Created at the same time as the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park in 1918, the Picos de Europa is one of Spain’s oldest parks. The protected area covers some 646 km2 (~249 mi2) and lies in the Picos de Europa mountain range in northern Spain.
The Park’s location creates a unique environment and habitats for the many rare and protected species that flourish here. The steep, jagged limestone mountains are offset with both Mediterranean and Atlantic-type forests and meadows, which thrive in the humid, rainy climate caused by proximity to the sea, only 20 km (~12 mi) away. There are three important massifs – the Andara to the east, the Urrieles in the centre and Cornion, lying to the west.
The eastern massif contains the two most famous Alpine lakes in Spain: Lake Enol and Lake Ercina, known collectively as the Lakes of Covadonga. The road ascending to the lakes, which are at an elevation of 1,134 m (~3,720 ft), is a popular one for professional cyclists, having featured in the Vuelta a Espana (Spain’s equivalent of the Tour de France).
The place is teeming with wildlife, much of it rare and protected. Wild boar, ibex and different breed of chamois live alongside the Iberian Wolf and even the Cantabrian brown bear. Bird types range from the protected bearded vulture (or lammergeier) and capercaillie, a type of grouse to the more common, but no less endearing, robins, woodpeckers and coaltits.
The park is has an unusually high human population – some 1,300 live there, and there are some tensions between conservation of the important ecological environment and the farming communities that co-exist there.
Walking and climbing are very popular pastimes in the area due to the challenges provided by the steep limestone peaks, but the changeable weather and the clints and grykes that form through water erosion of the limestone surfaces are hazards to look out for.