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The Picos de Europa

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Map of the Picos de Europa

Introduction to The Picos de Europa

Everyone has heard of the Alps and the Pyrenees, but many less have heard of the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain, a stunning expanse of mountain spanning across Castilla Leon, Asturias and Cantabria. Their name is derived from that given by early sailors who, on spotting the peaks in the distance knew they had arrived home, to Europe – hence they labelled them imaginatively The Picos de Europa (The European Peaks).

The Picos de Europa offer sublime hiking opportunities and a vibrant outdoor activities scene. The relatively closely confined area – little more than 1000km squared offers the visitor a plethora of wonderful routes, exquisite views and captivating villages. The area has always been popular with Spanish visitors and more recently from outside, and this can crowd things up a little at the height of summer when it is vital to book ahead for everything. If you come at any other time, you’ll have the place to yourself – but don’t bother with the winter as most of the passes are cut off.

The main starting points in the Picos de Europa are either from Cangas de Onis (in Asturias, in the west), Potes (In Cantabria, in the east) or less often Cabrales (wedged high in the centre of the Picos de Europa). In all three of these towns, particularly in Cangas de Onis and Potes you’ll find all sorts of mountaineering services, outdoor specialists and a great deal of accomodation.

Word of warning – Always be safe and research your destination. These are rugged, isolated mountains. Come prepared, weather can change in an instant. Please exercise caution and respect the environment in the Picos de Europa.

The Picos de Europa…Don’t Miss

  1. Visit Covadonga – Little more than 10km from Cangas De Onis this magnificent sacred cave and basilica sits on the spot where Pelayo allegedly handed the Muslims their first defeat, sparking the Christian Reconquest of Spain.
  2. Head up to the Lagos de Covadonga (Covadonga Lakes) and marvel at the stunning scenery.
  3. Kick back and take in the Mountaineering vibe in Cangas de Onis, sampling traditional Asturian fare: Fabada (bean stew) and Sidra (cider)
  4. Visit the village of Arenas de Cabrales to try the world famous Cabrales blue cheese, far stronger and more pungent than other blue cheeses
  5. From Cabrales see the mind blowing gorge on the Garganta del Cares Trail, a beautiful hike.
  6. Take the funicular up to the isolated mountain village of Bulnes, a place untouched by time.
  7. Take any one of many wonderful walks around the village of Soto de Sajambre in Castilla Leon.

The Picos de Europa…What to Eat and Drink

We know how tough it can be in a bar or restaurant when you’re visiting a foreign country. Here’s our guide of what local specialities to look for on the menu in the Picos de Europa.

As the Picos de Europa sit astride three different regions of Northern Spain you’ll find a pleasing variety of food – always hearty, never pricey.

Fabada Asturiana – Hearty Bean, Black Pudding and Chorizo stew, perfect for fuelling up before hitting the Picos de Europa.

Pote Asturiano – Another stew, this time with Garbanzos (chickpeas) and Espinacas (spinach).

Cabrales and Gamoneu – Wonderful cheeses originating from The Picos de Europa.

Setas – Mushrooms but with a difference, a myriad of choices from The Picos de Europa.

The Picos de Europa – Where to Stay

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Due to the nature of the Picos de Europa there are literally hundreds of places to stay dotted in the mountains, so we’ll focus on the largest base town in the Picos de Europa – Cangas de Onis.

It Rains In Spain only ever recommends three hotels. See Why Here. One Budget option, one Midrange and one Luxury.

Reader’s Tips

This section is specifically designed for our readers to share their top tips with other would-be travellers. If you visited a particularly wonderful restaurant, or stayed in a fantastic hotel, or even ate a tremendous local dish, please let us know here! Any tip whatsoever will be greatly appreciated by our Spain loving community of travellers.

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You may also be interested in: Guide to Oviedo, Guide to Gijon, Guide to Santander, Introducing Cantabria and Asturias