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The province of León contains the highest concentration of biosphere reserves in the world
In 1971, UNESCO launched its Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) with the goal of promoting environmentally sustainable development. As part of the programme, natural areas of scientific interest and representative of different ecosystems were designated biosphere reserves. The goal of creating these reserves is to conserve and protect biodiversity and promote human and economic development, research and education in the area. There are 631 biosphere reserves worldwide, which together constitute the WORLD NETWORK OF BIOSPHERE RESERVES. In 2001, Spain gave this network the PRINCE OF ASTURIAS CONCORD AWARD.
With 7 biosphere reserves, León has the highest concentration of them in the world, more than England or Switzerland. At THINK IN SPANISH, we organise weekend trips to see some of these outstanding sites, remarkable for their nature, biodiversity and traditional ways of life.
The seven biosphere reserves in León are:
- PICOS DE EUROPA
Straddling Leon, Asturias and Cantabria, this extensive limestone mountain range contains dramatic gorges, high valleys, walls, slopes and towers where the porous rock has absorbed the water, creating a karstic system of immense scientific and caving value. Its woods are home to nearly 90% of all species found on the Iberian Peninsula.
The Sajambre and Valdeón valleys on the León side contain captivating villages with examples of traditional architecture.
- OMAÑA AND LUNA VALLEYS
These are located in the northwest of the province, in the mountain chain that separates the Cantabrian mountain range from the mountains of León, and are populated by birch, oak, willow, poplar and alder. The Omaña and Luna valleys are also home to the brown bear, capercaillie, broom hare and Pyrenean desman. The principal economic activity in the area has traditionally been agriculture and livestock farming. Although now in decline, mining was also once very important here.
On another note, the villages contain traditional architecture as well as many examples of religious architecture in the Baroque style.
The area of Babia is well-watered with verdant pastures that have always been used for livestock farming, the main economic activity here. In the past, flocks of sheep and transhumance were typical of the region. The valleys shelter some relict forests and are surrounded by grey, almost white limestone mountains. Babia hosts a wealth of biodiversity.
In addition, its villages, such as San Emiliano or Cabrillanes, contain examples of traditional architecture.
“Estar en Babia” is a colloquial saying in Spain meaning to be distracted, to have one’s head in the clouds, and it originated in the Middle Ages, when the kings of León went to Babia to rest from court activity and public affairs.
- LACIANA VALLEY
This is located in the north of the province, at the head of the Sil River. The main goal of this biosphere reserve is to conserve species such as the brown bear and the capercaillie, but also and especially to provide sustainable alternatives to the mining industry now in decline. Of particular ecological and touristic interest is the La Via Verde de Laciana, a route that follows the course of the old coal train.
- ALTO BERNESGA
The Alto Bernesga is home to many woods, but the most spectacular one of all is the Ciñera de Gordón beech wood. Besides its high biodiversity, the reserve is also of special geological interest due to it fossil deposits.
- LOS ARGÜELLOS
León has three emblematic rivers: the Bernesga, the Torío and the Curueño, and the valleys they spring from are all located in Los Argüellos. The area contains some of the most beautiful mountains in the province of León, forming spectacular landscapes of great geological, touristic and caving interest such as the Vegacervera gorge and the Valporquero caves, sites that we visit with our students due to the stunning beauty of their geological formations.
During the Reconquest and repopulation of the Peninsula following the fall of the Visigothic Kingdom to Muslim rule, these mountains served as a refuge for mediaeval settlers.
As a biosphere reserve, this impressive natural space contains beech, birch and oak forests. Thanks to its geomorphological features, Los Argüellos is home to 15 of the 27 species of bat present in Spain.
The Ancares valley in the extreme northwest of the province of Leon is the most popular of these sites with our students. A remote mountainous area that remained largely cut off from the rest of Spain until the 20th century, the Ancares valley has preserved its unique traditional architecture, its ancestral customs and its own dialect. Its distinguishing hallmark is the PALLOZA, a rudimentary dwelling with a circular stone floor and a rye-thatched roof.
Depending on the time of year, at THINK IN SPANISH we organise weekend trips for our students so that they can discover these uniquely beautiful landscapes and savour traditional León cooking.