How two boomers conquered a tough trail in Spain

When adventure traveller Talek Nantes of New York City wrote to us at BoomerCafé saying, “I especially like the fact that you are not about seniors or middle-age but about active adults with adventurous spirits,” well, we knew we liked her. And we like what she does, living life to the fullest. Her most recent example? The Cares River trail in northern Spain. She writes for us about how she and another baby boomer conquered it.

The Cares River Trail hike is a big deal for hikers. I had been hearing and reading about this trail — in the Picos de Europa National Park in northern Spain — for years. The park is a hiking mecca filled with many breathtaking trails. The Cares River trail is said to be the most challenging of them all, running right through the heart of the national park between the provinces of Asturias and Leon. The land is crisscrossed by rivers and deep gorges, and dotted with lakes, forests, and mountain peaks, some over 7,000 feet high. And the landscape! The landscape is wild, vast, and simply stunning.

The recommended round-trip hike covers about 15 miles. You can start the trail in either of the two provinces. We started from Poncebos in Asturias and worked our way down to Cain in the province of Leon. Make sure to bring food and water as there is no place to buy food along the way.

Armed with walking sticks, a block of local cheese, and a slab of bread, we started out. Other than the first one to two miles, which are very steep, the trail is easy terrain although high altitude. It runs parallel to the Cares River on the mountain range for a good 6 to 7 hours.

The trail is alarmingly narrow in some parts that are high above the river, which flows along the valley-floor. Now and again the path takes you through small tunnels carved out of the rock and across bridges that hang precariously over the abyss. All the while, rocky mountainsides tower up on either side of you.

Throughout the trail we saw abundant wildlife: mountain goats, eagles, and I still insist I saw what looked like a bobcat (though no one else did). Vultures are disturbingly pervasive. Try negotiating a narrow mountain pass several thousand feet above a plunging gorge with ten vultures circling over your head. Talk about nerve-racking!

Talek’s husband, Mario Pasantes.

Safely back in the village, we sampled the regional specialties of goat cheese, fabada (sausage and bean casserole), and pote asturiano (bean stew with potatoes and meat). These are heavy dishes designed to keep mountain folk going during the winter months. They were delicious but, to tell the truth, made me want to sleep. Of course the wine and local cider helped.

Other dinner options in the local villages include the ubiquitous tapas. One of the most pleasant activities in northern Spain is tapas bar-hopping. You try one or two delicious little tidbits along with a glass of beer or local wine, then move on to the next. It’s difficult to choose which tapa to settle on.

A tapas bar in a village.

There is so much to do in this often neglected but unique part of Spain. There are several adventure sports outfitters in the area offering rafting, caving, climbing, biking, paragliding, horseback-riding, and kayaking.

With all that this beautiful part of Spain has to offer, I left wondering how long it would be before other travelers discover its many charms.

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