Picos de Europa photography holidays

The Picos de Europa are Spain for the purists. The ‘peaks of Europe’, the last sight of home that many sailors would have as they embarked on voyages to the Americas. They form the backbone of Spain’s first national park: barbed limestone peaks spearing up out of meadows and ancient forest where bears and wolves prowl. Traditional ways of life such as cheese, honey and cider-making, and religious processions, flourish in some market towns and coastal fishing villages here, while other communities lie abandoned, lost to time. A Celtic heritage dating back to the Iron Age persists along the rugged Asturian coastline.

Forming part of the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain, the Picos de Europa run between the Pyrenees to the east and Galicia to the west. It is a working landscape. Old trails lead between pastures and dairy farms, cattle graze somnolently in meadows, farmers scythe their fields. The wilder reaches of the mountains see fewer visitors, however, and will entrance landscape photographers. Cantabrian chamois scramble confidently over the scree defying steep drops into river gorges, morning mists drift away to reveal stunning viewpoints over rock massifs and ravines, and in the folds of deep forest stags can be heard bellowing to threaten away rival males. And if you’re there in the autumn, outside the main tourist season, it can feel as though you have this primeval scenery almost entirely to yourself.

Our top Picos de Europa Holiday

Photography holiday in Picos de Europa, Spain

Photography holiday in Picos de Europa, Spain

Photo in N Spain's stunning mountain villages & wild coast

From £2150 9 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2021: 23 Oct
2022: 10 Sep
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Picos de Europa or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Photography tours here are led by experienced tutors offering encouragement and practical advice to help you develop both technically and creatively. You’ll spend time in picturesque fishing villages strung like buoys along the Costa Verde, capturing seascapes and rock architecture, as well as unmissable locations such as the famous Cares Gorge, “like no landscape I've ever seen before,” as Shane Woods put it when he travelled here. But you’ll also enter more remote areas of the Picos de Europa, riding cable cars and funicular railways to summits and tiny villages where the local cider flows easily, taking your time over stirring sunsets and mountain vistas.

Geraldine Westrupp of our specialist operator Wild Photography Holidays knows the region exceptionally well. “If I had to pick out a few of the highlights here, then definitely one is when we go on the cable car into the high mountains and right into the central massif of the Picos. It’s stunning, and there is often snow up there. Then you have the 4x4 drive down after sunset.” Another aspect key to the success of a photography trip here is that operators have forged deep relationships with local communities that don’t see much in the way of tourism. Small groups that don’t swamp their villages, and out of season arrivals are greatly appreciated for their economic benefit. You can click away, confident that you’re most welcome.

Subjects

The Picos de Europa is particularly delightful for landscape photographers – Maureen Fidkin loved her holiday there: “The mountainous landscape was stunning. (My highlights included) the cable car to 1,800m and... the walk through the Cares Gorge in beautiful warm sunshine... roaming over open mountain pasture surrounded by glorious panoramas at Collado da Lesba at 1,675m... there is so much to appreciate at the smaller scale too... A really good small group trip with friendly and inclusive leaders. Lots of photographic help and advice was available for anyone who wished to take it and each participant was treated as an individual at their own level of expertise.”

The Cares Gorge is perhaps the most dramatic walk in the entire region. The river has carved an enormous gash in the limestone rock, with cliffs on either side reaching dizzying heights. A path winds high above the river, across bridges and dipping beneath crags and arches. The light changes constantly, trees poke haphazardly from the rock, and there is a staggering number of viewpoints available. In autumn, this ever-popular walk is nowhere near as busy as it would be in the summer months.
Other days may take you along the photogenic Costa Verde, with its striking rock architecture, sandy bays and terraced fishing villages, where boats bob gently in the harbours and the colourful cottages appear almost stacked on top of each other. Tazones is bound to be a stand-out, wonderfully picturesque with its steep cobbled streets and brightly painted houses with wooden galleries. It’s also a popular place to stop for dinner, boasting a number of superb seafood restaurants. The market town of Potes is a lovely place to wander with a camera too, its old town a beguiling maze of medieval alleyways.

As you roam around the Asturias and León provinces you might pause among attractive but sadly abandoned villages set along the steep sides of the Beyos Gorge. Then heading upwards, Los Lagos are a series of high lakes framed against limestone peaks that are reflected beautifully in the still waters at sunrise. You may also take a heart-pounding cable car ride up into the central massif for spectacular panoramas across the mountain range.

Practicalities

Small group photography tours to the Picos de Europa operate in the autumn, with numbers capped at around 10 people. This means that you can stay in independent, often family-run accommodations that don’t have the space to accept coach groups. It also means that across nine days or so every member of the group will have plenty of time to get any support they need from the expert photography tutor who will also act as tour leader.

Operators will provide a list of essential and recommended equipment before travel – more kit gives you more options of course. Given the season you’ll want wet weather clothing, but mountain climates can be so changeable that you can’t rule out a week of warm sunshine either. Itineraries are kept flexible, to take advantage of on-the-ground conditions, and you can expect early starts and late finishes when the light is good. You’ll head out in all weathers, and it’s well worth it because the Picos de Europa landscapes look dramatic against dark, foreboding skies.

In the evenings groups come together to review each day’s efforts, so bringing along a laptop with editing software is strongly advised. These feedback sessions are positive and supportive, and can lead to rapid progress over the course of your holiday through the acquisition of practical advice from your tutor. It’s important to remember that these holidays are just as suitable for complete beginners as they are for more experienced photographers – whether you’re wielding a DSLR or just a smartphone.

“We’ve used the hotels here for years”, says Geraldine Westrupp of the accommodations favoured by Wild Photography Holidays. “They’re small family places, and they serve fabulous local food. Not only are the hotels scenically placed, but the villagers are always happy to be photographed too because they know our groups offer economic benefits to these communities.” One example of that is that your picnic lunches will be sourced on a daily basis from local shops and markets, which are also an opportunity for a spot of portrait photography. And if you’re a dairy devotee, then get ready to be happy – the cheeses of the Picos de Europa region are famed around Spain.

When to go on a photography holiday in the Picos de Europa

Trips typically run in October, when the peak summer season crowds have died down to a trickle. As well as visiting areas that are less frequented by tourists, this out-of-season travel makes a welcome financial contribution. You can expect it to be damp and chilly at this time of year, but the solitude, and the reds and golds in the foliage, make it easier to tolerate the rain. Patches of warm sunshine are far from rare too. You’ll be training your lens on this dramatic scenery whatever the weather, because sometimes all it takes is one short break in the clouds, a sudden ray of sunshine, and you’ve got a sensational image.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: © Wild Photography Holidays] [Intro: © Wild Photography Holidays] [Subjects: © Wild Photography Holidays] [Practicalities: © Wild Photography Holidays] [When to go : © Wild Photography Holidays]
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