A few weekends ago I decided to take a day trip out to Cangas de Onís and Covadonga. One of the great things about living in, and travelling around, the Principality of Asturias is its size. To travel on the bus from Oviedo, in the centre of the region, to Cangas de Onís in the far east, only takes about an hour and a half along the smooth Autovía del cantábrico (Cantabric Highway) that links the northern autonomous communities.
You may be wondering why I have described this trip as going to the heart of Spain. You are probably thinking that Madrid, the capital and geographically situated in the centre of Spain is the country’s heart. However in reality, the Spain as we know it now stems from Asturias, and more specifically from Covadonga. As you may, or may not, know, much of Spain was Moorish territory from the 8th to 15th centuries. Asturias, however, is a region that was never occupied (the traditional dialect here, the architecture and even the food, consequently, have far fewer Arabic influences than the more southern regions). And Covadonga is the site of a famous defeat of the Moors in a battle in 722 (although these details are not exactly concrete) and became known as the home of the beginnings of La Reconquista (the Reconquest), which was finally successful in 1492 when the Moors were defeated in Granada. The first King of Asturias, Don Pelayo, led the battle from here is still revered in this part of Spain. Cangas de Onís was the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias in the first half of the 8th century, until it moved to Oviedo. (Following the expansion of Spain during the Reconquest, Asturias was downgraded to a Principality after the capital moved to León and the Madrid. The eldest child of the monarch is the Prince or Princess of Asturias, essentially in the same way the British royal family have the Prince of Wales.)
When I arrived in Cangas de Onís I was feeling pretty lucky to live in such a “paraíso natural” (natural paradise) as the Asturian tourism campaigns describe it. You can tell you are entering the region of the Picos de Europa as the town is surrounded by some pretty specky mountains. It was a pleasant place to wander around for the morning, it was a beautiful fine day. The town has some gorgeous architecture but my favourite was the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge). The bridge is not actually a Roman-built bridge, but apparently it stands where a Roman bridge would once have stood.
El Puente Romano - Cangas de Onís
Hanging from the middle there is a large Cruz de la Victoria (Victory Cross), the symbol of Asturias that features on the Principality’s flag.
La Cruz de la Victoria
After my morning strolling around, enjoying the sunshine, I took the 20 minute bus ride up to Covadonga, located just inside the Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa (Picos de Europa National Park). After the slightly scary hairpin turns, I arrived at the breathtakingly beautiful, isolated spot. The place is commemorated with a basilica but the most important religious site is La Santa Cueva (the Holy Cave). The Cave houses La Virgen de Covadonga or La Santina (The Virgen of Covadonga, or the Little Saint), King Don Pelayo’s tomb and is now a Chapel. If I’m honest, the most striking thing about Covadonga is the location. The Basilica is very pretty and the Chapel sweet, but neither are as spectacular as the location. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few thousand words worth to express Covadonga more eloquently than I can with words!
La Basilica de Santa María la Real
Statue of Rey Don Pelayo next to the basilica
Looking up to the basilica from the valley
I had about three hours to spend in Covadonga before the next bus back to Cangas de Onís and then on to Oviedo, which was more than enough. After visiting the Basilica and the Chapel I had lunch at a grimy, overpriced restaurant (there were about three to choose from but only one was open for the winter.) Then I spent the rest of the time walking along the nice paths through the scrub down the hill. This left me with quite a walk back up to the bus stop right by the Basilica but it was better than sitting in the restaurant!
The bus trip home was uneventful. I love that every time I take a trip out of Oviedo I get to see snow-capped mountains from the bus window, that’s something I still haven’t been able to get over. You can’t see them from my side of the city so it’s always very exciting when I head out of or back to town. I arrived home in the early evening, knackered from a long day and lots of walking but it was totally worth it.
There are lots more photos on my Flickr photostream from both Cangas de Onís and Covadonga (including a shot of those tight hairpin turns on the road up the hill).
There will be a few blogs sharing my adventures in Barcelona coming this week so keep an eye out!