I have to say that I was caught off-guard by the dramatic landscapes and rugged mountain valleys I encountered in Asturias. I guess the online research I did should have prepared me, but coming upon this area firsthand it surprised me that this area isn’t much more hyped to the U.S. market as a place to hike, climb, and gawk. The high speed train that brought me across the plains to the South quickly transforms into a mountain train a bit to the North of Leon. When you can see it (the train passes through one long tunnel after another through the mountains or is frequently immersed in a cloud), the terrain is reminiscent of Switzerland or Northern Italy. Deep, terraced valleys display deep green meadows, farms, and villages climbing slopes beneath snow capped peaks. Splendid!
Arriving in Oviedo, an old city of about 200,000 in the northern foothills of the Cantabrian mountains I entered a place made for walking (read more about that here in my article about urban visits in Asturias). It also provides a great base location for excursions in all directions to the many valleys providing mountain access, as well as to the coastline hikes along the Cantabrian Sea. The area is well served by bus and train service in every direction, but to maximize my hiking time I chose to rent a car. Freeways disperse from Oviedo in every direction and I never spent as much as an hour getting to the start of a day’s hike.
During my visit to Asturias I was able to try out a number of areas. It was rainy a good bit, so I was glad to have along my rain jacket and waterproof boots. At the Picos de Europa National Park near Covadonga, peaks rise to over 8600 feet within about 15 miles of the coast so we are talking pretty vertical. The lakes circuit allowed for some great panoramic views … even with the crappy weather.
The land ends abruptly at the Cantabrian Sea on the North coastline of Spain. England and Ireland are to the North across this sea, the Bay of Biscay, and the Celtic Sea. Pretty playas, or beaches, alternate with stretches of rocky coastline. Small farming villages dot the way and ther is an occasional lighthouse. The walking is easy as it winds around the cliffline and gives great views to the sea.. The area I was able to walk was on a point of land projecting northward into the sea between Aviles and Gijon that cames to a point at Puente Pena.
Walking La Senda del Oso in the Trubia Valley or, alternately, the path of the Rio Infierno (Hell River) you are at the bottom of steep valleys. La Senda del Osos (Path of the Bear) is the ultimate rails-to-trails application if you ask me. It is built on a former rail right-away that snakes up the valley alongside and criss-crossing a rushing mountain stream. Mountains and cliffs rise on either side of the valley which narrows to a gorge a few hundred feet wide in places. The route passes through so many tunnels that I lost count. Some tunnels are more than 250 meters in length.
Looking up the side of steep mountains, little (relatively) side valleys hung above. From below you can see lush green terraced meadows dotted with small buildings jutting into the sky. Cows and sheep dot the steep meadows … they must have legs on one side that are three feet longer than the ones on the other side. I had to go see what this looks like from the opposite viewpoint … looking down into the valley. So I hauled myself up a steep draw following a rushing mountain stream to the medieval village of Bandujo. My GPS told me I had ascended 3800 feet by the time I got there and I was rewarded with gorgeous views down the valley. This was a great place to pause and relax with a cerveza more on this hike below).
Following is a sampler of images from day-hiking in Asturias — captions when provided precede the related image.
Cows, sheep, and horses are seen frequently when passing farms. True to its name, bears are found in the valley of La Senda de los Osos. More cow bell!
Here is a good example of a trail marking warning you away from going the wrong way …
Images from a day hike around the lakes high in the Picos de Europa Park. The trail starts above Covadonga where there is a beautiful cathedral …
Coastal hikes just a short distance away offer a completely different look …
The walk to the medieval village of Bandujo high up in a hanging valley is an opportunity to hike off the beaten track to an incredibly scenic destination — population 43 — no services there …
Fonts are frequent along established routes … I didn’t quite trust the water quality …
Rio Infierno Hike
The Rio Infierno (Hells River) was another great hiking area …