The Montaña de Covadonga National Park was established in Asturias in 1918, the first national park in Spain. The, now larger, park covers three major massifs – Western, Central and Eastern which are all part of the Cordillera Cantabria range. The dramatic Cares river canyon, which is 1,500m deep, divides the western and central parts.

The Picos de Europa National Park

  • Region: Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León
  • Province: Asturias, Cantabria, León
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1918 enlarged in 1995
  • Declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve 2003
  • Z.E.P.A
  • Park surface area: 64.660 hectares

Points of interest

The Montaña de Covadonga National Park ( now The Picos de Europa National Park) was established in Asturias in 1918, the first national park in Spain. The now much larger park covers three major massifs – Western, Central and Eastern which are all part of the Cordillera Cantabria range. The dramatic Cares river canyon, which is 1,500m deep, divides the western and central parts.

The protected area encompasses these spectacular limestone mountains which are approximately 40 km in length (E-W) and 20 Km wide (N-S). They are situated just 20km inland from the Atlantic coast in northern Spain. This gives them a mixture of both Mediterranean and Temperate climatic influences. Altitudes range from 75m to 2,646m with 200 points over 2,000 metres, all given greater relief by the depth and steepness of the gorges and ravines cut by the rivers and tributaries. The highest peaks are Torre de Cerredo at 2,646m, Naranjo de Bulnes at 2,519 m and Pico Tesorero at 2,570 m. The latter is where the borders of the three provinces meet.

Varied habitats

Important habitats occur at different heights and include exposed alpine mountain meadows, rocky outcrops, montane grasslands, needle-leaf and deciduous natural forests, marshes, alpine lakes and peat bogs. Each in turn is home to different animal and plant life. The western massif (El Cornión) is the most extensive and contains forests, moors and the lakes of Covadonga. The Central massif (Los Urrieles) has the highest peaks and the Eastern area (Andara), the smaller part still contains impressive crags and meadows.


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The limestone terrain has typical jagged peaks and cliffs and holds some of the deepest caves in Spain. In the Central Massif there are 4 deep chasms, La Torca del Cerro is the deepest in Spain at 1589 m and the fourth deepest in the World. The waters that collect here emerge at the “manantial del Farfao de la Viña” and flow on into the river Cares.

Some caves are used for curing cheeses in the traditional style. Another tradition still upheld is shepherds who move their flocks through the mountain pastures, climbing higher through spring and summer as the snow melts.

The Fuente Dé cable car offers a scenic ascent to the Central massif alighting at a height of 1,847m. This is an easier way of viewing the alpine flowers, butterflies and birds as well as the spectacular views. In traditional summer holiday times there are long queues.


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Flora

There are mixed Atlantic forests of Oak (Quercus robur, Q. petraea, Q. pyrenaica), Hazel, Maple, Lime, Ash, Sweet chestnut, Birch, Walnut, Holly and Yew trees. Those of highest altitude are predominantly Beech trees. A Mediterranean type forest grows in the south eastern part of the range and holds Cork and Holm oaks along with Prickly juniper, Turpentine tree, Mediterranean buckthorn, Rockrose (Cistus psilosepalus), Strawberry-tree and Phillyrea latifolia.

Wild flower enthusiasts are drawn by the amazing range of specialist plants. Late spring to early summer boast the highlights of the year. Tall yellow gentian, Narcissi, Asphodel blue Gentian, Orchid, Pasque flower, Violet, Spotted Rock-rose, Foxglove, Fritillary, Alpine Rock-cress, Lily of the valley, Rock Cinquefoil, Broom, Dianthus, Wall Germander, Spiny restharrow, Greater Yellow-rattle, Hellebore, Pyrenean Lily, Round-headed Leek, Anemone and Monkshood are just a few that flourish here.

Endemic plants of the The Picos de Europa National Park

Some of the plants which originate from these mountains are Narcissus leonensis, the dwarf Narcissus asturiensis, Anemone pavoniana, Potentilla nivalis subsp. asturica, Saxifraga felineri, Aquilegia pyrenaica subsp. Discolor and Toadflax Linaria faucicola. Endemic to northern Spain are Crucifers-Draba dedeana and Draba cantabriae, Houseleek-Sempervivum vicentei subsp. cantabricum, Bellflowers-Campanula arvatica and Campanula cantabrica. Also found, both here and in the Pyrenees, are Iris latifolia and Gentiana angustifolia.

Over 40 orchid species occur here, among the wide array are Violet limodore (Limodorum abortivum), Loose-flowered orchid (Orchis laxiflora), Lizard orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum), Man orchid (Aceras anthropophorum), Giant orchid (Barlia robertiana) and Heart-flowered serapias (Serapias cordigera).

Fauna

Two of the most well known mammals of the area are also the most difficult to see, there are small numbers of Wolf (Canis lupus signatus) and Cantabrian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos), both are protected species. Easier to see and quite numerous at high altitudes are the Cantabrian chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica parva).

Other mammals present are Wild boar, Roe, Fallow and Red deer, Fox, Badger, Wild cat, Otter, Stone martin, Pine marten, Red squirrel, Polecat, Genet, Snow vole (Microtus nivalis), the endemic Cantabrian hare (Lepus castroviejoi) and the seldom seen Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus).

Raptors seen over the park are Golden eagle, Griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures, Short-toed eagle, Bonelli´s eagle, Booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus), Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon. In the evenings owls such as Eagle and Tawny can be heard but reraely seen.

Other bird life

Some of the birds to look out for are Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus, found in the beech woods), Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus), Black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), Middle Spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius), Red backed shrike (Lanius collurio), Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus), Red billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus), Snow Finch (Montifringilla nivalis), Citril Finch (Serinus citronella), Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus), Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia), Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) and the very elusive Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria).

Lizards, frogs and toads

Amphibians and reptiles include Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita), Midwife toad, (Alytes obstetricans), Tree frog (Hyla arborea), Painted frog (Discoglossus pictus), Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica), Alpine newts (Triturus alpestris), Iberian rock lizard (Lacerta montícola), Schreiber’s green lizard (Lacerta schreiberi), Green lizard (Lacerta viridis), and Bocage’s wall lizard (Podarcis bocagei).

An amazing array of butterflies

One third of all European butterfly species are present in this ecoregion, an amazing 150 plus species. Many can be seen enjoying the rich supply of flowers in the high meadows. Just a few to look out for are Apollo (Parnassius apollo), Mountain Clouded Yellow (Colias phicomone), Spanish Purple Hairstreak (Laeosopis roboris), Lefèbvre’s Ringlet (Erebia lefebvrei), Chapman’s Ringlet (Erebia palarica) and Gavarnie Blue (Agriades pyrenaicus asturiensis).

Also in the area

Asturias: The first victory of the Christians led by the Visigoth King Pelayo in around 722 was fought at Covadonga, beginning the Reconquest against the Muslims in Iberia. King Pelayo’s tomb rests near Alfonso I in a cave watched over by “Santina” the patron saint of Asturias. Pilgrims the visit cave and basilica of Covadonga which was built between 1877 and 1901. This historical monument with two tall towers is considered to be one of the best examples of Neo-Romanesque architecture.

Cantabria: Santo Toribio de Liébana is a Franciscan monastery near Potes, possibly built around the 8th century. The monastery is an important pilgrimage centre as the body of Toribio of Astorga, a 6th century bishop, is placed here. Importantly with him are relics which he was believed to have brought from the Holy Land including the Lignum Crucis, believed by some Roman Catholics to be the biggest surviving piece of the Holy Cross.

Information/Visitors Centers

If you are visiting the area then its pretty much obligatory to pass by at least one of the main information centres for the area. They are as follows. (My favorite is Buferrera)

Oficina del Parque Nacional en Posada de Valdeón. (León)

Centro de Visitantes “Buferrera”, near the lakes of Enol and Ercina. Nearby there is a mining museum. (Asturias)

Centro de Visitantes de Sotama, Cillórigo de Liébana (Cantabria)


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