Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Natural Park of Monte Santiago: El salto del Río Nervión, a 300 meter high waterfall.

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

Monte Santiago, the abrupt boundary between the Spanish plateau and the Basque lowlands.

During the Easter holiday we managed to escape for a few days, devoting our time to the detection of new orchid sites, exploring caves and visiting beautiful places. In this post I want to share some pictures of the Monte Santiago Natural Park, with its 300 meters high waterfall: “El salto del Río Nervión”. This blog is also dedicated to natural spaces located in the immediate vicinity of the Cantabrian Mountains
The location of this park is quiet special, because it´s the only place where the Spanish highland (meseta) borders the coastal lowlands. Most of the northern meseta (with heights of 800 to 900 meters) is separated from the north coast by the Cantabrian Mountains (with altitudes of over 2000 meters). However, these mountains end some 30 kilometers west of Monte Santiago, so that in this park the meseta is directly adjacent to the lowland of Vizcaya (Basque Country). The border between both regions consists of a dizzying steep cliff of about 500 to 600 meters high and several tens of kilometers long: a spectacular sight enhanced in value by the presence of numerous vulture nests. The River Nervión collects its water on the meseta and streams towards the cliff where it flows over the edge and plunges down. However, this 300 meter high waterfall can only be admired during periods of heavy rain or melting snow. This is due to the karst nature of the plateau, where most of the surface water quickly disappears below ground into an enormous underlying cavesystem. Monte Santiago is covered with a beech forest which is fed by rain and mist coming from the sea. Also there are the ruins of the medieval monastery of Santiago de Langrériz, which gives its name to this natural park.  


The Natural Park of Monte Santiago is located in the red square to the right of the map, just outside the Cantabrian Mountains.

The red circle gives the location of Monte Santiago with respect to Santander, Burgos, Vitoria and Bilbao. The red circle indicates the location of the next map.

This map shows the exact boundaries of the park (shaded). P is the parking, M is the monastery of "Santiago de Langreriz", F is the source "Fuente de Santiago" and S is the waterfall "El salto del Río Nervión".

Very close to the car park we can find the ruins of the monastery from “Santiago de Langreriz", dating from the XI and XII centuries.

The same ruins seen from the other side, it is clear that theyhave been partially recovered.

This pavement is not laid down by humans, it is the product of a natural karst-process whereby the water enters the fissures and dissolves the rock.

Now we come to the edge of the meseta ......

.... we are very lucky to find the waterfall plunging down. However, given the width of the riverbed, at certain moments the volume of water can be much bigger.

The vertical rock faces have a height of 300 meters. Fortunately, there is a solid viewpoint.

A panoramic view from the meseta (height 800 meters) over the lowlands of Orduña (height 300 meters).

The steep wall which forms the border between the Spanish highland and the Basque lowland, as seen from below.

We decided to walk back on the "geomorphological” route, in order to escape the Easter crowds. Luckily we had boots, because with rain it is a muddy path. On the photo another limestone pavement covered with moss, inside a beech forest.

The morphological route brings us back to the monastery. But where in the center of this karstic highland did these people actually get their water?

After looking around, and very close to the monastery, we found this: a major source rising on one side of a local depression of the landscape.

Crystal clear water is flowing over artificial dams. But…. where does it go to?

We follow a narrow and mysterious path ......

...... to discover that after a short distance the stream disappears underground again. It is now clear why the monks had their monastery just in this exact place, water is life.

Leaving the park there was this dark rain cloud where in the distance you can see pouring down the rain (just left of the small tree).


  1. An area with very beautiful scenery. Still I do not visit that shire, but it sure is worth to get lost in those places. Beautiful photos.

    Best wishes.

  2. Hello Javi, it really is´t that far from home (León). I liked your post on butterflies.

    Hasta luego, Marius