Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Los Picos de Europa and Cangas de Onís

     We left Ramales de la Victoria and took a bus to Laredo, twenty miles north on the coast. The next bus to Ribadesella was full, so we bought some cherries and spent the afternoon on beach, which is a nearly four mile half circle. At some point I had to help some kids get a shoe out of a tree.

I'm the one in the tree.
     Later, we took another bus to Ribadesella, a couple hours west on the coast. We arrived before sundown and stayed in a nice albergue on the beach.

Boats in Ribadesella


     The next morning we took two buses to a roadside motel where we would take trips to the Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe), a mountain chain split between the regions of Cantabria Asturias, and Castilla y León. We were in Asturias, home to the most famous sites of the Picos.
     After unpacking we got a ride into the nearest town, Cangas de Onís. This is a nice little town—more on it later. From there we took a bus to Covadonga, a hilltop town (population 58) and the site of the first Christian victory over the Moors in 722AD, making it the beginning of the long Reconquista (which lasted nearly 800 years). The town has a Christian shrine built in a cave on the side of a mountain and a modern church. Finally, we took a bus from there up to the Picos, climbing several thousand feet in a huge bus on a steep, one lane road with blind turns and two lane traffic. The bus would go careening around a tight turn, honking its horn to warn any oncoming cars to get out of its way. It was an impressive feat of driving. After about 25 minutes we arrived at the trailhead to walk to the Lakes of Covadonga.

Los Picos de Europa

         The trail was easy and along the way we stopped at a visitor's center and some abandoned iron and magnesium mine shafts before arriving at the lakes. A bunch of cattle graze along the shore at the foot of the mountains, making the setting both pastoral and immense. 

Cows at Lake Ercina

Lake Ercina

Panoramic of Lake Ercina and Lake Enol

     After walking for a couple of hours we headed back down the mountains and found a ride back to Cangas de Onís. There, we bought food for dinner. Asturias is famous for its cows. It boasts the best meat, milk, and cheese (some made from goat milk), so we loaded up on Asturian products to cook for dinner. These people are really proud of their meat. We saw a large billboard that had a picture almost identical to the one above of the cows that said something to the effect of "Raised in paradise, brought to your plate." 
"I'm not like the rest. I'm Asturian beef."
      Cangas de Onís was the capital of the kingdom of Asturias until 744 (Asturias has its own language, very similar to Spanish and a minority of the population there can speak it.) It has a Roman-Medeival bridge (completely rebuilt), and the first church constructed after the start of the Reconquista, built in 737. The church has been built a few times, most recently having been destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, and only the foundation stone remains. But the ancient dolmen on which it was built can be seen inside the church.
The "Roman" bridge in Cangas de Onís.
Santa Cruz church in Cangas de Onís.

Inside Santa Cruz church, looking down. The ancient dolmen, several thousand years old. 
     The next day, we walked the two miles to Cangas de Onís and took a bus (of course) to Las Arenas, a village less than an hour east of Cangas de Onís. We were on our way to La Ruta del Cares, a famous hiking trail along the Cares river in the mountains. From the town it was several kilometers straight up to get to the trailhead, so after walking for a little while we got a ride up there. The trail is about seven miles one way through the mountains, and crosses from the region of Asturias into Castilla y León. We were visiting about a week before high season, which meant that our transportation options were limited and, in this case, nonexistent if we were to walk the whole trail. Our only option would have been to walk all the way back to Las Arenas, and we didn't have enough time. So we walked a few miles of the trail before turning back. The trail is beautiful. You are surrounded by the limestone peaks with the clear blue river below. 
     At the beginning of the trail, we saw some mountain goats on the trail. What a nice thing to see. Until they started surrounding Katie and this enormous, wild-eyed, long haired black and white goat appeared (not pictured) and we realized there was a baby for him to protect. I'd say he was about like Goya's El gran cabrón. Eventually the light-hearted situation turned into Katie screaming and I picked up a baseball-sized rock just in case and made a move toward the three goats and they scrambled off, more out of pity than fear. 

Mountain Goat on the Cares trail
     So, after a rough start we continued on, rising in elevation and looking at the mountains around. The mountain range is formed from limestone, which is the reason for its craggy appearance, having been slowly eroded over the millennia. 

On the Ruta del Cares

Looking back from where we came, you can see the winding trail, which flattens after a couple of miles.

     As you can see, the trail is really incredible, and I wish we'd had time to do the whole thing. But it was just as well that we turned back after a few hours, because it was hot and we were hungry.

The Cares river below

          Visiting the Picos was a great choice, even without a car. The buses really can get you almost anywhere, although Spanish skills are highly recommended and we caught a few rides along the way and walked a fair amount. The history of Cangas de Onís just added to the beautiful scenery we were there for, the food was good and the region is more economical than the Basque country. The two routes we picked, the Lakes of Covadonga and the Cares Route, were distinct and breathtaking. On a trip to the north of Spain, the Picos de Europa are a must see. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow!!! Incredibly beautiful photos! So glad you two were able to visit such remote spots - and survived the mountain goats to tell about it. Maybe some day you'll return, and I can tag along.