Picos de Europa

  • From Jermoso ridge - © William Mackesy
  • Naranjo with refuge - © William Mackesy
  • Cares Gorge bottom - © William Mackesy
  • Cares Gorge - © William Mackesy
  • Cares Gorge - © William Mackesy
  • Buddha"s halo - © William Mackesy
  • Rebecos, early morning from Jermoso ridge - © William Mackesy
  • Cares Gorge - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • From Jermoso ridge - © William Mackesy
  • Early moring from Jermoso ridge - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Cares Gorge - © By Flickr user ctrlw
  • Cares Gorge - © By Flickr user carlos m gonzales1
  • Fuente De (Central Picos Traverse) - © By Flickr user Rafa
  • El Naranjo de Bulnes - © By Flickr user ctrlw
  • Puertos de Aliva (Aliva Circuit) - © By Flickr user jroblear
  • El Naranjo De Bulnes (Central Picos Traverse) - © By Flickr user alvarolg
  • Aliva Panorama (Aliva Circuit) - © By Flickr user jroblear

Key information: Picos de Europa

  •  Remarkable, jagged range of limestone mountains running along Spains northern coast.
  •  A surprisingly untouristed areas: high summer-grazing land scattered with isolated, unique villages beneath dramatic crags and rocky spires. Unrivalled flora and fauna.
  •  A network of walks at varying levels and lengths through one of Europes last true wildernesses.
  • This is high country, exposed to Atlantic weather; rain is common, trails can get cut off by snow in winter, and the area is famous for sudden and dramatic mists.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating91
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest17
  • Human interest6
  • Charisma34
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating91

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Maximum Altitude: Around 2,500m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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Rebecos, early morning from Jermoso ridge - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

The Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) are an offshoot of the Cantabrian mountain range: an area of jagged limestone peaks (said to be the largest single mass, over 2,000m thick in places, of limestone mountains in Europe) 20km inland from Spain's northern coast. It is generally assumed that the name originates from the fact that they would be the first sight of landfall for travellers crossing the Bay of Biscay from America: Cantabria's capital, Santander, was the primary jumping-off post for the Americas for many years.

The area has been inhabited (as evidenced by a large amount of cave art) since Paleolithic times, and has been consistently farmed for the past 5,000 years, producing a landscape of meadowlands, forests and tiny summer-pasture villages, their lush plateaux isolated from each other by giddying river chasms and overlooked by stern, precipitous peaks. Above the meadows and forests is a harshly beautiful world of ice-cracked cliffs, spires, towers and scree. Think Dolomites. In the summer, the upper meadows resound to the musical bells of livestock brought up from the valleys; in the winter, the villages are almost entirely deserted, the plateaux mostly cut off by snow.

The Picos saw Romans building roads to help conquer resistant Celts, and the Moors' first defeat in Spain. There has been a lot of mining, with old shafts in ludicrously inaccessible cliff-faces and some disfiguring spoil, but this has left a lot of walkable tracks.

A national park since 1918 (and Spain's first), this area has remained delightfully unaffected by modernity and Spains tourist trade. Many locals still have no language other than their own, and much agriculture is still carried on without the benefit of machinery. As a result, the area has a stunning array of flora and fauna and the area is home to endangered species such as the Cantabrian brown bear, the Iberian lynx, wolves and the delightful local Cantabrian chamoix (the rebeco), as well as huge vultures, choughs, buzzards and a diverse population of butterflies.

The walking here is as good as it gets. While there can be tough slogs and scrambles to and from the high ground, the high plateaux can contain easy tracks over pastures or cracked rock surrounded by towering peaks and spires. New vistas open up repeatedly as you turn corners, cross ridges or rivers or emerge from ancient woods. An alpine-style idyll at its best.

There is a multitude of fabulous walks, ranging from a few hours to multi-day hikes from refuge to refuge. Some of the very best are the following:

Other good walks include the Rio Casano and the La Molina gorge (easy; 5km/1h30), with bonus swimming; the Bedoya valley circuit (easy; 5km/1h30), where each village comes with its own palacio; Potes-Frama-Lubayo-Collado de Porcieda-Tudes-Porcieda-Inerval de Tolibes-Potes (moderate; 13km/4h): which goes through some of the area's more remote villages. More Mediterranean in flavor: La Ruta de Treviso (moderate-strenuous; 12km/5h), old mining trail to an isolated village: some tough sections with spectacular views; Puerto san Glorio-Cosgaya (easy; 10km/2h50): a straightforward walk through high country (pass closed May-November) affording spectacular views (best to park in Potes as the start and end points are not linked by bus).

Other accounts: share your experiences

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

We have a lot of helpful practical information and tips about this walk, covering everything from the best books and maps, to timing and weather, geting there, possible problems, whether you need a guide and where to find them, and useful websites. This section is only open to members.

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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS

Name: ChrisSass
Posted on: 11/12/2016
Poncebos to Cain on the Cares Gorge

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

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© William Mackesy

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Cares Gorge - © William Mackesy...
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