Las Ubinas - La Mesa Natural Park, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park

An analogue reportage on the breathtaking landscapes in the second highest mountainous area in Asturias

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Whenever I mention that I am from Asturias to those of the outdoorsy kind, a smile on their faces always follows and they go ‘Oh, Picos’. Yes, Picos is a stunning part of our territory and it seems to retain an almost legendary status in the hearts of those who have visited it. Fortunately, Picos isn’t the only breathtaking mountain range there is in Asturias.

Last Christmas we asked our friend Alejandro, who for the last couple of years has been exploring Asturias from a climber perspective, to choose a place to go hiking. And as usual, by taking us to Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park, he delivered.

One of the things I miss the most when I go hiking in the south of England is that mountain air that you can only experience after you have reached a certain altitude. Pure, fresh, sometimes so cold that you can feel it all the way down to your lungs, air. That delicious air that makes you feel alive.

In Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park isn't long until you get that revitalising air. Actually you can feel it from the moment you step off the car. We started our trail from Casa Mieres (León), where we arrived after having driven up a narrow winding road, definitely not one for the faint of heart.

The Park is located in central southern Asturias, on the border with the neighbouring region of León (some hiking trails run along both Asturias and León). The landscape is rough with tremendous rocky slopes and framed by mountain ranges on all sides. It comprises 451 km2 through three Asturian counties: Lena, Teverga and Quirós. Its highest peaks are the Fontán Norte and Peña Ubiña, 7,939ft high. Futhermore, since 2012 Las Ubiñas - La Mesa is part of Unesco's World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).

Our starting point, Casa Mieres, is 5,216ft high. When we visited it wasn't your typical Asturian December morning. It wasn't particularly cold (around 14C/57F in Oviedo) and the previous weeks had been extremely warm and dry for that time of the year (surprising even for climate change skeptics). The snow was nowhere to be seen and the grass wasn't as lusciously green as it usually is all year round.

John Muir used to say that in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. The memory I will always keep with me from this little adventure is that of a herd of chamois jumping graciously down the mountains. We were absolutely mesmerised; you wouldn’t think such unspoilt beauty happens so spontaneously. When you go, bear in mind that the local wildlife includes brown bears, wolves, deer, venison, foxes, otters or the much loved Cantabrian capercaillie, as well as birds of prey.

"In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks"

-John Muir

 

In terms of flora, this Natural Park congregates eleven out of the nineteen local vegetation series that you can find in Asturias. The predominant forest is beech (around 65%), but there are also oaks, chestnuts, birch or holly trees. If you visit in the berry season, you might get lucky as there are wild blueberries in clover.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach the summit (Peña Ubiña) because fog was unbearable and we didn’t have suitable clothes for such a cold biting wind, but we were close. However, the last section of the trail is dangerous enough on a clear day to risk it under adverse weather conditions. On some sections the path goes vertical and it requires some climbing. Nothing extremely complicated, but being cautious is always a good idea.

Apart from the unquestionable spectacular nature, in Las Ubiñas – La Mesa you can also find two ancient Roman roads, Vía Carisa and Camino Real de la Mesa. They were first established to connect Asturias with the plateau of Castile. Moreover, you can also visit the cave paintings at Abrigos de Fresnedo in Teverga. Dating back from the Bronze Age, these paintings feature goat-like animals and dressed anthropomorphic characters.

Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park has hiking trails for everyone, go and discover your own favourites!

By car: There are many points where you could start your hike in Las Ubiñas. We started from Casa Mieres -which is in neighbouring region of León- but another popular starting point is Tuiza, to go there you can take the side road from Campomanes. Tuiza is only 11 miles away.

By public transport: I am afraid there are no public transport options at this time, although from Oviedo you could take a bus to Campomanes (08.15, 15.15, 21.20 & 22.15) and then a taxi from there (aprox. 11 miles). Return buses from Campomanes to Oviedo are at 06.30, 07.15, 13.30 and 20.30). It is worth checking the schedules before you go.

Best time of the year to visit: spectacular anytime. Please check weather conditions before you go. Bear in mind that winter often means snow and ice and it is not recommended for inexperienced hikers.

Aprox. walking time: 7/8 hours return

Where To Eat: safer to take your own food with you or buy bocadillos (sandwiches) at Torrebarrio or Campomanes.

 

 

 
 

Las Xanas Gorge

Las Xanas gorge, located in central Asturias, is a spectacular and easy route for hikers of all levels

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Have you ever pictured a place where pale limestone slopes touch the bright sky while a crystal clear river rustles? That place exists: Las Xanas trail. The spectacular gorge carved by the homonymous river (also known as Viescas) expands through 1.2 miles and it is part of a 5.5 miles circular route. It is conveniently located in central Asturias, in the lusciously green counties of Santo Adriano and Quirós and it has many surprises up its sleeve.

This path was first created to connect the villages of Pedroveya, Rebolleda and Dosango with the Trubia valley.

Both the river and gorge were named after one of the most popular mythological characters in Asturian culture, the Xanas. Legend has it that they are exceptionally beautiful fairies who live in fountains, rivers, waterfalls or areas with pure and clean waters. They are often depicted in a pre-Raphaelite style and they bear similarities with the Greek myth of Lamia.

The first time I visited Las Xanas –Monument of Natural Interest since 2002- it was a spectacular clear day in the middle of the summer. A man we came across, equipped with all the good rambler gear, asked us if we were Asturians. We nodded and he said “I am green with envy” and kept walking pointing out to the mountains with both arms. Back then I didn’t give it much thought, but every time I go back to Las Xanas I remember his comment and I understand for it doesn’t matter how many times you go, it is a walk that captivates you every time. The scenic view takes you by surprise, the gorge is right there, after less than ten minutes walking you can marvel at this wonder of nature. The dramatic landscape might make you feel vertigo, but remember that the trail is completely safe and well kept.

Beyond the gorge there is a forest in which you can expect a very Asturian sight: dozens of hazels nearby a shaded creek. Soon after, green pastures open wide in front of you, the village of Pedroveya recognizable by a church in the distance.

This is a much loved hike among Asturians because its difficulty is low (the ascent is 1500ft) and with a little surveillance (the path is wide enough for two people to walk side by side) children can easily do it. It is especially busy -meaning you might find over 20 people- at weekends.

 Many called Las Xanas the little Cares, a well-known hiking trail in Picos included on the top 10 European gorge hikes according to British newspaper The Guardian. However, Las Xanas is less busy and it is at a stone’s throw away from the main cities in the region, which makes it a recurrent destination for tourists as well as locals. If you are lucky you might even spot one of the cutest animals in Asturias: ponies.

GET ME THERE

By car: From Oviedo head to road A-63 Grado-La Espina to Trubia. Once in Trubia, after the bridge turn left on road AS-228 towards Villanueva. You will find the free parking space when you leave behind the village of Tuñón and right before arriving to Villanueva. The journey takes just under thirty minutes.  
   
By public transport: This might be a challenge since there are only three buses a day. The route you need to look for is Oviedo – Teverga. Check at the Oviedo Bus Station prior departure. The timetables as of January 2016 are: Oviedo - Teverga: Monday to Friday: 09.15; 14.30 and 18.15/ Teverga - Oviedo: 07.00; 10.15 and 17.00. Saturday and bank holidays: Oviedo – Teverga: 09.00; 12.00 and 17.00 / Teverga – Oviedo: 10.15; 13.15 and 18.30. The journey takes around one hour and fifteen minutes.

Best time of the year to visit: autumn and spring

Aprox. walking time: 5 hours return / 2.5h one-way to Pedroveya

Where To Eat: Casa Generosa (closed on Wednesdays: +34 985 78 30 46)