Picos de Europa national park
Situated in northern Spain astride the provinces of Asturias, Santander and Leon, the little-known mountain range of Picos de Europa National Park is one of Europe´s most outstanding mountain sceneries. Oldest national park in Spain (it was declared in 1918) and recently declared ‘Biosphere Reserve’ by UNESCO, the area still remains one of the truly unspoilt special places in this country that few visitors have discovered so far. It is a rugged group of three limestone massifs separated by two rivers that have cut through the rock like a knife forming some of Europe´s most startling gorges.
The area is a jumble of fascinating wildlife, high jagged limestone peaks of Paleozoic age, lonely glacial lakes, deep gorges eroded by rivers fed by melting snow, verdant forests, grassy meadows, and old bridle paths and mountain trails that criss-cross all over the area. The Park covers an area 25 miles long (E-W) and 13 miles wide (N-S) running parallel to the seacoast, forming a small and compact mountain range.
With its highest mountain (Torre Cerredo) reaching 2648m/8688ft and many others well over 2000m, these mountains raise from almost sea level (Cantabric sea coast is just nine miles from the northern boundary of the range), forming one of the most fascinating and breathtaking landscapes imaginable. On clear days the coast can be seen from the top of some of the Picos mountains.
Located in the centre of the central massif rises Spain´s most well-known peak, Naranjo de Bulnes 2519m, an awesome sugar loaf form peak with four sides of up to 600m/2000ft that is the climbing ‘meca’ for spanish mountaineers. Its name originating by the peak turning the orange shade in the evening sunlight. Despite of the sharp edges of these mountains, some of the tops (including some of the highest ones) can be easily reached just walking, or sometimes with a simple scrambling.
Due to the fact that limestone constitues the nature of these massifs, the rivers that encircle or traverse them tend to develop very deep and narrow gorges which separate and divide the three massifs. So the area offers probably the most startling gorges that can be seen in Spain. Among them we must mention the famous Cares Canyon (known as The Divine Canyon), a six mile long route along the Cares river that crosses from the north to the south separating two of the three massifs that make up the Park. The walk follows a dizzy path that cuts into the rock face and attracts walkers from all over Europe by reason of the dramatic beauty of the surroundings.
The majority of glacial origin lakes that once dominated the area have been gradually disappearing due to the fact that the area suffers an ongoing process of karstification, so nowadays just the area of Lagos de Covadonga (Lakes of Covadonga) maintains lakes of such type. However, a great number of small lakes are scattered on high terrain.
The attractions of the Park are endless regarding its unique flora and fauna, to the extent that it has been recently declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. A mixing of Atlantic (mainly) and Mediterranean ecosystems with different types of vegetation gradually changing from sea level to higher-altitude areas. Oak, beech, ash, maple, etc and a glowing mosaic of wildflowers.
Around sixty mammal species including European brown bear (currently in danger of extinction, the park being one of the last protected refuges), the easily seen chamois-like rebeco. Also fox, wolf, otter, etc…
A superb birdwatching including griffon and egyptian vultures, golden and short-toed eagles, peregrin falcon, lammergeier, wallcreaper, middle-spotted woodpeckers, merlin, kestrel, buzzard, alpine finch, alpine accentor, alpine chough, wheatear, meadow tree and water pipit, white yellow and grey wagtail, dipper, wren, jay, yellowhammer, linnet, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, tree house and hedge sparrows, great and blue tit, wood and willow warbler, chiffchaff, blackcap, black redstart, robin, mistle thrush, nuthatch, starling, wood pigeon, barn swallow, alpine swift, coot, mallard, sparrowhawk, goshawk, common sandpiper, tawny owl, crag and house martin, dunnock, stonechat, whitethroat, melodious warbler, spotted flycatcher, etc….
A great number of species of fish, reptiles, insects, amphibians, etc.
But the thing that delights newcomers is not only the haunting beauty of the high peaks and wildlife but also the local people, still living a traditional life in mountain villages which have remained largely unchanged for centuries in this isolated area. Picos de Europa national park is, in fact, the only national park in Spain with villages inside its boundaries.
The Park holds a culture still rooted in an age long past, as local farmers still follow a traditional way of life that has long-since disappeared from most areas in Europe. Since prehistoric time, struggle between mankind and the hard living conditions imposed by these mountains, has shaped locals’ fibre.
The Park is located in the middle of the area known as ‘green Spain’, with an atlantic climate characterized by a high rainfall rate and a high humidity rate. That is in our case enhanced due to the fact that the mountains block mild and humid air coming from the Atlantic Ocean and so causing frequent rainfall and a rather unpredictable climate, especially in summer. The sea acts as a termic buffer preventing temperatures from being extreme both in winter and in summer, however, altitude variations mean a wide range of temperatures encountered especially on high terrain.
In general the weather from May to October is reasonably stable, though occasional thunderstorms and wet fronts should be expected once in a while. So concerning outdoor clothing, walkers need to be prepared for sun, rain, or cold in autumn and spring.
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