Friday, 5 September 2014

Lake Covadonga, Picos de Europa

After lunch at Casa Morán in Benia de Onís (see review), we headed towards our main destination, the lakes of los Picos de Europa, Covadonga. In plural because there are three of these glacial lakes: Enol, Ercina and El Bricial, the latter is only formed when there's water either from a large storm or from melting snow.

Los Picos de Europa National Park, Asturias
Los Picos de Europa
The lakes are probably one of the top tourist destinations in Asturias, so to protect the Picos de Europa National Park, traffic is controlled. During peak season, private cars are prohibited to go beyond Covadonga. Peak season is summer (normally last week of July until the first week of September, but check on the Internet because even the official sites sometimes do not have current information, so there's no point of linking them here), Easter (usually from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday) and extra long weekends (eg this year, there's one coming up from 6-8 Dec 2014 inclusive).

So I drove towards Cangas de Onís, which was a short drive from Benia de Onís. As we approached, we started noticing huge car parks identified by numbers (Car Park 1, Car Park 2). I drove on, not knowing at which number they would end. There were at least 5. I took a gamble, and carried on driving past the last one (not being sure, at that time, of course, if it was the last). The hour was quite late, so I thought there would be fewer people. We reached Covadonga, where there was a small free car park with an awkward entrance, so you could easily missed it. I drove in to find that it was, unsurprisingly, full.

But, as I was turning the car around to leave, we spotted some people entering, and, sure enough, they were taking their car out.

My advice is if you have no reason to be in Covadonga - we had no time (nor energy) to visit the sanctuary - leave the car in one of the car parks. In busy times, such as the summer, buses run every 15 minutes. Cost is €8, return. ALSA runs the service. In fact, they say that the ticket is valid all day, which would mean that you can hop on and off on the same ticket. Here's their leaflet for 2014.

The ride up was quite harrowing, so even if you could drive all the way to the lakes, you may want to consider using public transport (if there is), so that you can enjoy the spectacular views as you go up and up, round and round. It is not unusual for a bus to have to reverse to make way for an oncoming one as the road is wide enough for only one large vehicle at some points, or to stop because some cows decide to take a break in the middle of the road. The journey from Covadonga to the car park in Buferrera takes about 30 minutes or so.

Lago Covadonga, Picos de Europa
Black Asturian cow
From the car park, there are several walking routes you can take, all signposted. I wanted to walk around both lakes, but there was no time.

We were unlucky in that the weather wasn't ideal. If it had been sunny, the lighting conditions would have been perfect at that time of day, but it was grey and overcast. I did the best I could as far as photography was concerned. I'm sure that at the right time of year, in good weather, the views would be spectacular.

Going back down the mountains on the bus, I dozed off every now and then, which gave me the strength to drive back to the apartment safely.

Lago Covadonga, Los Picos de Europa, Asturias
Families by Lake Ercina
Lago Covadonga, Los Picos de Europa, Asturias
Lake Ercina.When light is dull, monochrome often works better
Lago Covadonga, Los Picos de Europa, Asturias
Lake Enol on an overcast day
Lago Covadonga, Los Picos de Europa, Asturias
Stone hut
Lago Covadonga, Los Picos de Europa, Asturias
It threatened to brighten up at about 7pm, but it didn't last