From the deserts and beaches of the Cabo de Gata to the high green hills of the Liebana Valley, Spain boasts some of the most fantastic and diverse landscapes in Europe. Let?s take a look at a few of our favourite Spanish landscapes to give you an insight of the very different places you can find in the Iberian Peninsula. What do you think is missing?
Sierra de Aracena, Andalucia
Stretching north of the provinces of Huelva and Seville is the 460,000-acre Sierra de Aracena nature park, an expanse evergreen oak and chestnut forests, particularly beautiful in spring when the meadows bloom. Aracena?s lovely paths are generally lined with either stone walls or wire fences, it keeps the wild boar away from the chestnuts and stops them interfering with the valuable iberian pig stocks. So this is an area which not only looks good, it tastes delicious!
Cabo de Gata, Andalucia
Cabo de Gata Natural Park, in the south easternmost corner of Spain is the only stretch of coastline which is protected by a marine reserve. It is also the only desert in mainland Europe. The hills of Cabo de Gata are long extinct volcanoes which drop down to the coast and are home to flora which is completely unique. And the beaches are not only plentiful but lovely.
Doñana National Park wetlands, spread out along the west side of the Guadalquivir estuary used to be 88,000 hectares of royal hunting grounds. More recently they realised that, being a stopping off point for vast numbers of migratory birds, as well as being home to red deer, wild boar and even Iberian Lynx, they should probably protect them. The sleepy village of El Rocio is reminiscent of a Western set, and a lovely spot to fall asleep to the sounds of the nature around you.
Costa Brava, Catalonia
The dramatic ?Wild Coast? is a nearly unbroken series of sheer rock cliffs, forested volcanic cones dropping down to clear blue-green waters, punctuated with innumerable coves and tiny beaches on narrow calas (inlets). On a good day here, taking a picnic with you, you can enjoy the luminous blue of the sea contrasts with red-brown headlands and cliffs, and the distant lights of fishing boats reflect on wine-coloured waters at dusk. The light in these parts brings out the artist in all of us. If it was good enough for Picasso and Dalí, it?s good enough for us.
Whether walking up to the peak of San Lorenzo, from where you have spectacular views of the plains of Rioja and a series of 2,000m peaks, or walking beneath the cliffs through the sea of vineyards, the most prosperous region of Spain boasts impressive landscapes as well as lovely old towns. The landscapes are actually only ?really nice? but after a few glasses of wine you?ll be convinced that this is the most beautiful place you?ve ever seen.
Cares Gorge, Asturias/León
The most famous 12km long walk in the Picos de Europa, is also without doubt one of our favourite places in Spain. A path cuts along the cliff face high above the Cares River which runs 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. In summer an enterprising local opens up a bar half way along, keeping the drinks cold in the fast flowing waters of the canal cut into the cliff walls.
Liebana Valley, Cantabria
The defining feature of the Liebana Valley are the many red-roofed villages set against the green meadows and hills of the valley. It?s also one of the places in Spain where the way of life has genuinely changed little in many years. You will still see people scything the hay in meadows and cow you will wake up to the sound of cow bells of a morning. Ancient trails cross meadows between villages to this small shrine set on a natural balcony with views over the beautiful valley and mountains beyond.
Fuente Dé, Cantabria
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 Picos de Europa 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. From here you can walk up to a high peak for fantastic views.
The entrance to this natural wonder is under the vertical walls of Monte Mondarruego, the source of the Ara River which forms the famous Ordesa Valley. Home to some of the finest walking in the country, its wide range of hikes lead to unique waterfalls, caves, and spectacular observation points. Mountain biking or rafting is also highly recommended here. Autumn in Ordesa is something else ? when those beech trees start to colour, these are landscapes which stand up to any in the world.
Aigües Tortes, Catalonia
The breathtaking scenery of this national park is formed by jagged peaks, steep rock walls, and an abundance of high mountain terrain, all of which lie in the shadow of the twin peaks of Els Encantats. Featuring the highest stretch of the Pyrenees, more than 300 glacial lakes and lagoons (Aigües Tortes means ?winding waters?) trickle through forests and meadows of wildflowers. From the park entrance, walk up to the pass at 2,562m for some of the most stunning views in the Pyrenees. That?s Xabi standing there looking happy with his morning?s walk.
Ready to explore for yourself?
Discover or rediscover Spain on a Pura Aventura trip ? from the Romans to the Moors to the Catholic Kings, Spanish history is as varied as its landscapes, people and food. You can keep your Costas, they have nothing to do with the Spain we know and love – a Spain which never, ever fails to surprise and delight us.