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This last May I had the amazing opportunity to return to Spain for a second time. Last time I was there was during the Fall of 2008 when I studied abroad in Madrid. Now, 8 years later, I finally returned to see some more of the country (and Portugal) on an awesome roadtrip. I was joined by my boyfriend (Kyle), his brother (Micah), and his girlfriend (Jen).
This trip lasted about 10 days, so it’s a lot to write. I will condense it to the first half, and will write about our trip to Portugal and Southern Spain in another post :)
We planned to make this the cheapest trip possible. After all, 10 days of food, gas, and lodging for 4 people definitely adds up. So our lodging was mainly cheap hotels and AirBnB, and a big thanks to Micah for planning it all! We definitely stopped at some restaurants to try their local cuisine, but if we could we kept it cheap with some bocadillos (sandwiches).
We started with two nights in Madrid and stayed with my friend, Michael, so we could get over our jet-lag, checkout the National Archaeological Museum, and enjoy the city nightlife. After some fun with friends, it was time to hit the road.
Hitting the Road
We mapped out our route starting from Madrid, heading straight north to our first stop at the Picos de Europa mountain range and the Lakes of Covadonga.
After a quick stop to wakeboard north of Madrid with Michael, we were on our way! We drove through some beautiful green scenery and rolling hills on our way up north. It was almost a 6hr drive, and we arrived at our hotel, Hotel Monteverde, late in the evening in the beautiful and tranquil city of Cangas de Onís in the province of Asturias. It was pretty easy to find street parking and I think we paid around 30 Euros/night per room, so that was a win! We were also a short drive from the sites we planned to visit the next day.
Santuario de Covadonga
After finally getting a full night's sleep and a simple breakfast of toast and coffee at the hotel, we headed to the Santuario de Covadonga. It was a quick drive, about 10km in 20 minutes, through an unforgettable scenic route surrounded by mountains on all sides.
The Santuario de Covadonga is a cave sanctuary built into a mountain side. The meaning of "Covadonga" is from the Latin "Cova Dominica" meaning "Cave of the Lady." It is dedicated to the cult of the Virgin of Covadonga. We didn't actually spend much time in the cave. It wasn't very big, so we did a quick walk-through and headed to the trails looking for salamanders. The salamanders deserve a post of their own :)
After a good hike (with, sadly, no salamanders to be found), we had a tasty lunch of bocadillos at a little cafe on location. Then we jumped back in the car and headed for the lakes.
Lagos de Covadonga
The Lakes of Covadonga are composed of two glacial lakes, Lake Enol and Lake Ercina, in the region of Asturias, Spain. The lakes are the original center of the Picos de Europa National Park, which was created in 1918.
We pulled into a parking lot at Lake Ercina, grabbed our jackets and cameras, and began our hike.
It was the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. Ever. I took an absurd amount of pictures because I wanted to remember every view I had. We arrived when the fog was low, and we were greeted by the anthem of ringing bells around the necks of cattle scattered near and far. Words will not do this place justice, so I’m posting my photos (which also don't do it justice). This hike is a must if you're in the area.
Checkout this beautiful place! Click on the photos to enlarge them.
Beautiful, right?! An absolutely breathtaking view from every angle. After our hike around the lake we climbed some stairs by the parking lot that led to the top of a hill overlooking the other side to Lake Enol. There isn't much of a trail to go around on that lake, but you can drive down there, which we did.
After our long day of hiking we drove back to Cangas de Onís. I have to give a shoutout to the restaurant Los Arcos, where we had dinner both of our nights in Cangas. The food was delicious, great variety in the menu, not too expensive, and we got to try some awesome local cider. We did our best to speak Spanish to the waiters, but they were happy to speak English. Super friendly and attentive staff. If you find yourself in that area, definitely grab a bite to eat there.
We left our hotel early on our second morning to make our way to the northwest tip of A Coruña. Home to some beautiful sights and the oldest Roman lighthouse still in use, the Tower or Hercules. Most of the drive there was on the northern coast, and it was a distance of about 350km. We made sure to make some stops along the way and arrive at A Coruña around dinner time.
We stayed here just one night. Micah found us a great little hotel near the Maria de Pita Plaza. However, I must admit that getting there truly was an absolute pain. Many of the roads are one-way, and Google Maps took us down one that actually becomes so narrow so that it becomes a walking-only road between shops and restaurants. We were stopped by a kind man that told us this happens all the time with tourists, and we had to find another way around. Then, once we got near the plaza, we were stopped by officers who told us the last stretch of road we came on was not even allowed for cars and we would have to turn back and find parking. Eventually, we found a parking spot and walked about a half-mile to our hotel.
After finally feeling settled and relaxed we went out and enjoyed a delicious dinner of tapas and ended the day with a beautiful sunset at the bay.
Tower of Hercules
This ancient Roman lighthouse is about 1,900 years old and is now a national monument of Spain.
The tower is known to have existed by the 2nd century (but could be older), possibly on foundations following a design that was Phoenician in origin. The Romans who settled here referred to this area as the "Coast of Death" because it was notorious for shipwrecks. So I suppose a lighthouse was helpful. There was a 3-year neoclassical renovation finished in 1791 with a 4th story added. The outside structure is the main part of the renovation, with the original tower enclosed inside it. It has been in constant use since it was built and is considered to be the oldest existing lighthouse in the world.
The tower was easy to get to from the city. It was less than a 10 minute drive from where we had parked, and there are signs for it basically all over. The parking lot there is free. I don't remember the exact price to enter the tower, but it was no more than 5 Euros/person. The self-guided tour starts inside on the ground level, where you can see what's left of the original foundation. It was a cool feeling being in the presence of something so old. Everything is well marked and information is also given in English.
You eventually come upon some stairs and make your way up the lighthouse, stopping at every floor to checkout the different rooms and read about the renovations with before-and-after sketches of the changes made.
I would love to jump into the entire history of this lighthouse, but it would be a bit much. Definitely research it if you're into that sort of thing, because I think it has a very interesting story!
Making my way up the tower proved one thing: I was definitely out of shape. All I kept thinking was how those men back in the day must've had some strong legs. The view at the top was worth it though, and I was so glad we were fortunate to have had a sunny day.
There was also a cornerstone at the base of the tower with the original inscription permitting the original lighthouse tower to be ascribed to the architect Gaius Sevius Lupus, from Aeminium (present-day Coimbra, Portugal) in the former province of Lusitania, as an offering dedicated to the Roman God of War, Mars.
Well my friends, I think I'm going to end this post here. Thanks for letting me share our trip with you. I do highly recommend a trip to this side of the country. I know Madrid and Barcelona are beautiful Spanish cities, but do take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty Spain also has to offer. I promise you won't be disappointed.
I'll return to write a post about our trip to Portugal and southern Spain.
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz