Nestled in the Cantabrian mountains in the northwest of Spain, almost bordering Galicia, is a village with an ancient history known as Las Médulas. It was one of the first places I visited when I moved to León, and one that I would happily return to in a heartbeat. Despite being one of the most iconic places to visit and hike in León province, it’s not well known to foreigner visitors at all, despite the many promotions I had seen before going there.
One of the reasons why Las Médulas is not well known is perhaps due to its difficulty getting there, especially without any working knowledge of Spanish. There are no regular bus services to get there, but a taxi there is affordable as you’re close to the city of Ponferrada which is the best connected place around. Another option is to take the Regional Exprés train service to Covas, and get a taxi to Las Médulas. Alternatively, you can hire a bus for large groups or go on a guided tour from León, and many companies can operate day- long excursions as such. It is a hassle, but worth it.
Starting in Las Médulas village, there’s one key goal, get to the top of the mountain. The car park is actually located at the start of the village and you have to pass through it to get to the main path, which is about half a kilometre or so. Another popular starting point is from the village of Orellán on the other side of the mountain. One thing you immediately start to notice, is that the distinctly terracotta-coloured rock in many places. The village itself has a notable number of guesthouses and information points about the mountains you are about to see and it’s history, and you discover that this is actually man made from the Roman times when they mined for gold here. While the evidence is around, to somebody who isn’t an expert like myself, you would never have guessed that man created this.
There’s a point where the road splits into 3 routes, all of which will take you to important points of the hike. if you take the right option, you will climb to the Cuevas de Reirigo, and then along the ridge to popular viewpoints at the top of the mountain. The middle and left choices are part of a circuit along the woodland areas of the ancient mine, but have paths branching off in various directions. The middle path was the one our guides decided to use as there’re some paths that also take you to the top of the ridge. This path is also the most common choice for hikers in general as it isn’t technically difficult in any way if you were to do the circuit which is about 3km long.
The walk is largely uneventful for the first kilometre until you are presented with the option of climbing up the mountain, which we did. Before then, there were flashes of unusual rock formations from time to time. and it doesn’t take long before you reach the ridge and start getting better views. The climb is not challenging at all, only 100m or so, and then you are on the ridge itself, heading to a viewpoint called the Mirador de Orellán. If you took the path on the right at the junction of Las médulas village, you would have reconnected to this route, after reaching the Cuevas de Reirigo and the Pico de Placias and walking another 2km.
The viewpoint is an elevated wooden deck with views that are the most iconic of the whole trip, and me and the group of 30+ Erasmus students were all in awe of it all, taking as much of it in as we could. The other side of the ridge also showed mountains over 1500m high, which during winter would almost certainly have snow on them. There are also many other viewpoints that you can climb to from this point, and you can descend to Orellán very easily from here. The treats to your hike don’t stop there however, you have to go back a few clicks to enjoy them.
You need to return back down the mountain to the main path and follow it, eventually, you will reach the man made caves, and the path will divert from time time, but stick to the main route and the terracotta peaks and cliffs start to be come common place. Many of the caves are visible and there’s one called La Cuevona which you can actually enter and climb into some of them. There are plenty of places to explore, and most of them are safe to do so, and the best part is that the path is always nearby.
Descending back into the village is a bit narrow at times, but you constantly surrounded by the jagged peaks and cliffs all around you, and it doesn’t take very long to get back. The experience takes about 2-3 hours, depending on how long the route is that you want to take and how much of the caves you want to explore We arrived there at around 3pm and left the place at around 6-6:30pm. It’s worth noting that if you visit Las Médulas, you must stop off at Lago de Carucedo at some point that day, which offers various activities on the lake as well as the perfect chillout spot, before or after your hike.
I’d recommend anyone to visit Las Médulas should the opportunity present itself, and you are guaranteed amazing views both on top of the mountain, and at the bottom. Whether you are not used to hiking, or have a load of experience, this is worth checking out, and you decide how long you want to go for. This is well known locally, but so few people from outside know about it, so it’s time to break the mold and see what the fuss is about, don’t you agree?