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Picos de Europa 11 — 18 June 2024

Mountain wildlife in stunning scenery

Fully booked.

Imagine stepping back in time when meadows were full of flowers and butterflies, with traditional management for hay and livestock. Picture this with a backdrop of jagged limestone mountains and you have a feel for the glorious wildlife and landscape in this corner of northwest Spain.

Variety starts with the range of habitats, with a Mediterranean feel at lower levels to alpine rock-gardens, but dominated in between these by hay meadows known as some of the most diverse in Europe. Many of the 150 species of butterflies and 1500 plant species are strongly linked to the limestone, and high altitude acid peat bogs add to the variety.

Fuente Dé
Fuente Dé


Orchids are often the first flowers studied – 20 species on Honeyguide’s previous Picos visits. These orchids include burnt-tip, frog, lizard, woodcock, two colour forms of elder-flowered orchid and the unusual Orchis langei. There is, of course, so much more: asphodels, rock-roses, pinks, saxifrages, globularias, gentians, large-flowered butterwort. the lovely ‘three-birds’ toadflax Linaria triornithophora – the list could go on.

Gentiana angustifolia subsp occidentalis-trumpet gentian
A trumpet gentian Gentiana angustifolia subsp occidentalis plus supporting cast.

maiden pink cupidone
Maiden pink; cupidone (Cupid's dart).


Griffon vultures are the most numerous bird of prey, plus a few Egyptian vultures and an outside chance of seeing one of the reintroduced lammergeiers. Short-toed eagles are possible and black kites likely on most days. Higher areas have easy to see alpine choughs and a fair chance of finding alpine accentors, snowfinches and that most intriguing of birds, the wallcreeper.

Our home village of Boca de Huérgano has nesting white storks, abundant black redstarts, common redstart, rock sparrow, serins and Iberian green woodpecker plus dippers on the river. Rock bunting, red-backed and Iberian grey shrikes, crag martin, Bonelli’s warbler and bee-eater are more birds you wouldn’t expect to see in the UK. In 2019, Boca de Huérgano had a regular wryneck and the Iberian subspecies of pied flycatcher, though both were absent in 2022.

white stork rock sparrow
White stork descending to its nest (Graham Phillips); rock sparrow (David Bennett). Both in our base of Boca de Huérgano.

Dipper bridge
'Dipper bridge' in Boca de Huérgano (David Bennett).

Snowfinch and rock bunting (Kevin Simmonds)

Butterflies and other insects

If you like butterflies, the Picos de Europa will appeal. Glanville, dark green and spotted are among the fritillaries. Chapman’s ringlet is found only in this area. There’s a good range of skippers, heaths, blues and others, given fine weather and a little patience. There’s a huge range of moths, day- and night-flying, for anyone with interest and expertise, plus various interesting looking beetles, spiders and more.

spotted fritillary Oberthurs grizzled skipper
Spotted fritillary, Oberthur's grizzled skipper.

Other wildlife

The Cantabrian chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica parva is the local subspecies of the Pyrenean chamois or isard, and is widespread, though not common, in craggy areas. Brown bears are present in the Picos but secretive and we do not expect to see them. Midwife toads call in the village. Tree frog and wall lizards are likely.

Pretty towns, rushing mountain rivers and some of the finest scenery in Europe give a charming context for the wildlife.

San Glorio pass
San Glorio pass

Holiday details

Our base is the Hotel Tierra de la Reina in the small town of Boca de Huérgano, where a Roman bridge over the River Esla is within walking distance. Excursions are a mix of local trips and drives to farther afield, including Puerto de las Señales mountain pass, Valle de Valdeón, a Spanish juniper forest, and by cable car to the high plateau at Fuente De.

Price: £1,750 per person in twin room for a full week (Tuesday to Tuesday).

Single room supplement: £130

En suite facilities

Flights: Scheduled Ryanair flights Stansted to Santander
11 June: FR2612 depart London Stansted 10:55 arrive Santander 13:55.
18 June: FR2613 depart Santander 14:30 arrive Stansted 15:25. 

Deposit: £400

Maximum number (two leaders): 14


Pau Lucio lives near Valencia and runs a wildlife tour company Birdwatching Spain. Locally he is involved in conservation projects on bird migration and the importance of Spanish coastal wetlands for species such as the moustached and Savi’s warblers. He is our regular guide in Valencia and La Mancha but also spends time every year in the Picos de Europa.

Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. Chris is the co-author of a book about Norfolk’s cranes and leads regular walks on his local wildlife trust nature reserve, Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Thorpe Marshes. He’s also a barbershop singer. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.

Conservation project

Our main beneficiary is Asociación Zerynthia, a small Spanish NGO dedicated to the study and conservation of butterflies and the places where they live and to promoting public interest in them. A current project in northern Spain is habitat restoration to encourage white-letter hairstreaks, including planting disease resistant elms, the larval food plant. In some years we also contribute to SEO Santander (Spanish Ornithological Society / BirdLife Spain), which runs a coastal yet urban nature reserve in Santander. Some years we visit this on the way back to the airport, depending on flight times.


SEO logo

Picos de Europa map
For prices, see Holiday Details at the bottom of the page.

travel aware logo

FCO travel advice for Spain here.

Face masks

Spain has introduced the mandatory use of face masks in healthcare settings such as doctors' surgeries, hospitals or pharmacies, "Due to an increase in respiratory infections such as flu and COVID-19" (January 2024). No end-time for this is set.

Griffon vulture (Ivan Nethercoat)

Griffon vulture (Ivan Nethercoat)

Silver-washed fritillaries on a Picos sign

Silver-washed fritillaries on a Picos sign

Holiday reports

Picos de Europa holiday reports:

June 2023

June 2022

June 2019

June 2012

Chapman's ringlet

Chapman's ringlet, a Picos speciality

Alpine choughs

Alpine choughs can be tame

frog orchid

Frog orchid

dark green fritillary

Dark green fritillary

Alpine toadflax

Tre frog

Tree frog


Honeyguide Facebook 2023

Honeyguide Facebook 2022

David Bennett June 2022 

Graham Phillips Picos 2022

Matthiola perennis

Matthiola perennis, a stock


Cantabrian chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica parva

Linaria triornithophora

Linaria triornithophora - '3 birds' toadflax

Picos de Europa 2022

The picture above is from a short article about Honeyguide's Picos de Europa holiday in June 2022.

The article was written by Honeyguider Graham Phillips and was in Butterfly Conservation Norfolk Branch's Newsletter 103 in autumn 2022.

Click here, or on the photo, to read the article.

Holiday leaders

Pau Lucio

Pau Lucio

Chris in Valencia

Chris Durdin in Valencia, 2016.

Photos on this page by Pau Lucio or Chris Durdin unless otherwise noted.

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The air holidays shown are ATOL Protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. Our ATOL number is ATOL 3253. ATOL Protection extends primarily to customers who book and pay in the United Kingdom. Click on the ATOL logo if you want to know more.

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