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Wild Asturias - Realm of the Bear

Tour Code: ESP10

An 8-day holiday to the little-known western end of Spain's Cordillera Cantábrica, home to Bears, Wolves and a rich flora and birdlife. We will enjoy this wildlife on mountain walks through the spectacular Somiedo Natural Park.

8 days from £1395(inc flights) Land Only Price: £1275 SRS: £150


Wild, spectacular and little-visited, the western end of Spain’s Cantabrian Mountains is home to Bears, Wolves and a rich flora and birdlife. In the high alpine regions of Somiedo Natural Park we’ll be based in a village where locals still lead an age-old pastoralist life. In July, the small population of Bears living here ventures out into pastures to graze on spring grass, giving us our best chance of seeing one. This is a wild and forgotten corner of Spain, home to Golden Eagle and Goshawk, Alpine Chough and warblers, plus an abundance of flowers along the wayside and in meadows that is almost unknown in most of Western Europe now.

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  • Black Kite, Honey Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle & Griffon Vulture in summer
  • Rock Thrush, Ortolan, Red-billed Chough, Black Woodpecker & Crossbill present
  • 1,125 plants including regional endemics such as Somiedo Centaury
  • Mammals such as Chamois, plus Roe & Red Deers
  • Traditional Asturian architecture of stone & clay-tiled villages
  • Optional chance to scan for European Brown Bear at viewing places
  • Stunning scenery of craggy limestone peaks, upland pastures & valleys
  • Led by expert naturalist guide

    Food

    All included in the price.

    Accommodation

    A single-centre holiday using a clean and comfortable village hotel, all rooms with private facilities.

Griffon Vulture

Griffon Vulture

Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Fly Asturias and transfer to Somiedo Natural Park

Day 2/7 Day walks in the Cantabrian Mountains of the Somiedo region

Day 8 Return Asturias; fly London Stansted

The Brown Bear is a rare and endangered species in Spain today. Just 130 animals remain, split between two isolated populations at either end of the Cordillera Cantábrica. Here they dwell in the wildest regions, high in the steepest and most wooded parts of this spectacular — but little-visited — mountain range. The majority of the Bears, about 100, are to be found in the western population, 20 of them in the deep valleys and rugged terrain of Somiedo Natural Park. Established as recently as 1988 (and declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2000), this 29,164-hectare park protects some of the highest and most scenic peaks and valleys of the region; a most pleasant mix of dramatic and craggy limestone peaks and cliffs, upland lakes, fast-flowing streams and rivers, magnificent oak and Beech forests, ancient stone-walled upland pastures and high alpine meadows, regarded as the best-preserved montane environment in the Iberian peninsula. In particular, this rich and varied tapestry of habitats not only suits the omnivorous Bear, but also supports a very large population of Chamois, Roe Deer and Red Deer, the prey of at least four packs of Wolves that roam elusively through the rugged regions of the park. We would, of course, be extremely lucky to see a Bear or a Wolf, but we will look hard for them nonetheless as we pursue our main focus — the region's birdlife, flora, butterflies and other mammals — during our daily walks in these mountains.

It is the human presence, however, that makes this region so very special. As if the wonderful Asturian architecture of the stone and clay-tiled villages of Somiedo's valleys — each dwelling with its separate, classically Asturian, stilted storehouse — were not enough, here the resident farmers continue to practise an age-old pastoralist lifestyle, maintaining their traditional and unique brañas. These are seasonal ‘villages’ of ancient stone and thatch huts, set in the high pastures, from which the cow-herders manage their herds of distinctive red Asturian cows each spring, summer and autumn. The region is also the land of the vaqueiros, a community of pastoralists from the coast who, for centuries, have seasonally driven (more often in a truck these days than on foot, as in the past!) their cattle between winter pastures on the coast and the high pastures in Somiedo's mountains where they spend each summer living in traditional seasonal vaqueiro villages and hold colourful biannual livestock fairs.

We have chosen to visit in early July since this is the season during which the Bears venture out into the pastures to ‘graze’ on the spring grass before they retreat into the forests to feed on fruit, nuts and other forest produce. It is also, of course, the best time of year for settled weather, birds and for flowers. Amongst the birds, an important though declining population of Capercaillie is protected here. Resident birds of prey include Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Peregrine and Griffon Vulture and these are joined in summer by good numbers of Black Kites, Short-toed Eagles, Honey Buzzards and Egyptian Vultures. Crag Martins, Rock Thrushes, Rock and Ortolan Buntings, and both Red-billed and Alpine Choughs frequent the high meadows. Red-backed Shrikes, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers, Cirl Buntings and Rock Sparrows may be found at lower levels, whilst Black Woodpeckers call from the beech forests and Crested Tits and Crossbills may be heard amongst the coniferous woodlands.

Some 1,125 vascular plant species occur in Somiedo, and these include such regional endemics as EM>Centaurea janeri/EM> ssp. EM>babiana/EM>, EM>Armeria bigerrensis/EM> ssp. EM>legionensis/EM>, EM>Saxifraga babiana/EM> and, most notably, the very rare Somiedo Centaury (EM>Centaurium somedanum/EM>). However, it is likely to be the sheer abundance of flowers along the wayside and in the hay meadows and alpine pastures, and the butterfly and insect-life it supports, that affords us greatest pleasure at this season.

To best enjoy the natural history of these mountains, we will be based for the week in one of the larger villages of Somiedo and will spend each day on foot, enjoying a programme of gentle-paced day walks which we traditionally break with a delicious ‘al fresco’ picnic. In order to stand a chance of seeing a Bear, however, or even a Wolf, we must also put in long (but optional) hours of patient scanning from one spot, probably during the early mornings and late evenings. But, whatever we see on this holiday, it is the simple magic of this rich, scenic and timeless region, lying in a forgotten corner of rural Spain, that is likely to leave us with our most lasting and delightful memories.

La Farrapona, Salencia valleySalencia Valley (Byron Palacios)Cordillera Cantabrica (Byron Palacios)Naturetrek group (Byron Palacios)Scanning the mountainside (Thomas Mills)Typical braña (Thomas Mills)Black Redstart (Byron Palacios)Cordillera Cantabrica (Byron Palacios)Brown BearsChamois (Thomas Mills)Cantabrican hotelCantabrican hotelCantabrican hotel dining areaCantabrican hotel bedroomWarning Sign! (Thomas Mills)Yellowhammer (Byron Palacios)Summer flowers (Thomas Mills)Cordillera Cantabrica (Byron Palacios)Well-maintained braña (Thomas Mills)Wall Brown (Byron Palacios)Remote house (Thomas Mills)Mountain village (Thomas Mills)Brown Bear (Byron Palacios)Orchids (Thomas Mills)Traditional Spanish house (Thomas Mills)Burnt-tip Orchid (Adela Hepworth)Lizard Orchid (Byron Palacios)White Storks (Byron Palacios)Cordillera Cantabrica (Byron Palacios)Naturetrek group in a small Cantabrian village (Byron Palacios)Rock Bunting (Byron Palacios)
Mr & Mrs H.
Coventry
We found that the amount of walking on this holiday was just right for us and gave us a good picture of a beautiful and little-known area without much stressful travelling. Byron was an excellent guide and the hotel staff looked after us very well.
F.J.
Burnsall
Byron and Gloria were great - good humoured, friendly, knowledgeable.
S.J.
Burnsall
Excellent holiday! Byron was a great leader and worked tirelessly to try and get good sightings.
M.D.
Derbyshire
This was a very good holiday in an excellent location with a number of habitats within easy reach. We also benefited from having two guides who were very knowledgeable and, essential for this location, one of whom spoke the language.
P.H.
Kent
Particularly wish to say Jessica and Byron proved to be invaluable - they were knowledgeable, informative, courteous and congenial.
C.W.
Scotland
Great to stay in a hotel with Grey Wagtails and Dippers out of one of our bedroom windows and Griffon Vultures out of the other. This holiday was well managed by the tour leaders, who were both very knowledgeable, adaptable and extremely pleasant and good fun. The variety and amount of flowers was exceptional, birds good; the opportunity to see the unchanged rural mountain landscape and culture was very much appreciated. Thoroughly enjoyable!
R.C.
Cumbria
I'm very glad to have had the chance to see so much of this quite splendid area.
J.G.
Cornwall
The local guide Gloria was a mine of information and was a very nice person.
S.W.
Kent
Byron was an excellent guide - knowledgeable, courteous and considerate, and endlessly patient. Altogether, it was a most enjoyable holiday in a beautiful, unspoilt part of Europe.
R.L.
Lincoln
Byron was very helpful, considerate and well organised, and Gloria added a great deal with her local knowledge and attractive, friendly personality. I enjoyed her company.
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DeparturesAvailableCost

Thu 5th July 2018 - Thu 12th July 2018

YES

£1395

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Flights: Flights are included in the tour costMore info

Regional Departures: Regional Departures are limited. Call 01962 733051 for detailsMore info

Land only cost: £1275 More info

Room sharing options: More info

Visiting: Spain

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Andy Tucker
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Tour Reviews

We found that the amount of walking on this holiday was just right for us and gave us a good picture of a beautiful and little-known area without much stressful travelling. Byron was an excellent guide and the hotel staff looked after us very well.
Mr & Mrs H., Coventry