Exploring the Picos de Europa – Peaks of Europe

Posted on April 20, 2011 by

The mountain range that stretches across Northern Spain was given the name Picos de Europa, (Peaks of Europe) for good reasons. It’s said that when the Spaniards arrived back from the Americas, the mountain range (located just 20km from the coast) was the first thing they saw from sea. The peaks were an indication that they were back on continental Europe and were therefore given the name Peaks of Europe.

I’d heard that story from local friends years ago and the image of majestic peaks right by the sea was etched in my mind. Now that we’re here in the midst of the Picos de Europa, I am thrilled to see that it was everything I’d imagined. Picos promised me natural beauty and outstanding landscapes in abundance and it delivered.

Picos de Europa, Asturias Spain        

Alpine Landscapes of Northern Spain

Wispy clouds hang low above the green-carpeted mountains, while still lakes lie snugly in between rolling hills. As we snake across the mountain range on zigzag roads, we are treated to outrageous views at every bend. The alpine landscapes and verdant greenery remind me of Switzerland or Norway – it’s hard to believe this is Spain. A country I’ve called home for the last year or so, Spain is extremely diverse and it has been constantly springing a surprise on me, one after another.

Winding roads and snow-capped peaks, Picos de Europa, Asturias Spain

Covadonga lake in Picos de Europa, Asturias Spain

Villages, Caves and Monasteries

Our journey started from the village of Cangas de Onis, the gateway to the Picos. Standing at the foothills of the mountain range, the alpine town is an eclectic collection of country-style taverns and traditional Asturian sidrerias (cider houses). Entering the village, we spotted a medieval bridge with a hanging cross representative of Asturias – a sign to welcome visitors into the Picos.

As we meandered to greater heights, we found ourselves at the Covadonga Cave Shrine and Basilica. On one side of the valley is a small chapel cut out of the craggy caves. It’s quite an impressive site from below – the place of pilgrimage  houses the shrine of Our Lady of  Covadonga (patron virgin of Asturias) and hangs above a small waterfall. On the other end of the valley stands the Basilica of Covadonga, a beautiful red-rock building featuring spirals and stained glass windows.

Covadonga Cave Shrine, Asturias Spain

Covadonga Basilica, Asturias Spain

Following the Footsteps of Local Shepherds

Enrique the Shepherd, Asturias SpainThe Picos support a dwindling group of shepherds who move up from the valleys in the summer with their animals. During our visit, we met Enrique, one of the last remaining shepherds in the Picos area. Speaking in the local Bable dialect, Enrique told us that when he started shepherding, there were over 60 shepherd families in the area, now there are only 4 left.

Enrique has been a shepherd all his life – having taken over the duty from his father. When asked if his son would carry on his trade, he said most probably not, due to practical reasons – although his son surprisingly likes shepherding. Shepherding has changed drastically over the years, especially with the cheese-making method changed for health reasons.

These days, Enrique continue to make his own blue cheese, the famous Queso de Cabrales (which the area is famous for), traditionally matured in caves. The process of producing the cheese is caves is difficult, but as Enrique said, it’s all worth it.

Blue cheese, Queso de Cabrales from Picos de Europa

To see more of my photos from Asturias, click on any of the images above or go to my online gallery.

This experience was made possible by Asturias Tourism Board and Turismo.as, but all opinions are my own. Read more about my travels in Asturias here or follow me on Twitter with the #Turismoas hashtag.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

10 Responses to “Exploring the Picos de Europa – Peaks of Europe”

  1. Debbie Beardsley April 21, 2011 12:27 am #

    Beautiful pictures! The diversity of Spain is amazing. I especially liked the cave shrine – very intriguing.

  2. Joshywashington April 23, 2011 12:25 am #

    Stinky cheese, caves, mountains… these are some of my favorite things!!

  3. cristina alvarez April 25, 2011 5:37 pm #

    Un rincon precioso en el Asturias, Norte de España con paisaje impresionante y tradiciones unicas. No te lo pierdas, Wildjunket ha estado alli

    • Nellie April 29, 2011 5:14 pm #

      Si la verdad los Picos de Europa son preciosos! Tengo que volver para pasar mas tiempo en los picos. :) Muchas gracias Cristina por enseñarnos tu tierra, me he encantado!

  4. Fernando April 25, 2011 6:58 pm #

    Hi, Nelli:
    Thanks for your visit to Asturias. I would like to know more about the shepper´s world and your very hard live and your post is very interesting. Thanks for all, Nelli.
    Your comment about the shepperd Enrique have a litle mistake You said : " These days, Enrique continue to make his own blue cheese, the famous Queso de Cabrales (which the area is famous for), traditionally matured in caves" But Enrique makes the Gamonedo Cheese, not Cabrales. They are an important difference between the Gamonedo and the Cabrales cheese. In some words,the Gamonedo Cheese is the king, is maked only from Cangas de Onís and Onís and is very expensive ( than 37 Eur/ Kg ). Pure gold

    • admin April 26, 2011 11:14 pm #

      Hi Fernando, thanks for pointing out the mistake! I must have been distracted by the cheese when Enrique was talking – I had assumed it was the Queso de Cabrales. Thanks for letting us know. No wonder I had somehow heard that the whole chunk of cheese he made cost 300euros!

  5. Erin April 29, 2011 2:57 am #

    I really just love, love, LOVE Northern Spain. Especially the arroz con leche – hope you managed to fit that in with the cheese :)

    • Nellie April 29, 2011 5:13 pm #

      Oh yes, I did get some arroz con leche with the churrasco and fabadas. ;) Outrageously tasty food they've got in Asturias!

  6. Nellie April 29, 2011 5:12 pm #

    Leigh, this is an excellent place for hiking trips – I'm pretty sure you'll love it! Glad I painted a picture for you – hope you make it to Asturias soon!


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