Discovering the Secrets of Picos de Europa: From Majestic Gorges to Culinary Feasts!

Discovering the Secrets of Picos de Europa: From Majestic Gorges to Culinary Feasts!

The European landscape is dotted with numerous famed mountain ranges, from the iconic Alps to the mystical Carpathians. But nestled in Northern Spain is a lesser-known treasure that every outdoor enthusiast should have on their radar: the Picos de Europa.

The Picos de Europa is a stunning mountain range located in Northern Spain that is often overshadowed by more well known destinations.

However, for outdoor enthusiasts, it is spectacular range that should not be missed. The Picos de Europa offers a wide range of activities for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, from hiking and climbing to skiing and cycling.

Two cyclists riding through a gorge on a small road in the Picos de Europa

The landscape is breathtaking, with jagged peaks, deep valleys, and crystal clear lakes. The area is also home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, making it a paradise for nature lovers. If you're an outdoor enthusiast, find out why the Picos de Europa should be on your travel radar!

What are the Picos de Europa?

The Picos de Europa, or "Peaks of Europe", is a rugged and dramatic mountain range that captures the heart and soul of any adventurer fortunate enough to explore its reaches.

The name itself is believed to have been given by sailors, for these peaks were the first sight of Europe as they returned from the Americas.

traditional stone house in the Picos de Europa in northern Spain

Spanning an area of about 650 square kilometers, these mountains rise sharply from the ground, presenting a breathtaking sight against the Spanish sky.

Their rich biodiversity, emerald green pastures, and deep limestone gorges make them a natural wonder to behold.

Traditional village in the Picos de Europa

The Picos de Europa also offers a unique cultural experience, with charming villages and towns scattered throughout the region.

Visitors can immerse themselves in the local culture and cuisine, with traditional dishes and festivals to enjoy. 

Where are the Picos de Europa located?

Situated in the northern part of Spain, the Picos de Europa form a natural boundary between the regions of Asturias, Cantabria, and Castilla y León.

The range is divided into three main massifs: Western (or Cornión), Central (or Los Urrieles), and Eastern (or Andara).

While relatively compact in size, the Picos pack in an array of geographical wonders and are easily accessible from major cities like Oviedo, Santander, and León.

Where to Stay in the Picos de Europa?

Whether you're looking for rustic charm or modern luxury, accomodations in the Picos de Europa offer the full gamut of experiences:

  • Mountain Refuges: Experience the true mountain life by staying in one of the many refugios (mountain huts) scattered throughout the range.
  • Deluxe Hotels: For a more luxurious stay, there is a good offer of 4 and 5 star deluxe accommodations with maximum comfort and outstanding locations.
  • Rural Houses: For a cozy, homely experience, rent a traditional Asturian or Cantabrian house. Many of these are centuries-old stone buildings, modernized for comfort.
  • Camping: There are several campsites where you can set up your tent and immerse yourself in nature.

What to Eat in the Picos de Europa?

The Picos de Europa, while renowned for its dramatic landscapes, is also a great region to sample some of Spain's most authentic traditional foods, and a perfect destination for hearty food enthusiasts.

The blend of high mountain pastures, deep valley gorges, and proximity to the sea results in a diverse array of authentic flavors, styled by the whims of nature and history rather than to appeal to the tourists palate.

Plate of local fish served on the coast of the Picos de Europa region

Below are my suggested must-try dishes and delicacies of this majestic region. Be warned though, I'm not a fan of the powerful cheeses of the region, but cheese lovers assure me they are to die for!

Queso de Cabrales
Perhaps the most iconic delicacy from the Picos de Europa is Cabrales cheese. This blue cheese is aged in natural limestone caves, resulting in its pungent aroma and strong flavor.

Cabrales cheese on toasts on a plate

Best enjoyed with crusty bread or paired with apple cider, this cheese embodies the rustic essence of the region.

Fabada Asturiana
This hearty stew is a comforting blend of fabes (large white beans), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, and saffron. Slow-cooked to perfection, Fabada Asturiana warms the soul, making it a beloved dish, especially during the colder months. 

A meat lover's delight: Cachopo consists of two large veal or beef steaks filled with ham and cheese, breaded and then deep-fried to a golden crisp. It's often accompanied by fries and roasted peppers. A meal in itself, Cachopo is a testament to the hearty appetite of the Asturians.

Pote Asturiano
A rich and flavorful soup, Pote Asturiano is a mix of beans, various greens like cabbage and kale, and spicy chorizo.

Lady showing fresh green beans in the countryside in the Picos de Europa

It’s the ideal comfort food after a long day of hiking or riding through the gorges. The perfect aprés ride recharge meal for me!

Originating from the coastal towns near the Picos, marañuelas are sweet pastries made with almonds, sugar, and lemon zest. Often shaped like small boats or seashells, they're the perfect treat with your afternoon coffee.

Sidra (Cider)
While technically a beverage, no culinary exploration of the Picos de Europa would be complete without tasting the region's famous cider. Asturias, in particular, is renowned for its apple orchards, and the fermented juice of these apples results in a slightly sour, effervescent drink.

Traditional cider pouring in Asturias in the Picos de Europa

Don't miss the traditional way of pouring - from a height to aerate the liquid and enhance its flavors, while providing a great kerbside spectacle!

Ternera Asturiana
The green pastures of the Picos de Europa are home to some of Spain’s finest cattle. Ternera Asturiana refers to the beef from these cattle, known for its tenderness and rich flavor. Whether grilled as steaks or simmered in stews, this beef is a testament to the quality produce of the region.

Gamoneu Cheese
Another prized cheese from the region, Gamoneu is a blend of cow, sheep, and goat's milk. Aged in natural caves, it boasts a smoky flavor with a slightly spicy undertone. It's less pungent than Cabrales but equally delightful.

Traditional Bread basket and tomato salad served in the Picos de Europa

Each dish, steeped in tradition and flavored by the unique terroir of the region, invites you to sit, savor, and immerse yourself in the culinary tapestry of this mountain destination.

So, as you lace up your hiking boots and hit the hiking trail - or clip in your cycling shoes to ride the gorgeous gorges, you're sure to work up an appetite. The Picos await, with a table laden with gastronomic wonders. ¡Buen provecho!

What not to miss in the Picos de Europa?

The Picos de Europa, with its dramatic landscapes and rich cultural heritage, offers a plethora of unforgettable outdoor experiences.

Here's my deeper dive into the must-see and must-do activities when you venture into this majestic mountain range.

1. Cares Gorge Trail (Ruta del Cares)
Often described as the “Divine Gorge,” this 12-kilometer trail is not just a hike but a rite of passage for many visitors.

Friends hiking on the Cares Gorge hiking trail in the Picos de Europa

Carved between the steep limestone walls of the Cares River, the pathway offers mesmerizing views of the deep ravines below and the soaring peaks above.

Make sure to wear sturdy shoes and carry water, as the trail can be challenging but incredibly rewarding.

2. Fuente Dé Cable Car
One of the most exhilarating experiences in the Picos, the Fuente Dé cable car ascends over 750 meters within a mere 4 minutes.

Funete De cable car near the top of the ride

At the top, you're greeted with panoramic views that stretch out to the horizon, encompassing the vastness of the Picos de Europa.

It's a viewpoint like no other and provides an excellent starting point for various treks.

3. Covadonga Lakes (Lagos de Covadonga)
These glacial lakes, Lake Enol and Lake Ercina, offer a serene and picturesque setting.

Surrounded by green meadows and often reflecting the clear blue skies above, the lakes are perfect for picnics, leisurely walks, or simply soaking in the tranquility.

Beyond the tourist bus friendly Basilica, don't miss the tiny hermitage, Ermita de la Virgen de las Nieves, overlooking Lake Enol.

4. Sotres
Perched at an altitude of 1,045 meters, Sotres is one of the highest villages in the Picos. Its stone houses and narrow paths echo tales of a bygone era. Beyond its cultural charm, Sotres is a gateway to numerous trekking paths, including the route to Naranjo de Bulnes, one of the most iconic peaks in the Picos.

5. Potes
This medieval town is not just the cultural and commercial hub of the Liébana region but also a gastronomic delight. Wander through its cobbled streets, visit the Torre del Infantado, and sample the local orujo (a strong grape brandy).

Old town houses overlooking  the river in Potes in the heart of the Picos de Europa

Potes also hosts the Festival of Orujo in November, a celebration of this traditional spirit. At any time of year, Potes is my favorite town in the Picos: the perfect blend of delightful medieval architecture and great foodie scene - with a mountain backdrop to swoon over!

6. Ruta de Reconquista
This historic route traces the footsteps of the Christian soldiers during the Reconquista, Spain's centuries-long effort to reclaim its territories from Moorish rule.

It's not just a trek but a journey through Spain's rich history, culminating at the Basilica of Santa Maria la Real de Covadonga, a symbol of the Reconquista.

7. Bulnes
Accessible only by foot or a funicular railway, Bulnes is a remote village that seems frozen in time. Its isolation has preserved a unique way of life.

Hikers pass a stone house in a mountain village in the Picos de Europa

The journey to Bulnes, whether by trekking or the funicular, offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

8. Cueva del Soplao
While the Picos de Europa is known for its towering peaks, underneath lies a world equally captivating. The Cueva del Soplao is a natural cave known for its remarkable geological formations.

Venture inside to witness a spectacle of stalactites, stalagmites, and helictites that seem straight out of a fantasy world.

9. Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana
This ancient monastery is said to house a piece of the Lignum Crucis, believed to be the largest known piece of the cross where Jesus was crucified.

Detail of geometric patterns on a church roof in the Picos de Europa

Beyond its religious significance, the monastery, with its serene ambiance and stunning views, is a haven of peace.

Exploring the Picos de Europa is about embracing both its natural wonders and cultural treasures. Each corner of this region beckons with stories and adventures waiting to be had.

Group of friends cycling in the Picos de Europa region in Spain

Whether you're scaling its heights, delving into its depths, or wandering through its historic villages, the Picos promise an experience that will etch itself into your memories. It's still one of my very favorite outdoor destinations, anywhere in the world!

When to go to the Picos de Europa?

I'm a full time cyclist and a part-time hiker, so it's Spring and Summer in the Picos for me, but the best time to visit largely depends on your interests:

  • Spring (April to June): The landscape comes alive with wildflowers, creating a colorful canvas that contrasts beautifully with the snow-capped peaks.
  • Summer (July to September): Ideal for hiking and trekking, as the weather is generally warm and stable. It's also the busiest season.
  • Autumn (October to November): A time of golden hues and crisp air. It's less crowded, making it perfect for those seeking quiet and solitude.
  • Winter (December to March): Snow blankets the peaks, transforming the Picos into a winter wonderland. It's a great time for snow sports, but be prepared for some paths and accommodations to be closed.

The Picos de Europa is more than just a mountain range. It's a testament to nature's grandeur and the rich tapestry of Spanish culture.

Hiking on a snowy trail at Fuente De in the Picos de Europa

Whether you're a seasoned mountaineer or someone looking for a serene escape, the Picos beckon with a promise of adventure and awe.

So pack your bags and set your sights on this European treasure. The Picos await!

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