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The wilderness next door: The best nature-based experiences in northern Spain

The wilderness next door: The best nature-based experiences in northern Spain

Who doesn’t dream about getting away from it all, and plunging deep into nature – being lost in wild, rugged landscapes, exploring high mountain peaks or deep, breath-taking gorges, and, if we’re really lucky, catching a glimpse of some of the incredible creatures who still roam freely?

If you’d never considered Northern Spain as somewhere to fulfil all these desires, you’ll be happy to hear it’s home to several national parks which have skilfully preserved the habitat of their wonderful flora and fauna, and which offer plenty of nature-based activities, from mountain hikes to wildlife-spotting. The regions around Cantabria and Asturias are the perfect place to visit if you’re interested in sustainable travel and investing in nature, and can be easily reached from the UK via the port towns of Bilbao and Santander with Brittany Ferries.

Insta-worthy views

Here, the great outdoors is just that – there are jaw-dropping views and amazing experiences at every turn, with something for everyone, at every level of ability. Kick off with something really spectacular, such as hiking the trail around the Garganta del Cares gorge, which is 12km long and, in some parts, 1km deep. Bookended by the villages of Caín in the south and Poncebos in the north, it was created by the river Cares, which split the western and central limestone massifs of the mighty Picos range. It provides some of the most staggering scenery you’ll ever see, running alongside caves, bridges, and pathways sculpted into the rock; you can walk along a dramatic former hydro-electric maintenance track, carved into the cliff faces, high above the river. Keep that camera handy – just don’t drop it…

For something with less of an adrenaline rush, but equally enjoyable, take a canoe trip along the Rio Sella, which flows through Asturias and out into the Atlantic. A popular stretch is the 16km between Arriondas and Ribadesella, and every year there’s a race called the International Descent of the Sella, which brings competitors from all over the world. The river meanders gently between lush, tree-lined banks, and it’s a lovely, laid-back way to take in the landscape.

There are plenty more compelling landscapes to be found; head to the national park of Picos de Europa which sprawls across Asturias, Cantabria, and the province of Leon, and, as it incorporates 11 villages within it, is Spain’s only inhabited nature reserve – the perfect example of an Atlantic ecosystem.


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