Packed with world-renowned art galleries, traditional local flavour, beautiful architecture and cosmopolitan living, Bilbao is the beating heart of Spain’s Basque region.
If you’re after a little adventure, some stunning scenery and one of the most spectacular settings in all of Spain, why not add a visit to the Picos Europa National Park to your road trip around the north of the country? Here you’ll find Divine Gorge; a dramatic walking trail that might just demand a head for heights.
Located around three hours away from Bilbao, Divine Gorge should be right at the top of your Spanish bucket list.
What is the Divine Gorge?
Carved wonderfully through the Picos de Europa Mountains lies the Garganta del Cares, which can be translated to the Cares Gorge – also called the Divine Gorge. It’s one of the most striking features in the Asturias region of Northern Spain and one of Europe’s most famous hikes.
The trail hugs the cliff edges and is carved into the rock in the form of an old hydro-electric maintenance track, high above the river below.
You’ll find varying microclimates throughout, vast rock walls and spectacular views, along the 15 km trail that begins in Poncebos and ends in Cain.
Where to start on the Divine Gorge trail?
You can either start in Poncebos or Cain. Some people decide it will be easier to begin in Cain and descend into the gorge, although the most popular option is ascending the gorge and beginning in Poncebos.
When travelling from Bilbao, you’ll likely want to start in Poncebos.
How long does the trail take?
Speak to some of the locals and they’ll tell you the hike is 12km, others will say closer to 15km. Either way it is one of the more relatively straightforward hikes in these mountains with a journey time of around three hours.
Throw on your hiking boots, get your camera at the ready and make your way from Poncebos up into the gorge. We recommend giving yourself around three and a half hours for plenty of time gazing in awe at the scenery and of course, posing for pictures.
What is there to see along the Divine Gorge trail?
Begin your journey in the lower gorge and marvel at the sheer scale of nature as you start your ascent from the Roman bridge near Poncebos. You’ll soon find yourself on the winding path around a thousand feet above the river.
Now you’ll need your head for heights. Keep your eyes open for the fantastic views along the gorge, as well as the grand Murallon de Amuesa wall on the southern side. Take some time to sit and drink it in. If you can bring yourself to look down, the river will glisten in the sun thousands of feet away.
Make your way around the great bend to the upper, south-north gorge. This beautiful spot is the ideal place to take in the vast peaks of this superb Spanish mountain range. Now you’ll feel accustomed to the height and will be ready to take on a real adventure.
After traversing the smooth walls of the gorge, dipping through arches on your rocky hike, test your nerves as you cross the gorge twice on two breath-taking bridges before you approach your final finishing point at Cain.
How to get back from Cain
Once you’ve completed the trail and made your way from Poncebos to Cain, you have a few options to get back to your hire car.
Simply turn on your heels and descend back into the gorge and make your way the same way you arrived. Many hikers will go there and back along the Divine Gorge and can comfortably complete the trek in around six or seven hours. If you feel confident, go for it.
You will find plenty of taxis waiting at both Cain and Poncebos, so if you only fancy walking one way you can hop in a taxi for the journey back. Just be warned, it isn’t always cheap with prices rumoured to be €120. There are buses in the summer season, but queues can be big with the buses themselves cramped.
Arrive in Cain, relax in one of the many local restaurants and re-fuel ready for the journey back. The sense of achievement will be well worth it.
When is the best time to walk the Divine Gorge?
The summer season is peak time for a visit to the Picos. If you plan to walk the Divine Gorge trail in summer, be prepared to do so in amongst the crowds.
Putting the Picos on your northern Spanish road trip agenda in spring or autumn means you’ll benefit from milder temperatures and can enjoy the vibrant greens (spring) or dusty oranges (autumn). The route will also be much quieter.
Getting to Divine Gorge
If you’re starting your journey in Bilbao, you’ll want to jump in your rental car and begin by getting on the A-8 from Don Diego Lopez Haroko Kale Nagusia and make your way out of the city. Once on the A-8, continue to Ctra. 272/N-621 in Cantabria and leave the A-8 at junction 272 and travel on the N-621 to Poncebos.
Public transport is limited from Bilbao to Poncebos, meaning a hire car is your best option to make the journey. It also gives you chance to get out and explore more of the Picos Europa National Park after completing the Divine Gorge hike.
Searching for more scenic Spanish road trip choices? Discover the best of the country with our guides on road tripping through Spain.