bags etc. And I don’t miss them. I feel lighter. It’s a nice feeling part of the freedom of travelling.

After a bit more than an hour, we were back into town. We sampled pinxtos accompanied with beer, wine and martini at various bars until late; we went to two wonderful little bars first, but unfortunately didn’t write down their names, then to Bodeguilla Los Rotos. At all the Tabernas and bars we went to, the waiters and waitresses were very friendly, all speaking very good English. We had a great laugh and enjoyed our very own “Spanish bar crawl”.

After all the stops around Poza De La Sal, we're ready hit the city of Logroño.

One of the main squares.

The indoor market hall.

Fresh fruit & veg stalls and stores can be found as well as meat and fish.

Getting out of the market.

Time for some nice pinxtos at the Taberna Del Tio Blas.

Bellies full, we make our way to the mall.

The mall.

And back towards the van, after a few drinks and more pinxtos.

In the space of two days, we stopped off at some very picturesque stone-houses and cobbled-streets villages such as Uncastillo and Sos Del Rey Catolico. Both are beautifully-preserved medieval towns located in the province of Aragon. But we also looked at a dam – Embalse de Las Penas, the pretty mountain village of Hecho, but the “crème de la crème” for us was exploring Canfranc’s huge abandoned international railway station. Built in 1928, its main purpose was to transfer passengers and freight from French to Spanish trains and vice versa. It abruptly shut down in 1970 when a train derailment broke a bridge on the French side. It also played a role in World War II with British espionage smuggling information and people from Vichy, France. And rumours have it that “German gold” was handled and delivered here.

We free camped both nights; first, by a small local train station, Los Riglos. It looked abandoned, but, we later discovered that it wasn’t. It only had four trains running all day: two early in the morning and two late afternoon. We did consider leaving, but we knew we’d leave quite early in the morning. Plus, the station was outside of any village/residential areas. The day after, we found ourselves enveloped by fog, free camping near the Puerto de Somport, off the road to the Vallee de Astún.

The ski resort was a ghost town – not a bar and/or a shop open. The humidity and fog added an eerie air to it all. It could have been the scene for the French version of the Danish TV-series, “The Killing” or a zombie film set in the French Pyrenees with zombies having their brains impaled by ski poles... I should probably stick to blog writing!

Pictures of the above

In the streets of Uncastillo.

Sos Del Rey Catolico.

Embalse De Las Penas.

The mountain village of Hecho.

Hecho's sculpture park. The sculptures were created between 1975 and 1984.

Canfranc Abandoned Railway Station.

There is still a small station in use, but the old station's fenced off.

At the back of the station, derelict coaches.

Next up, I will be writing about our time spent in my home country, France. Visiting family near Toulouse, the Auvergne and the Alsace-Lorraine regions.