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Picos De Europa and Galicia, June 2019

Paradors in the Picos

By Mary Stephenson

In June 2019 my husband Hug and I set off in Lady May, our 1939 Rolls Royce Wraith for our first RREC rally – our first ever rally, so the sight of beautiful old cars when we arrived at our hotel in Santander filled us with excited anticipation.

We met our fellow travellers over chilled white wine on the hotel terrace.  The majority were seasoned RREC rallyers so we felt like newbies starting school.  Everyone was very friendly, we just had to remember all their names.

The following day we set off into the Picos de Europa towards our first parador for two nights in Cangas de Onis.  The scenery was splendid, particularly when we got lost in the mountains but by lunchtime we were back on the page.  For one car in the group the rally came to an abrupt end in a ditch.  Neither driver nor passenger were badly injured, thank goodness and Hug and I were full of admiration for the driver’s stoic acceptance of his mangled car.  Had it been Lady May, we would both have been blubbing.

Paradors are State-run four-star hotels, often in converted monasteries.  The Parador de Cangas de Onis is no exception, situated about a mile out of town.  Cangas de Onis is full of little shops selling cheeses, wines and souvenirs.  Famous is the ‘Roman’ bridge which turned out to be 14th or 15th century; still old and worth visiting.

After Cangas de Onis we drove 100 miles to the Parador de Corias near Cangas del Narcea.  This Cangas didn’t have the charm of Cangas de Onis but it did have a lovely cider restaurant we found on the first day.

Despite a storm that night, the next day we drove into the high sierras up a road fringed with the purple and yellow of heather and broom, still stunning against the glowering grey sky.  As we climbed it got colder and at the top, I got out to take a photo of the spectacular scenery and listen to the clinky clinky of cow bells.  Thunk!  He couldn’t resist, could he?  Even with the measly scattering of recent snow Hug had gathered enough to pelt me with a snowball. 

Our next route was 160 miles to the Parador de Santo Estevo near Ourense.  Twenty minutes into the mountains, Lady May started coughing like a consumptive but she kept going, seeming to clear whatever it was.  We carried on but after a few miles Lady May faltered again, this time she wasn’t going to recover.  Fortunately, there was a large layby to the right of us. Hug opened the bonnet while I stood at the roadside looking like an elderly goodtime girl.

In due course, friends appeared and stopped.  For the next half hour, the men fettled with Lady May while the women chatted.   It appeared that the rotor arm was in bits so superglue was produced, the bits stuck together and off we went again.  We managed the remaining 100 miles in convoy but Lady May was clearly not a happy girl.

Parador de Santo Estevo, thought to be 7th century, is high up in the Ribeira Sacra mountains of Galicia.  Here we would be spending six nights.  This would give us time to have a new rotor arm sent out from England and we could relax and enjoy the area.

The next day a boat trip along the River Sil had been arranged followed by a delicious lunch at the Parador de Montforte de Limos overlooking Monforte and the Sil valley.  This area is refreshingly free of tourist development and along the river all we saw of human activity were vineyards clinging to the sheer rocks on either side. 

The pace of the holiday suited us well; only two one-night stops and a six-night stay in the middle allowing us to unpack and do our own thing.  The nearby village of Luintra had two bars and there were Neolithic remains nearby to explore.

En route to the 12th century Monasterio Sta Maria La Real de Oseira one day, the landscape was so beautiful we had to stop and take photographs which made us too late to see round the monastery.  Fortunately, we weren’t too late for lunch at a fish restaurant near O Carballino. 

On the fifth day we travelled by train to Santiago de Compostela to soak in a bit of the atmosphere.  The Cathedral was having internal renovation work but it was still impressive. We visited the Pilgrimage Museum nearby, which gave a fascinating insight into the history of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimages.

The next run was 210 miles to our hotel east of Leon.  The following day we stopped at the Roman villa La Olmeda between Carrion de los Condes and Saldana, discovered in 1968 it has some striking mosaic floors.  The designs are truly breath-taking.

We stopped for lunch in the small town of Riano, a little gem in a scenic setting.  The road there runs alongside a large lake surrounded by hills, the verges full of wild flowers.  Then we started to climb into the Picos de Europa once more towards the pretty town of Potes and on to Fuente De. 

Fuente De was our final stop. Surrounded by sheer cliffs, in winter this is a popular ski resort with a cable car which ascends 753 metres; scary stuff but worthwhile for the views from the top.

On the last day we held the traditional mascot competition.  There were pilgrims and goblins, boots, castanets and Spanish flags hung from bonnets and the winners were Linda and Tony Hunt with their inventive take on the ailing Pont Aven ferry.  In dry dock when we left, would she be there to take us home?

Indeed, she was and we waved Spain and the Picos goodbye after what had been a well organised and thoroughly enjoyable rally.  I’m sure it won’t be our last one with the RREC.