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Somiedo’s Valley: the Spanish bear paradise
It is difficult, almost impossible, to either see or capture them on camera, but they are there. In the south-west of Asturias, Somiedo’s Valley and Nature Reserve is home to the largest Cantabrian brown bear population in western Europe.
SPAIN is the second most popular tourist destination in the world after the USA. The majority of visitors come in search of sun, sea, sand and the unrivalled Mediterranean lifestyle. But there is another side to Spain that is largely unknown to the holidaymaker, a world away from sought-after sunny beaches and closer to the rolling green pastures of Europe.
For those who are interested in less popular destinations it is a pleasant surprise to visit a Spain that is lush, green and fertile. A place where the sun puts in an appearance at times but is not as relentless as further south. A place where the food is richer and more abundant and mass tourism is a distant memory of other, far-flung parts of the country.
Asturias is possibly one of the least-known autonomous communities among foreign tourists and is, without a doubt, the most beautiful and ideal for those seeking nature at its purest. In Asturias, you will find wide-open spaces impeccably preserved. Among these, Fuentes del Narcea nature reserve, Degaña e Ibias, the Picos de Europa national park, the nature reserves of Redes, the Peña Ubiña-La Mesa, the Ponga and, bear’s paradise, the Somiedo nature reserve.
How do you get to Somiedo?
Somiedo nature reserve is situated in the south of Asturias, bordered to the north by the town of Belmonte de Miranda; to the east by Teverga; to the west by Cangas de Narcea and Tineo, and to the south is the border of Castilla y León.
There are two main routes into Somiedo – from the north, starting from Oviedo and taking the N-634 towards A Coruña, then heading for Belmonte de Miranda from which you cannot miss Somiedo.
From the south, head towards Madrid then take the A-6 towards Benavente and from there, the N-630 in the direction of León. Just before you get there, turn off towards the A-6, direction Oviedo, and continue until the reservoir of Barrios de Luna. Here, take the Villablino sliproad and, without leaving the highway, continue on to Piedrafita de Babia where you should follow the signposts towards Puerto de Somiedo. The journey to Somiedo from the south is spectacular.
After crossing the district, or comarca, of La Babia in the province of León, the visitor will begin to see a vast change in the landscape. This is where you begin to enter the Spain of the eternal Scotch mist, where the climate and conditions have shaped both the mountains’and the inhabitants’ evolution. Continuing through a rocky, grassy landscape scattered with small villages, you eventually reach, the Puerto de Somiedo. There is not a nature-lover on earth who would be able to resist the temptation of stopping the car and getting out to admire the view.
The panoramic view is spectacular. A landscape of majestic, imposing mountains and dry-stone walls crossed by gentle streams, bathed in a crisp, clean mountain air. Standing at a giddy 1,480 metres above sea-level, the Puertu, as the people of Somiedo call it, is a privileged location for the walker, bird-watcher or incidental tourist. On the other hand, living there is tough, an arduous experience, particularly during the winter months. In the past, the area was only inhabited in the summer when the vaqueiros de alzada (migrating livestock farmers) brought their charges to higher pastures. Nowadays, people live there all year round and it is a popular area for mountainwalking trips, such as climbing the Cornón, the highest peak in the district.
Taking a trip to the Cornón cannot and should not be missed. If you are planning to stay a few days, at the very least you should take a walk along the footpath leading to the Co
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