For non-Spanish speaking individuals walking in the Picos de Europa can be frustrating as there is very little published in English. Also, the logistics involved in getting to and from the start and finish of walks can be complicated and time consuming even if you have two cars. As you start to walk on simple routes from the fringes of the Picos de Europa you become aware of signs carrying "PR", "PNPE" and "GR" numbers, but getting a map and a book in English to explain the routes is not easy. As I have studied the area in some detail, I have referred to a whole series of books and articles in Spanish and have tried to summarise the information in English for future reference. I stress that I have borrowed heavily from the work of others where I have not so far done the route myself. In doing so I have tried to give accreditation to the original source. My main aim has been to produce a summary of published information in a form for easy reference.
Source:"In The Picos de Europa" by Vicente Ena Álvarez
Spanish Road Numbering System
|National Road (Carretera Nacional)
|Regional Road (Carretera Comarcal)
|Regional Community Road Asturias
The Eastern Massif or Ándara is the smallest and the least impressive, except when viewed from the Liebana area, where the huge south-east walls are seen to best effect.
The Central Massif or Urrielles, the most abrupt of the three, is where the provinces of Asturias, Cantabria and Leon meet, the triple junction on the summit of the Picos Tresorero (2,570 m) being an easy walk from El Cable, the upper cable car station. To the north west of the Tresorero lies the Torres de Cerredo, which at 2,648 m is not only the highest point in the Picos de Europa, but in the whole of northern Spain. Still, from the Tresorero, but looking north-east, the view is dominated by the unmistakable profile of El Naranjo de Bulnes (2,519 m), Spain’s most famous mountain. Between these two stands the Neveron de Urriellu (2,559 m), a summit which is unjustly ignored considering the excellent views it offers of its illustrious neighbors. A chain of little-visited peaks runs south from El Naranjo, culminating in Pena Vieja (2,613 m), a popular activity with day trippers from the cable car because of the unrestricted views it offers of the Cordillera Cantabrica to the south.
The Western Massif or Cornión is the largest and most varied of the three; it can usefully be divided into three sectors; the first lies to the north of the line Amieva – Vegarradonga – Ario; the second (which includes most of the highest summits) revolves around the Jou Santu, an enormous glacial cirque in the centre of the massif; the third, known as the Bermeja sector, marks the southern limit of the massif.
Climate & Weather
Despite being the same latitude as Rome, the Picos de Europa enjoy an essentially temperate climate which is not unlike that of Britain. The Atlantic depressions which are the cause of most of the British weather, are also responsible for the frontal troughs which sweep across the whole of the Cantabrian coast. On colliding with the mountains, particularly with Cordillera Cantabrica and the Picos de Europa, these fronts discharge, producing the abundant rainfall that makes Northern Spain so green. It is not without reason that the Bay of Biscay coast is known to the Spanish as the “Costa Verde” or Green Coast.
Fortunately for the visiting mountaineer and hiker, most of this rainfall occurs in the winter and spring, the period from mid-June to late-September being reasonably dry. Mid-June to Mid-July often produce fine hot spells, whilst the hottest weather generally occurs in August. It should be borne in mind, however, that hot, humid weather does tend to give rise to thundery, late afternoon storms. These can sometimes be violent, though are seldom as bad as in the Pyrenees or the Central European Alps, for example. In such weather, which can occur at any time from July to September, an early start is obviously advisable, most storms beginning after 4 p.m. September is widely recognised as a month of stable, good weather, with the result that visibility is often very good, though the shortened day can be a handicap.
The first snow normally arrives around the end of October, snowfall continuing in a fairly constant fashion throughout the winter, though late January and early April can give periods of stable, dry winter weather.
The distribution of the rainfall throughout the range is a factor of particular interest when choosing a valley base, or looking for a possible poor-weather activity. As the frontal systems arrive mainly from the NW sector, the weather, is cooler and wetter on average, than in those areas to the S and SE of the range. The latter benefit from a marked rain-shadow effect, and thus Liébana, Valdeón and Sajambre valleys enjoy noticeably better weather than the valleys on the Asturian side of the range.
In general bad weather comes from the NW. However, with the barometer low or falling, all weather associated with winds from the SW to the N should be treated with respect as it will most probably produce rain and storms. All such weather creates a lot of cloud at all levels and, whilst often highly photogenic, it makes navigation very difficult because of the featureless nature of the terrain. Moreover, low pressure weather is generally unpredictable, and though the change from sunshine to storm may span a matter of hours, the onset of thick cloud over a whole area can occur in the space of a few minutes.
On of the most spectacular cloud effects common to the Picos, that of an immense sea of cloud filling the valleys to heights of up to 1,800 m, is, surprisingly, not the result of poor weather, but rather a sign of good. With anticyclones over the Azores creating a light, northerly airstream, warm, moist air drifts in from the Bay of Biscay, filling the northern valleys with a wetting mist (orbayu in the local dialect), capable of completely obscuring the sun. It is not uncommon to walk up from the valleys in cloud and suddenly come out into bright sunshine at around 1,500 m, or to do the first half of a climb shrouded in mist and the second half baking in strong sunlight. This enviable situation lasts as long as the anticyclone, and so it is very important to take into account the origin of the cloud masses when interpreting their significance, especially if doing so from a base in the north of the range. Too many visiting climbers abandon climbs early, or never even leave their base, because of their failure to distinguish between low and high pressure weather.
The weather is inextricably linked to the great beauty of the Picos de Europa and, whilst not ignoring the added problems bad weather involves, it is fair to say that a number of outings, particularly certain approaches, are made a good deal more dramatic by the subtle play of light and cloud that poor weather often generates.
Source of Base Map: Picos de Europa - Teresa Farino - Sunflower Books
The rivers of the Picos de Europa flow mainly through the deep mountain passes or gorges which have formed over the centuries. The gorge of La Hermida, crossed by the Deva river; the gorge of Los Beyos, crossed by the River Sella; the "Garganta Divina" (Divine Throat) where the Cares river flows; and the valley of Aliva with the gorge La India, furrowed by the Duje river, are the exceptional landscapes of the rivers Cares, Deva, Duje and Sella, specially, without forgetting the river Dobra, opening way towards the sea.
The River Deva has its source in Fuente Dé, at the foot of the glacier circus of Fuente Dé, 28 km from Potes, and next to the "Parador" hotel. Also very near is the lower base where a cable car sets off, climbing an altitude gap of 753 metres, from 1,094 m to 1,847 m at the top, taking tourists and mountaineers into the Central Massif of Picos de Europa.
The Deva, after sprouting in Fuente Dé, crosses the villages of Espinama, Cosgaya, Enterría, Camaleño, Turieno, Potes, Ojedo, Tama, Castro-Cillorigo, Lebeña and La Hermida, travelling 68 km from its source and flowing into the Cantabrian Sea, through the ria of Tina Mayor, in Unquera. The Deva will cross the municipalities of Camaleño, Cillorigo and Peñamellera, belonging to both provinces; Cantabria and Asturias, when it receives the Cares river, before arriving to Panes, flowing through the impressive gorge of La Hermida. Among its many tributaries we should mention the Nevandi, descending along the mountain pastures of Aliva; the Belondio, which sprouts nearby the Cortés peak; San Carlos river, whose source is in the channel of the same name; the Corvera, descending from Bejes; the Urdón, receiving the waters of the rivers, Valdediezma and Los Lobos; and Quiviesa and Bullón; the first one joins the Deva in Potes, after draining the municipality of Vega de Liébana, and the second one joins these two in Ojedo, after crossing the municipalities of Pesaguero and Cabezón de Liébana.
The Cares flows inside Picos de Europa through both massifs; the Urrielles and Cornión. This a beautiful river flowing through a very rugged landscape, accentuated when it seems to disappear in the bowels of "Garganta Divina", the world wide known and marvelous Cares gorge where its waters are . The Cares has its source at the foot of the mountain col of Fradaña, where several springs arise, nearby the Gildar peak, belonging to the Cantabrian mountain range it furrows the valley of Valdeón south to north (Caldevilla, Soto, Posada de Valdeón and Cordiñanes) to continue opening way through the steep cliffs and along the pastures and winter cattle sheds of Manzaneda and Sesanes, as well as the mythical place of Corona, arriving to the village of Caín. From here, the Cares, crosses through more than ten kilometers, the "Garganta Divina", a spectacular and singular layout where the river seems to get lost at the bottom of the valley, arriving at Poncebos Bridge and later crossing another five kilometers to reach Arenas de Cabrales. Then it sets off towards Panes, where it will join the Deva, travelling over a total of 53 km. On this journey it receives the waters from the rivers and streams of: El Arenal, in Posada, coming from Pandetrave; the stream of Asotín, in Cordiñanes, between the Llambrión and the Friero peaks; the stream of Tejo or Bulnes, coming down from a place near the Urrielles; and the Duje and the Casaño rivers, flowing down from the Cornión.
The River Sella sprouts at foot of the mountain pass of Pontón, in the province of León, crossing the valley of Sajambre through the magnificent gorge of Los Beyos; later, arriving to the Asturian lands starting from the bridge of Angoyo and passing by Cangas de Onís, flowing into the sea in Ribadesella. With nearly 65 km it receives the courses of the rivers Ponga, Dobra and Güeña during its journey.
The Duje sprouts at the foot of Peña Vieja (Central Massif) in the source called El Resalao, as well as another series of springs which leave from Canal del Vidrio. It flows in a S-N direction, separating the Central and Eastern Massifs. When it reaches Vegas de Sotres practically disappears to sprout again near the winter cattle sheds El Tejo. Later crosses through the village of Sotres and precipitates down to Tielve. The last section flows down the Canal de la Rumiada, joining the Cares next to Puente Poncebos, travelling 18 km in its whole course.
The Dobra has its source next to the mountain Col of Dobres and crosses the pastures of Vegabaño and the mount of Carombo, along the pastures of Angón and flowing through a narrow gorge to drive its waters onto the river Sella, the place of the Roman bridge of Miyares. Here, it also receives the waters of the Rivers Pompedi and Junjumia.
The Picos de Europa are home to a wealth of animal-life, due to the range of habitats, from river-valleys at almost sea-level, to alpine habitat in the high mountains. One emblem of the national park is the "rebeco", or chamois, a small deer-like animal that is almost always seen when venturing into high altitudes. They are graceful and agile, putting even the best mountaineer to shame. Somehow they find enough to eat in the high mountain landscape, moving down to lower altitudes over winter.
Probably the most famous animal in the area is the Cantabrian brown bear. According to the Asturias-based "Fund for the protection of wild animals" (FAPAS), only 21 family groups were counted in the 2009 census. The small eastern population of three family groups roams an area that debatably includes the southernmost reaches of the Picos de Europa. Sightings of the bears, and even of their footprints, are extremely rare.
Also extremely rare is the wolf, of which 15 to 20* are reported to live in the national park. More numerous, though well hidden, are small carnivores such as the genet, marten, wild cat, stoat, otter, fox, badger, polecat, and weasel. Wild boars are not often seen, but patches of earth they have turned over whilst foraging for roots in pastures are a common sight. Several species of bat live in the Picos de Europa, some of them roosting in the limestone caves, and are often to be seen on the wing at dusk. Roe deer can be seen in the woodlands, where there are also occasional sightings of red squirrel, their red so dark they appear almost black. Red deer roam the forests of Sajambre.
One of the rarest birds in the mountains is the capercaillie, and its numbers are declining - it is estimated that about 100* breeding males survive (males are easier to reckon because of their mating behavior). Another rare bird is the golden eagle, of which there are only a few breeding pairs within the Picos de Europa. There are also two species of vulture, the Egyptian and the griffon, often seen circling overhead. One species of particular interest is the wallcreeper, which lives on steep rock-faces in inaccessible places, and is therefore difficult to see despite its red wings. More likely to be seen are the alpine choughs, cheeky energetic birds who often loiter outside the mountain refuges. Mention should also be made of the black woodpecker, middle spotted woodpecker, treecreeper, snow finch, alpine accentor, eagle owl, peregrine, and there are even sporadic sightings of lammergeier.
Lizards are not everyone's cup of tea, but the fire salamander is a stunning little chap, small and slow-moving, with a bright gold or orange design burnt onto a black background. There are fifteen* species of reptile in all, the most obvious being the multitudes of small fast brown lizards that dart for cover on sunny days. Despite the lack of water there are amphibians too, such as the newts occasionally seen paddling around the bottoms of cattle-troughs.
In spring and summer, butterflies abound, particularly in the traditional wild-flower meadows of lower altitudes. 124* species have been identified in the Picos de Europa to date. Some of these are listed as being endangered, such as the marsh fritillary, and the apollo.
The larger rivers at the foot of the mountains host salmon and trout.
* Figures from the "Ministry of the Environment" National Parks department.
Due to the diverse habitats present within the Picos de Europa, they are home to a wide range of flora - over 1400 species have been identified in the national park.The mountains rise from just above sea-level in the northern river valleys, to 2648m on the summit of Torre Cerredo. Broadly speaking, this range can be divided into four vegetation belts - coline (0 to 800m), montane (800 to 1800m), subalpine (1800 to 2400m), and alpine (2400m and above). Other factors influencing vegetation include aspect, climate, and substrate.
Due to the diverse habitats present within the Picos de Europa, they are home to a wide range of flora - over 1400 species have been identified in the national park. The mountains rise from just above sea-level in the northern river valleys, to 2648m on the summit of Torre Cerredo. Broadly speaking, this range can be divided into four vegetation belts - coline (0 to 800m), montane (800 to 1800m), subalpine (1800 to 2400m), and alpine (2400m and above). Other factors influencing vegetation include aspect, climate, and substrate.
There are two main vegetation types of the coline habitat - mixed deciduous woodland, and semi-natural unimproved grassland. The latter is a result of man's clearance of woodland to create meadows (for hay) and pasture (for grazing). The resultant grasslands are rich in flora species, and are home to species such as white asphodel (from which Gamoneu cheese takes its name), semi-parasitic yellow rattle, field eryngium (a member of the carrot family that looks more like a thistle), heart-flowered serapias, tassel hyacinths (regarded as a Mediterranean species), early purple orchids, fragrant orchids (more than forty orchid species have been listed in the national park), masterwort and lungwort, to name but a few. The mixed deciduous woodland is the natural climax vegetation of the zone, with ash, oak, lime, chestnut, walnut, hazel, bay and elm, amongst others. Beneath the canopy grow herbaceous species such as wood anemone, wood sorrel, stinking and green hellebores, dog violets, primroses, and Pyrenean and martagon lilies. In the dryer valleys, evergreen holm oaks cling to the steep valley-sides, as seen in the Cares Gorge east of Arenas de Cabrales, for example.
The montane belt is characterised in its lower reaches by oak woodland, accompanied by other species from the mixed deciduous woodland below. With altitude, oaks gradually give way to beech, and it is beech that characterises the upper reaches of the montane belt. At first it is accompanied by birch, holly, yew, hawthorn, rowan and whitebeam, but these gradually fade away until only the beech remains. Amongst the most notable beech forests of the Picos de Europa are those of Sajambre, Valdeón, Pome, and Monte Cortegueros. Also in the montane belt are the high pastures for summer grazing, in amongst the limestone, and these can be very rewarding areas floristically. Exploration of these pastures can reveal the tall purple spikes of monkshood aconites, the Merendera montana lily in late summer (a signal to bring livestock down from the mountains), louseworts, eyebrights, gentians, carpets of wild narcissus, the dog's tooth violet (which actually belongs to the lily family), snakeshead fritillary, burnt orchids, black vanilla orchids, and common spotted orchids, amongst others. Good examples of this habitat are the area around lakes Enol and Ercina, the pastures on the way from the lakes to the refuge at Vegarredonda, and the Pandébano area above Bulnes.
Above the tree-line, the subalpine belt is home to upland scrub, composed of species such as juniper, St. Dabeoc's heath, ling (Calluna vulgaris), and greenweed (a yellow-flowered leguminosae similar to gorse). Where the scrub is absent, small rock gardens within the limestone play host to hardy species such as bellflowers, ferns, stonecrops, saxifrages, sedges, grasses, toadflaxes, and others that can survive the difficult conditions - long winters under snow, and short summers. Rarities found in the subalpine belt include the Aquilegia pyrenaica subsp. discolor columbine, and Linaria faucicola toadflax.
Very little grows in the small areas of the Picos de Europa that exceed 2400m in altitude. One exception of note is the Elyna myosoroides community, dominated by the eponymous sedge, of which there are scattered examples.