Having seen Vid Pogachnik's pages on the Eastern Alps and the pages on Peña Castil and Torre Cerredo I think a similar central index would be useful in the case of the Picos de Europa. Over time I hope further mountains in this range will be added with links to and from these pages.
This compact range of karstic limestone mountains hard by the Atlantic coast of northern Spain offers serious walking, scrambling and climbing, belying its modest altitude. The highest point of the range is a mere 12km from the coast , so in tackling the peaks long and steep ascents and descents are required, especially when passing from one massif to another. The Western and Central Massifs are separated by the magnificent Cares gorge which has a few arduous descent routes from the mountains on either side. The Central and Eastern Massifs are separated by the high alpine Vega de Aliva, though access tends to be from the North and the South rather than directly from the Vega. The Eastern Massif bears the scars of extensive mineral extraction.
The main entries to the ranges are Los Lagos de Covadonga (W), Arenas de Cabrales (N), the Valdeón villages (S) and Fuente Dé (SE). At Puente Poncebos near Arenas a polemical underground funicular serves the village of Bulnes otherwise only accessible on foot. At Fuente Dé a cable car rises over 700 metres in a single lift.
Access from the West is from Oviedo via Cangas de Onís to Covadonga and Los Lagos. From the East a motorway connects Santander (for Bilbao and France) with Unquera . From here the N621 goes south through Panes, up the Hermida Gorge to Potes and on to the cable car at Fuente Dé. From the South the best approach is from León via Riaño to Valdeón.
Brittany Ferries sails to Santander from Plymouth and P&O to Bilbao from Portsmouth.
Bilbao - Madrid and Barcelona (Iberia), London Stansted (EasyJet), about a dozen Austrian and German airports (Air Berlin)
Santander - Madrid (Iberia), Frankfurt, Rome, Liverpool and London Stansted (Ryanair)
Asturias (Oviedo/Aviles) - Hapagfly goes from 16 German airports, plus Basel and Mulhouse. Easyjet from Stansted
The FEVE narrow-gauge line runs all the way along the north coast.
The main Renfe service runs to Santander from Burgos, Oviedo from Leon and Bilbao from France and Central Spain.
Alsa runs from Bilbao along the north coast to Oviedo via Santander. Alsa also serves Cangas de Onís from the West with links to Arenas de Cabrales and Panes. During the season a frequent bus runs to Covadonga and Los Lagos from Cangas. An infrequent service links Valdeón with Leon and down the Beyos gorge to Cangas. Autocares Palomera runs a service from Santander to Potes via Panes and the Hermida gorge, with a further service up to Fuente Dé.
All three massifs are within the National Park. Signs on the main entry paths indicate the usual prohibitions (collecting botanical or geological samples, use of firearms, making fires). Do not use detergents - take soft green soap. Camping is permitted but you should strike camp within an hour of sunrise and you should not camp within an hour's trek of a road.
When To Climb
This far south, and this close to the warming influence of the Atlantic, only the locals can take opportunistic advantage of winter conditions. However, winter conditions can persist until surprisingly late and 3m of snow in the valleys in mid-May does occasionally happen. The higher routes can be snowbound well into June., although weather is generally reliable from June to late August/early September. In late August the weather tends to deteriorate with the onset of hail and thunder, though decent conditions can be found into October.
See Red Tape re wild camping. There are camp sites near Potes, at Fuente Dé, outside Cangas, at Arenas de Cabrales, Santa Marina de Valdeón and Soto de Valdeón (though this last one for some reason did not open in 2004). Camping is permitted in meadows at Caín.
Arenas de Cabrales, Bulnes, Sotres, Camaleño (near Potes), Espinama (1.5 km short of Fuente Dé), Fuente Dé (attached to the campsite), Santa Marina de Valdeón, Los Llanos (by Posada de Valdeón), Soto de Sajambre, and Villanueva (2 km W of Cangas). Fees in 2004 6 - 8 per person per night.
The way to get right into the Picos is to use the Refuges. These tend to belong to clubs federated to the Federación Española de Montañerismo. Not worth joining one unless you live in Spain, but they often have reciprocal arrangements with the Austrian Alpine Club. Fees (non-members) 2004 from 5.20 pppn with breakfast at about 5 and dinner (can be very basic) 11 - 13.
Casa Municipal de Pastores at Los Lagos, Vega Redonda Hut, Vegabaño Hut, Refugio Marqués de Villaviciosa at Vega Ario. This last one suffers from a poor to non-existent water supply since dynamite was used a few years ago to level a platform for a generator but there is water at a nearby majada (alp).
Refugio/Hotel Áliva (privately owned), Cabaña Verónica (privately owned, very limited space), Ref José Ramón Lueje in Jou de Los Cabrones (30 spaces, warden), Ref. Julián Delgado Úbeda in Vega Uriellu at the foot of El Naranjo (100 spaces, full staff, still gets full at weekends), Ref. La Terenosa near Collado Pandébano (no warden, keys at nearby herders' cabin), Ref del Collado Jermoso (30+ spaces, a "must-visit" for its location).
Casetón de Ándara, an old miners' cabin. 20 places
The situation regarding wardens is variable and changes as wardens change. The one in Vega Uriellu operates pretty much all year round, as does Áliva. The owner of Verónica is reputed to live there all year round. In other cases the wardens tend to close and teach skiing over the winter if and when demand slackens completely. The Ándara refuge is wardened full-time in the summer and some weekends during the medium season.
There are no sanitary facilities at Cabrones, Vega Ario or Collado Jermoso. There is in each case a generally-recognised area which isn't difficult to find, but you might prefer to arrive empty. There is no spring at Verónica.
Great web site in Spanish about Picos de Europa Really useful website if you are willing to trek these mountains. A lot of information and news.
I´m sure it is possible to get info in English just asking someone in the forum, where veteran mountainers write every day.