Tour of the Picos de Europa
Covadonga National Park
The Covadonga National Park lies in the western part of the Picos de Europa between Asturias and León. The most important rivers are the Río Cares and Río Dobra. The park contains two of Spain's few natural lakes, the picturesque Lagos de Covadonga - Lago de Enol (alt. 1,070m/3,511ft; area 121,500 sq.m/145,300 sq.yd) and Lago de Ercina (alt. 1,108m/3,635ft; area 121,000 sq.m/144,700 sq.yd). In this area grow holly (Ilex aquifolium L.), here threatened with extinction, and ivy (Hedera helix L.). Among the birds found here are the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Bonelli's eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus), the eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and the capercaillie (Tetro unogallus).
Before setting out on a tour of Picos de Europa tour it is worth while making an excursion to Covadonga and the Covadonga National Park. Leave Cangas de Onis on C 6312, going east, and in 4km/2.5mi, at Soto de Cangas, turn right into a beautiful little road which runs up a mountain valley to the little town of Covadonga (8km/5mi from Cangas de Onis), situated on a hill spur. This is one of the great Spanish shrines and a much frequented place of pilgrimage.Covadonga is regarded as the birthplace of Spain. After the Moorish incursion and the destruction of the Visigothic kingdom a handful of Christian warriors under the leadership of Pelayo withdrew into these inaccessible mountains and defied the invaders. In 722 they won the first Christian victory over the Moors when they routed an army sent against them by the Emir of Córdoba. Pelayo and his men attributed their victory to the Virgin and set up an altar to her in a cave, the Santa Cueva. The name given to the spot, Covadominica (the ''Virgin's Cave''), developed into the present name of Covadonga. The Reconquista then started from the newly founded kingdom of Asturias, with its capital at Cangas de Onis: hence the title of Prince of Asturias borne by the heir to the Spanish throne.
A steep road, with many hairpin bends, winds its way up to the church of Covadonga (1891). To the left of the church can be seen a statue of Pelayo, with the Asturian cross above his head.
Across the Covadonga square from the church and to the left is a tunnel leading to the Santa Cueva, high up on the rock face above a pool into which a waterfall tumbles. In front of a tiny chapel is the altar with the figure of the Virgin of Covadonga (18th century), which is always surrounded by worshippers. In a recess on the right is a sarcophagus which is believed to contain the mortal remains of Pelayo, his wife Gaudiosa and his sister Hemisinda.
Mirador de la Reina
From the Hotel Pelayo, near the Santa Cueva, a steep but rewarding road (with gradients of up to 18%) winds its way up to the Mirador de la Reina (8km/ 5mi southeast), from which in clear weather there are superb views of the mountains and the sea.
Lago Enol (Lago de la Ercina)
From the Mirador de la Reina the road descends to the Lago Enol (3.5km/2mi). 1.5km/1mi beyond this, on a gravel road, is the Lago de la Ercina. Both lakes lie amid the beautiful mountain scenery of the Covadonga National Park, and both are the starting points of waymarked footpaths and tracks.
A colorful Shepherds' Festival is held annually on July 25th at the Lago de la Ercina.
Through the Cares Valley
Cangas de Onis
The starting-point of the tour of the Picos de Europa is Cangas de Onis (alt. 195m/640ft), in the eighth century the first capital of the Asturian kings and now a base for walkers, climbers and anglers.Cangas de Onis also has an old five arch Roman bridge which is a Historic-Artistic Site.
Beside the modern Ermita de la Santa Cruz, which occupies the site of a fifth century chapel rebuilt in the eighth Century, is a prehistoric dolmen with incised drawings.
Palacio de Cortés
The Palacio de Cortés is a handsome 16th century mansion.
Cueva del Buxu
Las Arenas de Cabrales
C 6312 continues east, passing the turning for Covadonga, and comes in 27km/17mi to the valley of the Río Cares. It then runs down the valley to Arenas de Cabrales (alt. 120m/394ft), where the famous Cabrales cheese is made.
Upper Cares Valley
At Las Arenas a steep and narrow mountain road (tunnel) goes off on the right and climbs the upper Cares valley to Poncebos (6km/4mi), at the foot of the Torre de Cerredo. From here there is a long but not particularly difficult walk (about 3.5 hours each way) along the magnificent gorge of the Río Cares to Caín. Experienced climbers can undertake the ascent of the Torre de Cerredo (10 hours, with guide), on difficult mountain tracks by way of the village of Buinés and the Refugio (mountain hut) de Camburero.
Panes de Peñamellera
C 6312 follows the Río Cares down to Panes de Peñamellera, where the Cares flows into the Río Deva.
Through the Deva Valley
Desfiladero de la Hermida
From Panes C 621 runs south through the narrow gorge of the Río Deva, the Desfiladero de la Hermida (magnificent views), which takes its name from the little spa of La Hermida.
Nuestra Senora, Lebena
A few kilometers beyond La Hermida is Lebeña, with the little 10th century church of Nuestra Señora de Lebeña, a notable example of Mozarabic church architecture.
Santo Toribio de Liébana
From Potes a minor road (signposted) runs 3km/2mi west to the monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, which was founded in the seventh century but in its present form is Late Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. In the Capilla de la Santísima Cruz can be seen what is claimed to be the largest surviving piece of the True Cross, brought here from Jerusalem in the fifth century by Bishop Toribio. A monk from this monastery, Beatus of Liébana, wrote a famous commentary on the Apocalypse directed against the Arians which was frequently copied in magnificent manuscripts. One such copy is preserved at Seo de Urgel.
From Potes C 621 runs 25km/15mi west by way of Espinama (fonda), the last village in the valley, to Fuente Dé (alt. 1,000m/3,280ft), where there is a parador. Beside it is the lower station of a cableway which runs steeply up to the Balcón del Cable (alt. 1,840m/6,037ft), from which there are breathtaking views of the mountains. From the upper station of the cableway a path leads east to Áliva (1,780m/5,840ft); the walk takes one and a half hours. The Balcón del Cable is also a good starting-point for climbs of some of the surrounding peaks (guide essential).
Over the Puerto de San Glorio
Mirador de Llesba
From Potes a road goes south up a lateral valley of the Río Deva to La Vega de Liébana and then follows a winding course, with many sharp bends, to the Puerto de San Glorio (1,609m/5,279ft), from which it is a half-hour walk (to the right) to the Mirador de Llesba (views).
Puerto de Pandetrave
From the pass the road descends the valley of the Río Lechada to Portilla de la Reina, on the Río Yuso, from which a side road runs north to the Puerto de Pandetrave (1,562m/5,125ft), in the heart of the Picos de Europa. Here too there are magnificent views of the surrounding peaks.
Through the Sella Valley
Puerto de Panderruedas
From Riaño C 637 runs north to Vegacerneja, on the Río Sella, and continues to a junction just before the Puerto del Pontón where a side road branches off on the right and winds its way up to the Puerto de Panderruedas, amid beautiful mountain scenery. From the pass it is a 20 minutes' walk to the Mirador de Piedrafitas (views).
Oseja de Sajambre
C 637 continues over the Puerto del Pontón to Oseja de Sajambre, from which a minor road leads up to the Mirador de Oseja de Sajambre, with a view down into the deep and narrow gorge of the Río Sella.
Desfiladero de los Beyos
From Oseja de Sajambre C 637 winds its way down the picturesque gorge of the Río Sella, the Desfiladero de los Beyos, and continues to Cangas de Onis, the starting-point of the Picos de Europa driving tour.