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Picos de Europa Regional Park


Location: Northwestern part of the province of León. It extends over the townships of Puebla de Lillo, Reyero, Boñar, Crémenes, Prioro, Boca de Huérgano, Riaño, Posada de valdeón, Oseja de sajambre, Burón, Acebedo and Maraña.
Protection: In 1991, this territory became a part of the Plan de Espacios Naturales Protegidos de Castilla y León (“Castile and León’s Plan for Natural Protected Areas”), and in 1994 it was declared Picos de Europa Regional Park. This land also counts with other types of protection and preservation that evidence the quality of its landscape and ecosystem: Zona Especial de Protección de Aves (ZEPA) -“special protection area for birds”-; Lugar de Interés Comunitario, (LIC) –“Community Interest Area”-; Plan de Recuperación del oso pardo y urogallo cantábrico -“Recovery Plan for the Brown bear and the Cantabric capercaillie”-; - Zonas Húmedas Catalogadas –“cataloged wetlands” (Isoba Lake, Ausente Lake, Hoyos de Vargas ponds, Butrero well); 10 points of geological interest; 5 global preserve areas (Lillo pine grove, Mampodre glacial complex, Crímenes juniper forest, Hormas Forest and Pardomino Forest).


The lifting that affected these lands 65 million years ago brought about the rejuvenation of landscapes, thus letting the rivers and glaciers to shape these mountains. This factor, together with the erosion of ice from the Quaternary and subsequent rivers, created the Los Beyos defile (desfiladero de los Beyos) and the Cares River gorge (garganta del Cares), two of the most spectacular gorges in Spain. Another remarkable outcome of the erosion is the chasms on limestone rock. U-shaped glacial valleys, glacial cirques caved down at the mountain peaks and glacial lakes show the presence of a glacial activity that is still evidenced in perpetual snows at the mountain tops and rocky glaciers. For this reason, water and ice have been the great landscape shapers in Picos de Europa, forming a very diverse orography. Hence, the Southern watershed encompasses the high sections of the Porma, Esla, Grande and Cea Rivers, creating wide valleys that descend gently from a highness of 1200 meters (almost 4000 ft) and leave the valleys at around 1000 meters (3281 ft). On the other hand, the rivers springing from the Northern watershed (Dobra, Cares and Sella) plunge down to the sea in a steep landscape. In barely 10 kilometers (slightly over 6 miles), there is a 1000-meter slope (almost 3281 ft).


The variety of lithology and the coexistence of a mild, oceanic macro-bioclimate and a sub-Mediterranean one create an extraordinary diversity of plants and trees. In general, the predominant flora is the deciduous, Atlantic forest, with species such as: beech, Scots pine, hazel, holly, a variety of orchids, saxifrage, etc. There are also small Mediterranean forests: oaks, junipers, strawberry trees, etc. There are high mountain flowers that represent a good portion of the native flora at the Regional Park. There are both plant species from current climates, and other ones that have remained in certain locations, and which are the outcome of different weather conditions in past times. It is also worth noting the presence of Euro-Siberian, Mediterranean taxons, as well as Boreo-Alpine ones. There are even Atlantic and Mediterranean distributional species.


The rich variety of animals at the Regional Park can be described as exceptional, since all of the Cantabrian fauna is present here. Its singularity lies in the fact that this area represents the Southern border of many Northern European species, and it is also the Northern limit of many Mediterranean species. Another reason for this variety is its humanized landscape, used for livestock and farming through history, and thus producing a combination of woods, shrubs and pastures that is ideal for animals. Moreover, crags and quarries motivate the existence of several animals whose territory is the peaks and mountains. The Regional Park’s diversity reaches up to: 82% of amphibians from the Iberian Peninsula; 63% of reptiles; 72% of breeding birds in Spain (170 observed species); 88% of earth mammals from the peninsula. Among the most notable species, we can find the brown bear, the Cantabrian capercaillie, the grey partridge, the Alpine accentor and sparrow, the middle spotted woodpecker, the Iberian wolf, the Cantabrian chamois, unique beetles in the world, or the increasing number of visits by the bearded vulture.


Within the Regional Park there are 30 approved short distance footpaths (“sendas de Pequeño Recorrido”-PR-) extended throughout the most representative areas of this natural space: glacial valleys, beech and oak groves, mixed native forest, hazels, holm-oak woods, meadows at the valley bottoms, Alpine pastures, glacial lakes, crests, peaks, mountain tops, etc. Besides, the Park incorporates the Leonese part of the central massif in Picos de Europa, with innumerable routes by the Torrecerredo Peak (2648 meters – 8688 ft-), and quite a few other peaks and mountains above 2000 meters (2561 ft).

All this is complemented by several recreational and camping areas. The possibilities to enjoy hiking in these areas are varied and they last all year round. This is so because many of these paths are designed to be done with mountain bikes, mountain ski, snowshoes (rackets), crampons and ice axes to climb some mountains. The Historic Trail GR-1 that connects Ampurias (Gerona, Catalonia) in Eastern Spain with Finisterre in Western Spain (La Coruña, Galicia) runs within the Regional Park for 62.5 km (38.8 miles). It is split into five, well-equipped streches, with an itinerary that unveils the essence of these landscapes and their local people. There are Roman roads, Royal Cattle tracks for transhumant sheep, old merchant vehicle tracks or secret rural paths where resistance movements against Dictator Franco (Maquis) and warriors wandered years ago. All these places increase the probability for the trekker to delight in the secrets of the Regional Park.

Another tourist attraction from the Regional Park is the Casas del Parque Regional de Picos de Europa (“Houses from Picos de Europa Regional Park”): these are interpretation centers with curious exhibitions, museums, audiovisual screening rooms, and libraries with Internet access that represent great information areas about any topic within the Regional Park. They are useful for hikers or onlookers as starting points to get to know the area. They can be found in the towns of Puebla de Lillo and Lario. To round off the possible activities in this territory, and besides traditional hunting and fishing activities, the Regional Park counts with a skiing resort at San Isidro pass, two large dams to practice water sports, climbing areas… There are also local craftsmen whose studios are available for curious people to visit, and a rich cultural heritage: Romanesque and Baroque churches, mills, fulling houses, forges, hórreos (typical granaries from the Northwest of Spain), bull pens, emblazoned houses, medieval towers, romerias, local cuisine or traditional games are the hallmarks of a still unknown territory.