Santander and turn right
We had no idea what to expect from Northern Spain and people would ask us what our plan was and we’d say we’re just going to get off the ferry at Santander and turn right. If they thought we were bonkers when we embarked on our big worldwide walkabout they really thought we’d lost the plot now. It was a little scary but also a testament to how far we’ve come. For the first time, the plan really was there is no plan. My aunt very kindly gave us a copy of the lonely planet guide to Northern Spain and we headed down to Portsmouth to board the boat.
Calle Marino Fernandez-Fonteca near Santander University
N 43° 28’19.91, W -3° 48’ 10.58”
As it happened we ended up spending our first night outside the aires parking as it was full. We just joined the long line of motor homes parked on the street just outside. The advantage of having an excited 8 year old is that she wakes up early so come the morning we waited for someone to leave and took their spot. This was our base for 3 nights. In high season there is a 48 hour limit on staying but this isn’t enforced in the winter and as we discovered it is only really full when a ferry arrives. If this is your first experience of free camping, then it sets the bar high as there are excellent services and it’s a great spot. For those travelling with kids there are several playgrounds in the parklands below. The main one which is directly opposite also has a cafe and toilets making a good choice for all the family. There are also easy cycles routes and wide pavements into Santander, the beach, and supermarkets nearby.
21 Barrio de Cabarceno Corraliza
N 43° 21’ 30.6”, W -3° 49’ 7.89”
Situated about 30 minutes from Santander is the village of Cabarceno and the Elephant Park. The car park next to the Elephant Park is a free aires site. Let’s face it, it’s not every day that you can wake up, take a 150m walk and watch the elephants feeding at a waterhole. Well here you can!
If the services at Santander were one of the best facilities we stopped at, here were some of the worst. Really the only usable service was the grey waste so make sure you empty the toilet and refill your water tank before arriving. There were toilets in the car park but they were closed and if the inside was anything like the outside I was not volunteering to use them!
Parking Las Hazas, Barrio Los Corrales, 39320 Cobreces
N 43° 23’ 20.04”, W -4° 12’39.56”
12€ for 24 hours including electricity
We used this as a stop over point between Santander and the Picos and to have a shower (our first since arriving in Spain some five days earlier). This small and relatively new site is a gem. The owners are lovely and the price reflects the available services (electricity, showers wifi and services). There is only one shower/toilet but it’s great if you have younger children as there is plenty of room to supervise without getting soaked yourself.
This isn’t a long term stop and a lot of people stayed one or two nights. There are some lovely cliff-top walks or bike rides and the village isn’t far either but once you’ve done them then there’s not much else around.
Posada de Valdeon
60 Calle del General Mola
N 43° 9’ 10.08”, W -4° 55’ 2.13”
10 € for 24 hours including electricity
How have Spain been hiding the Picos de Europe from us? We both have a pretty good grasp of geography but when someone said to us you have to visit the Picos, we were like the Picos de what? We took the advice in the Lonely Planet guide on where to visit and chose Posada de Valdeon.
I can confirm it’s beautiful but in November it’s cold (we had snow) and we were the only ones stupid enough to camp in a motor home in November. On the plus side we had unfettered views of the surrounding countryside and all of the wifi!
This is one of the places I want to go back to in the spring or early summer so that we could take full advantage of the walking routes around. It’s a great base for walking the nearby Cares Road.
1 Calle Bordon
N 42° 36’ 15.46”, W -5° 35’ 4.06”
Free (if you park in autocaravanas spaces)
A lot of people we met overlooked Leon on their route preferring to stick to the coast or head straight to Gijon from the Picos and in my opinion it’s a shame. We loved it and it had one of the most the best aires sites in terms of facilities and location. There are 10 dedicated motor home spots and the main historical centre of town is easily accessible by bike or foot and there is a small playground next door. Within easy walking distance there is a Mercadona (supermarket), a laundrette and upstairs in the shopping centre there is an excellent bazaar store. I got stocked up on school supplies and we bought things like melamine plates, a wok and a wok lid (all things we didn’t realise we needed before we set off).
3 Camino Mimosas
N 43° 32’ 51.0”, W -5° 38’ 11.0”
When we arrived in Gijon and we could see why so many people loved it. It was the first places that stole our hearts. We loved everything from the beautiful beaches, cycle paths and wide promenades, parks, public art displays, the aquarium and the old town. It also has the best Mr Minute (key cutting store) in the world! (I broke the key to our main door in Leon and he not only managed to cut a key from the broken pieces but also found a piece when Doug dropped it on the shopping mall floor).
We stayed in a car park out of town and used the bikes to head back to visit the aquarium and explore what this great little town had to offer. It was a good 20 minute cycle with Issy into the Old Town but with loads of cycle paths and very polite drivers it was easy to navigate and when she needed to cycle on the road it wasn’t a problem. There’s even a bread van that comes round every morning; it’s so incredibly civilised. The only thing that stops this from being perfect is the lack of services. There was a toilet but it worked intermittently in the 3 days we were there. That said, there is a service dump on the other side of town and at the football stadium both of which are less than 15 minutes drive.
Within 5 minutes walk there is a playground and it was close to the beach for rock-pooling and playing. There were people swimming but it was a far too cold for me! Whether you tell the kids or not is up to you but McDonalds is about 5 minutes drive (10 minutes walk away). We went as it was raining and Issy managed to come off second best to a fixed metal pole in the soft play area but that was down to user error rather than a manufacturing default.
There was also a really good motor home shop just outside Gijon, Caravans Costa Verde. Whilst they don’t speak much English, they were very helpful, had reasonable prices and even manufactured a part for our broken heater. We bought a bits we needed to do running repairs after Rosie lost a fight with a jagged cliff edge on the way through the Picos.
Read our next article which talks about the journey from Gijon to the Portuguese border