Is this Europe’s most underrated hiking destination?

Just over a century ago a chap called Pedro Pidal, Marquis of Villaviciosa and an Asturian senator, returned from a visit to Yellowstone and Yosemite in the US with a burning ambition to introduce the idea of national parks to Spain. “If we do not guard the possessed paradise between the lost paradise and the promised paradise,” he said, “we do not deserve, like Adam, to have any paradise.”

In 1918, as a result of his efforts, Covadonga National Park was established in the Cantabrian Mountains, with the protected area extended in 1995 to its present boundaries, which take in chunks of Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y León – a total of 250 square miles.

This year therefore marks the centenary of what is now called the Picos de Europa National Park, an extraordinary prickling of scenery that lurks just inland from the Asturian coast and is easily reached from the UK via Asturias, Santander or Bilbao airports. It’s an immensely popular destination for Spanish tourists, but other country’s citizens have yet to find it, which is a peculiar state of affairs when you consider the abundant virtues on show: staggering, razor-sharp peaks, endless hiking paths and adjacent Atlantic beaches.

The Picos range is split into three main massifs: the eastern, western and central peaks. The latter two are separated by the mile-deep Cares Gorge, with the village of Caín at one end. It’s one of the most popular day hikes in Spain: a six-hour route over 14 miles.

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