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Walk across high mountain meadows to share lunch with the shepherds and taste cider fresh from the barrel in the company of villagers. Discover the stunning landscapes of the Picos de Europa and meet the people who give it all colour, on this wonderful holiday designed for small private groups.
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Travel to Bilbao in northern Spain. Tonight is spent in the city, staying in a first class hotel in the centre. Please note: flights for this holiday are quoted separately.
Visit Frank Gehry’s famous titanium clad Guggenheim museum this morning before a tapas lunch in the heart of the old town. Set off west to the Picos de Europa mountains this afternoon. Visit Cantabria's only vineyard early this evening to hear about the restoration work and taste their wines. This evening you dine in the medieval town of Potes, sampling some of the regional speciality dishes.
The landscape of the Picos de Europa has been created by more than 4,000 years of a unique farming culture that has survived until today. Cheese making was the only way of living for centuries and its still important to the area, but modern times have changed the traditional ways. Share the day with local shepherds as you learn what it means to live from the mountains as you walk in a stunning area of meadows, gorges and peaks rich with birds of prey.
The cable-car at Fuente Dé provides a spectacular ride up 1,000m to the upper reaches of the mountains in the heart of the National Park. The contrast with the green valley floor is striking as you step out into a moon-like landscape of splintered rocks, jagged peaks and deep ravines. You will usually see chamois goats perched on the cliffs and vultures circling below. Enjoy stunning views back down the forested Liebana Valley and ahead to the high limestone cliffs.
Change hotels today as you travel through two spectacular gorges, firstly the Hermida gorge and then west along the banks of the Cares River, famous for its salmon - a great excuse for lunch by the river. Later, walk between villages in the company of a local resident who talks us through the landscape, architecture, economy and lifestyle, both traditional and modern, in the Picos. The walk finishes at a cider barn for an ‘espicha’, a traditional party of eating and drinking.
Head west today as you walk from the Covadonga Lakes up to the high plateau and grazing lands of the western massif. As well as spectacular landscapes and views, this is a culturally fascinating area. For one thing, it was from these lakes that the Christian reconquest of Spain started. The lakes are therefore a key element of Spanish history and culture. For another, the traditional lifestyles of seasonal pastures is still much in evidence here
Today’s walking is in the open meadows and slopes beneath the emblematic peak of Naranjo de Bulnes. Walk for 3 hours to the summit of a small hill which gives you the best views of the stunning rock face of the Naranjo. On the way back towards base, stop in the village of Tielve, home to the best Cabrales, a potent blue cheese unique to this small area of the Picos mountains.
The most famous walk in the Picos, probably in all of Spain, is the Cares Gorge. It is a path cut along the cliff face high above the Cares River which cuts right through the heart of the Picos de Europa. In places, the path is just two metres wide cut into a cliff face some 1,500m high. Towards the end of the gorge you pass through a series of short tunnels and over bridges as the path criss-crosses the river below.
Start today early with a visit to the fish market of the town, a bustling, fascinating environment as the days’ catch is landed and sold. After breakfast, we head out to sea on a 12 metre motorised fishing boat. This gives us a chance to explore the gorgeous Asturian coastline to the west of Ribadesella from the perspective of the sea. Afterwards we enjoy a walk along the coast, defined by rolling hills breaking off into the sea to reveal hidden sandy coves and beaches.
Return to the airport of Bilbao for flights home.
Walk across high mountain meadows to share lunch with the shepherds, taste cider fresh from the barrel in the company of villagers as you discover the stunning landscapes of the Picos de Europa as well as meet the people who give it all colour. This is a small group holiday.
The walks on this holiday are moderate rather than strenuous. Designed really to introduce you to the full variety of the Picos de Europa's scenery rather than to have you trekking all day long. Most days consist of combinations of walking, outdoors cultural visits and delicious meals.
Walks average 10-12km over the course of 3 or 4 hours or so. Height gains and losses on the paths we choose are not great at around 250m over the course of the walks. On one day we do head up into the highlands to walk up to a peak - this is a relatively short walk but the ascent is much more dramatic at 700m. As a circular walk, this is an easy one to sit out or shorten. Even when not hiking, you do spend most of your time outdoors, exploring on foot.
The accommodation on this journey is very comfortable. You will stay in three different hotels over the course of this trip which allows you to experience the different aspects of the Picos mountains without spending overly long being driven around.
The weather in this part of Spain is notoriously fickle i.e. wet. This is 'green Spain' after all. If you travel in June you are likely to enjoy decent daytime temperatures of around 15°- 20°, though you will almost certainly see some rain and cloudy days. It is a beautiful time of year in the forests and mountains with spring flowers in the meadows and snow still up on the high mountains.
September is usually the driest month of the year, will be pleasantly warm with daytime temperatures of around 20°- 25°and the sea should still be good for a refreshing dip. October is going to be similar in temperature to May/June, perhaps a little drier, as you get into later October the autumnal colours will be beautiful particularly in the forests of the Liebana Valley.
The Picos de Europa is rich in rural culture as well as having some fascinating historical sites. The way of life up in the mountains has changed remarkably little in the last 50 years, you will still see people scything the hay and leading there sheep out to graze in the high pastures. And really it's this aspect of the mountains which we try to unveil on this holiday.
Your guide has lived for many, many years in the mountains and has worked in conservation, directly with many of the shepherds. This gives us access to people and places that are simply not known to outsiders.
As well as the people of the mountains, the food plays an important part in this trip. Artisan food production is a major part of the economy here, cheeses in particular are famously good. The powerful blue Cabrales cheese is made up in the village of Tielve, the very, very special Gamoneu cheese just across the valley. Bread baked in wood-fired ovens (pan de lena) is still made in most parts of the mountains. There is even a vineyard now to the south of the mountains - production is still limited but it's a novelty in these parts.
There is a detailed itinerary for this trip, please get in touch and we can email that to you. This is a holiday designed for a small private group of around 8-12 people, as such the itinerary itself can be altered to suit you if required in both duration and content. If you would like to join us on this holiday, please call us to discuss your group's requirements, any additional arrangements you may want, etc. We can also tailor a version of this trip on a private basis for couples or families; please get in touch to discuss your needs.
The holiday starts and ends in Bilbao (airport code: BIO) which is well served by both international and domestic flights. Rail connections are less good but still possible. Although flights are not included in the holiday price, we are very happy to advise on the best routings and timings.
The holiday price includes private transport, full time guide, accommodation in twin or double rooms, excursions and activities as well as all meals except for one dinner. Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout, along with the reassurance of our financial protection and safety auditing.