Budget walking holidays in Picos de Europa

“There’s a lot that I think is special about walking in the Picos de Europa,” says Ana Rodríguez García, founder of our specialist operator Peak Me Languages. Ana grew up in the region and returned a few years, and now organises walking and Spanish language tours here. “There is the great variety of landscapes from one valley to the next – the woodlands, the meadows, the mountains. There is the coast just a 15-minute drive away, so you can be snowshoeing in the peaks in the morning and looking up at them from a white sand beach in the afternoon. And then you mustn’t forget the opportunity to explore Asturian gastronomy.”

Ah yes, the food. There are some old traditions here, such as basketmaking, that are sadly close to dying out. But others flourish, among them cheese and cider-making. “There are several from this region that are known both nationally and internationally, and there is also a strong cider-making culture,” Ana continues. “We try and incorporate these into our itineraries – we hope soon to include a visit to a working cider farm with an orchard, a 200-year-old mill, and tastings of course.”

The Picos de Europa, a mountain range rising up from the Atlantic coast and Spain’s first national park, is dotted with old villages, many of which have little bars that you can stop in for a caña (beer) and a slice of cheese. Income from tourists helps ensure these places, which are often a place of community for local people, can survive. If you’ve built up a healthy appetite walking, you can eat extremely well in these small places, avoiding prices inflated for tourists in more well-known areas. And the proprietors are always happy to repeat what they’re saying so you can grasp it.

Walking & talking

“We do get a lot of people coming back for more,” laughs Ana, “I think because they just love the whole experience.” That ‘experience’ is the winning combination of intensive Spanish language lessons, in small classes led by expert teachers, and guided walking in the mountains. Not only does your proficiency in Spanish develop rapidly, you also enjoy some classic, and a few lesser-known, hikes around this stunning mountain range.

Staying in a small village where few of the inhabitants speak much English, you benefit from complete immersion, with no shortage of locals willing to help your conversation skills along. Keeping student numbers to a minimum means you can learn a great deal in a short time. And, because there’s a range of flight and accommodation options available, what you do in your free time is entirely up to you – this type of trip can offer superb value.
Guided walks of the area, given after lessons have finished for the day, take you away from the more touristy routes and into ancient villages tucked away. You’ll hike into forest where wolves and bears keep well clear of human activity, or to working orchards where you can sink a few jars of the local cider. Popular routes are included too – the Picos de Europa is after all one of Spain’s most desirable destinations for photographers wanting a dramatic backdrop.

The Northern Camino de Santiago route runs through the Picos de Europa. Some budget walking holidays here offer daily treks on sections of this iconic pilgrimage. You can also do a self guided walking holiday, especially suitable for those that already have a decent grasp of Spanish, as in many communities there is little English spoken. These are typically tailor made trips, so you can time your dates for the least expensive travel prices, and also opt for more budget accommodation if preferred.

Our top Budget walking Holiday

Spanish course & walking holiday, Picos de Europa, Spain

Spanish course & walking holiday, Picos de Europa, Spain

Walk and talk on this small group language holiday in Picos de Europa National Park

From €659 7 days ex flights
Small group travel:
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Practicalities

Walking and language tours in the Picos de Europa are suitable for beginners, as well as those that already have some grasp of Spanish – classes are divided according to ability so that everyone is on the same level. All course materials are provided so you don’t need to buy textbooks or dictionaries beforehand if you’d rather not, and there is a maximum of six students to each class. Usually, however, it’s more like two to four people, either way, the teacher has plenty of time to dedicate to everyone. A little preparation before you go won’t hurt, but as Ana says, “I don’t tend to recommend language apps, or online courses or CDs. I’ve never met anyone that successfully learnt a language that way. Nothing beats having someone next to you who can offer advice, and correct your mistakes straightaway.”

Language lessons typically take place in a classroom a short walk from your accommodation. You’ll have four 50-minute lessons in the morning, then a walk as a group with your guide in the nearby Picos de Europa in the afternoon. In the winter months, due to light conditions, lessons are in the afternoons, walks in the mornings. Walks are tailored to the group’s fitness levels, and if you’re reasonably active at home you’ll be fine – there are no strenuous ascents involved.
Stays are usually for a week, with your last few days kept entirely free to explore the area on your own time. You might make the 15-minute drive to the coast, the Asturias often saluted as one of the most picturesque regions in Europe; walk without a guide in the Picos de Europa; indulge in some more foodie excursions, or simply wander the village engaging the locals in conversation, with most happy to stop for a chat. More active travellers can find a huge range of adventure activities in the surrounding area from white water rafting to canyoning, surfing and climbing. There are ancient cave paintings to discover, yoga classes to book, medieval villages to stroll around and, of course, Bilbao and Santander are both an easy drive away. So you can fill your free time with adventures, or keep them to a minimum if you’re on a tighter budget. As you’ll be staying in a quiet village, there’s no option to be out painting the town red in the evenings, as you might have in a bigger place.

A mix of accommodation options is available to suit different budgets. Those already able to hold a basic conversation in Spanish might choose to stay with a local family on either a B&B or half-board basis, while beginners are recommended to stay either in a hotel or self-catering apartment. Airport transfers, and transport to and from trailheads, are included in the price – you can fly into Santander, Bilbao or the Asturias, so allowing for a breadth of budget flight options. Transfers are usually by local taxi – another way that walking here benefits the Picos de Europa economy, and another golden opportunity to practise your Spanish!
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Peak Me] [Intro: Peak Me] [Walking and talking: Peak Me] [Practicalities: Peak Me]
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