Braña de la Pornacal is represented as the largest and most well-preserved of the hundreds of brañas in northwest Spain. A braña is a seasonal settlement characteristic of Asturias and northern León traditionally inhabited by transhumant or nomadic cattle-herders. This braña is called a braña equinoccial, a type that is inhabited in the spring and fall months. The brañas are nestled in the Cantabrian Mountains, which gives Braña de la Pornacal an incredible mountain view and a colder climate than most other parts of Spain, which have a warmer Mediterranean climate.
Most striking about Braña de la Pornacal are the thatched-roof cabins called teitos. They are unique to the brañas and most commonly found in the municipality of Somiedo. They must be rethatched by teitadores, trained thatchers, at least every 15 years with Scotch broom. Because of this, many across the region have fallen into ruin, but those in La Pornacal remain the most preserved and most plentiful with 34 structures in the braña, all of them teitos.
Transhumance and cattle-herding was once one of the dominant ways of life in Asturias, but emigration and industrialization have endangered this tradition. Many of the brañas once used yearly by pastors are now in ruins across the Cantabrian Mountains. The Vaqueiros de Alzada, a small-numbered marginalized people indigenous to western Asturias and northern León are often tied to the braña, though it is unlikely they traditionally inhabited it. However, their own brañas have many similarities with La Pornacal and this braña is often used to teach about their traditional nomadic way of life and Vaqueiro culture. Many Vaqueiro brañas can be found in the surrounding areas of La Pornacal. Recently the Vaqueiro and non-Vaqueiro cattle-herding cultures alike have been the center of efforts of cultural preservation and revival.
Braña de la Pornacal is one of the lesser-visited cultural landmarks of Spain and the Cantabrian Mountains surrounding the braña are home to cultures very different than the typical image of Spanish culture. La Pornacal is surrounded by green forests and mountain passes perfect for nature-lovers and is connected to many hiking trails in the Cantabrians. Also, be sure to find the strange faces carved into the sides of the teitos.
Know Before You Go
The best way to reach Braña de la Pornacal is to hike or drive on the main road going south out of the town of Villar de Vildas. If you are driving, you must have a car, there is no public transportation or shuttles and you would be extremely lucky to find a taxi. The hike is about an hour long, 4 km, very lovely if you can do it and plenty of cows to see on the way.
Best time to go is late spring, summer, or early fall unless you do not mind a bit of snow. Though it is Spain, do not be surprised if there is lots of snow in the middle of winter.
If you would like to extend your hike, going further down the main road (Camino Pr AS-14.1) is Braña Viecha also called Braña de los Cuartos, similarly popular. It is also possibly to hike to the inhabited Vaqueiro summer brañas of La Peral, Llamardal, or El Puerto, though this would be a difficult hike.