LOS ANCARES, A VERY SPECIAL RESERVE
|In the 1970’s and 80’s
the people of Galicia discovered Os Ancares.
fascinated by reports in the media that there were still villages there
without electricity or roads, cut off by the winter snows, where people and
animals lived together in prehistoric huts, farming with agricultural
implements last used in Europe 200 years ago.
All this and the mountains, the untouched woodland with its indigenous
species, deep valleys and inaccessible peaks, and the varied flora and fauna
unique to Galicia: deer, ibex and even bears. The myth of Os Ancares was
born. A place for a day out but which makes you want to stay for a weekend
at least. A riot of nature and anthropology made accessible by roads and
signposts and with a growing hotel trade.
environmental groups in Galicia have proposed that 60,000 hectares of this
fold in the ranges of the Cordillera Cantábrica, which lies half in Leon and
half in Galicia, be declared a Parque Natural. Today, protection only goes
as far as a National Game Reserve, which has done nothing to prevent the
sharp decline in the bear population in the mountains. In the last two or
three years the odd pair has been seen, having made the short journey from
the nearby Muniellos Natural Park in Asturias. The Ministry of Agriculture
now owns a 150-hectare estate set aside for a programme to help the brown
bear population recover.
|But Cervantes, this
municipality of 130 villages in the Galician part of Os Ancares, in the
province of Lugo, owes its name to the deer (ciervos) who populate it and
not the bears. According to the 1991 census, it has, in total, little more
than 2,300 inhabitants; only a third of the population immediately after the
Spanish Civil War. In the 1960’s, when people began emigrate, young people
left the backwardness and misery en masse for the industrial belt of
Barcelona in particular.
|The departure point for Os Ancares is
Becerreá - a village located on kilometre 459 of the N-VI, Madrid to La
Coruña road - exiting at the Pedrafita do Cebreiro pass if coming from
Central Spain, or 42 kilometres from Lugo if coming from the north.
To really enjoy Os Ancares, we highly
recommended you spend a night or two in the albergue (mountain
refuge) or in the two hostales (inns) in San Román and in Piornedo.
you stay, the trip suggested here, dominated by the peace and quiet of the
valleys and mountains, can easily be done in a day, as it is a round journey
of around about 130 kilometres from Becerreá, although you should fill up
with petrol before leaving Becerreá as there is no petrol station until
Navia (about 100 kilometres away).
|9 km along the road from Becerreá to
Navia de Suarna you arrive in Liber, where the road forks off to the right.
The two roads go deep into the valleys and foothills of the sierra (mountain
range) before joining up again in the village of Degrada. The first road, a
low-lying route, is a journey of 40 Km via Doiras and Cela.
|The second is journey of 33
Km, which passes by a beautiful fishing lodge before leading on to the
capital of the municipality, San Román de Cervantes, (where there is a
hostal and restaurant) before climbing up to become the highest road in
|The absolute calm of the
valleys and mountains reigns supreme; nature in its purest state, and where,
every once in a while, a vehicle may pass through. Villages in the depths of
the mountains, nestling on the slopes, can be reached by minor roads, which
are sometimes little more than country tracks.
|The local people live mainly
from livestock, and there is extensive pasture land, amid large areas of
scrubland, known as matorral, with varieties of heather, broom, bilberries,
gorse, and indigenous ‘hedgehog’ shrubs.
|There are many woods, some
of which are forested with centuries-old oaks and which have their own names.
The traveller will also come across woodland comprising chestnut, yew, ash,
birch, hazelnut, pine plantations and holly, and alder, willow and poplar in
|The number of deer in the
reserve has declined markedly, as have those of ibex, although in smaller
numbers. It is, however, home to a thriving community of roebuck and a
stable population of wolves and foxes. Mammals also abound in numbers such
as genets, mountain cats, otters, wild boar, martens and perhaps the last
remaining pine martens in Galicia.
|Binoculars are essential in a place like
Os Ancares if you want to see, for example, the eagles, falcons, goshawks
and sparrowhawks soaring majestically in the air. With a little luck it
might be possible to catch a glimpse of a capercaillie; a protected species
and the mascot of the reserve.
|This arrogant bird, larger
than the cockerel, has a peculiar way of attracting the female, putting on
an unusual show by dancing around her, always at daybreak, and of course,
always before mating with her.
||Let’s return to the route. If you take
the lower road via Doiras and Cela, you come across one of the few monuments
on the journey, the Torre de Doiras. Set atop a rocky crag, this typically
Galician fortress, dating from the fifteenth century and part of the domain
of Diego Osorio, is privately owned and is not open to the public at the
moment. It dominates the area and makes this part of the sierra unique.
|According to the legend, the
maiden Aldara once lived here until she mysteriously disappeared. Years
passed until one day her brother, Egas, shot a magnificent deer whilst he
was out hunting. As he was unable to carry it, he cut off a hoof, put it in
his bag and went off to get help. When he showed his father the size of the
prize, the hoof had turned into a hand which bore one of Aldara’s rings.
Both father and son rushed off in haste and found to their horror that the
animal brought down by Egas’ arrow to the heart had now taken on the figure
of the maiden. A spell had turned her into deer.
Close to Doiras lies the tiny village of Vilarello da Igrexia, where
scholars have located the origins of the family of Don Miguel de Cervantes
Saavedra. The second surname of the brilliant author of Don Quijote de la
Mancha originates from here and the thirty ninth chapter of the novel –
considered to be autobiographical – begins with these words: “My family had
its origin in a village among the mountains of Leon…”.
|If you come to Degrada by
the upper route, you pass the hill of Sete Carballos, an ideal spot to view,
on the horizon, the jagged outline the most important peaks of Os Ancares:
Pena Rubia, Tres Bispos, Crono Maldito, Mustellar, Cuiña (the highest at
1,987 m) and Miravalles.
The two roads come together in Degrada and immediately afterwards lies Campa
de Braña, a crossroads 1,178 metres above sea level, and with two
restaurants standing guard on either side of the road it is an essential
place to stop to rest and have something to eat. The road climbs from here
to Piornedo, a kilometre away, where there is a reasonably priced mountain
refuge, offering meals and a bed. This is the perfect place to set off on
some routes and it is highly recommended to have suitable maps. Some of them
will be available in the mountain refuge.
The journey by car from Campa da Braña to Piornedo (18 kms long) is as
beautiful as it is twisting. The road runs on both sides of the small valley
of the Ortegal River. Two and a half kilometres into the journey there is a
path to the right which leads up to the nearby Campa de Barreiro, the site
of the Fonte dos Namorados (Lover’s Fountain) and where a fiesta is held on
the third Sunday of July. The road continues on the same side of the Ortegal
Valley and reaches the banks of the river after passing through Abesedo de
Donís, a place which offers the best chance to catch sight of a mountain
cock (capercaillie). You cross the river at the Ponte de Vales, set amid
beautiful woods, and climb back up the other side in search of Donis and
No worthwhile guide fails to mention the day, in 1873, when the village of
Donís took its place in the history books. Fed up of the humiliation of
having to pay taxes whilst living in extreme poverty, the people locked the
tax collector in a stable and then declared the Independent Republic of
Donís. Their defiance lasted for as long as it took the police to free the
civil servant and restore the unity of the state. On leaving the village, a
sharp curve to the right and a steep climb leads the traveller to Piornedo.
||Piornedo is not the only village in which
there are still pallozas (pre-Romanesque, thatched, stone huts), but it is
the most famous. Humans and animals lived side by side in these primitive
constructions as recently as ten years ago.
|The poverty and simple way
of life of only a few years ago can now be visited for a token fee as some
pallozas have been turned into ethnographic museums and others have been
opened up by local people. They remain untouched, displaying the kitchen
utensils which for the outsider date back to the time of their grandparents
but for the people of Os Ancares were important tools in their everyday life
until very recently.
Pallozas were circular or oval structures designed in such a way as to
retain heat to face the terrible winters in the mountains. They didn’t even
have fireplaces, as it was thought that the smoke was good for the health,
and in any case, it escaped through the thatched roof. Only parents had
their own room. Now Piornedo has a modern hostal and restaurant with turismo
rural (rural tourism) category accommodation.
From Piornedo you can either return by the same route or take the circular
route suggested at the beginning, which goes into Leon and through the
villages of Suábol and Balouta – which boast their own pallozas. Afterwards,
following a beautiful road through the gorge of the Balouta River, come off
at Rao and Navia de Suarna, a new municipality in Galicia of 2,000
inhabitants that, for some decades now, has lived under the threat of a
project to build a reservoir, which would mean the end for the village. Any
photo of Navia would have to include its medieval bridge with its thick
walls, standing at the foot of what was once the castle of the Altamira
A twisting road links the village with Becerreá (29 kms away) and runs
alongside the Navia River and its many fishing reserves and trails, if that
is, you still have some energy left after such an intensive day.
Albergue de Os Ancares. Campa La Braña. 982 18 11
- Hostal Piornedo ** . Piornedo de Ancares. 982 16 15 87
- Hostal Belón * . Ctra. Gra. Diputación, s/n. 982 36 45 15
- Hostal Rivera ** . Piornedo de Ancares. 982 36 01 85
- Hostal Herbón * . Gómez Jiménez, 8. 982 36 01 34
- Hostal Fonfría ** . Ctra. N - VI. 982 36 40 44
- Hostal Muiño ** . Ctra. Gral. km 448. 982 36 40 50