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6 reasons to go trekking in the Picos de Europa

Daisy from the KE office tells all about trekking the stunning Picos de Europa in northern Spain. A short hop away from the UK, she explains why i... Read more
6 reasons to go trekking in the Picos de Europa

Daisy from the KE office tells all about trekking the stunning Picos de Europa in northern Spain. A short hop away from the UK, she explains why it’s the perfect destination for a mountain adventure with a difference.

This July I had the pleasure of joining KE’s Traverse of the Picos holiday, to explore a very special part of Spain that I had never before thought to visit. Think jagged limestone peaks, lush green pastures and wild flowers galore, where each turn of the path brings another mountain vista. I have a particular interest in responsible tourism, so I was really pleased to see that this destination ticked that box too. Here’s why you should go too.


1. It’s easy to get there

I met our group in Bilbao on Sunday afternoon. Bilbao airport is well served with flights from Manchester, London and Bristol. Alternatively, it is possible to get the ferry across from Portsmouth, with an additional few days either side of the main itinerary. Taking the ferry is certainly more time consuming than flying, however, it is a lot more comfortable and emphasises the actual journeying. For me, this is a big part of travel, and when I return to the Picos I will certainly consider travelling overland or by ferry.



2. The mountain trekking is spectacular – and unique!

The hiking itself is second-to-none, trekking from point to point gives great satisfaction, and the opportunity to tick off a few peaks along the way is the icing on the cake. Summiting Pico Cotalba on a Monday morning, under a blue sky, really sets the standard for the rest of the trip.
Thanks to its proximity to the coast, and subsequent maritime climate, the weather can be changeable. In mid-July it was comfortable to hike and we had plenty of blue sky photo opportunities. The more overcast days presented a combination of warm and humid weather, which set off the aroma of alpine herbs. The drama of getting to a high point, only to have the clouds suddenly clear and unveil the landscape below was awe-inspiring. This area offers a fantastic variation of terrain, in a single day, we trekked through ancient beech forests, wildflower meadows and lunar-esque limestone boulder fields.



3. It has its own traditional, independent culture

The Picos don’t only offer outstanding alpine vistas, as you trek through the mountains you get a unique insight into the lives of the people who make their homes there. The traditional way of life is pastoral farming, although this is rapidly changing. In fact the area is famed for the cave aged cheeses that it produces, which if you’re lucky (and we were!) you may get to sample along the way.
As you wander through the pastures, serenaded by the tinkle of cow bells, keep an eye out for the iconic Rebecos (or Chamois) on the steep valley sides and Griffon Vultures swooping overhead. I couldn’t write about the Picos without mentioning the conservation that is happening there, the national park (first established in 1918, now a UNESCO heritage site) is renowned for the biodiversity of fauna and flora alike. The Picos provides a habitat for the last remaining population of brown bears in Western Europe as well as a small number of wolves, although you are unlikely to come across the magnificent creatures. As you get higher up and further towards the Naranjo de Bulnes the mountaineering culture starts to become more apparent. You’ll hear the mix of European languages and sense the excitement of a preeminent attempt to scale the face of this iconic rock.


4. Mountain refuges and family run accommodation

Throughout our traverse we stayed in a mixture of cosy mountain refugees and authentic, family run hotels. The refuges are awesome, each one holding its own charm, and the people running them have a contagious enthusiasm for their work and lifestyle. My advice here would be to brush up on your schoolbook Spanish, or at the very least learn a few words. It will make for a much more fulfilling experience if you can exchange a few words with the locals. The remote locations of these welcoming shelters mean that supplies are mostly bought in by horse or mule. This makes you all the more grateful for your three course dinner.
I was particularly blown away by the efforts of one of the huts to reduce their impact on the environment - not a piece of single use plastic insight, they were well equipped with a compost toilet (complete with ambient lighting – you’ll know what I mean when you get there!) and solar panels. Even the bread was made fresh on site - an example to all. The three nights that you spend in hotels feel like a comparable luxury after the dormitory style rooms in the refuges.


5. Sample some amazing Spanish food

The food on this holiday is super tasty, and just what you need for fuelling long days of trekking. Even better, it’s all included! The packed lunches are my idea of heaven, tasty bread, gorgeous cheese and salty cured meats alongside pasta salad, fresh fruit and trail mix. The dinners were always three courses, and the food seemed to keep on coming, plenty for everybody, and always accompanied by extra bread(!). If you’re still hungry, you can also buy snacks, soft drinks, beers and coffees from the refuges and villages, so take a few euros with you in case you fancy a cerveza along the way! We also had the privilege of trying the local ‘artisan’ cheeses, and ate plenty classic Spanish dishes such as paella, tortilla, calamari, stews and crema Catalana.



6. The guides are fantastic

Our guide Rosanna was great - personable, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable. She guided us through the landscape seamlessly and had a keen eye for wildlife. We were encouraged to work as a team over trickier terrain which allowed us to bond as a group. I was especially happy because she is particularly conscientious in her efforts to promote responsible tourism. The packed lunches she provides, for example, are packed in a cotton bag (which can be washed and reused), and any additional packaging used is a mixture of paper and compostable bio-plastic.

If you’re after a challenging week of walking, far from the crowds, with a stunning backdrop to boot, this is the holiday for you.


Do you want to know more about KE's Traverse of the Picos de Europa? Just give Daisy or another member of our adventure-loving team a call on +017687 29672 or USA/Canada toll-free 1888 630 4415.

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