7 reasons to visit the Picos de Europa: #7. Tales from the dawn of Spain
This article forms one of a seven-part series showcasing how we could share Spain's Picos de Europa with you and your walking boots. You can find an overview of all seven reasons here. Enjoy reading and if it inspires you to come and see it all for yourself, you'll find links to some trip ideas and a direct line to a team of people who'd love to help you plan a visit to somewhere so close to our hearts.
#7. Tales from the dawn of Spain
As you take a moment to soak in the all-pervading sense of peace and quiet of the mountains, never more obvious than when the gentle clang of a far-off cowbell reaches your ear, it seems quite implausible to think that there was a moment in time when the first roar of the great Reconquest was first heard in these mountains, when the Picos de Europa were the last redoubt of Catholic Spain.
The seeds of a united Spain germinated from here. The peaceful foothills were the first battlegrounds of a Holy war that would spread across the peninsula and would not finish for another 750 years.
Covadonga shrine, start point of the Christian Reconquest of Spain
Not a bad claim to fame for this pocket of peaks and pasture, where crumbling shepherd huts and red-roofed hamlets are often the most prevalent signs of humanity. But there’s more. Because as the Reconquest slowly pushed the border with Moorish Spain ever southwards, the Picos de Europa mountains became a crossroad for the most important Camino pilgrim pathways to the holy city of Santiago.
With Spain increasingly in thrall to North Africa, the Christians took their relics north, and a piece of the Holy Cross came to hide in the Liébana Valley in the Picos de Europa. Having rediscovered the tomb of Santiago in Galicia, pilgrims started to walk the vast distances across the peninsula, with most following the Cantabrian coast and what is today known as the Camino del Norte.
Hiking towards Santo Toribio along the Camino Lebaniego
With the Picos sitting snug between the north path and the established inland Francés (French) route, many pilgrims detoured off of the coastal route to worship this most important of relics, still ‘hidden’ in the Santo Toribio monastery. Rather than turn back on themselves, they simply kept going through the mountains and emerged onto the Francès in León.
If you want to follow in their footsteps and link the two Caminos, via a visit to that very same monastery, we have an itinerary we’d love to share with you.
Hiking down along the Roman road of Caoru
Even before the Moors or Christians showed up, the Romans had long thrown down routes in the region, attracted by the mineral richness. Even with all their might, it took the presence of Holy Emperor Octavio Augusto himself to come and lead his army to victory over the local tribespeople and pacify the area.
That there are still remnants of Roman pathways visible in the high mountains today is testament to the isolation and absence of large-scale human development in the hills.