As the end of the particularly harsh COVID-19 quarantine in Spain became apparent, I had little doubts as to what would be my first travel destination: Riaño, in the province of León, North of Spain.
I discovered Riaño as a mountaineer haven only last year, but ever since I’ve been planning my return. Just so many valleys and mountains to explore just a stone throw away from my budget accommodation in Boca de Huérgano. And further, thin crowds even on the most popular mountains.
Maybe it was the state of my spirit, insecure, screen overdosed and longing for the freedom of the hills, but I feel that this year’s experience was somewhat….deeper. Corny word, I know, but I’ll use it to be less flashy, more local. Now what exactly does that mean?
Firstly, I picked mountains that were closer or lesser known than last year – B-sides of B, as it were. My highlights were very local Yordas, overlooking the Riaño reservoir, and the little known Cerroso peak, which nonetheless boasts two beautiful beech forests worth exploring. Perhaps Gildar, which I climbed on my third day, could be equated to Coriscao last year, as being among the best belvederes of the nearby Picos de Europa. But, still, I encountered no one on my hike.
Picking local peaks meant less time devoted to transport, freeing up the afternoon for other activities. The day I arrived I packed in a quick run in Boca de Huérgano. The next day I bathed in its beautiful creek. Not supposed to, said the girl at the general store (COVID and all) but you make the call. I did.
On day 2 I learned a lot about the history of Riaño and its valleys by visiting the small but excellent ethnographic museum in Riaño.
What a sad story – the last big flooding of several valleys in Spain, followed by the relocation of up to 12 villages. It was on the news in the 80’s, when I was a kid, but after the museum I understand how long and painful the whole process was – as well as how the beauty afforded by so much water is, well, not entirely true.
Slowness also allowed me to spend more time talking to fellow guests at the hotel. Every evening, over dinner, I’d exchange trip reports and tips with a Basque couple who’s in love with the area (surprise, surprise). They’d drive around, walk and climb for 15 days. Wrote down a lot of their local hiking tips, as well as suggestions for a long-delayed trip to the Basque country.
Last evening things got a bit more personal and I learned that one of my new Basque friends worked in a supermarket. Eroski, she admitted, almost apologetically.
Well thanks for your help, I had to say.
You know, thanks for your work during phase zero of quarantine. Doctors, nurses, the police….and you. You guys kept society alive.
Well, cheers, she said. No big deal.
Maybe, I nodded. Maybe not. But still – thanks. It’s been tough and you guys sure made a difference.
Want to know more?
There aren’t a lit of write ups on Riaño in English.
I suggest this one.
If you’d like to hike, Robin Walker’s is hands down the best guide of the Cordillera Cantábrica – even for Spaniards.
As to the sad history of the Riaño dam, there are some helpful documentaries which you may want to watch, adding English subtitles.
And the more recent “Mi Valle” (2016), available on Vimeo.