Even after living in Spain for a few years, Explore's James Adkin still didn't have the chance to see all of it that he wanted. Last year he visited a part of the country he never had a chance to before - he spent some time walking in the Picos mountains.
"You can’t go wrong with Spain! I would say that because I lived there for years and developed a real passion for everything Spanish - not least their amazing mountains. Spain is actually the second most mountainous country in Europe but the beaches, food and football tend to steal the limelight. Last August I finally got to walk in the Picos in Asturias, famous to the Spanish but a secret to many outsiders. It was nothing less than superb; without doubt some of the finest mountain scenery and walking I have ever experienced. I left knowing that I will certainly return to see more and wondering how on earth I hadn’t got there years earlier.
I really wasn’t expecting it to be so dramatic - rising abruptly from sea level to over 2600m the Picos are a huge hulking mass of limestone, carved by glacial action and cut by deep gorges into the eastern, western and central massifs. The lower slopes are lush with vegetation (verified by tasty local cheeses) which give way above 2000m to a high altitude terrain with rarefied air, barren rocks and sheer jagged peaks. These are serious mountains that wouldn’t look out of place in the Alps or Pyrenees with sheer faces that are home to mountain goats and mad climbers. Not surprisingly, the area was made into Spain’s first national park in 1918. The area protected by the park was extended in 1995.
The mountain villages are really welcoming, friendly and close to the action with really good food. Stand out local delicacies include Cecina de Buey and Cabrales cheese. Cabrales is a creamy and zingy blue cheese wrapped in vine leaves and matured in damp caves. Cecina de Buey is cured ox meat, but that hardly makes it sound tasty; it is simply mouth watering. Great wine can easily be found but you should also try the fresh pressed Asturian cider. Poured with skill from a height, it goes really well with the abundant seafood from the nearby coast."
You can explore this part of Spain in both the summer or winter - try our On Foot in the Picos de Europa in the summer months, or head out there during the winter for Snow-shoeing in the Picos de Europa.