Life has been relatively relaxing and uneventful during the past few weeks in my new city. I’m still adjusting to the weather-which tends to be cloudy and rainy most of the time-and life in general. Being in a small city certainly has its advantages, such the ease with which I’ve met people. And it definitely has disadvantages, too, like the limited variety of shops and restaurants. Luckily, when the city starts to feel too small for me, I can take off to the surrounding areas and explore new places.
A few weeks ago, some friends and I decided to check out Las Médulas, a historic mining cite in the region of el Bierzo, León. It is famous for its red hills that stick out among the surrounding vegetation, making it quite the site to see in autumn with the colorful leaves. This region, which the Romans used to mine gold, is a dream for hikers and tourists alike with its endless trails and caves to explore.
Although it is definitely possible to reach Las Médulas with public transportation or organized tours from nearby towns and cities, it’s a lot easier if you have a car. Luckily, my friend N has a car and was able to drive us there. Little did we know, we were in for quite the journey!
When N, A and I got in the car at 12:30pm, we turned on the GPS and saw that we had a 2-2.5 hour trip ahead of us. No big deal. We were excited and ready to check out a new place, despite the warnings of rain in the forecast. According to the GPS and weather.com, we would miss the rain if we didn’t have to stop anywhere. So, we took off towards Castilla y León.
We started out on two-lane country roads and it seemed like we were making decent progress. Our estimated time of arrival stayed the same and we were pretty sure we were on track.
About 45 minutes into the trip, we found ourselves on a windy road that raced through a mountain range. Despite my friend’s excellent driving, the hairpin turns made me feel a bit carsick. In addition, the amount of time left went up significantly.There had to be another way to get to Las Médulas. Unfortunately, neither my GPS nor my friend’s could give us another route. So, we had to continue.
The windy road eventually led us to a narrow path, which could barely be considered a road, and then through a small village. Suddenly, we turned a corner and found ourselves smack dab in front of a castle. The path/road went underneath the castle, so we decided to stop for a few minutes to get out to take pictures.
We must have been on the path/road for at least an hour because our estimated arrival time kept getting later and later. We couldn’t keep up a constant speed due to gravel and stones on the path, as well as the lack of space to pass other cars and deal with “minor nuisances” in our way.
Convinced that we were lost and we weren’t going to make it to our destination, we nearly cried when we finally saw a sign for tourist information in Las Médulas. We couldn’t be that far away!
We followed the GPS and signs on the side of the road and found ourselves on yet another windy mountain road. Only this time, we were going up at a pretty steep angle and we weren’t sure if the car would make it.
We continued up the steep path and eventually hit a small mountain village. After N parked the car, we got out and asked the lone person we saw in the village how to get to Las Médulas. He told us that we had to continue 4 km’s uphill and then we’d reach the visitor’s center. Apparently, there was another easier and more direct route that followed an actual road, but a lot of people got confused and came up through the mountain because the signs were wrong and no one had ever bothered to fix them. Go figure.
At 4:30 PM, about 2 hours later than our original estimated time of arrival, we finally got to our destination. Although we were exhausted from our long journey through the mountains of Galicia and Castilla y León, we immediately recovered our energy as we took in the beauty of Las Médulas in autumn.
Since the sun was due to set around 6-6:30pm, we decided to give ourselves a limit of one hour to explore. It was definitely not enough time to see everything, but we were able to see a decent amount of things and we definitely made the most of our hour.
There were a lot of trails to choose from, so we ended up following the crowd because we didn’t want to get lost or stray too far away from the car.
We passed by trees of many sizes, some with yellow, red and orange leaves glimmering in the fall sunlight. Behind the trees, the famous clay-colored mounds of Las Médulas towered over the small trees and even smaller people underneath them. Ahead of us, we saw signs for a cave.
We went straight inside the cave, despite the crowd of hesitant families and travelers, patiently waiting outside and questioning the safety of the space. However, as we rationalized it, we were only there once and we had to make the most of our one hour. Besides, who knew what we would see inside!
I took a running leap inside the cave as my friends followed and made a brief stop in front of this sign. “Danger: Risk of Landslides.” Although the rational part of my brain told me this was probably not the best idea, my curiosity took over and led me to climb to the top, towards a hole where sunlight came in and illuminated the whole cave.
When we all got to the top, we took a few pictures and then headed back down and explored some of the other tunnels. Since we were a lot higher up than the path, the view from the end of the tunnel was spectacular!
We could see the clay-colored hills and fall foliage for kilometers and kilometers. It was a beautiful sight! So, naturally, we took advantage and took some pictures!
At around 5:45 PM, we decided it was time for us to leave, so we made our way back to the car. In order to avoid the bumpy mountain roads on the way back in the dark, I asked a shopkeeper for a more direct route. He told us to go through a small village and continue to the biggest city in the region, Ponferrada, and then get on the highway which would take us back to Ourense. Needless to say, the trip back was a lot easier!
If you’re interested in checking out Las Médulas, I highly recommend going by car. Although there are organized tours that provide transportation, it’s a lot better to have your own transportation so you can explore at your own pace. For more information, check out their webpage on Turismo León.
“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart