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Spain's Picos de Europa Mountains

Tour Code: ESP12

An 8-day holiday of birdwatching and botanical walks in the Picos de Europa mountains.

8 days from £1495(inc flights) Land Only Price: £1375 SRS: £140


The Picos de Europa are a dramatic range of jagged limestone peaks in northern Spain, a spectacular region rich in natural history. On this 2-centre wildlife holiday, based first in the village of Cabrales in the northern Picos and then in Espinama in the southern Picos, we’ll take full-day walks as we go in search of the region’s birds, flowers and butterflies. For many, the highlight of each walk will be our renowned Naturetrek picnic (including local cheeses and wines!), taken at leisure amongst flower-filled meadows and mountains. Another highlight will be our ascent on Europe's longest single-span cable car from Fuente Dé to the limestone summits 800 metres above, where alpine flora and Wallcreepers are amongst the attractions!

  • The perfect destination for the all-round naturalist!
  • Outstanding natural history & mountain walking
  • Birds, flowers & butterflies galore!
  • Wallcreeper, Snowfinch & Alpine Accentor
  • Gentians, saxifrages, orchids & narcissi
  • Experience the Fuente Dé cable car
  • Enjoy local cuisine
  • Learn from our expert Naturetrek ornithologist & botanist leaders

Food

All included in the price.

Accommodation

Two small, simple but comfortable, mountain hotels, both with private facilities.

Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Fly Santander or Bilbao and transfer to Cabrales

Day 2/4 Cabrales, northern Picos

Day 5/7 Espinama, southern Picos

Day 8 Fly London

The Cantabrian Mountains run along the north coast of Spain for about 300 kilometres. The Picos de Europa lie in the centre of this range, a dramatic block of jagged limestone peaks, amongst them Torre de Cerrado, at 2,648 metres, the highest mountain in northern Spain. These little-known mountains remain an area of wild natural beauty, rich in bird and plant-life and with many species of butterflies, including the Scarce Swallowtail, Apollo, Camberwell Beauty, Gavarnie Blue, and many different fritillaries, blues and ringlets. The whiteness of the limestone is a special feature of an area comprised of deep gorges, towering white cliffs and pinnacles, woods and alpine pastures.

This holiday is in some ways similar in format to our popular holidays in the French and Spanish Pyrenees, but with a character all of its own. It is a 2-centre holiday, and we will be based in two very different hotels, one in the small village of Cabrales in the northern Picos, the other in the delightfully unspoilt and attractive village of Espinama, in the southern Picos. Each village is surrounded by meadows and mountains, a base from which to explore the countryside, either on foot or by taking our minibus further afield. A picnic is provided each day giving you a chance to sample some of the excellent wines and cheeses from the Picos region! By travelling slightly later in the summer, we will see all those lovely plants we miss in the Pyrenees: the English Iris, Brown Foxglove, Yellow Wolf's-bane and Lizard Orchid being just some of them. Our excursions will start along gentle valley routes, using ancient tracks trodden by shepherds and woodcutters. Often they are lined with crumbling stone walls filled with ferns. We will progress to fabulous mountain views, but the pace of our walks will allow us plenty of time to enjoy the natural history of the many habitats through which we pass.

The highlight for alpine plant lovers is the top of the Fuente Dé, reached by cable car. This will take us up 800 metres, to a wild area of limestone scree and pavement. From the top, we will walk towards the Refugio de Aliva. Here, amongst crevices, we may see EM>Narcissus asturiensis/EM>, the showy yellow EM>Saxifraga aretioides/EM>, gentians, EM>Teucrium pyrenaicum/EM>, EM>Aquilegia discolor/EM> and many others including the beautiful white buttercup, EM>Ranunculus amplexicaulis/EM>.

The birds of the high Picos are no less spectacular. Griffon and Egyptian Vultures are particularly common, whilst Booted and Short-toed Eagles soar above the peaks together with Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, and occasionally Hen Harriers. Amongst the high crags it is possible to see Crag Martins, Alpine Accentors, Snow Finches, Rock Thrushes and, with luck, the elusive Wallcreeper. We will also see raptors in the gorges running through the mountains.

A delightful valley walk leads to the Refugio de Aliva. En route we pass old farm buildings in flower-filled meadows, and on the rocky outcrops we will look for EM>Sempervivum cantabricum/EM>, EM>Petrocoptis glaucifolia/EM> and the Yellow Snapdragon (EM>Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii/EM>).


The Picos region supports many interesting orchids. Along meadows and pathways we may see Ophrys species such as Bee, Insect, Woodcock and Sawfly, and also the Man and occasional Tongue Orchid. In damp meadows and along stream sides there will be a riot of Marsh Orchids, and perhaps the rare Robust Orchid. The beautiful blue EM>Eryngium bourgatii/EM> and EM>Dianthus monspessulanus/EM> (the Fringed Pink) and EM>Linum viscosum/EM> (Sticky Flax) are common companions for the wayside orchids. We will also explore the heathlands for the beautiful and interestingEM> Daboecia cantabrica/EM> (St. Daboec’s Heath). 

Extensive mixed woodlands still exist, some of them dominated by the Pyrenean Oak. We will also visit the beechwoods in the Andara, a known habitat for Capercaillie and Black Woodpeckers. Other woodland birds may include Spotted Flycatcher, Short-toed Treecreeper, Firecrest and Bonelli’s Warbler.

On the high mountain slopes we will hope to see Chamois and, although we are unlikely to see one, we must nonetheless keep our eyes open for Wolf and Brown Bear, which still retain a foothold in these mountains. The Snow Vole is the smallest mammal we may see, and after rain, the yellow and black Fire Salamanders might appear.

This region, fortunately still somewhat lost in time, holds something of interest for everyone. The flowers, butterflies and birds are outstanding ... and the scenery is exceptional.

TorrecerredoEurasian Griffon (Julia Todd)Above Fuente DeOur hotel in the northern Picos de EuropaBedroom of our hotel in the northern Picos de EuropaDining area of our hotel in the northern Picos de EuropaThe view from our hotel in the northern Picos de EuropaSawfly Orchid (Andrew Cleave)Chapman's Blue (female)Bee Orchid (Matt Hobbs)Bear-proof Granary (Andrew Cleave)Trumpet Gentian Andrew CleaveOcellated Lizard (Matt Hobbs)Crab spider (Lee Morgan)Woodcock Orchid (Matt Hobbs)Lago de Ercinol (Andrew Cleave)Ciliate Rock JasmineCares Gorge (Matt Hobbs)Spotted FritillaryExploring the alpine zone above Fuente De (Andrew Cleave)Snow Vole (Matt Hobbs)Alpine Chough (Andrew Cleave)Large Grizzled Skipper on Serapia cordiguera (Matt Hobbs)Lizard Orchid (Andrew Cleave)mountain village (Lee Morgan)Matted Globularia (Lee Morgan)Fly Orchid (Lee Morgan)Chamois (Julia Todd)Looking for wallcreepers (Lee Morgan)Marsh Fritillary (Lee Morgan)Water Pipit (Andrew Cleave)Fuente De (Matt Hobbs)Our hotel in the southern Picos de EuropaBedroom of our hotel in the southern Picos de EuropaOur hotel in the southern Picos de Europa
S.P.
Spring 2016
Laura's knowledge of the area and its flora and fauna was remarkable. Her energy and adaptability, particularly having to change plans due to weather, were admirable. she was a thoroughly capable, competent and most amusing and caring group leader.
J&R.W.
Spring 2015
Both leaders were excellent, full of knowledge, kind and attentive. They worked very hard on our behalf. They also made excellent picnic lunches! All the walks had been carefully chosen to give a splendid array of birds and flowers.
I.R.
Spring 2015
I enjoyed all the walks and not being on the van for too long. The picnics are always lovely and the shared knowledge of like minded people who are always only too pleased to share it. Very pleasant company.
Ms D.
East Sussex
Lee Morgan was an excellent communicator and endlessly interested in our finds and helping us identify them (my primary interest was plants). Both he and Jim were good company and ensured our very diverse group had their individual interests catered for.
Dr M.
Warwick
Lee was outstanding as leader. Very knowledgeable, especially on plants, good at organisation of day-to-day itinerary, also at assessing folks' capabilities re walking. Very pleasant guy and unfailingly helpful. Jim was very good at backup and his ornithological knowledge is first rate.
Mr T.
West Sussex
Lee is an outstanding leader; his expertise in all fields, his dedication, concern, humanity and hard work are fantastic. Organisation was brilliant, always doing the right thing at the right time.
M.E.
Lincolnshire
Alan and Dave were excellent guides. They were extremely knowledgeable … I was amazed how much time they devoted to the group, from the first walk at 7am to a sunset walk at 8.30pm.
J.B.
Somerset
I have thoroughly enjoyed the holiday and look forward to my next Naturetrek trip!
H.R.
Bristol
I would particularly enjoy another tour with these two leaders who are both exceptional.
Mr & Mrs. M.
London
A beautiful remote area and we were lucky with the weather. Andrew and Lee were superb leaders - expert in the field, friendly and communicative. As a group, they looked after our every need. We would be delighted to travel with them again.
M.H.
Yorkshire
Both leaders were absolutely excellent. They were very knowledgeable, approachable, always patient and good natured whatever questions were thrown at them! They took care to provide us with an interesting lunch and looked after less agile members when necessary.
D.C.
Scotland
This holiday was great fun, with a really nice group of people and some excellent birding in spectacular surroundings. My only complaint is I put on weight due to the delicious food!
P.H.
Surrey
Outstanding area; very peaceful at both locations. It was useful to have had the 2006 report. As a result I made a passing remark that I would dearly like to see a Wryneck. Twenty minutes later I was shown one! Serendipity or skill? Not surprisingly, John and Jenny make a splendidly complementary duo.
D.M.
Angus
The general content, organisation and trip leaders were brilliant! Every day somewhere different, with some new species and repeats of others (helpful to the old memory!); adjustments made to the itinerary because of dry conditions worked out well. We saw an amazing number of plants (with the aid of Maureen's identification) and birds and butterflies - latter identified conclusively through Matt’s excellent digital photography and photographic butterfly book. I am very grateful to both Matt and Maureen for their help and patience. Matt was well-organised, knowledgeable and very concerned about every individual in the group. He appeared very calm and in control and was an excellent driver (not to be distracted on winding roads, which was reassuring!).
C.M.
Dorset
I've travelled with Maureen Ponting before and know how good she is. I hadn't met Matt Hobbs but was most impressed - both with his helpfulness and with his willingness to go the extra mile - literally in the case of fetching the bus to save our legs. His picnic salads were a revelation - hazelnut waldorf salad, freshly prepared, above Fuente De had passing hikers queuing up for a taste.
M.W.
Fife
Congratulations to Matt and Jenny for providing a good atmosphere in the group by their unfailing courtesy and hard work.
D.R.
Northamptonshire
Jenny has a wide knowledge of the flowers and was meticulous in looking up those she had not seen before. She recorded each find. She gave clear reasons for the identification as far as she could. She led clearly and diplomatically. Matt showed keen enthusiasm for the birds, butterflies and the area. He had put much effort into preparing for the tour.
D.W.
Fife
An excellent tour - just right in all respects: well done, all.
P.H.
Yorkshire
This was an enjoyable holiday. The scenery was spectacular, and the way we were looked after by our tour leaders was excellent.
D.R.
West Sussex
I really enjoyed this holiday. The picnic lunches deserve a special mention. The leaders were great company throughout. Birds, flowers, scenery, great food, good weather and a great group of people. What more could you want? Thank you.
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DeparturesAvailableCost

Thu 7th June 2018 - Thu 14th June 2018

YES

£1495

more details

Flights: Flights are included in the tour costMore info

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

Land only cost: £1375 More info

Room sharing options: More info

Visiting: Spain

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Andy Tucker
Operations Manager

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Tour Reviews

Laura's knowledge of the area and its flora and fauna was remarkable. Her energy and adaptability, particularly having to change plans due to weather, were admirable. she was a thoroughly capable, competent and most amusing and caring group leader.
S.P., Spring 2016