Small Group Tour with fixed departure dates:
10th – 17th August 2017
Our two-centre holiday is in the heart of the western Cordillera Cantabrica mountain range, one of the remotest areas of Spain. Our primary objective will be to locate one of Europe’s rarest mammals – Iberian Wolf, and this natural park holds a good percentage of Spain’s total population of 2500 – 3000 individuals. Despite a high density Iberian Wolves are very difficult to see being a naturally shy and distrusting species following decades of persecution from man. Our time will be spent standing quietly, waiting and watching for this very elusive mammal mainly at dawn and dusk when they are at their most active and likely to reveal themselves. At this time of year new-born cubs are starting to leave the den and to see them playing with their siblings under the watchful eye of their mother is an incredible experience.
During the week we will also drive and walk through this wonderfully scenic mountain range in search of the rare and endangered Cantabrian Brown Bear. Sadly, through hunting and habitat destruction, they have been reduced to the edge of extinction in Spain. However, these rugged mountains are the last great stronghold for the species and we have a good chance of spotting one amongst the karst limestone rocks and lush vegetation. Southern Chamois can also be found roaming these mountains and can be seen carefully picking their way along the steep ridges and scree slopes.
We will also be looking for Wildcats during these days; they hunt in the freshly-cut grass fields searching for mice and voles and although we will need lots of patience and some good fortune we hope to find one of these gorgeous predators.
Itinerary and price
Day 1: Flight to be organised by you.
For help with your flight arrangements and to receive a no obligation quote, you can complete the enquiry form on our website or call 0800 280 8947 to speak to a flight advisor at StudentUniverse (in partnership with Gapyear.com), part of the Flight Centre Travel Group, a leading retailer of airfares and worldwide flights.
After your arrival into Spain, we shall be met by our guide and quickly load up mini-van and drive straight through to our accommodation in the heart of the Cantabrian mountains. Towards the end of the day we shall make our first (of many) attempt to find the Iberian Wolf, which in reality takes a lot of patience and luck. However we will be in one of the best positions for an encounter due to our host’s invaluable local knowledge. During our time watching and waiting we should also see other mammals including Red Fox, Wild Boar, Red and Roe Deer, which are some of the Wolf’s known prey. Our hotel is a newly-renovated barn and farmstead that has retained its traditional exterior with an extremely comfortable interior. The en-suite rooms are very warm, bright and clean, with superb vistas over a large garden with local trees and bushes ideal for attracting migrant and breeding passerines. The restaurant offers fantastic three-course dinners each evening, generally soup or salad, a meat or fish dish (vegetarians can be catered for) with local vegetables, followed by delightful sweets, all washed down with a local ‘Vino Tinto’. This exquisite base for four nights will be one of the highlights of the holiday as the owner relates tales and shows photographs of wolves he has seen personally while working with the local ranger service.
Days 2 - 4: Sierra de Riano, Cordillera Cantábrica,
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Iberian Wolves in the Sierra de Riano are most active during the day so we shall spend some of our time search for them. The area forms part of the Cordillera Cantábrica which holds most of Spain’s 2500 – 3000 wolves, a marked and welcome increase since the estimated lows of the 1970s. It is an interesting story of environmental success due to a population decrease as people left the area for the less rural settings of towns and cities. Although a good deal of our time will be spent looking for our major target we shall also be searching for wildlife around the local village and beyond. Here we should hope to find South-western Water Vole in the streams, Marbled Newt, Schreiber’s Green and Iberian Wall Lizards, Melodious and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Rock and Cirl Buntings, Wryneck and Common Crossbill to name just a few.
Days 5 - 7: Somiedo area
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
After another pre-breakfast visit to one of the watchpoints for Iberian Wolf we shall return to the accommodation, collect our luggage and head for the mountains of Cantabria. En-route we shall stop off at an area of specifically developed, low-intensity agricultural land which holds Spain’s highest density of Great Bustard in Spain. At this time of year they should be back in their small social groups after breeding, making them fairly easy to find in the now-cultivated fields. Other species to be found on this undulating pseudo-steppe could include Black- bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu’s Harrier, Rock Sparrow, Lesser Kestrel plus good numbers of larks and finches. We shall also check the lagoons of Villafafila hoping that these seasonal pools still have some water. If so, we will find lots of waders and wildfowl as this is an inland staging post and wintering ground for birds returning from Northern Europe.
In the heat of the day we shall make the 2 hour transfer to Somiedo to spend our remaining three nights at another delightful rural hotel, local to the major Brown Bear watching sites.
During the next two full days we will drive and walk through this incredibly scenic mountain range in search of Cantabrian Brown Bears, a subspecies of the much more wide-spread Brown Bear that occurs in Northern Europe, Russia and North America. Due to hunting and habitat destruction the Cantabrian Brown Bears have been reduced to the edge of extinction in Spain but these mountains are the last great stronghold for the species. We have a good chance of spotting one amongst the karst limestone rocks and lush vegetation along with other species such as Rebeco (the Cantabrian form of Chamois) and Red Squirrel. We will try to find all of these species and hopefully get very good views of the bears during our time here. But even if we fail, this very special place will have you in awe of its wonderful natural beauty.
Day 8: Somiedo - airport
Depending on the time of the return flight we may not have a chance for an excursion looking for Brown Bear but who knows ,the return journey to the airport may produce a surprise along the way.
Both our accommodations are in the heart of the Cantabrian mountains and perfectly positioned for easy access to the best wolf and bear watching areas. They are both fantastic places to stay and we will be working very closely with local rangers who have up-to-the-minute information on the wolves and bears and their whereabouts.
Price per person valid for tours departing in 2016: £1350
Price per person valid for tours departing in 2017: £1495
Single room supplement: £105
7 nights accommodation with private facilities
All land transport
Wolf watching permit
Use of field guides and maps
Flights into and out of Santander/Bilbao
Extra food and drinks to normal meal times
Tips, laundry, phone calls and anything else not listed in the inclusions
Note: Flights are not included in the price. However, we can assist you with finding a suitable flight you can book yourselves. Train and Sea travel possible crossing the Bay of Biscay on Brittany Ferries (Portsmouth – Santander).