Orchids of Spain
May 27 – June 8 2024
A FEAST OF FLOWERS in the PICOS DE EUROPA, Northern Spain
This will be The Orchid Conservation Alliance’s first trip to Northern Spain. Northern Spain lies in the Atlantic climatic region, and as such receives a lot more rainfall than the rest of the country: it is colloquially known as “Green Spain”. The landscape is dominated by swathes of verdant pastures and hay meadows, interspersed with deciduous forests and occasionally interrupted by rocky bluffs, culminating in the dramatic limestone scenery of the Picos de Europa. Charming pan-tile-roofed villages nestle in every corner, often home to churches that pre-date the arrival of the Moors. The traditional methods of livestock farming practiced here allow an enormous range of wildlife to flourish alongside mankind. In addition to enjoying museums, historical churches, a monastery and local Spanish food, we will be treated to a plethora of terrestrial orchids, other spring flowers, butterflies and moths.
Dates & Prices
Dates: 27th May to 8th June 2024
Price: $ 5,500 (based on the current exchange rate)
Single Room Supplement: $500
Deposit: $1000 per person. Due by Jan 1. 2024 (Refundable up to this date)
Final Payment due: March 1, 2024
Price includes ground transportation, drivers, guides, meals, hotel accommodation, cable car, entry to museums.
Not included: Round trip airfare, travel insurances, alcohol, personal items, tips
A donation based on the profit (~$1000 per person) is donated to the
Orchid Conservation Alliance. The Orchid Conservation Alliance is a 501(c)3 organization, and for USA residents, the donation may be tax deductible. A formal acknowledgement letter with the exact amount donated is sent to each participant at year end.
Leaders: Teresa Farino and Judith Rapacz-Hasler
Group Size: Minimum of 6 and a maximum of 10 (plus the 2 tour leaders)
Monday May 27 Guests arrive in Bilbao and transfer to our overnight accommodation at the Holiday Inn Express Bilbao Airport Hotel. Welcome Dinner.
Tuesday May 28 Visit the coastal town of San Sebastian and take a gentle stroll along the crescent-shaped Bay of Concha. Taste pintxos (Basque tapas). Overnight at the Holiday Inn Express Bilbao Airport Hotel.
Wednesday May 29 Guernica Museum. Pablo Picasso’s motivation for painting the scene in this great work was the news of the German aerial bombing of the Basque town Guernica. Lunch. Visit Mundaka’s old port area, surrounded by colorful traditional Basque houses, small fishing boats and a lovely little sandy beach.
Overnight at the Holiday Inn Express Bilbao Airport Hotel.
Thursday May 30 Transfer to Pesaguero. After breakfast we shall drive for just over an hour to the extensive sand-dune system of the Parque Natural de las Dunas de Liencres. Here we will encounter a number of orchid species and a rich psammophilic flora.
Check-in at Posada El Hoyal, our hotel for the next 6 nights. Get settled in and enjoy the surroundings. El Hoyal is a friendly, family-run hotel, in the hamlet of Pesaguero, to the south-east of the Picos de Europa. Your hosts Óscar and Carmen will attend to your every whim. All rooms have en suite facilities and television, and there is also an open-air swimming pool for the use of guests.
A continental breakfast includes unlimited tea, coffee or hot chocolate, fruit juice, cereals, toast or croissants, fruit and yoghurt.
Three-course evening meals, accompanied by wine, will be taken at our hotel. The simple cuisine is based very much on fresh, local ingredients.
Friday May 31 If the weather is good, on our first day we shall take the opportunity to head up into the heart of the Picos de Europa, taking the cable car at Fuente Dé, a three-minute ride up to 5,900 feet (1,800 m), where a good display of early summer alpine flowers awaits us.
Saturday June 1 Drive up to the San Glorio pass, where more acid base-rock hosts a completely different suite of orchids growing in more humid habitats. The view of the central and eastern massifs of the Picos de Europa from the Mirador de Llesba, at 5,575 feet (1,700 m) is quite exceptional.
Sunday June 2 A visit to the limestone massif of the Sierra de Bejes where we will encounter the renowned ‘black’ pasque flowers (Pulsatilla rubra ssp. hispanica) amid a dozen species of orchids and numerous other floral delights. On the way back to our hotel we should have time to visit the delightful pre-Romanesque church of Santa María de Lebeña.
Monday June 3 We shall spend the morning exploring the weekly market in Potes, after which we shall head up to the more Mediterranean habitats around Tudes. A visit to a local bodega for wine- and local liqueur-testing in Cabariezo on our way back to the hotel. A guided visit.
Tuesday June 4 We shall return to the area near the cable car, where a circular walk takes us through the meadows and deciduous forests above Pido. This is one of the most orchid-rich localities in the Picos de Europa.
Wednesday June 5 Transfer to Hotel Abando in Bilbao. We shall take a different route back to Bilbao, via the limestone plateaus (páramos) of northern Palencia, where we hope to find a few new orchids amid quite different scenery.
Thursday June 6 Hotel Abando in Bilbao. After breakfast a sightseeing tour of Bilbao by Bus or Boat
Friday June 7 Hotel Abando in Bilbao. Visit to the Guggenheim Museum, free afternoon
Saturday June 8 Transfer to Bilbao airport. Participants should plan on taking flights home in the morning/afternoon.
Teresa Farino is a British all-round naturalist and author with a special interest in the flora, butterflies and moths of the Iberian Peninsula. She started life as a botanist, but rapidly became fascinated by all aspects of wildlife. She moved to the Picos de Europa in 1986 and has been organizing and leading wildlife tours in Spain and Portugal since 1989.
Judith Rapacz-Hasler will be the OCA tour leader. A Swiss Native she lives in Florida in the winter and has joined previous OCA orchid trips. She is interested in tropical as well as European native orchids and wildflowers. In 2022, she led the ‘Orchids in the Wild’ tour to Switzerland. She is a retired research scientist and past Editor of the Slipper Orchid Journal. She writes a monthly short article on orchid species for the Orchids Magazine (AOS). In addition to orchids Judith’s hobbies include shelling on beaches, travelling, photography, and culture.
This will be The Orchid Conservation Alliance’s first trip to Northern Spain and will include:
Go sightseeing of the coastal town of San Sebastian and take a gentle stroll along the crescent-shaped Bay of Concha. Taste pintxos (Basque tapas). Visit to Mundaka’s old port area, surrounded by colorful traditional Basque houses, small fishing boats and a lovely little sandy beach. On a rocky outcrop on the edge of town is the Chapel of Santa Catalina, located there since Medieval times, although the current structure dates from 1879. Its purpose was to control all the boat traffic that came into the village, but it has since been used as a place of quarantine for people with infectious diseases, a meeting place for fishermen and as storage for ammunition.
Stop at the sand-dune system of the Parque Natural de las Dunas de Liencres. Orchids we might find here include Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), Heart-flowered Serapias (Serapias cordigera), Small-flowered Serapias (Serapias parviflora), Robust Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza elata), and Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia), with pride of place going to the Green-flowered Helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes), which is only known from here and Górliz (Bizkaia) in Spain. Lunch at Mesón del Labrador Liencres. We will then continue our drive westwards to Unquera, where we turn inland to negotiate the 22km-long limestones chasm of the Desfiladero de La Hermida. On to the hamlet of Pesaguero and check-in at Posada El Hoya, where we will stay for the next 6 nights.
Then into the heart of the Picos de Europa, taking the cable car at Fuente Dé, a three-minute ride up to 5,900 feet (1,800 m), where a good display of early summer alpine flowers awaits us. Among the more interesting plants here are two species Spring and Trumpet Gentians (Gentiana verna & G. angustifolia ssp. corbariensis), “doll’s-house” daffodils (Narcissus minor) and several species of saxifrage. We shall descend to Fuente Dé for a late picnic lunch, then spend the afternoon in the more shady woodland habitats in the area, where the saprophytic Bird’s-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) is our target species, with other highlights maybe including Fly Orchid (Ophrys insectifera) and Herb-Paris (Paris quadrifolia).
Up the San Glorio pass, where the more acid base-rock hosts a completely different suite of orchids, including the Iberian endemic vanilla orchid Nigritella gabasiana. Depending on the season we could also encounter Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride), and Elder-flowered and Early Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza sambucina & D. incarnata).
Exploring the weekly market in Potes, after which we shall head up to the more Mediterranean habitats around Tudes, where we shall eat our picnic lunch among the walnut grove in the village. After lunch we shall explore the surrounding meadow–evergreen forest mosaic where we hope to find Pink Butterfly Orchid (Orchis papilionacea) and – with luck – Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra). A visit to a local bodega in Cabariezo for wine- and local liqueur-testing on our way back to the hotel (guided visit).
Back to the area near the cable car, where a circular walk takes us through the meadows and deciduous forests above Pido. This is one of the most orchid-rich localities in the Picos de Europa, where we should see many of the species already located earlier in the week, with the addition of Barton’s Orchid (Dactylorhiza insularis), Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), Man Orchid (Aceras anthropophorum) and Sawfly Ophrys (Ophrys tenthredinifera). If there is time, we could add a visit to the world-famous monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana on the way home.
Transfer to Hotel Abando in Bilbao. We shall take a different route back to Bilbao, via the limestone plateaus (páramos) of northern Palencia, where we hope to find a few new orchids for our trip amid quite different scenery, notably Yellow Bee Orchid (Ophrys lutea) and Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea).