Ah, the lakes of Covadonga. What a lovely sight they were (and still are, I’m sure). The bell jangle of cows as they plodded along fresh, sodden meadows. The lakes that were as still as mirrors. The ashen peaks that looked jagged and smashed, as if they’d been attacked with a wrecking ball and the shrieks of my mother-in-law as we ascended the spectacular, 12-kilometre winding road from nearby Covadonga.
Originally the centre of the Picos de Europa National Park, the Lagos de Covadonga (lakes of Covadonga) lie in the rugged region of Asturias in northern Spain. They’re an adventure to get to, as the road there – which is popular with professional cycle racing – is steep, winding and there’s often no barrier between the road and the sheer drops which plummet over breathtaking scenery. The road is often only wide enough for one car too.
While I bragged at the start this was nothing compared to La Carretera de los Yungas in Bolivia (often referred to as “the most dangerous road in the world”), the road got steeper, narrower and a section crumbled away further up. My mother-in-law was freaked out, although she regained her nerve as we alighted from the car, exploring the lakes, and the worried looks of other drivers reminded us this road is not for the faint of heart.
Parking at Lake Ercina, which sits at an altitude of 1,108 metres between the striking peaks known as Llucia and Bricial, we each wandered off on our own. The green fields which cradled the lake were wonderfully vivid and the wild mountains flecked with carmine and olive tussocks looked like a scene from Austria. This was a ‘different Spain’ and one I was immensely glad I had found.
I explored the lake’s edge to the gentle clang of cow bells before following an old trail to the Mirador Entrelagos – a hillock located between Lake Ercina and Lake Enol. Located only a short walk from Lake Ercina, Lake Enol is a similar size to Lake Ercina, is roughly 25 metres deep and is reached via a winding path from the hillock. Sitting by the lake, above a lovely strip of green is a small café near a ruggedly handsome toilet. It’s a great spot to just stop and take it all in.
Nearby is an information centre named after Pedro Pidal, the Marquis of Villaviciosa who was the first mountaineer to climb Picu Urriellu (the region’s renowned peak) in 1908. He was also responsible for the area’s first national park in 1918, Montaña de Covadonga National Park, and it wasn’t until 1995 the park’s name was changed to the Picos de Europa National Park. The centre lies over the site of old manganese mines and contains information on the natural and cultural history of the area.
Near Lake Enol there’s a walk to Ordiales Viewing Point where Pidal was buried in 1949, according to his wishes. On a nearby rock is a carved inscription, part of which reads: “we would like to live, die and rest eternally here in Ordiales, in the enchanted kingdom of the chamois and the eagle, where we found happiness in the sky and the earth, where we spent hours in unforgettable admiration, emotion, and dreams…”
Another walk near Lake Ercina carpark takes adventurers around the mines of Buferrera, which used to produce iron and magnesium in abundance between 1893 and 1932. Unfortunately on this day we didn’t have time for such adventures, as my mother-in-law was anxious to return and we soon departed. Although I did have a wonderful time just sitting by the Lakes of Covadonga, watching, listening – something I’m sure Pidal would have enjoyed on many occasions.
I’ll be back.
A few fast facts
- The Lagos de Covadonga lie roughly 12 kilometres from Covadonga and 27 kilometres from the more sizeable town of Cangas de Onís.
- The Mirador de la Reina (Queen’s Lookout) on the way up offers striking views over the Picos de Europa, the valley of the River Guena, Covadonga and on clear days the Cantabrian coast.
- Both the king and prince lookouts (accessible from the road) also offer spectacular views.
- The road ends at Lake Ercina, although there are many paths that veer off along the way.
- There are also many walks you can access in the area.
Enjoy my short video of the area shot with an iPhone 4s.