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"
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.