COMPLETE GUIDE TO HIGHLAND SPAIN ; the Formidable Peaks of the Iberian Peninsula Harbour Some of Europe's Best Walking Trails. Ben Crichton Laces Up His Boots and Strides Out
Crichton, Ben, The Independent (London, England)
ISN'T SPAIN ALL ABOUT COSTAS AND RAIN ON THE PLAIN?
No. Spain is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. Although smaller than the Alps, which contain Europe's tallest mountain, the 4,807m Mont Blanc, Spain's highlands command respect. To find the highest point in Spain you have to travel to the Canary Island of Tenerife, where Pico de Teide reaches 3,718m. But there are plenty more options on the mainland. The Iberian peninsula boasts the Pyrenees, the Sierra Nevada, the Cordillera Cantabrica, the Sistema Central and the Sistema Iberico, while the Balearics and the other Canaries have plenty of lofty charms.
The Sistema Central and the Sistema Iberico are roughly comparable in height to the Scottish highlands (as is Mallorca's Serra de Tramuntana, the rugged north-west of the island). The 2,500m-high Picos de Europa, in the Cordillera Cantabrica of north- west Spain, are around twice as tall as Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, and they in turn are outdone by the Spanish Pyrenees.
Several Pyrenean summits along the border with France reach above 3,000m, and the loftiest link in the chain, Pico de Aneto (3,408m), is entirely inside Spanish territory. It is just outdone by mainland Spain's highest peak, the 3,478m Mulhacen in the Sierra Nevada.
CAN I SKI?
The Sierra Nevada is Europe's most southerly ski area. With Thomson (0870 888 0254; www.thomson-ski.co.uk), for example, you can spend a week there in March for pounds 525 including flights, staying at the Kenia Nevada. Alternatively, Alto Aragon (01869 337339; www.altoaragon.co.uk) offers the chance of cross-country skiing in February and March for pounds 715 for eight days, including flights, accommodation, meals and guiding. Or do it yourself on Ryanair's (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) new routes to Granada from Stansted and Liverpool, which start in February and April respectively.
Another option is to do as the Madrilenos do and spend a weekend in the Sierra Guadarrama, an hour north of the Spanish capital - though go midweek to avoid the queues. British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyJet.com) and Iberia (0845 601 2854; www.iberia.com) fly to Madrid from a range of UK airports. There are trains from Atocha and Charmartin stations, and a daily bus from Moncloa, to the principle resort of Puerto de Navacerrada. Alternatively, Alto Aragon (01869 337339; www.altoaragon.co.uk) offers eight days' cross-country skiing in February/March for pounds 715, including flights, accommodation, meals and guides.
Rather chic skiing can be found at the Pyrenean resort of Baqueira-Beret in the Val d'Aran. To get there, fly to Toulouse from a wide range of UK airports, and travel on by train, bus and taxi.
I WANT WARMER WEATHER
Then wait for spring or autumn and take a beginner's rock- climbing course in the Sierra Nevada. Highpoint (01768 486731; www.mountainguides.co.uk) offers one-week trips from pounds 495 with instruction and self-catering accommodation; flights are extra, on Ryanair to Granada or a range of airlines to Malaga. Compass West (01736 871 447; www.compasswest.co.uk) organises similar trips inshore from the Costa Blanca for pounds 395, again without flights.
Several companies sell multi-activity Spanish winter holidays. Exodus (0870 240 5550; www.exodus.co.uk), for example, has trips at pounds 550 for eight days in the Picos de Europa that include canyoning, caving and mountain biking, but not flights.
THAT'S TOO MUCH ACTIVITY!
Less strenuous options include riding and wildlife holidays. In The Saddle (01299 272997; www.inthesaddle.com) offers riding weeks in the Alpujarras mountains for pounds 860-pounds 1,230, including accommodation, all rides and most meals. Nature Trek (01962 733051; www.naturetrek.co.uk) offers trips based around Spain's abundant wildlife - for example a week in the Pyrenees for pounds 985 including flights, accommodation, food and wine. …