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Spain & Portugal - Day 8

The simple but delicious breakfast prepared by the landlady (her coffee was superb....even me (the wife) who's an occasional coffee-drinker had a second serving!) did wonders to prep us up.

We had a slow drive through the stunning Liebana Valley, admiring the gorges and rivers as we head towards our first destination in Picos de Europa National Park, Monasterio de Santo Toribio. In fact, this monastery was one of the main reason that brought us to Picos.

Travelling along the Deva river by road from Unquera, through the narrow pass of La Hermida, we were rewarded with the best view of the most beautiful and spectacular valley of Cantabria....

Liebana Valley

The walls are so high that the sun only shines there a few moments a day. The cloudy sky made it worst for us!

Deva River

The Deva & Cares Rivers are the 2 rivers with raging torrents of water where trout and salmon thrives when in season. Our eyes were always prying the waters for salmons swimming upstream but no luck....we were too was just the beginning of the season.

Deva River

After this stretch of gorges and valleys, we stopped by the visitor centre to collect an extremely simplistic map before heading to our destination. Once out of the town area, we were surprise to see a snow-capped mountain.

It was Autumn or rather late-Autumn in Spain but it has started to snow...somewhat unusual....but the unusual weather was what we had hoped for....our prayers were answered....woohoo!!

View from Monasterio de Santo Toribio

We were the first visitor at the monastery for the day technically because a group of visitors were already halfway through their walk up the mountain when we turned in from the main road.

Monasterio de Santo Toribio

Founded in 7th century, the monastery is reputed to possess the largest fragment of the original True Cross, i.e. the wooden cross that Jesus was crucified and died, which was said to have broken into many pieces during a war.

Interesting main entrance of the church

Being a place of worship and where a fragment of the True Cross was kept, NO photography was allowed. The following photos of the interior of the church are postcards that we bought from the monastery's bookstore.

Main altar

Since it was not the peak tourist season, we were the only visitor there. Being city dwellers, the aura and tranquility of the place was a luxury for us. But it wasn't long before our "where is the True Cross" thought started to nudge at us...after all, that's what we came for.

Amidst the dim light, we figured that a tabernacle at a side hall near the main altar was most likely the one. But, we were unable to confirm it....the hall was kept safe behind thick iron bars and heavy lock. With no one around, the thought that our probability of viewing the cross was almost zero was daunting!

Feeling indignant, me (the wife) unknowingly threw a little tantrum (grumbling) at the 'master' of the house....God. Guess I'm still mentally tired after yesterday's ordeal. And who says God's not listening? Immediately, He send an angel to answer our prayers!

An old priest whom we met earlier suddenly appeared on the other side of the gate with a bunch of keys...and our light of hope. Despite our differences in language, we managed to communicate, gain entry and venerate the cross. What a blessing!!!

*Note: only Catholics are allowed entry to venerate the cross

Tabernacle of the "Lignum Crucis" (True Cross)

The fragment of the True Cross was encased in the metal casing at the bottom of this cross

After venerating the cross, the priest guided us through this prayer before giving us a final closing prayer and blessing (in Spanish)....

The whole encounter may be short (about 5-10 minutes), its effect was everlasting. It not only lift up our tired body and soul for the day, the above prayer also became our pillar of support whenever the weight of our crosses become unbearable.

Of the few villages in Picos, Potes is the most pictureque and attractive.

The ancient part of Potes

Cobbled roads, stone houses....stepping into this part of Potes is as though we have stepped back into the medieval times. Somehow, the ancient surrounding seemed to magically transport us into another era....lost in a time capsule.

Just across the road, a totally different Potes greeted us.

a knick and knack store in Potes

Street of Potes

The cool wet weather makes strolling the streets of Potes exceptionally pleasant. Besides cosy cafes, there are many interesting shops selling local produces, handicrafts, paintings, essentials etc. They do not have loud catchy window displays. Instead, they were packed with warmth and friendliness that made our whole shopping experience enjoyable and stress-less. That back-to-basic feel was therapeutic.

But our best buy was a nougat-sort of sweet at the supermarket. We got to mix & match whichever we like and it was really cheap compared to back home that we ended up buying 2-3 kg. That's a lot or so we thought only to regret not buying more once back home. It only took our parents, niece and us a few days to finish all that kilos! These sweets were addictive....can't wait to sink our teeth into more....!!!

Besides walking trails, there are many viewing points located at different part of the national park offering splendid view. On our way to one of those (had wanted to visit all of them....but yep...we grossly underestimated our time), a house just a short walk away from our B&B caught our attention.

House on river.....

Half of the house sits on a small grass patch that barely shield it from the raging waters of the Deva River. What an interestingly challenging house.....lovely.

As we continued our journey, we decided to detour to Cares River to catch its splendour and hopefully spot some trouts and salmons. Unfortunately, it was sort-of close for the day for the safety of visitors since it was already 4pm and any trekker starting out at that hour won't be able to make it back before last light. Still, the guard allowed us to linger on for a while to catch a glimpse of Cares' magnificent torrent.

Its emerald water are so clear and'll make a good place for soaking and swimming in summer.

Despite the detour and a seemingly endless (but enjoyable) drive up the mountain, Viola! we made it to our destination, a village at the top of the mountain before last light. There's nothing special about this village, but its proximity to the peak of endless mountains offering visitors great view without having to climb any mountain was.

What await us immediately blew us off.....we were awed by the spectacular view of snow-capped mountains.

We had wanted to stay on a little longer....after all, we had come a long way....but we were not well equipped to fight the strong wind and freezing temperature. Just 5 mins in the open was enough to turn our nose, ears and hands numb and our bodies trembling non-stop. Still, rather satisfied, we made our way down the pitch dark mountain. The freezing air coupled with soft hissing wind and the total darkness that encompass us somewhat made the drive back mystical.

We reached our B&B hoping for the owner's famous french cuisine only to be told that the chef was in party kitchen's close for the whole week! Nevertheless, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

We had dinner at a small, cosy cafe in Panes, a small town 8 mins' drive away. There, we had a bottle of red wine (at only £3.50) to go with the devilicious garlic-red wine mussels and flavourful perfectly-grilled lamp chop.

Left: mussels, right: lamp chop

The presentable of the dishes may be simple, but it was exceptionally delicious and the overall ambience (very country and homely with groups of elder playing different type of card games at different tables) more than compensated for it. A homely dinner to end a wonderful day.

On the overall, we may not have trekked as planned due to the rain and cold, neither did we make it to our planned cave-tubing side trip, nor taste any of the famous Liebana cheese. There are regrets yet it was surprisingly one of our most relaxed, carefree and memorable One day throughout our entire trip (and a great part of our lives). To be embraced by rolling mountains, trees and raging rivers was indeed a blessing!

This post first appeared on Carefree And Off-the-beaten Tracks Travels Around The World, please read the originial post: here

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Spain & Portugal - Day 8


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