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Spain: An adventure in Asturias

Once considered impenetrable, this region in northern Spain is an adventurer’s paradise

Spain: An adventure in Asturias
Image: Alamy

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The province of Asturias has been called Spain’s ‘best kept secret’ and its ‘natural paradise’. It’s also a veritable choose-your-own-adventure dream. Want to go skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, rafting, canoeing, surfing or even brave one of Spain’s oldest rally races? This is the place. And there’s nowhere better to experience the best of what Asturias has to offer than Picos de Europa National Park.

The park covers the southeastern area of Asturias, stretching across over 250 sq km. The Picos de Europa Mountains are made up of three massifs: the eastern, or Andara, massif; central, or Urrieles, massif; and western, or Cornión, massif.

One of the most striking sights in the world is seeing the limestone mountain range come into view in all its breathtaking, snow-capped brilliance. It was the rugged nature of this terrain and its inaccessibility that protected this enclave of Spain from invasion over the centuries. It’s also one of the few national parks in the world that is still inhabited by locals, containing several villages within its borders. Tucked away amongst the thorny brush and dense thickets of oak, ash and beech are lush pastures that cover the hillsides in green when spring rolls around.

These hills are ideal hiking locations, offering winding, verdant hiking trails during summer. In the colder months, they become a winter wonderland for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Be sure to keep an eye out, as the park is home to a rich assortment of wildlife. What’s more, Asturias is one of the last remaining habitats of the brown bear in Western Europe. The rivers crisscrossing the park are filled with trout and salmon.

The park is home to a number of glacial lakes, including Enol and Ercina. Known as the Lakes of Covadonga, this pair offers astounding views and activities such as canoeing and hiking along their banks. Keen cyclists should make a beeline here to attempt the challenging, but equally rewarding, climb to the lakes — sure to get the blood pumping.

Climbers are catered for too, with a rich proliferation of rock faces and routes for all levels of expertise. The Pico Urriellu (also known as the Naranjo de Bulnes) is really special — a veritable mecca for mountaineering. The limestone peak can be tackled using a number of climbing routes, including a few that are relatively accessible for intermediate climbers. On the whole, though, it’s best attempted by experienced climbers looking for a challenge.

History buffs should check out the caves near the park, which offer striking examples of Palaeolithic art. Tito Bustillo in the town of Ribadesella and El Pindal in Ribadedeva feature ancient drawings of animals on their walls and are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

How ironic, then, that Asturias — a place for so long deemed impenetrable and forbidding — has never been more welcoming, offering a staggering variety of attractions, whether it’s adventure, culture or simply more majestic scenery than your eyes could ever drink in.

Three more Asturian adventures

1. Canoeing
Les Piragües is an internationally recognised canoe race that takes place on the Sella River every August. But you don’t have to be a competitor to enjoy this beautiful stretch of water — many local tour operators offer beginner canoe excursions.

2. Via Ferrata and zip lines
The Vidosa Multiventura adventure park in the Beyos Gorge in Ponga Natural Park combines adrenalin activities with jaw-dropping scenery centred around a waterfall.

3. Surfing
With over 214 miles of coastline, Asturias is as famed for its beaches as its mountains. La Espasa, Salinas, or Rodiles are some of the most renowned spots amongst surf addicts.

asturiastourism.co.uk