Written by Elle
As much as we love spending our days in beautiful Rioja, B and I thought it was time to explore more of our pretty new spot on the globe and decided the best way to see more of northern Spain would be a road trip!
I grew up taking road trips almost every summer. From the forests of Washington to the Grand Canyon to the farms of the Midwest and everywhere in-between, my parents loaded my siblings and I into our Dodge Caravan and hit the road for weeks at a time. My mom made “road trip bingo” for us to play, and stitched bean-bags shaped like the sights we would see for us to toss around at rest stops. Even though the 5-10 hour driving days could get a bit long, I have the fondest memories of seeing so much of the USA with my family via car.
B wasn’t so much of a road-tripper growing up, but he was thankfully game for this little adventure since we never scheduled more than 5 hours of driving on any given day. Plus, he really loves any chance to drive around Spain in a rental since we no longer own cars! We only had 5 days for the trip so we pulled up google maps and started planning our route.
Since we were tight on time, we chose 3 spots we wanted to hit: The mountain towns in the Picos de Europa, the coastal villages of Asturias, and the cosmopolitan city of Oviedo.
As soon as I got off work on Thursday we hit the road in our little silver Renault Clio and headed 4 hours Northwest for our first stop: Los Picos de Europa.
The Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) are a series of limestone peaks that make up part of the Cantabrian Mountains. Before the trip we had no idea that Spain had such a wild, jagged, majestic mountain region!
It took us about 4 hours to drive from Logroño to the teeny-tiny village of Armaño, Cantabria, upping its population of 30 to 32 for a couple nights! Armaño is simply one of the small villages near the “big town” of Potes (pop.1400). We chose Armaño for its proximity to the many hiking trails in the Picos, as well as for the killer Airbnb we found there!
The Airbnb was a renovated apartment that was part of a 200-year-old stone home on a hill overlooking the mountains above and valleys below. The owner Jose and his wife spoke no English which gave me a chance to really put my Spanish to the test! They were the sweetest couple with a dog and cat running around the yard and a bar in the ground floor of the home where we had great (albeit, short and fractured!) conversations with them as a few locals wandered in for a beer while we watched a football match on the tv. It was an incredibly peaceful way to start our trip!
We spent two nights here, waking up early on day two to hike one of the many trails marked on the map Jose gave us, opting for one of the “easy” level hikes. We drove to the trailhead about 15 minutes away and came upon the trail sign which indicated that it was “medium level”. Okay, no problem. We’re experienced hikers and even have our boots with us! Plus, the hike was only 3 miles each way, so we were up for it.
After the 30 minutes or so, we were a bit surprised that we had yet to hike any flat ground. Like, zero. It was up, up, and up some more! Thankfully the trail was wide and the ground was a mix of dirt and rocky trail so I didn’t bust my butt on any steep gravel or mud (the worst!). We definitely got our sweat on and were rewarded with some of the most beautiful views we’ve ever seen!
We made it to the top and sat on the rocky precipice for a while enjoying our water and snacks (a bag of snickerdoodles I made that were thoroughly crumbled to bits in the backpack) as we looked out over the mountains, fields, and horses that were grazing right on the trail. Bonus points for this hike: we saw zero other humans! Our only trail neighbors were cows and horses!
Once we zoomed back down the incline, we drove back to Armaño for a much-needed nap, then hopped back in the car to ride up the cable car to the famous “Fuente De” peak for some killer views…too bad it clouded over completely as we rode to the snowy top! Oh well, still fun!
What a view, right?!
We ended the night with snacks and drinks in Jose’s little bar. A perfect day in the Picos!
Next stop on the trip: the Asturian coastline! The weather called for a grey and rainy Saturday, but we didn’t let that get us down! We drove 90 minutes north and stopped at a few beaches on our way to Ribadsella, our destination for the night. The jagged rocks and crashing waves reminded me so much of my summers on the Oregon coast growing up and were just beautiful even on a cloudy day. We checked into our little hotel and walked the long boardwalk checking out the unique old homes and mansions that span the waterfront.
This part of Asturias has a unique architectural history from the early 1900s when Spaniards who made their fortunes in the Americas came back to this region to build these mansions in the style of the Americas as their summer homes. They are all colorful, grand, and each unique, making this town stand out among the traditional coastal architecture seen elsewhere around Spain. Many of these homes near the beach have been transformed into hotels and other businesses, but many in the outskirts of town are abandoned.
With just one night allotted for our stay in Ribadsella, we spent our time at different cafes and restaurants, taking in the sights around the pier and beach, and trying to not get too drenched by the rain!
We took our time making our way to Oviedo since it was only a quick one hour drive from the coast. The drive was just gorg featuring lush green fields, twisting hilly roads, and wide open spaces. As we came into town our first stop was the lookout point at the top of Monte Naranco. A small mountain popular with hikers and bikers, Naranco also features a drivable road all the way up (we heard it was a 3 hr+ hike up so we opted for the driving option! Yay rental car!) The road was winding and narrow and B loved every minute of it.
It only took about 30 minutes to drive all the way to the top and be greeted by the most incredible view of the city! We took the token pics and walked around the summit in awe of the views in all directions before heading back down to find our hotel.
Our days in Oviedo were rainy but wonderful. The architecture is classic Europe: rows of beautifully colored buildings, tiny balconies, city parks, statues everywhere, and big cathedral squares. We found the local Starbucks and with my raincoat and grande soy chai it was almost like I was a Seattleite again!
Now, you can’t go to Oviedo without visiting Calle Gascona, lovingly called “cider road”. The region of Asturias is known for their cider culture, and Calle Gascona features several siderias that allow you to experience it the Asturian way. Much unlike the sweet cider varieties I’ve had in the States, Asturian cider has almost a sour, vinegary taste—but in a good way! It’s non-carbonated, so the traditional way to drink it is for the pro waiters to come pour you about an inch of cider into your glass from a great height so that it sort of self-carbonates into the glass. You have to drink it quickly in one or two gulps so that you get the freshest, best sips. The technique is called escanciada, and the waiters come around every few minutes or so asking if you want some more…to which our answer was almost always ‘yes’, and before you knew it B and I went through 3 big bottles! Oops!
We paired our delish cider with local chorizo, cheese, and pimientos del padron (our fave!). It was one of the most tasty and unique dining experiences I’ve ever had!
On our last morning we decided we couldn’t leave without trying the local pastry delicacy, carbayones. Named after a beloved oak tree that was cut down in the middle of the city, carbayón is an Oviedo delicacy of sticky, sweet, almondy goodness!
With bellies full of coffee and carbayones, we drove 4 hours home to Logroño on the final day and spent the trip back talking about how much we wanted to do it all over again! If you ever find yourself in Northern Spain, hop in a rental car and see as much of it as you can—you won’t be disappointed!