A Natural Hike Through Asturias – From Reserve to Reserve
20 May, 2015
If there’s one striking thing about Asturias it is the beauty of its landscape – the power of nature here. Asturias is, above all, nature in its pure state, but imbued with a deep-rooted awareness of environmental conservation, making it emblematic and pioneering in its drive to preserve its natural surroundings. This is why a third of its surface area is protected by one or other legal conservation provision, making it a veritable nature paradise, as proclaimed by the slogan which has now been running for thirty years.
Asturias is one great open-air nature park, unique in the world. Not for nothing does it boast six Biosphere Reserves, as listed by UNESCO, making it one of the world’s privileged territories in terms of natural spaces. These are the spaces to be hiked and enjoyed in your leisure time.
The Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa, set in the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain range: this vast territory encompasses the areas of Amieva, Cangas de Onís, Onís, Cabrales, Peñamellera Alta and Peñamellera Baja. Its uniqueness, beauty and scenic, natural and geological interest led this territory to be declared the Picos de Europa National Park by King Alfonso XIII in 1918, while its western reaches once formed the first national park in Spain, that of Montaña de Covadonga. The Picos de Europa are the largest limestone formation on Europe’s Atlantic seaboard, featuring major karst processes – a type of relief set up by chemical meteorisation of certain rocks, notably limestone, dolomite and gypsum – chasms over 1,000 metres deep, pronounced glacial erosion and the presence of lakes. Here, chamois roam the crags, while the dense forest is home to roe deer, wolves and the occasional bear. The Park also boasts over a thousand bird species, prominent among which are the black woodpecker and capercaillie, with the griffon vulture and golden eagle as the major birds of prey. But, here you will find more than just nature, as centuries of history have been written in the villages, valleys and churches, in the mountain pass shelters and trails.
The Parque Natural de Somiedo is a distinct example of coexistence between man and nature, where the former has come to understand nature and preserve it virtually intact over the centuries. Noteworthy landmarks here are the beautiful lakes, the rugged landscape, with drops of up to 2,200 metres, and the karst formations. Significant, too, are the brañas, fertile pasturelands where you might just get a glimpse of the famous cabanas de teito – stone dwellings with thatched straw or broom roofs used by thevaqueiros or mountain cowherds and stock breeders as shelters.
The environmental wealth of the Parque Natural de Redes is attested by a host of different landscapes, from formations of glacial origin such as moraine and cirques to broad pasturelands, hills and lush forests. In effect, 40% of the surface area of Redes is wooded, although it is also graced by lofty peaks, notably Pico Torres, Retriñón, Peña del Viento and Tiatordos. However, the most striking feature of Redes is its stunning meadows hemmed in by mountain buttresses, its gorges and its forests, where beech and white oak prevail.
The Parque Natural de Las Ubiñas-La Mesa, situated in southern and central Asturias, harbours priceless natural and cultural wealth. It includes mountain relief with marked contrasts which, hard by the border with León, rises to the Peña Ubiña massif, the second highest mountain range in the region after the Picos de Europa, with altitudes of over 2,400 metres. The Park takes in the municipalities of Lena, Quirós and Teverga which form part of the Somiedo Regional Hunting Preserve.
The Reserva Natural Integral de Muniellos lies within the Parque Natural de las Fuentes del Narcea y del Ibias. Muniellos is a sparsely populated territory, with one of the lowest population densities in Asturias. Its three valleys of Muniellos, La Viliella and Valdebois boast Spain’s largest oak forest and one of the best preserved in Europe. Ever-changing, it epitomises the Asturian landscape throughout the seasons of the year – various species of oak, up to six metres in diameter, beech and birch forest, dotted with holly and yew trees, the evergreen kings of autumn in Muniellos. The ascent to its lakes is one of the most popular trails among hiking enthusiasts.
The Oscos-Eo District, where the river Eo is the great protagonist as landscape-builder and articulator of the territory. A land of beaches, cliffs, forests and enormous ethnographic wealth, a landscape which has suffered the consequences of centuries-long isolation but has nevertheless provided the bedrock for sustainability and rural tourism projects in which preservation of the local heritage is uppermost in their development.
Asturias, from Biosphere Reserve to Biosphere Reserve, is a great option for a relaxing getaway. You can also make the most of its boundless nature by participating in dozens of open-air activities: canoeing, horse-riding, mountain bike trails, caving, canyoning and trekking, just some of the ways of immersing yourself in this paradise.
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Text and images by Turismo Asturias
20 May, 2015