Exploring the Picos de Europa of Northern Spain

Leaving behind the Atlantic coastline of Northern Spain, we proceed inland for about only 15 miles to enter what may rank among the most unique biospheres of the Iberian Peninsula, the PICOS DE EUROPA National Park. We suddenly feel reminded of Switzerland, as the vegetation turns lush & green, the humidity and rain fall increase and we gently wind our way uphill into the most scenic sections of the CORDILLERA CANTABRICA, as this mountainous part of Spain is called. 

The Picos de Europa National Park is the first of its kind in Spain dating back to 1918 and was extended to include parts of Asturias and Castilla-León in 1993. It reaches peaks of up to 2600 meters (9000 feet) and in large parts offers a unique Mediterranean-Atlantic microclimate where the production of wine and ORUJO (firewater, a kind of grappa) flourishes, particularly in the scenic LIÉBANA valley. It is here that we gently meander uphill along the banks of the DEVA river to briefly straddle the border with the Kingdom of Asturias, the only region of Spain where the Moors failed to prevail. It is therefore called the Cradle of the Reconquista. 

As we proceed and reenter Cantabria, we see numerous picturesque POSADAS (country inns) so typical for Northern Spain and reach the scenic LIÉBANA valley, for centuries isolated from the outside world. It is here that we hear about the legacy of the BEATUS OF LIÉBANA, an 8th century monk who preached and sought solitude here. Most known for his COMMENTARY ON THE APOCALYPSE dated 776, his scripts were circulated in monasteries throughout Northern Spain in the Middle Ages, the best preserved copy of which may be found in the Pyrenees in the town of La Seu d’Urgell. Not surprising that the Beatus was inspired in his writing by the spectacular scenery and incomparable sense of quiet, peace and solitude here in the Picos de Europa.

The largest community of the Picos is the small town of POTES, population 1500, located in the Liébana Valley at the confluence of the Deva and Quiviesa rivers. The main industry here is tourism associated with mountain climbing and moderate skiing in the Picos de Europa. Numerous shops beckon visitors to come inside and admire the vast selection of mountain produce, ORUJO and handcraften wooded articles. Hiking sticks, pitch forks and wooden shoes rank among the favorite souvenirs here. In summer time, a vast number of outdoor cafes near the landmark TORRE DE INFANTADO are equally tempting. 

From Potes we have several scenic options to continue our exploration of the Cantabrian Range. We can continue for another 15 miles towards the source of the DEVA river at Fuente Dé, where we find the famous TELEFÉRICO cable car to take us within less than 10 minutes to an elevation of 1800 meters (6000 feet) for some spectacular scenic views. 

Alternatively we may choose to continue southbound along the mountain pass of PUERTO SAN GLORIO, which rising to an elevation of almost 1600 meters (5500 feet) offers spectacular views of the Picos area, particularly at the scenic MIRADOR DEL CORZO before descending onto the much more arid high plains of Castilla-León and the nearby town of Riaño.