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There still remain corners of rural Spain,far from the reality of this fast-developing and increasingly urban-dwelling country, that have been forgottenby time, largely abandoned by all but theolder generation, and which are beingreclaimed by a wildlife no longer sopersecuted by man. The Montaña Palentina- the Palentian Mountains - is one suchplace: a wild, unpopulated region of highand chilly ridges, rounded summits,sweeping valleys and magnificentpanoramic vistas extending southwards tothe great plains of Castile and Léon.Nestling in the shadow of northern Spain'sCordillera Cantábrica, not far from thejagged limestone peaks of the Picos deEuropa, the Palentian Mountains aredominated by the majestic Sierra de PeñaLabra, essentially a high mountain ridgeboasting a handful of 2,000-metre summits.The ancient Palentian villages of the regionare largely deserted, with hardly anoccupied house in each. For this reason, sotoo are the Palentian Mountains . left forreclamation by Wolves, Brown Bears, WildBoar, and numerous Chamois, Red Deerand Roe Deer, not to mention a host ofsmaller mammals such as Iberian andBrown Hare, Beech Marten, Pine Marten,Wildcat and the elusive Genet.We will be based in one such village duringthis week-long Spanish-speakingexploration of this little-known mountainwildlife haven, guests of our guide andfriend Tino and his charming wife Rosa,who have sympathetically restored threeterraced farm cottages in a remote andtumbledown hamlet. Tino speaks almost noEnglish, but his clear Spanish and extrovertand bubbly personality make him theperfect travelling companion. Leading thetour with Tino will be our own ByronPalacios. Byron became known toNaturetrek through his expert leadership ofour birding groups in his native Ecuador.Now settled in England with his British wife,Byron has a great rapport with Tino and thispromises to be, above all, a fun week ofwildlife, food and wine that provides theperfect environment in which to practiseand improve your spoken Spanish(although Byron will use English with youwhen stuck!). Situated not far to the north of Aguilar delCampo, the cottages lie on the doorstep ofa truly wild landscape, comprising highmountain ridges rich in alpine flora, jaggedcrags and cliffs, and vast oak and beechforests which support a high percentage ofthe endangered eastern population of theEuropean Brown Bear. Much maligned,these magnificent creatures are notoriouslydifficult to see, roaming elusively over vasttracts of difficult terrain. Nevertheless, wedo stand a chance of a sighting if we put inthe effort at dawn and dusk, when theBears are most active. We will be made tofeel very much at home by Tino, who willshare a rich passion for, and knowledge of,these mountains . as well as regaling uswith tales and photographs of his closeencounters with both Bears and Wolves. Interesting mammalian encounters are notreserved, however, for the remote valleys,for our hosts will proudly show us images ofWildcat and Beech Marten taken by aremote camera not feet away from our frontdoor (and will no doubt demonstrate thispiece of kit during our stay)! The cottages are very much central to ourdaily outings, with the majority of each dayspent on foot, either walking from our base,or in quiet locations accessed by minibus.A range of habitats can be found in closeproximity, with a full suite of raptors present,including resident Golden Eagles andPeregrines and both Griffon and EgyptianVultures. Black and Middle SpottedWoodpeckers both breed here, the latterpossibly being easier to see in this locationthan throughout much of the rest of itsrange. Another highlight is the Wallcreeperwhich, although probably proving elusive athigh altitudes during this season, drops tothe dam walls of the region's reservoirs atthe onset of colder weather, and can fromthen on be seen quite easily.On one day we will drive further afield toexplore the steppes and plains of themeseta, home to Great Bustard, StoneCurlew and other grassland birds, and alarge (depending on rainfall) reed-fringedlake which supports good numbers ofducks, geese, waders and such interestingpasserines as Penduline Tit andMoustached Warbler. Flexibility will be the key to this tour and,whatever time we arrive back at ourcottages, we can be sure that a heartymeal, freshly prepared by Rosa, will bewaiting for us on our return each day fromthe wilds of this forgotten corner of Europe.It will be hard to leave!Learn Spanish in Wild Spain! - LaMontaña Palentina An 8-day opportunity for aspiring Spanish speakers to improve their Spanish and enjoy the birds,mammals and other wildlife in La Montaña Palentina, a wild and beautiful corner of northern Spain. Thursday 12th September - Thursday 19th September Cost: £1,195Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFRANCEPORTUGALSEVILLEBILBAOSANTANDERCORDILLERACANTÁBRICAAGUILARDEL CAMPOMADRIDATLANTICOCEANMEDITERRANEANSEASPAINOutline itineraryDay 1Fly to Santander; driveAguilar del Campo.Day 2/7Daily programme ofnatural history walksand excursions from ourbase.Day 8Fly London.Accommodation Three old terraced farm cottages,beautifully restored. Food and wineAll included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Day walks only.Focus Birds, mammals, other naturalhistory . and speaking Spanish!LeadersByron Palacios and Tino Garcia.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: ESP22139Curavacas, Montaña PalentinaBlack Woodpecker

For nearly a thousand years, theCamino de Santiago de Compostelaor 'Way of St. James' has been themost travelled pilgrimage route in Europe.However, rather than being a single route,the Camino is in fact a collection of manypilgrimage routes, all of which converge onthe cathedral of Santiago de Compostela inGalicia, north-west Spain, where traditionhas it that the remains of the apostle St.James are buried. Many of these ancientpathways pass through spectacularlandscapes and scenery, and none aremore enticing for the naturalist than theseries of paths which cross the Pyreneesand then descend through Aragón to link upwith the main pilgrimage route in Navarra. While the northern, French valleys of thePyrenees are wet, green and thicklyforested, the Spanish side of this dividingrange is dry, arid and generally moreMediterranean - home to a very differentvariety of plant and bird species. Thesesunny southern slopes are characterised bystunning limestone erosions, cliffs andcanyons, and a rich variety of scrub, maquisand arable farmland as well as extensivebeech and conifer forests. Our comfortablebase for this 8-day holiday is a delightful'casa rural' situated right on the Camino, inthe pretty hilltop village of Berdún whichenjoys fine views of the Pyrenees,surrounding foothills, and valleys of theVeral and Aragón Rivers. We'll makeleisurely daily walks exploring a combinationof the wildlife and historical highlights (formany isolated and ancient waysidechurches and hermitages may be found)along key Aragonese stretches of theCamino. In addition, we'll make detours offthe beaten track, along ancient footpaths,as we search for birds, plants andbutterflies.We begin this holiday with a flight toZaragoza, exploring the spectacularlimestone gorge, Foz de Lumbier, en routefrom the airport to Berdún. The gorge ishome to such bird species as EgyptianVulture and Spectacled Warbler; butterfliesabound, as well as flowers such as Narrow-leaved Valerian and Pyrenean Saxifrage. Onsubsequent days we'll walk differentstretches of the Camino, one of our firstexcursions being to the Pyrenean pass ofSomport, situated on the French-Spanishborder at 1,640 metres, from where we'lldescend to the village of Villanua at 953metres, following the Camino along the RioAragón as it passes through alpinepastures, woods and fields. This routeoffers the chance to see birds such asGriffon Vulture, Lammergeier, Short-toedEagle, Crag Martin, Alpine Chough and CitrilFinch, and we should also see manybutterflies and - in June - such orchidssuch as Early Purple, Elder-flowered, LesserButterfly and Fragrant, as well as otherflowers such as Pyrenean SnakesheadFritillary, Pyrenean Squill, Pyrenean Violetand Pyrenean Scabious.On another day, we will walk the short butpicturesque cabañera or 'drovers' road' toJaca, the first large town medieval pilgrimswould have come to when walking intoSpain. A bustling provincial town, Jaca hasa magnificent Romanesque cathedral, andfor the energetic there's an optional walk tothe summit of the sacred mountain PeñaOroel, where Griffon Vultures breed. Thiswalk also offers a wealth of wild flowers,among them Woodcock Orchid, PyreneanHoneysuckle and Beautiful Flax. We will alsospend a day on another branch of theCamino which enters Spain via the Col dePau and drops to the Roman road down theHecho Valley - one of the most beautifulvalleys in the Pyrenees, where bothLammergeier and Wallcreeper may befound.Taking a detour off the Camino, we willexplore a route that would once have beentaken by medieval pilgrims to see the holyrelics (including the Holy Grail!) at themonastery of St. Juan de la Peña. For thenaturalist, this is a quiet and rewarding spot,where Black Woodpeckers breed in theforest around the monastery and vulturesnest on the south-facing cliffs beneath it. Having explored the higher Pyrenean areas,we will enjoy a couple of walks at loweraltitudes where the drier, moreMediterranean habitats support a verydifferent flora and birdlife. First, we'll walkfrom Hecho into the Veral/Anso Valley,descending along a dramatic path to thespectacular Binies Gorge. Then, on our finalday, we'll walk from the Ermita de La Virgende La Peña, spectacularly perched at thetop of a cliff, to the fascinating abandonedvillage of Escó (close to the Yesa reservoirwhich attracts fishing Black Kites, andmigrant Ospreys and waders in theautumn); two more walks offering thechance to savour pathways followed for athousand years by a multitude of devoutpilgrims - routes greatly enhanced fortoday's naturalist by the wealth of waysidewildlife and spectacular sceneryencountered along them.JACAZARAGOZABERDÚNLOURDES TOULOUSE ANDORRA BILBAO MADRID ORDESSA NATIONAL PARK FRANCE SPAIN 140Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Zaragoza andtransfer to Berdún.Day 2/7A programme of daywalks along the Caminode Santiago from ourbase in Berdún.Day 8Fly Stansted.AccommodationA characterful 17th centuryAragonese dwelling, situated in adelightfully unspoilt village. Allrooms have private facilities.Food and wineAll included in the price.GradingGrade B. Day walks only, but somemore challenging terrain covered.FocusBirds, plants and butterflies; alsowalking and history.Leader Richard Cash.Single room supplement£140.ExtensionsArranged on request.Web quick search: ESP26Spain'sCaminodeSantiago & its Natural History An 8-day holiday of natural history walks along parts of the ancient Camino de Santiago, Europe's bestknown pilgrimage route, combining birds, plants and butterflies with a touch of history.Sunday 22nd September - Sunday 29th September Cost: £1,295 Short-toed EagleScarce CopperWalking along the Camino, Taxeras