This year, we decided to come back from Galicia through the León province ( unlike the previous year when we travelled through the north coast and Asturias). We thus left Galicia while passing by the magnificent wine region of Ribeira Sacra before entering the province of León by the west. We discovered there the old Roman gold mines of Las Medulas as well as the pretty remote village of Peñalba de Santiago.
As we were not too much in a city mood (are we really sometimes in a city mood? 😉 ), we decided to bypass the town of León by the north to discover a little the mountainous region which is at the border with Asturias (the south of the Cantabrian mountain range). It is a region which is not really touristy and we had not found much information during our research on line… But as often, there are beautiful things to discover everywhere and this area makes no exception as you will see.
- Faedo De Ciñera hike
- The Valporquero cave
- The Vegacervera gorge (Hoces de Vegacervera)
- The Nocedo waterfall and the Valdeteja canyon
- The Porma reservoir
- Drive up to the Puerto de Las Señales pass
- the reservoir and the mountains of Riaño: a small impression of Lofoten in the León province
- Map of the things to do in the north of the León region
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Faedo De Ciñera hike
We reach the north of León at the end of the day and we decide to find a quiet place in the mountains to spend the night. Around here, it is really easy to find nice and isolated places to stay with the van because there is really not a lot of other travelers. So we stop near Ciñera de Gordón because we had spotted a nice hike to do the next day.
After a good night of sleep, we drive to the pretty little village of Villar del Puerto from where begins the hike known as the Faedo de Ciñera (in fact it ends in this village but we had rather chosen to make it in this direction). This itinerary should have taken us through a gorge and then to the discovery of what is supposed to be one of the best preserved forests in Spain (and also in an old coal mine).
Unfortunately for us, hardly out of the village we find ourselves face to face with a herd of cows with their calves in the middle of the path. As we were with our dog Winchy, we did not dare to pass through them, and we decided to turn back (the cows do not cause any problem in general but when they are with their calves, it is another story… especially when we hike with the dog).
In short we did not see this famous forest… But if you are curious about this hike, I give you the map below and you will find some pictures of this place in autumn in this article. And if you hike there, don’t hesitate to tell us what you think about it in the comments.
The Valporquero cave
After this fail to start of the day, we go back on the road towards the Valporquero cave, which is less than 30 minutes away from us. This cave is a little wonder of the León region and you will be able to admire there several chambers all more impressive than the others, multiple rock formations, waterfalls and subterranean lakes… just that 😉
To get there you have to take a rather spectacular road that crosses the Vegacervera Gorge (which I will talk about later) and then take a small road that goes up to the village of Valporquero de Torio.
History and visit of the Valporquero cave
The Valporquero cave is located at an altitude of 1300 meters just below the village of Valporquero de Torio. It started to form more than a million years ago when the water of the river began to penetrate the limestone. Slowly but surely, the water created a cave of impressive dimensions, sculpting hundreds of limestone formations that can be admired today in the chambers open to the public.
During our visit in spring, with the snow melting, there was also a lot of water inside the cave. We were able to observe several waterfalls with water literally gushing out of the rock, a lake with turquoise colors and the river that crossed the different chambers before disappearing in the depths of the cave.
The visit of the cave has to be done with a guide (in Spanish only I think) in 2 different ways:
- the regular tour: A guided tour that allows you to discover the first 5 chambers of the cave (1 to 5 on the map) until the Gran Via in about 1 hour.
- the long visit: A more in-depth tour of over an hour and a half that takes you beyond the Gran Via.
On our side we made the normal visit because we did not arrive at the right time for the long one ( 3 sessions per day). But frankly we were already amazed with this visit that is well worth it as you will see!
We begin by going through an access tunnel (12) leading to the massive entrance of the cave (1), which hints at the size of the different chambers that we will discover. We follow the river inside the cave to enter a huge chamber that is divided into several parts (2-3-4). Continuing along the path, we discover a beautiful lake and the “Pequeñas Maravillas” chamber with its incredible rock formations.
One thing that we liked a lot besides the detailed explanations of the guide, it is the fact that in Valporquero, the lighting of the cave is turned on by the guide only during the visit. This avoids the formation of the “green disease” (small green algae that develop because of the light and the heat) as we had previously seen in the Nerja cave.
We continue down to the heart of the “Gran Rotonda” (3), the most imposing part of the cave. It is here that in spring and autumn, with the melting of the snow and the rain, we can observe waterfalls flowing out of the rock and the river that runs into the lower part of the cave at the “Hadas” (4), a 15m high waterfall.
Finally, we finish this beautiful visit by crossing the ” stalactites cemetery “ (5) to arrive at the beginning of the Gran Via (6), a 200m long corridor and over 30m high in some places.
Note: From the entrance of the cave it is also possible to follow a short hiking trail that offers beautiful views of the village of Valporquero de Torio and the valley below.
Opening hours and prices of the Valporquero cave
The Valporquero cave is generally open to the public from March to early December with a high season during which the cave is open every day between May and early October from 10am to 6pm. The rest of the season the cave is open from Thursday to Sunday (+ holidays) from 10am to 5pm.
Regarding the visiting hours:
- the normal visit takes place approximately every 45 minutes and costs 6€.
- the long visit takes place at 11:30 am, 1 pm and 4:30 pm and costs 8,5€.
For more information about prices and opening hours of the Valporquero cave, you can have a look at the official page here.
For those who are looking for a little more adrenaline, it is also possible to cross the whole cave with a guide and the right gear while canyoning and caving. We saw a group going in the cave for this excursion and it looked really cool. The prices are honestly reasonable for an activity of this type and if we had known beforehand we might have let ourselves be tempted!
The Vegacervera gorge (Hoces de Vegacervera)
The Vegacervera Gorge is located between the villages of Vegacervera and Felmin (the village where you have to turn left to reach the Valporquero cave) along the LE-315 road. They are the result of the erosion of the limestone by the Torio River. In some places, the walls carved by the river can reach up to 500 meters high (a small paradise for climbers).
Just at the exit of the gorge on the Felmin side, there is a small parking lot that allows access to a nice viewpoint overlooking the canyon. It is also worth noting that the river that dug the Valporquero cave flows into the Rio Torio just outside the gorge. Besides, if you do the canyoning and speleology excursion with a guide, you will exit the cave from there.
Note: And if you travel with an RV, be aware that the road is rather narrow in places and that it is difficult to cross!
The Nocedo waterfall and the Valdeteja canyon
We had spotted the 2 artificial lakes (Porma and Riaño) as goal for our day. As we still had a lot of time ahead of us (the days are already very long in May around here), we decide to make a small detour by the Nocedo waterfall and the Valdeteja gorge.
At the train station of La Vecilla, turn left on the LE-321 to drive along the Curueño River until you reach the waterfall. There is a small parking lot along the road and then you just have to walk 5 minutes on some footbridges to reach the waterfall.
We continue then a little further along the river to reach the Valdeteja gorges. They may not be as impressive as those of Vegacervera, but you will find some nice spots to stop and take a dip if you need to cool off.
The Porma reservoir
After enjoying the gorge and the waterfall, it’s time to get back on the road towards the Riaño mountains. Instead of following the fastest way, we decide to go along the Porma reservoir (the third biggest in the León province) which plays an important role in the irrigation and regulation of the rivers in the region. It should be added that when the reservoir was opened in 1968, 8 villages were flooded by the waters of the reservoir… But we’ll talk about this matter further down.
But even if it is an artificial lake, we must say that the landscapes are really beautiful and that we did not expect this in the Castilla y Leon region. The entire road that runs along the right bank of the lake is wonderful and there are several viewpoints where it is possible to stop and take nice pictures.
Drive up to the Puerto de Las Señales pass
After the lake, we turn right on the LE-333 to go up towards the Puerto de Las Señales pass, which is at the border between Castilla y León and Asturias. Even if the road is quite winding and a bit rough, it takes a bit more to impress the little Swiss that we are. The pass is nevertheless at 1625m of altitude and we have a very beautiful view on the Cantabrian range from there.
At the top, there is a small parking lot where you can park your car and then walk to discover the surroundings. Moreover if you feel like hiking a few hundred meters from there, you can discover a nice little mountain lake and meadows full of flowers. We didn’t go much farther than that but I imagine that it must also be a nice starting point for longer hikes (you’ll find a lot of itineraries on Wikiloc).
the reservoir and the mountains of Riaño: a small impression of Lofoten in the León province
After the pass, we go down the CL-635 towards the reservoir and the new village of Riaño. The landscapes are really gorgeous and we can’t help comparing them to those of Lofoten. We settle down in Riaño’s camping which is at the top of a hill overlooking the village. We have an amazing view on the Pico Gilbo and the Riaño mountains which rise above the lake… No doubt about it, even if the camping is not cheap (around 30€), it’s one of the most beautiful camping spot we had with Dahu. Judge for yourself:
From the campsite, you can also walk up to a beautiful point of view which offers a rather outstanding sight at sunset. Now you understand why we finally stayed 2 days at this place 😉
However, what we didn’t know is that behind these idyllic landscapes lies the sad story of the dam’s construction and the reservoir’s filling, which wiped out 9 villages and one of the most fertile valleys in the region…
The sad story of the Riaño reservoir
The construction of the Riaño dam and reservoir began in the 1960s during Franco’s dictatorship, officially to irrigate more than 100,000 acres of land further south. In the region, it is believed that it was mainly to produce electricity and that the reservoir was a counterpart demanded by the government to close the nuclear power plant of Lemóniz.
The most tragic part of this story is that with the end of the dictatorship, the project took forever and the people of the region lived with a Damocles sword over their heads for years! Those who remained in the 9 villages that were to be flooded have long hoped that the project would be abandoned. They demonstrated, resisted, made their voices heard all over the world… and yet, it was the socialists in power after Franco who sent the army in 1986 to chase them away and destroy their houses with bulldozers.
So behind these idyllic landscapes is in fact the sad story of 3,000 people chased off their land, a fertile valley and a nature reserve for many endangered animals (brown bear, capercaillie) wiped off the map… Did it help? It’s hard to say… Personally, it reminds me that there is no real “clean” energy and that we must learn to do better with less.
In order not to forget the hidden side of this place, here are some images of the old village of Riaño that I found on the web. And if you want to learn more about this history, I warmly recommend you to read this article from El Pais on this matter (in Spanish).
Hiking the Pico Gilbo
In spite of this dark story, the region of Riaño is a real paradise for the hiking lovers that we are. There are a lot of hiking possibilities in the area, we obviously didn’t have the time to do everything since we only stayed 2 nights before going on our way.
But from the campsite we had such a view on the Pico Gilbo on the other side of the lake that I could not resist to climb it.
But I keep the story of the Pico Gilbo hike (also known as the Matterhorn of Leon) for another post. It’s a hike that is not that easy even if the reward at the top is well worth it. On my side, I didn’t have the best weather that day so I don’t even dare to imagine what it must be like with good conditions 😉
Map of the things to do in the north of the León region
To help you find all the places I mentioned in the article, here is a small interactive map of the north of the Leon province with all the places indicated:
Now you know everything about our little adventures in this northern part of the León province. Honestly we didn’t know what to expect because we had found very little information about this area. But we really enjoyed this little road trip and we really recommend you to stop there if you are looking for quietness, mountains and beautiful hikes in the middle of nature.
On our side we will see you soon for the rest of our discoveries towards La Rioja and if you have any other tips about this region, do not hesitate to leave us a comment.