If the Dolomites are the home of jagged, cliff hanger peaks, and Austria is the centre of well-organised Alpine tourism, then Spain is wild. Gone are the lift stations, regular buses and crowded viewpoints. Instead, tucked just behind the idyllic coastline of Northern Spain is a land of rolling vineyards, sleepy villages and wildflower meadows. The Picos de Europa is one of three locations in Spain that Collett’s have on offer along with the Pyrenees on the French/Spanish border and Andalucía in the South.
When thinking of Spain many imagine it to be dry, dusty and hot, hardly the environment for walking right? The Picos however is a coastal gem. Only an hour from the nearest section of coast Tama, our home in the Picos, sits just beyond the Hermida Gorge. The Hermida snakes its way though the coastal line of mountain defence that was first named by sailors upon return from the Americas. The hazy peaks mark the northern edge of Spain and serve as an impressive indication that land is close! Modern visitors will appreciate the same view on the approach of the Bilbao or Santander ferry. In many ways the Picos is like a land that time forgot. Designated a National Park the locals take pride in their traditions and their homesteads. Many of the farmers still cut their fields by hand, livestock are collected at the start of the summer and taken up to the higher pastures on foot and cider apples are pressed and lovingly to made into the bittersweet drink. Up until recent times higher farmsteads were still only accessed by zig zagging mountain tracks.
The slow introduction of tourism to the area has seen the construction of the occasional funicular, museum and conversion of old mining lifts into cable cars but in the most part the joy of this area is being able to get away from it all. On the walks here it is rare that you’ll see that many other people around. Quiet tracks and woodland paths navigate a landscape that has a lot to offer. The Picos boasts deep, limestone gorgers, rocky moonscape plateaus and glacial scarring in some areas which serve as enough challenge for those looking for higher level walking. Those who prefer easy/moderate walks can explore the lower valleys which are home to extensive wild flower meadows, golden farm land, thick pine forests, vineyards and fig trees. There’s plenty of wildlife too with bears, wolves, vultures and eagles inhabiting the area and in the spring the hills are painted with wildflower colours.
The Green Coast
The close proximity to the coast means that weather rolls in from the sea, clashes with the mountains and keeps the area green and luscious, hence the name ‘Costa Verde’ or the ‘Green coast’. The Picos experiences is fair share of this weather with snows in the winter and storms in the spring. Evening rainstorms keep the land healthy and as a result it has become in many ways like the Alpine hills we know of in Austria or France. This combined with a pleasant Spanish heat means the area has a very unique feel. Spanish people from the South come up to the area to escape the high temperatures in mid-summer to enjoy the mountain air. The rain that visits overnight makes a habit of clearing as the morning progresses, making way for blue skies by midday. The evenings are long and warm, perfect for a cerveza on the terrace at the Posada el Corcal when office hour comes around.
The drive to the coast is scenic and the time flies quickly by as you approach seaside towns such as San Vincente de la Barquera. Towns like this have become surfing hot spots and the golden beaches and clear water are still in view of the mountains. A dip in the sea here is a welcome change for tired legs and many Camino walkers pass through on their long journey to Santiago de Compostela. The towns themselves serve fresh seafood and the paella is great as expected.
There are plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained too. Local outdoor adventure companies run canyoning and kayaking trips just a short drive from Potes, the main town in the area. Surf schools rent boards and offer lessons at a good rate on the coast and the gorges are home to plenty of climbing routes and even a few via ferrata! There’s also horse riding, bike rental, cave visits, paddle boarding and much more that could easily fill a week or so holiday.
So if you’re looking for a new European destination, away from the crowds and with a great cultural combination of land and sea then the Picos is the place to go!