Most people have never heard of the Picos de Europa. Which is no bad thing for those of us who love the peace and quiet of big mountains. It's a place which almost immediately takes you out of the day to day; the echoing cowbells, the constant flow of water, the prospect of a lunch of wood-baked bread, cheese and chorizo made in the nearby village and eaten high in the hills.
For such a small area, there is a stunning variety of landscapes.
The central mountains area is the most dramatic, with high peaks towering overhead, the Cares River and woodland in the valley below. The Liébana Valley is broad and green, fringed by the dramatic wall of the high Picos to the west and forested side valleys with meadows, pastures and small, red-roofed villages to the east. The Costa Verde (Green Coast) around the town of Llanes is marked by coastal meadows and steep cliffs leading to sandy coves.
Because we've had an office right next door to the Picos for 20 years, staffed among others by Pura co-founder and Picos native Diego Martín, we don't think it's an idle boast to say no one knows these hills quite like we do.
Here's a few ways we'd love to share it all with you.
Walking in the Picos de Europa
"The Picos de Europa is a place where, in one day of walking, you'll tie your boots up in front of wildflower meadows at the bottom of a valley, cross a sparkling river, traverse dense forests, stop for a picnic in an Alpine pasture and then kick your boots off again up in the craggy limestone highlands, where the peaks might still blanketed in winter snow. For somewhere of such varied beauty, it continues to confound us just how little-known Spain's joint-oldest national park remains..."
"A perfect day in the Picos is pretty close to the perfect formula of happiness; a hearty breakfast and coffee, followed by a five-hour walk through beautiful scenery that becomes eight hours as you stop along the way to watch the birds, soak in the views and enjoy an extended picnic in the hills. Make it back to your village inn around 5pm to put your feet up, sip a well-earned drink and chat with your hosts before a delicious homemade dinner, served at the Spanish hour..."
"Luxury in the Picos is not related to thread count, and there isn’t a spa in sight: what’s luxurious about a holiday here is the opportunity to disconnect from your everyday and to reconnect with yourself or with each other; to switch off the media and switch on the simple pleasures of walking through gorgeous scenery, listening to the sound of cowbells echo around the valley and staying in family-run village inns, where pink geraniums spill over the dark wooden balconies..."
"Most prized of all the cheeses is Gamoneu - a slightly blue, nutty cheese made with the mix of milks from the cows, sheep and goats that roam in the summer pastures. The cheese is smoked in the huts before being put to mature in the natural caves of the Picos for at least two months before it can be enjoyed. It's a slow labour of love, and these days there are only five families still producing it in the mountains. Just five. We’d love to introduce you to Covadonga, one of those still toiling away in the art of cheesemaking..."
"One of the joys of northern Spain is that you can eat a midday picnic on a mountain summit, take a late afternoon swim in the ocean and sit down for a slow seafood dinner within shouting distance of a bustling fishing harbour. You need only stand on the golden sands of the Costa Verde and draw your gaze upwards to the high mountain peaks, some up to 2,600m, to share the vision. But you need not rush. There’s time for the hills and time aplenty for the beach..."
"From the green valleys which sweep away from your feet, the pockets of terracotta-roofed houses far below and the channels of snow which tumble down the contoured limestone walls of far-off mountains, your gaze is instead directed to the intricate textures of a messy sandstone mantle, blending into coffee-coloured feathers stacked together on the wing, the extremes of which fan out like daggers in the wind..."
"As you take a moment to soak in the all-pervading sense of peace and quiet of the Picos, 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 disturbed the tranquility in these mountains."