“I wonder if there is any better way to spend a week of a what is a short life than wandering at a gentle pace in warm, sunny weather through acres of alpine meadows filled with spring flowers and framed by snow capped mountains?”
Add to that a background sound track of jays, chiff-chaffs, cuckoos and cow bells and some very good company and you have, in my view, the recipe for a perfect trip… The Spring flower season here is short but spectacular – there are around three weeks between 20th May and 7th June when the mountains burst into life with a wide array of colourful alpine plants. You can see at least 170 different plants (the number featured in Mountain Flowers, Pyrenees and Picos by Cliff Booker and David Charlton) including some stunning orchids and a number of plants that grow only in this region, making sightings extra special. Meadows jam packed full of orchids that would be protected as a site of special interest and attract numerous visitors back home in the UK are laid out here seemingly just for you. On the majority of our walks in the Picos this week, we saw no-one on other than the group we were walking with.
We joined a trip organised by Collett’s Mountain Holidays and were very impressed with their organisation and how the trip was constructed – I would recommend them highly.
The Picos is where Northern and Southern Europe meet. This means that you can see a huge variety of flora in one place. The weather during our week was warm and sunny and quite hot on a number of days towards the end of the week – even in the high mountains. The cool mountain breeze really helped to refresh us on the hot days though. We had just a shower of rain on the first day, although the forecast was for more rain the week after our trip finished, so I think we were somewhat lucky with the weather.
The trees are mostly deciduous here which gives a lovely soft feel to the mountain sides and the play of light through the branches makes for much more interesting scenery than you would get if the trees were evergreen. It would be a beautiful place to visit in the Autumn as the leaves began to turn, although you would not see as many flowers as we did then. We picked our way carefully through the paths, treading gently and taking care not to tread on the delicate little alpine plants we had travelled so far to see. In several places, it seemed at first sight that there was nothing much to see – you could easily have driven or walked straight past and missed everything. With careful guiding though, a closer exploration of woodlands, rocks, meadows and crevices yielded a string of treats and surprises. Stopping to inspect still closer, the intricate beauty of the alpine flowers slowly reveals itself. When you are seeing so many orchid, which are the undoubted stars of the show here, it is all too easy to overlook some of the other equally beautiful plants. For example the alpine eyebright – a minuscule flower only just over a couple of millimetres wide – so small you could pass by without noticing or easily crush it underfoot. Pause a while to inspect its delicate beauty and you will be well rewarded.
Fascinating fact: The alpine meadows are in fact man -made. If they were not grazed or mown, they would cease to exist because they would be overtaken by woodlands. The tree seedlings that you see scattered through the meadows are a constant reminder of this.
Foodie Firsts: Padrón pepper. Pimientos de Padrõn are small, bright green peppers from the northwest part of Spain. They are mild but occasionally surprisingly spicy making eating them an exciting voyage of discovery. To make them at home, take around 300 grams of Padrõn peppers and wash and dry them well. Heat around 50ml of extra virgin olive oil in a pan over a high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the peppers and cook, tossing them continuously until the skin starts to blister and soften. Pile the glistening green peppers high on a serving plate and season generously with flaky sea salt to taste. Heavenly!
Wish I had packed: – binoculars, plastic bags for picnic waste, compede plasters (we walked a LONG way in the heat!). Woolly hat and gloves – we didn’t actually need them, but it could well have been cold up there in the mountains and they are no use to you left back at home.
Glad I packed: – suncream, water bottle, raincoat.
Margot Harbot is a walker and travel blogger – you can see her blog at lovetowander.co.uk and you can follow her on instagram @lovetowander.co.uk
For next year’s dates – see Flower Walks in the Picos de Europa for more information.