23rd - 30th October
It remains a mystery why Picos de Europa, despite containing some of the finest mountain scenery in Europe, is little known outside of Spain. The range takes its name from the fact that its summits were often the first landmarks seen by Spanish sailors returning from the New World.
The Picos form part of the Cordillera Cantabrica, a long chain of mountains running between the Pyrenees to the east and Galicia to the west. This is the largest single range of limestone mountains in Europe. Reaching just over 2,500m in height, in common with other limestone mountains (such as the Dolomites) the peaks have been sculpted into austere, grey monoliths. Dissolved and eroded by rainwater the rock is rent by deep gorges, hollowed by caves and punctured by sinkholes (known locally as jous).
The high mountains are prised apart by deep, wooded valleys. Splashes of green fields surround weathered terracotta villages. Ancient trackways follow the routes taken by cattle and sheep to the high summer pastures where shepherd dogs bark deeply at passing walkers, should they venture too close to their charges.
The Picos are also an important wildlife area, home to wolves and Cantabrian brown bears, and are included in UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
We will be based near Potes, the principal town of the region, a quaint settlement of narrow streets lined with stone buildings adorned with overhanging wooden balconies. The River Quiviesa flows through a deep cutting in the centre of town. This is great place for reflections of the buildings and a long perspective of the ancient bridges spanning the river.
Moving outward into the foothills, there are many small villages of warm stone and dark wood, roofed with terracotta pantiles. They nestle in steep folds in the land. It often seems as if not a single square metre of this landscape is flat and everywhere you want to go is uphill! But the effort is most definitely worth it.
The cable car at Fuente Dé allows us to cheat, gaining 750m in altitude in just a few minutes and taking us into the heart of the mountains. Well above the tree line, the landscape is barren and rugged. We may have climbed a long way in a short time but the peaks still tower over us. Griffon vultures glide past, balancing effortlessly on the clear air.
We will spend one day on a 4x4 safari, taking narrow drovers' tracks deep into the uninhabited interior of the range. These roads are only open to permit holders. We will visit the site of the region's first human settlement, perched high above the Deva valley, and journey on through ancient forests. At points the road clings to the edge of the cliff, affording dizzying panoramas of the Cañon del Erdon.
Further west, the Garganta del Cares (Cares Gorge) divides the eastern and western massifs. A 15km trail leads through the gorge. Don't worry, we won't walk all of it! Just a few kilometres stroll from the hamlet of Cain takes us into breathtaking scenery. And the best news of all is the the trail is almost flat.
I ran a very successful tour in this region in 2019 and am really looking forward to returning in '21.
Airport transfers for recommended flights from/to Bilbao
All transport during workshop
Full board accommodation
Photo tuition from David Ward
£1,950 for single occupancy
£500 fee payable at time of booking