The Picos de Europa lie roughly halfway along the north coast of Spain, and only 20km inland. To the north lie the coastal hills and plains and the Cantabrian Sea in the Bay of Biscay, and on the other three sides are more mountains of the Cordillera Cantabrica. The Picos de Europa National Park covers an area of 646km2. It can be easily reached from the cities of Gijón and Oviedo in Asturias, Santander in Cantabria, and with more difficulty from León.
The Picos de Europa are sliced into three distinct areas by deep gorges running south-north:
1 - the Western Massif, or Cornión, between the Beyos and Cares gorges;
2 - the Central Massif, or Los Urrieles, between the Cares and Duje gorges;
3 - the Eastern Massif, or Andará, between the Duje and Hermida gorges.
Each of the three massifs has its own subtle character. The western massif covers the greatest area of the three, climbing relatively gently from the hills of the Covadonga area, becoming an almost lunar landscape across its high rocky plateau, centred on the wide depression of Hou Santu, and peaking at the 2596m of Torre Santa de Castilla, before plunging 1500m into the narrow Cares Gorge. The central massif is the most abrupt of the three, being surrounded by deep gorges to the north, west and east; it is home to the highest peak in the whole Cordillera Cantabrica - Torre Cerredo, at 2648m - amongst several others over 2600m; plus the most famous of all, Picu Urriellu, the Naranjo de Bulnes, at 2519m. The little-visited eastern massif is the smallest and lowest of the three, centred on the old zinc and lead mines of Ándara, peaking at the 2444m of Morra de Lechugales, and dropping to green valleys to the north, east and south (the drop to the south-east being 1500m and almost vertical).
The national park covers a range in altitude of 2500m, packing several climatic and habitat zones into a small area, from valley bottom through coline, montane and subalpine, up to alpine. This is one factor that makes the Picos de Europa so varied and so interesting.
The Cordillera Cantabrica, of which the Picos de Europa form a part, are the geographic border separating the green northern coast of Spain from the high dry plateau, or meseta, of central Spain. The mountains have a major effect on the climate of the region, and have played a significant role in the history and culture of Spain.