Valdeón valley, a discovery guide.
The road twists and turns as it climbs the last bends before the Panderrueda pass. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, appear the heights of Cornión and Urrieles, two of the Picos de Europa massifs. In silent awe we gaze upon the Peñas de Cifuentes, the hundred fountains, and the lofty silhouette of Peña Santa bathed in the afternoon sun. The far away villages look like toys at the bottom of the valley. We are in Valdeón, the most northerly corner of the province of León, next to the border with Cantabria and Asturias.
Best known as one of the starting points for the famous Cares gorge walk, Valdeón treasures a generous natural wealth of its own. Thick forests cover the hillsides of the great limestone amphitheatre and host an abundance of wildlife.
Common and durmast oaks, some of them of large, dominate the lowland forest. Holm oaks grow on the sunnier slopes and, dotted here and there, there are other trees like ash, maple, cherry, hazel, lime, holly and a variety of bushes. The high slopes are the domain of the beech forest, interspersed with the odd silver birch. Finally, the area above the tree line is covered with alpine meadows and bare rock.
Birds are much in evidence in the forests and the river banks: crested tits, great and middle spotted woodpeckers, black woodpeckers, ortolan and rock buntings, melodious warblers, bonelli’s warblers, firecrests, tawny pipits, and maybe a golden oriole calling from the thickets. We can also see raptors like goshawks, sparrow hawks, buzzards, black and red kites, kestrels, golden eagles, griffon vultures, and, in Summer, egyptian vultures, honey buzzards, short-toed and booted eagles.
On the high grounds we may be lucky enough to discover a wallcreeper or come across a flock of the very tame snow finches, and maybe a rock thrush or a bluethroat. Overhead noisy flocks of choughs call, often mixed with their cousins, the yellow-billed choughs. The upland meadows are also the favourite habitat of alpine accentors, the conspicuous water pipits and the noisy ravens. The cliffs harbour crag martins and spectacular alpine swifts. In the towns and villages it is easy to see rock sparrows, swallows, house martins, grey and white wagtails, dippers, black redstarts and common swifts.
Mammals are well represented and, although sightings are unlikely given their mainly nocturnal habits, it is not hard to come upon tell-tale tracks and marks. Otters, weasels, stoats, badgers, wildcats, wolves and even the occasional bear are all examples of the fauna of these forests. Roe and red deer, although shy, are easier to chance upon and, on the rocky tops, observation of the acrobatic chamois is almost guaranteed. This natural wealth is increased in Spring and Summer with a multitude of flowers and insects.
The variety of wildlife and the idyllic scenery, ever changing with the seasons, with the light or with the viewing point, make a visit to the Valdeón valley an unforgettable experience.
From Madrid: A-6 to Tordesillas, then the A-62 to Valladolid, to join the N-601 (Madrid-León) to Mansilla de las Mulas. Now turn off onto the N-625 to Riaño and turn left towards Puerto del Pontón. Just before reaching the pass take the turn-off to the right signposted to Posada de Valdeón via the Puerto de Panderruedas (1.450 m). Once over the pass a winding road takes us to the valley’s capital.
Another option from Madrid is to take the A-6 up to Adanero, the 601 to Valladolid and the N620 towards Palencia. After the Palencia ringroad turn off towards Carrión de los Condes, Saldaña and Guardo to continue via Velilla the Puerto de las Portillas up to Boca de Huérgano. Here turn right onto the N-621 to Portilla de la Reina and turn off to Santa Marina de Valdeón, which is reached after the the Puerto de Pandetrave (1,562 m.). This last stretch is currently only a single lane road with passing places, although there are plans for improvement.
Northen visitors can access from Potes, entering León after the Puerto de San Glorio (1,609 m). In Portilla de la Reina turn off to Santa Marina. If coming from Asturias follow the famous Desfiladero de los Beyos from Cangas de Onís to the Sajambre valley. From there climb up to to the Puerto del Pontón (1,290 m) and, after the pass, take a left turn towards Puerto de Panderruedas and Posada de Valdeón.
Things to do:
The valley is an excellent starting point for a number of excursions, the most famous of which is the Ruta del Cares, which takes you along the comfortable but spectacular 12 km path down the narrow Cares gorge to Puente Poncebos. In the valley itself there are tracks everywhere for walkers wishing to explore the area’s natural wealth on their own. Alternatively you can book a tour, like those run for birdwatchers by the Centro de Turismo Rural Picos de Europa. On the Caín road don’t miss the views from the Mirador del Tombo and be sure to visit the Chorco de los Lobos, an ancient wolf trap. A little further down there is a XIIth century burial site and the hermitage of Nuestra Señora de Corona where, so legend has it, king Pelayo started the re-conquest of Spain from the moors. In the villages look out for the traditional “horreos” – grain storage constructions on stilts – and the typical balconies on the houses. The nature interpretation centre in Posada de Valdeón is also worth a visit
In Posada de Valdeón:
Centro de Turismo Rural Picos de Europa. Camino a Soto Yanca s/n. Tel. 987 740593 E-mail email@example.com. Quiet and with good views. 8 double rooms and 4 wooden bungalows for four people. Climbing, walking and birdwatching guides.
Hotel Cumbres de Valdeón. At the entrance to the village. Tel. 987-742701. Nice hotel with magnificent views.
La Posada del Montañero. Tel. 987-742711. Good for Cares gorge walk.
In Santa Marina:
Casa Rural Friero. Self-catering. Tel 987-742658
Pensión El Tombo. Nice views. Also has a restaurant. tel. 987-740526
There is much to choose from. The following are specially recommended:
Posada del Asturiano, tel. 987-742760, in Posada, and Café Bar Peña Santa, tel. 987-742726 in Caín.
Camping El Cares, tel 987-742676, in Santa Marina, and Camping Soto, tel. 987-742605, in Soto de Valdeón. Both open only during the Summer.
Ángel Guerra Pérez.Tel. 987-742619 or 987-742618
Arts and crafts: Artesanía La Ruta. Tel. 987-742725. In Caín.
Cheese: Quesería Picos de Europa. Tel. 987-740514. In Posada de Valdeón.
Honey: Miel de Valdeón. Tel. 987-740559. In Soto de Valdeón.