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The wettest and wildest Spain

Far away from the collective imagination of Spain, made of Flamenco and Paella, lies the Atlantic region of Asturias more similar to southern Ireland or England than to Andalusia…in botanical terms at least.

Besides the imagine of barren dusty landscapes, the word ‘Spain’ often recalls, a long history of human activities and land exploitation, as it is for other Mediterranean countries. I guess many people would bet on the absence of areas with negligible anthropic disturbance.

After visiting the Reserva Natural Integral de Muniellos everyone that somehow relied on the most common images of Spain would think of this country in a new different way.Roble gigante

The Reserve occupies an area of about 5500 hectares in north western Spain, within the Asturias province. This area displays notable uniformity of geological substrates, with almost total dominance of siliceous Paleozoic substrata (quartzite, sandstones, schists and slates) shaped by water in deep valleys and steep slopes.

This part of Spain has an oceanic climate and gets amounts of rainfall far higher than the central and southern areas of the country whose climate is Mediterranean or semi-arid. In particular most of the area of the Reserva Natural Integral de Muniellos may be included in the hyperhumid ombroclimate, with annual rainfall ranging from 1200 to 2000 mm.

The Reserve is not only in one of the wettest parts of Spain, it also includes forest ecosystems among the best preserved in Spain: in Muniellos the best examples of broadleaf deciduous forests of the Atlantic region of the Iberian Peninsula occur (see Los Bosques Ibericos for further details).

The most spread forest types in the Reserva are dominated by sessile oak (Quercus petraea), beech (Fagus sylvatica), and birch (Betula pubescens often called B. pubescens celtiberica or B. celtiberica).

The sessile oak forests (robledales) in Muniellos are among the most spread in Europe and the best conserved in western Europe. Oak trees up to 40 meters in height and 1 meter in Diameter at Breast Height can be found.

These forests develop on very shallow soils with abundant stones, on very steep slopes.


Daboecia canatbrica in flower



Several species of the Ericaceae family can be found in these robledales, ranging from Erica arborea to Daboecia cantabrica. Interestingly, the genus Daboecia occurs in western Ireland, western France, northwestern Spain, Portugal and the Azores, and includes only two species:

Daboecia azorica endemic of Azores, and Daboecia cantabrica occuring in the other mentioned territories.





Another species that catches the eye in the understorey of the forests of Muniellos is Linaria triornitophora, endemic to Iberian peninsula and easily distinguished from the congeneric because of its big purple flowers (up to 45 mm) with a yellowish lobe in the lower lip, and a long spur.

Linaria triornitophora coloured flowers

Less loud but equally beautiful are the ferns belonging to the species Blechnum spicant, rather common Blechnum spicant fertile leavesin the woodlands of Muniellos since this fern is especially competitive on acid soils. This evergreen fern and has two types of leaves: the sterile leaves have flat, wavy-margined leaflets, while the fertile leaves have much narrower leaflets, each with two thick rows of sori on the underside.

The wonderful green beings that can be appreciated in the area are numerous, I would like to post all the pictures taken in the days I spent in Muniellos but I will only mention Luzula lactea, a species endemic of the Iberian peninsula with specially remarkable flowers for this genus.

Luzula lactea in flower












Other things I want to mention of this area are: the abundance of water and streams you will encounter while hiking, but also the very harsh morphology of the places that will invite you to stick to the valley paths.


The river Muniellos within the Reserve



Harsh ridges within the muniellos reserve














The Reserve is enclosed in a mountain region with unique traditional buildings that tell a lot about the long coexistence of humans and nature: the barns designed to discourage mice and other animals from reaching the stored food; and the cortinos that would avoid bears to reach the sweet results of bees labour. I think there is much more to discover in the region for an inquiring mind so…don’t miss your chance!!!


Asturian barnCortino, a stone ring to protect beehives

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