Walking and trekking
Spain is often overlooked as a walking capital due to its overflogged reputation as a tourist pull: this is a terrible brush with which to tar the country, as it has some of Europe’s most unexpectedly awesome walking, from high-grade rock-climbing to 3000m+ trekking peaks. Spain’s immensity and position on both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts also give it a spectrum of climatic conditions, so whatever time of year you find yourself here, chances are you’ll be able to find something to climb that will suit you mood. Inland from but running parellel with Mediterranean coast is the 2,600km GR-7, a long distance walking route – the Spanish contingent of the E4, the European route which links Spain and Greece – which kicks off in Cadiz and runs into Andorra in the north-east. Beginning here with the most spectacular terrain in the Mediterranean French borderland, the Parque Nacional d’Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici occupies the region of Catalunya, and is home to some of the Pyrenees’ most ragged mountain scenery, with an elevation ranging between 1,600m and the highpoint of Besiberri Sud (3,017m) and a smattering of refuges. This corner of Spain also includes theParque Nacional de Ordesa Monte Perdido, which kicks the excitement level up even more. This UNESCO approved site has been sculpted into terrifyingly vertical canyons and gorges by meltwater crashing from the high mountains, luring climbers here to tackle it and walkers to gawp. Here lies a canyon called the Anilsco, where a hermitage once home to holy people is carved into the rock deep in the canyon. Centrepiece of the park is 3355m Monte Perdido, a gnurled, tough looking peak which is the third highest mountain in the Pyrenees. This is an absolutely brilliant mountain: weird, high, dangerous, technical by some routes and utterly beautiful by all, the mountain offers views into the odd karstic landscape of the Ordesa Gorge, the feature with which Monte Perdido co-occupies the park’s title, and rightly so.
Moving south, the Spanish Costas offer a great mix of terrain for everyone, from the casual walker to the rock psycho. Costa Blanca is perhaps the most arresting, with the jagged horns of the Serra de Bernia invoking both Patagonia and the Black Cuillin with a immense and difficult ridge traverse from which the Mediterreanean and the lights of tourist hive Benidorm can be seen. From Benidorm itself, the dominating feature is the Puig de Campana, a colossal 1,500m pyramid with a cubic cut out of its western face which makes for an arresting silhouette. Beyond this to the north, the Sierra de Aitana are high, wild and arid mountains riddled with tough climbs and traverses of varying difficulties and commitment. Winter in these mountains can be harsh.
Andalucia in the far south offers a plethora of dusty options for the walker. The GR7 cuts through Andalucia through charasmatic Moorish terrain, ploughing south into the province of Granada, home to the mainland’s highest mountain of Mulhacen (3,482m), in the world-renowned Sierra Nevada, a range which - as it means snowy mountains – has had its name nicked by just about every Spanish-influenced country in the world. These unexpectedly visually impressive mountains are wonderful for mountaineers (and skiers in winter) and have large expanses which are over 3,000m in height, including Alcazaba - at 3,371m home to an immense north wall - and Veleta (3,394m). All of these mountains have non-technical ascents, though ice axe, crampons and ice axe, a helmet and avalanche awareness is needed. From the tops of these three highest mountains on a clear winter day you can see Africa.
Much of central Spain is mountainous and geologically interesting, and in the north there are some exceotional areas, specifically the Picos de Europa, on the Atlantic side of the Pyrenees in the Cantabrian Mountains. This area of Spain is green, sharp and wild – home to the last vestiges of bears, wolves and lynx in western Europe. This 40km range of mountains is at its best in the Western Massif, the most varied and visually impressive part of the range peaking with the Peña Santa de Castilla summit at 2,596m. The highest point in the range is Torre de Cerredo at 2,648m in the Central Massif, but the pick of this massif is the infamous Naranjo del Bulnes, an El Cap-esque knob of rock which at 2,519m takes its name from the orange-tinted limestone of its walls, and has claimed the lives of many climbers. These are just some of the highlights of Spain for walkers – all in all, this is an immense and enormously varied country for the outdoor lover, which by happy co-incidence is also one of the most accessible. Worthy of many trips.
Spanish culture is of course legendary for its fiestas, endless bottles of red wine and thick, smoky culture which largely revolves around eating late and staying out later.
There are the tourist attractions of the Costas which range from waterparks to medieval nostalgia parks, but there are also a lot of outdoor diversions to be found.
Caves are a big lure in the limestone mountains of the north, with some of Spain’s deepest to be found in the Picos de Europa – notably Torca del Cerro with a depth of 1,589m (!). There are also Via Ferrata in Spain, primarily in the north-east in the mountains of Catalunya. Kayaking in the wild north is also popular, particularly on the River Sella, where the annual race down the river takes place in August (www.descensodelsella.com). Then of course there is the Camin del Santiago – the Way of St James – which is a 500km pilgrimage across northern, Basque Spain to the city of Santiago del Compostela, where the remains of St James are buried. This route has become very popular with cyclists as well as foot-borne pilgrims.
The south of Spain is cowboy land: the areas around Andalucia are so reminiscent of other more arid places that they have doubled as both Jordan and the American West in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly respectively. Consequently there is plenty to do if your into horse trekking or old film sets, notably the locationally-schizophrenic Texas Hollywood near Almeria.
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. FALSE. The rain in Spain falls mostly in the north, which is distinctly non-planar.
Bullfighting is Spain’s national sport: FALSE. Bullfighting isn’t a sport; the closest Spain has to a national sport is Association Football.
Must see and do
- Go on a restauraunt crawl around San Sebastian, Northern Spain.
- Walk the Camino del Santiago, Northern Spain.
- Climb Naranjo de Bulnes in the Picos de Europa
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