Spain: Europe’s nature sanctuary
Route of the Cares River
The Picos de Europa, the Valle de Laciana, Monfragüe, Muniellos and the Leza, Jubera, Cidacos and Alhama river valleys are just a few of the places in Spain which have been declared Biosphere Reserves by the UNESCO. A visit to discover these five natural treasures –unique in Europe– is highly recommended.
The particular geographic location of the Iberian Peninsula, lying between two continents, makes it a very singular natural enclave in Europe. The north of the Peninsula, spanned by the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain range, is a genuine natural paradise. This is where you’ll find the Biosphere Reserves of the Picos de Europa National Park, the Valle de Laciana and Muniellos.
You’ll be within reach of a series of natural spaces which make up the largest and best conserved nature reserve in southern Europe. But that’s not all. You'll have the privilege of exploring this European sanctuary for several endangered species such as the brown bear, the Iberian wolf and the capercaillie.
Picos de Europa
The scenery in the Picos de Europa, the first national park ever created in Spain, offers a truly magnificent sight. This is a place where towering peaks soar above in stark contrast with the deep ravines cleft by the rushing white waters from Cantabrian rivers. And all set amid one of the best Atlantic forests in Spain.
You’ll marvel at the imposing Naranjo de Bulnes peak and the famous Covadonga lakes. From the cable car at Fuentedé you be able to enjoy stunning views over the Biosphere Reserve. You can take the emblematic route of the Cares river or explore the lovely region of Liébana. If you like thrills, the Picos de Europa offers you the perfect setting for all kinds of outdoor sports: hiking, horse riding, paragliding, canyonning...
Tired of the mountains? No problem. The sea awaits you only 20 km from the Park. The coastline is dotted with charming fishing villages and stately towns offering a whole range of options, including nautical sports or a visit to the Museum of the Altamira Caves, considered the “Sistine Chapel of Palaeolithic Art”.
Here in the Laciana valley, lying between the Montes de León and the Cordillera Cantábrica ranges, the mountain peaks, forests and pastures are once again the main features of the landscape.
Summits such as the Cueto Nidio, which offers the best views over the valley. Forests like the Braña de Ronda and Monte Barroso, still practically unspoilt. Fascinating routes such as the trail which leads up to the Vega del Palo, originally a glacial lake.
Wherever you go you’ll see how nature and art combine to offer a genuinely harmonious experience. Throughout the whole of your stay in the valley you’ll come across Celtic settlements, Roman bridges, traditional farmhouses and beautiful examples of the rural Romanesque style of architecture.
If you like winter sports, the Leitariegos ski resort offers a range of modern facilities where you can practice a whole variety of snow sports: skiing, snowboarding, snowshoes, ski-biking...
Muniellos, in the heart of Asturias, is a chance to discover the largest oak forest on the Peninsula, and one of the best conserved in all Europe. Muniellos is synonymous with nature in its purest state, as can be seen all along the length of the Narcea, Degaña and Ibias rivers. This is also a refuge for numerous species such as wolves, wild boar, deer, capercaillies...
Take a tour of the glacial lakes at the Pico de la Candanosa, whose origins go back thousands of years. Once back in civilisation, the picturesque town of Cangas del Narcea is waiting to welcome visitors with all the best of its culture and gastronomy.
Visitors to the valley won’t be disappointed. You may have left behind the landscapes of Cantabria, but here you’ll find a vast area of Mediterranean forests, gorges and limestone rock formations covering almost a quarter of the region of La Rioja. A genuine feast for the senses.
Close your eyes and listen to the silence. Then look up towards the sky. You’ll discover one of the largest colonies of griffon vultures in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula.
Now turn your gaze towards the ground again and follow in the tracks of the dinosaurs who inhabited this place millions of years ago. You’ll soon realise you’re walking in an archaeological site which is unique in Europe.
But the visit is not over yet. Villages such as Arnedillo offer all the best of the delicious gastronomy of La Rioja. A veritable pleasure both for your sense of smell and your palate. Finally, relax in any of the spas in the area with their exceptional thermal waters. All without leaving the boundaries of the Reserve.
Much further south, in Extremadura, you’ll find the Monfragüe Nature Reserve. This is a chance to discover a typically Spanish landscape which is unique throughout the world: the dehesa, or wooded pasture. This is a clear example of the harmonious coexistence between man and nature which has persisted for centuries.
As well as being home to a wide variety of Mediterranean ecosystems, Monfragüe is a genuine paradise for bird watchers as it contains the largest colonies of black vultures and golden eagles in the world, in addition to other unique species such as the Iberian lynx.
And if you’d like to do a little sightseeing, historic towns such as Trujillo, Cáceres and Plasencia will offer a fitting complement to visit which you’re sure to remember forever.
In short, five examples of biosphere reserves which are perfect examples of the enormous variety and richness of the natural resources to be found in Spain.
Dirección General de Turismo de Extremadura