Dawn is a symphony of pumpkins, saffron and pale purple colors burning in the eastern sky from our dormitory window. As the sun slowly rises, a salmon-pink carpet spreads over the limestone. I saw it for the first time then.
Behind our hut looms the Naranjo de Brunes, a smooth, vertical rock wall that rises defiantly over 500 meters. Naranjo de Brunes is not the highest of these mountains, but it is the most famous.
The rock is varied with iron ore, and the peak gets its name from the Spanish word for “orange” because of the shade it emits at sunrise and sunset.
With the dizzying Naranjo de Brunes in the background, we start our early morning hike from the hut. Through glacial valleys in the shadow of the still rising sun, scramble over scree fields, down mountain canyons and cross pockets of remaining snow.
Very soon, small spots will appear on Naranjo de Brunes. Spain’s most famous rock he is a climber on the way to climbing. Then we become aware that we are being observed. Hiding behind a rock just above us, a chamois sneakily watches our step.
By the time you start to feel the heat of the sun on your face, you’ll see a jumble of limestone spiers leading down to the Cantabrian Sea. Above, a periwinkle-blue sky is stenciled with intersecting steam trails.
Pass through valleys carved by the Ice Age and now strewn with rocks. As you descend, the greenery of the valley is embroidered with purple irises and pink roses. Lunch on the bottom, kick off your boots and socks, and soak your feet in the coolness of the gentle mountain stream.
I am in the Los Picos de Europa (European Peaks) mountains in northern Spain. Carved by thousands of years of glaciers, the Picos are rectangular blocks of limestone divided into the three Spanish provinces of Asturias, Cantabria and Leon.
The Picos Mountains are believed to be the first land Spanish sailors saw when returning to Europe from the Americas, hence the mountain’s name.
Join a friendly group of 11 hikers, led by your guide Rosana, along with your friends Clara and Siuvan for a 6-day trek through the UNESCO biosphere reserve, Picos National Park. Half the group is British, but there are also Americans, Australians, Germans and Singaporeans.
As we begin our first day’s hike, we see two Griffon Vultures perched on a rock and staring at us. In front of the vultures stands a spotted, slightly worn-out mastiff in the midst of an excited herd of goats. “Dogs are there to protect goats from wolves,” Rosana says.
Watch the sun set over the twinkling spires of the Central Massif under the open sky
Founded in 1918, we are located in the first national park created in Spain and the drumbeat of our treks is an encounter with a chapter in Spanish history.
For example, the cabin in Begaredonda where we are staying was an ammunition depot during the Spanish Civil War. We will walk the route used by the defeated Moors in a battle that is central to Spain’s psyche.
The victory of Pelayo, an Asturian nobleman, against a Moorish expedition at the Battle of Covadonga on the island of Picos in the early 8th century is considered the beginning of centuries of warfare, culminating in 1492. A Christian army reconquista was held to regain control. – of Spain.
Our trek is a fusion of soaring limestone peaks, jade-colored meadows and calm glacial lakes, listening to the chime of bells hanging from the necks of cows.
After the second day’s gentle uphill climb, all the ingredients for Picos’ elemental recipes come together on a sublime table. Cattle graze by the vast Elcina Lake, with the gnarled Western Massif as a backdrop, next to a terracotta-tiled hut. .
“This is Europe!” says Stacey, a former investment banker who grew up in Los Angeles. “Everything else is gravy.”
Rosana says the Pico Mountains are visited by far fewer tourists than mountains such as the Dolomites, and most of the hikers we meet are likely Spanish.
She works as a biology teacher in Gran Canaria and leads hiking tours in the Picos Mountains during the summer. Her graceful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, it’s easy to see why she won her award for that guide. Rosana is also a Picos cheese expert. The area is famous for its intense blue Cabrales. Queso With sharp taste. The homage paid to Cabrales here is the framed photo of the cheese adorning the walls of the cabin.
“Cabrales is made from a blend of cow, goat and sheep milk,” says Rosana. “It is aged in the limestone caves of Picos. The high humidity in the caves causes the cheese to develop blue mold.”
Picos has three massifs over 2,500 meters above sea level, and you’ll stay in a mountain hut during your trek to watch the sun slowly set over the twinkling spires of the Central Massif under the open sky.
The next morning, after a breakfast of homemade granola with turmeric and cinnamon and hot milk, eat a packed lunch of three-story egg and chorizo sandwiches before following the 1,200-meter zigzag trail of the ex-shepherd . Cairs also called Divine Gorge He descends to the Gorge.
About 12 km long, the canyon connects the village of Poncebos in Asturias with Cain in Leon. In the 1940s, engineers cut a ledge about one to three meters wide and with few handrails along one side of the canyon for workers at a nearby hydroelectric dam.
Carefully walk along the ledge, trying to soak up the high-definition views of the river 500 meters below and the mountains towering 2,000 meters above. See bridges built for salmon to negotiate upstream to spawning grounds and cross the gorge on the lime green chamois bridge.
One of the most impressive aspects of hiking in Picos is the feeling of ‘blowing clouds’. We started in the clouds and walked under the clouds as we descended into the Kares Valley. The next day we walk on clouds.
Starting near the village of Poncebos, crossing the Cares River and climbing to see evergreen oak trees stretching sideways out of the gorge. After about 2 hours, stop at Café con Leche in Brunes village.
Follow the white and yellow trail markings through fields dotted with shepherd’s huts. Often the only sound is the clatter of boots walking down the street. When you arrive at the mountain hut, the altitude is about 2,000 meters. But because of the clouds, I can only see the outline. You can’t see the Naranjo de Brunes behind it.
That night we had no idea what would happen the next morning.
Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly from Dublin to Santander, the nearest airport to Picos. Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) from Dublin to Bilbao by plane. Brittany Ferry (brittany-ferries.ie) from Rosslare to Bilbao.
Brendan toured with KE Adventure Travel (keadventure.com). The Picos de Europa Traverse is his 8-day tour that includes 6 days of hiking. Every day he walks for 5-8 hours, 800-1,000 meters uphill and downhill per day, and on the fifth day he has 2,000 meters uphill. Accommodation is a mixture of huts and small hotels. The €1,245 price includes accommodation, meals and a guide.