Picos de Europa, Asturias
Located to the south east of Asturias, the Picos de Europa is a mountain range that lies north of the Cantabrian mountains and stretches for approximately 40 kilometers. The main characteristics of this range are their limestone structure and jagged peaks that, at their highest point, exceed an altitude of 2,500 metres above sea level.
The Picos de Europa mountain range covers an area of almost 800 kilometers square. For a general summary of these mountains read on, and for more detailled information use the Picos de Europa menu in the box above right.
Geography and geology
Often capped with snow and with a dense network of natural tunnels and caves running beneath them, these mountains are split into three groupings. These groupings are known as the "Western Massif" (or el Cornion), the "Central Massif" (or los Urrieles) and the "Eastern Massif" (or Andara) and all are clearly delineated by cavernous valleys and deep rifts between them.
Although the Picos de Europa are an obvious and monumental spectacle in themselves, they also play an important role in defining the climate and habitat of Spain. Those provinces to their north are lush and green and receive much rainfall, whilst those to the south are dryer, flatter and have a less balanced climate. It is the provinces like Asturias, that lie above these mountains, that are frequently referred to as “Green Spain”.
A mountain range in two halves
Physically the Picos de Europa has an invisible dividing line at around 1,600 metres above sea level. The areas up to this point have plenty of vegetation with some forestry and meadows and the land can be cultivated and farmed with ease. Beyond this point the vegetation gives way to a starker and less hospitable landscape with much cooler temperatures and little in the way of plant and animal life. The dominant colour switches from green to white as the plant life is replaced by hard limestone and snow, and fresh water becomes in short supply.
The importance of the Picos de Europa was first recognised in 1918 when "el Cornion" was designated as Spain first National Park and by 1955 the greater part of all three massifs were included within this designation. Today this spectacular mountain range is one of the main tourist draws to Asturias and can get quite busy in the summer months.
The Picos de Europa attracts walkers, hikers, climbers, mountaineers and potholers and offers a range of challenges in each area that extend from the novice through to the experienced outdoor activity expert. Most visitors though want only one thing, to witness and experience the beauty of this amazing mountain range.
If however you do want to take a hike in these mountains, then it is most probably "el Cornion" that will attract you. With its "Pena Santa de Casilla" peak, it is the highest of the three massifs and also the most challenging, but it does offers the most varied scenery with two lakes plus numerous gorges and valleys. There are also some small and once isolated villages in the Picos that can be visited and, depending on the areas you wish to explore, you may be advised to enter these mountains from the alternative provinces of Leon or Cantabria.
Information, accommodation and trip planning
There is an information centre for "el Cornion" from which you can obtain routes and maps and one section of the southern Picos has a cable car although not easily reached from the north.
Most of the towns in and around the Picos de Europa area have hotels and hostels of varying standards and budgets and there are also some villas and houses to rent.
The high season is in the summer and especially late July to early September when the area can become busy with hikers, walkers and those interested in adventure sports. The Picos is however big enough for everyone and you should not be deterred from visiting during these periods.
One consideration you should make is that of forward planning (and reserving) of any accommodation or organized trips you anticipate requiring. Book these before you arrive.