25 January 2024
Ah, Spain! A land of contrasts and contradictions, where the sun beats down on the Mediterranean coast with the same fervour as the sangria flows in the local tavernas. Yet beyond the clichés of flamenco and paella lies a secret: Spain is Europe’s second most mountainous country.
Everyone bangs on about the Camino de Santiago – a trail as trodden as the path to the bar in a British holiday resort – but Spain, ever the overachiever, offers a veritable smorgasbord of hiking trails, with 60,000 kilometres of signposted paths and a staggering 16 national parks. So, let me whisk you away on a journey through some of Spain’s less-trampled but equally soul-stirring hiking routes.
First up, the Ruta del Cares, nestled in the Picos de Europa National Park, a name that sounds like it belongs in a fantasy novel. Spanning Asturias, Cantabria and León, this trail weaves through the so-called Divine Gorge.
It’s an arduous journey, but one that rewards the brave with views that could make a grown man weep – valleys encased by towering peaks, soaring over 2,600 metres into the heavens.
Then there’s the GR11, or the Senda Pirenaica, for those who fancy a jaunt along the Spanish-French border. This 400-kilometre behemoth stretches from the Cantabrian Sea to the Mediterranean, split into 46 digestible sections – because who in their right mind would walk the whole thing in one go? It’s a buffet of natural beauty, each section serving up a different slice of the imposing Pyrenees.
For the adrenaline junkies, the Caminito del Rey in Malaga is akin to walking a tightrope over the abyss.
Perched along the cliffs of El Chorro Gorge, this path is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to vertigo. The views, however, are worth the palpitations – a sight to boast about for years, or at least until the next pub visit.
And let’s not forget Mt Teide in Tenerife, standing tall at 3,718 metres. You can either slog up this volcanic giant in six hours or take the cable car, which I suspect is the preferred option for those who consider a stroll to the fridge a hike.
Spain’s burgeoning reputation as a hiking mecca is celebrated with festivals galore, turning the act of walking into a national fiesta. In the Canary Islands, Tenerife, La Palma, and Gran Canaria each throw their own shindigs, because why have one party when you can have three?
And then there’s the Marbella four-day walking festival, an event that combines the rigours of hiking with the glamour of Marbella – a concept as intriguing as it is exhausting.
For more tantalising tidbits on Spain’s hiking adventures, visit spain.info or follow @spain on Instagram. But beware – one glimpse and you might just find yourself swapping your beach towel for hiking boots.