Spain: Picos de Europa
The Picos de Europa (literally: "Peaks of Europe", often abbreviated in English to the Picos) is a range of mountains 20 km inland from the northern coast of Spain, forming part of the Cantabrian Mountains. A widely accepted origin for the name is that they were the first sight of Europe for ships arriving from the Americas.

The range consists of three major massifs: Central (also known as Urrieles), Eastern (Ándara) and Western (also known as the Picos de Cornión). The Central and Western massifs are separated by the 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) deep Cares Gorge (Garganta del Cares), with the village of Caín at its head.

Almost all of the rock in the Picos is limestone, and glacial action has contributed to create an impressive area of alpine karst. The highest peak is Torre de Cerredo, with an altitude of 2,650 metres. The area is popular with mountaineers, climbers and mountain walkers. There is a good network of well-established mountain refuges.

In a group of three, we visited and explored the area during late autumn (beginning of November), escaping crowds and enjoying bearable weather suitable for hiking. The weather could hardly be any better: we got a week full of splendid sunshine, and just after we left, first snow started to fall in high altitude areas of the Picos.

Instead of a week-long circular hike with heavy backpacks, we opted for three-night stays in the mountains (Refugio de Urriellu) and in the valley (Casa Cuevas in Caín); from these "base camps", we were setting out on day-long day trips, going as much as light as possible. Picos de Europa are formed by a VERY rugged mountain terrain; daily altitude gains of 2000+ meters were not an exception during our hikes.

A few days before winter, the range was almost empty except for main routes and Vega de Urriellu hut; actually, most of the refugios were closing on the last day of October. We liked the emptiness and solitude. What we also liked was the fact that some of the routes are not properly marked, and using a GPS and / or a map is sometimes essential - these moments brought a little bit more adventure than expected, and we were quite happy about that as well.

(October 2016)
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