Bucket Reserve List: The Peaks of Northern Spain

The Pyrenees and Picos de Europa Mountains, Spain

By Miguel303xm – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19369536

Region: Spain and parts of Southern France plus Andorra too

Logistical Difficulty:  Moderately HIGH

Hiking Difficulty: HIGH

Degree of Risk: Moderate

Estimated time required (including travel and logistics): A week to ten days

Often overlooked in discussions of the world’s great trekking regions is Northern Spain. We are talking The Pyranees Range plus the Cantabrian Range, particularly the section known as the Picos de Europa (“Peaks of Europe.”) These ranges are literally and figuratively overshadowed by the Alps range on the other side of France. Still, it would be a mistake to dismiss this region; in fact much of the splendor and charm of the Alps is duplicated here, but with less crowds. The Camino de Santiago might get more attention but…we’ll take the high road.

Naranjo de Bulnes in the Picos de Europa By Evölah – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20399451

Why Hike Here?

  • Comparable to the Alps and Dolomites in charm, scenery
  • Well developed tourist infrastructure
  • Well maintained trail system
  • Generally mild climate
  • More wildlife (bears, large wolf population) than in the Alps
  • Finding water generally not an issue in Northern “Green” Spain
  • Altitude in most places not a significant factor
  • Sylvia speaks the Spain Talk (and the Gringo Grande is learning)
  • Not quite as talked up as the Alps and a bit less over-crowded
  • Spain is less expensive than Switzerland or Austria
  • Hut to hut or village to village hiking entirely possible
  • MANY possible options, including loops
  • All things considered, Spain rocks

But First Consider…

  • Spain is cheaper than Switzerland but…Europe is still not cheap
  • A bit less developed perhaps than the Alps but…this is far from wilderness
  • Hiking here can be difficult due the abrupt nature of these relatively narrow ranges
  • At least as steep as the Alps and maybe rougher
  • Very few low elevation passes
  • French side of Pyranees considered to be more scenic but also rainier (yes, the rain in Spain falls largely en Francais)
  • Beware afternoon thunderstorms
  • Route finding is often a serious problem in the foggy Picos
  • Booking in multiple Refuges can be a logistical nightmare
  • Hiking season is a bit longer than in the Alps but summer is hotter
  • Best bet is to target shoulder seasons (June, September)