Europe is old. Like, super old. Walking down single-lane cobblestone streets in the middle of Madrid bring you back to the 1400s, even if the pavers were actually replaced just a couple years ago.
When you visit the tiny villages deep in the Spanish countryside, visions of the powerful Spanish empire that was the first to conquer most of the New World are undeniable.
Getting outside of the major cities in Spain is truly like stepping back in time, but there is nothing like the village of Bulnes, buried deep inside the mountains of Picos de Europa National Park in Asturias in the northern part of the country.
Bulnes is protected from modern advances by towering limestone cliffs thousands of feet tall. Yes, there’s electricity from the grid, but water is provided from wells and natural springs, and the sewage system is individual septic tanks.
This is because there are only two ways of getting to Bulnes: a strenuous one-hour hike through the canyon or by taking the tram, which holds only about 20 people — not exactly big enough to haul bulldozers, dump trucks and other modern construction equipment.
Taking the tram, called a funicular in Spanish, through the heart of the mountains from the town of Poncebos will cost about $19 per person for a one-way ticket (about $25 round-trip) and takes just seven minutes.
However, if you want to truly experience what it was like to get to Bulnes centuries ago, you’ll make the 2-mile hike on foot. That doesn’t seem like a very big deal, but I should also mention there’s about 1,500 feet of elevation gain.
At first I thought the only way the town could have existed back then was if people carried supplies by wagon, but after starting the hike you very quickly realize everything must have been packed in on mules.
The trails are much too rugged, much too steep and much too narrow for a wagon; I wouldn’t even feel comfortable trying it with a modern ATV, if that were even a possibility.
But once you get to Bulnes, you’ll find a thriving community thanks to the tourism. The buildings are still made of stone. There are no real streets, just walking paths.
Chickens run freely around town, and cows and sheep range on the steep hillsides. Houses are decorated with flowers, and there are at least three restaurants in town.
While visiting a secluded and cut-off village amongst towering mountains is reason enough to head off to Spain, there’s still one more justification for a visit to Bulnes: It’s the gateway to the truly rugged peaks of Picos de Europa National Park and the Naranjo del Bulnes.
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