Peaks, Picos, and a Pinch of Paprika: A Travelers Guide to the Picos de Europa

Peaks, Picos, and a Pinch of Paprika: A Travelers Guide to the Picos de Europa

Once upon a time, tucked between the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and the rolling hills of Northern Spain, a sublime patch of earth sprung up, defying the laws of plainness that governed its surroundings.

This patch, known as Picos de Europa, has been a playground for nature enthusiasts and seekers of authentic Spanish chorizo alike. Join me on a whimsical tour of this unassuming yet flamboyant character in Spain's geographical ensemble!

A Dash of History

Legend has it that the Picos de Europa mountains were the first sight for sailors returning from the Americas, hence the name ‘Peaks of Europe’.

(short description of image) in the Picos de Europa
Image ©️ CTTC Bike Tours

Although Columbus might not have stopped here for a pint of Asturian cider, the history of the Picos is as rich and textured as the blue cheese they produce.

A Geography of Grandeur

The Picos de Europa, spanning across Asturias, Cantabria, and Castile and León, is a geographical delight divided into three massifs: Western, Central, and Eastern. This range covers around 646 square kilometers of limestone peaks, lush valleys, and sparkling rivers.

The highest point, Torre de Cerredo, reaches 2,650 meters, with others like Naranjo de Bulnes not far behind. The varying landscape includes alpine meadows, dense forests, deep gorges like the Cares Gorge, and tranquil glacial lakes such as Lake Enol and Lake Ercina.

This diverse terrain invites a myriad of outdoor activities, making Picos de Europa a playground for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

(short description of image) in the Picos de Europa
Image ©️ CTTC Bike Tours

The Gastronomic Trail

Picos de Europa is a place where your taste buds can reach their own summits of delight! Corny puns aside, for aficionados of local cuisine, it is truly hard to beat the simple and authentic gastronomy of the Picos region.

This includes fresh fish on the Bay of Biscay and outstanding produce from the fertile river valleys that trace through the interior of the Picos.

Asturias and Cantabria, the regions encompassing Picos de Europa, are not just about high peaks but high-quality eats too. The hearty Fabada Asturiana stew, a comforting concoction of chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), and fabes (white beans) is spiced up with the local spice of choice: Paprika

The sharp Cabrales cheese, a blue cheese matured within the limestone caves of the region, is as robust in flavor as the mountains are in stature. It’s not just a cheese; it’s a rite of passage for every food aficionado.

And then, there’s the local cider, or sidra. The pouring ritual, known as escanciar, is both a spectacle and a science, ensuring the liquid gold hits the glass with just the right fizz. It's amusing and aerating!

(short description of image) in the Picos de Europa
Image ©️ CTTC Bike Tours

Seasoned Advice on Seasons

The best time to visit? Spring for the wildflowers, or Autumn for the foliage. Summer's great too, but be prepared to share the beauty with many others. Winter is for the brave, the snow-clad peaks are harsh yet hauntingly beautiful.

We like to visit between April and September, to get warmer temperatures and less chance of rain - but be warned, you will often get all four seasons in a day, especially if you are at higher altitudes, so always bring layered clothing!

(short description of image) in the Picos de Europa
Image ©️ CTTC Bike Tours

What To Do

The Picos is not just a feast for the eyes but a playground for the soul. If you are the outdoor type, there's a good chance you may never wish to go back home, it happens to me every time I visit!

  • Hiking: With trails ranging from leisurely walks to strenuous hikes, there's a world-class path for every pair of legs. The Cares Gorge trail is a must for those looking to capture the rugged beauty of the region.
  • Biking: It goes without say that the Picos de Europa offer some of the most spectacular cycling in Europe, from oceanfront trails to deep shady gorges, and some world class mountain cols for the seasoned rider.
  • Canoeing: The rivers slicing through the valleys offer a different perspective of the landscape. It's both tranquil and thrilling.
  • Cave Exploring: The region is dotted with caves, each with its own tale etched in stalactites and stalagmites.
  • Village Hopping: Discover the quaint mountain villages like Potes and Arenas de Cabrales, each with its own charm, traditions, and, of course, culinary delights.
  • Cider-drinking: Why let good fallen apples go to waste? In Asturia they certainly don't, and while the cider itself may not be to your taste, the pouring of it from a significant height makes up for the unusual flavour!
  • Cow-watching: It's udderly relaxing and a serene experience that offers a glimpse into the pastoral life amidst the majestic mountains.
(short description of image) in the Picos de Europa
Image ©️ CTTC Bike Tours

Top Picks in The Picos

While there are endless options for places to see and things to do, my very top favourites are unique to the Picos de Europa, and places I happily return to every time I visit!

  1. Fuente Dé Cable Car: Imagine being hoisted up 753 meters within the blink of an eye (okay, a 4-minute ride). The views atop are touted to be the closest thing to heaven, while your stomach catches up!
  2. Covadonga Lakes: Two glacial lakes that are as serene as the cows that graze on the banks, and the monks who reside in the nearby sanctuary of Covadonga.
  3. Cares Gorge: A hiking trail not for the faint of heart nor the weak of calves. It’s where Mother Nature shows off her curves amidst a dramatic backdrop. This is easily one of the very best hikes in the world.

The Picos de Europa is more than just a mountainous escape. It's a region where every bend in the trail reveals a new story, every simple meal is a celebration, and every moment is as rich as a slice of the local Tarta de Queso.

So, pack your bags, your appetite, and a sense of adventure to discover the whimsical wonders awaiting in the Picos de Europa.

(short description of image) in the Picos de Europa
Image ©️ CTTC Bike Tours
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