The six natural worlds of Cantabria
Cantabria’s skies belong to more than 20,000 migratory birds fishing in the marshlands and to the eagles and cormorants that nest high up on the mountains and cliffs. The air brings the mixed scents of forests of beech, holm oak and oak trees, with a familiar touch of iodine from the Cantabrian Sea. The emerald green of the cow-dotted pastures surrounds the almost-infinite shades of green of the six parks that alternate mountains with wetlands, dunes with riverbanks, caves with mountain peaks. This is a capital destination in green Spain, where sustainable tourism comes naturally. Fly from 4,500 (one way).
1 Picos de Europa National Park
In the 647km of this park, located just 15km from the ocean, roam goats, brown bears, eagles, vultures and wallcreepers, among many other specimens of highly characteristic Hispanic fauna. The park – which shares extensive areas of Cantabria, Asturias, Castile and León – starts in the Cantabrian town of Fuente Dé. From there, visitors take a cable car known as "El Cable", that, in a matter of minutes, soars into the clouds, climbs 750m, passes over the void and deposits visitors in a totally wild natural setting.
2 Oyambre Natural Park
The Picos de Europa are a dramatic backdrop to a 5,758-hectare park that boasts beaches, rivers, marshes, dunes, precipitous cliffs over the Cantabrian Sea and many kilometres of dense forest. A refuge for migratory birds, which feel safe in its marshes, here, it is not uncommon for visitors to spy herons and curlews flying overhead on the San Vicente estuary. Meanwhile, surfers favour the windy beaches of Oyambre and Merón for their wildness and untamed waves. The cliffs provide dizzying views and are the ideal habitat for soaring gulls, peregrine falcons and European shags, among many birds.
3 Collados del Asón natural park
Collados de Asón Natural Park spans the 1,581m mountain of Alto Asón, the Soba viewpoint of the waterfall and the river channel of the River Gándara, located deep in its 173km of connected caves, the third largest network in Europe and the Spanish paradise of speleologists. On a single day, you can climb the many via ferratas and then descend 600m below. The glacial mountain range consisting of a limestone massif with unique geological landscapes where diversity is the norm: from limestone pavements (grooves) to sinkholes (depressions), caves and chasms, with milestones such the Circo Glaciar del Hondojón and the Alto del Tejuelo massif.
4 Dunas de Liencres y Costa Quebrada Natural Park
A panoramic path along the coastline from Punta del Águila to the west, in Miengo, to the Canal de Hoz to the east, right on the border between Santa Cruz de Bezana and Santander is also the prodigious path from which Cantabria tells the history of the planet, with a tour through geological formations in which visitors can read how the continent was formed. Those enjoying the route pass through the estuary of the River Pas, the pine forest of the dunes of Liencres and several urros – photogenic rocky islets that emerge from among the waves. On the windy beaches of Valdearenas and Canallave, the never-ending waves attract surfers from across the world. In the background, a landscape of shifting dunes that, over the centuries, have been held in place by pine trees, bulrushes and thistles, give the setting a Mediterranean landscape vibe.
5 discover saja-besaya natural park
Cantabria’s largest park is inland. It covers the basins of the Besaya and Saja rivers, which carve out deep, green valleys surrounded by low mountains and steep slopes where summer grazing lands and deciduous forests have sprung up. The oak, beech and hazelnut forests colour the area in a different shade for every season of the year. It is the home of wolves, roe deer, brown bears, wild boar and otters, often accompanied by golden eagles and wood grouse. The result is a setting with green trails that lead to unforgettable encounters with nature, as well as with picturesque villages and hamlets where you can stop and enjoy produce from the very same forests and rivers.
6 marismas de santoña, victoria y joyel natural park
Mallard ducks, teals, ospreys, loons, cormorants, geese, terns and many other flocks of migratory birds from northern Europe live in a landscape of cordgrass, bullrushes and reeds. Since 1992, this impressive marshland located in the estuary of the River Asón has been a National Reserve and is also a Special Protection Area for Birds. More than 20,000 birds from 130 different species have been catalogued in a coastal area that includes the towns of Santoña, Noja, Escalante, Limpias and Laredo. They are all well known to summer visitors in Cantabria, who come every season in search of its fine sand beaches and tables where different forms of anchovy, along with typical dishes such as quesada, are plentiful.