If you read our little blog here, then you’re probably aware that we’ve been jaunting around and hanging out in the province of Asturias in Spain for the summer, while based in the city of Oviedo. A little, slow-paced adventure as we escaped the summer death-heat in Seville.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have several folks swing through for a visit during the summer, most of whom had probably never even seen Asturias as a blip on their radar if it wasn’t for our random place-hopping.
One of the things we did – twice, actually, with two different sets of guests – was visit the historic Asturian locales of Cangas de Onís and Covadonga. While all of Asturias (and all of Spain, naturally) is full of history, this is sort of where the Asturian kingdom began.
Since you probably have no clue what I’m talking about, here are the towns on a map. For your bearing pleasure.
We didn’t pick these stops to take a lesson on such things, but we’re certainly drawn to places that look nifty and have a story to tell. That is, more or less, everywhere. But, we wanted to visit the Picos de Europa park and mountains, and these two towns are nestled all up in there. (Read about our visit to the actual mountains in this post.)
As this is a mix of two different day trips we rambled through with our family and friends, pictures might be sunny for one second, cloudy for another, and overall confusing if you’re looking for some sort of progression of sun, moon, clouds, or whatever.
First up, Cangas de Onís!
As noted, the Kingdom of Asturias began in this area in the early 8th century. Cangas de Onís was its capital until 774, and features the first church constructed in Iberia after the Moorish conquest. It’s crazy old. Built in 737 old. 737! This is Santa Cruz de Cangas de Onís.
It’s not some sort of impressive, towering structure, and I have a feeling that a lot of people simply walk by it without knowing how important it is to this region’s history. Actually, I know a lot of people walk by it, because I watched them do so. Poor thing.
What Cangas is most famous for, though, is its Roman bridge. Outside of coming to the town to start random outdoor adventures, this is most certainly the sight people arrive to see.
Nothing actually tells us when the bridge itself was constructed, but it’s known to have been erected during the reign of Alfonso XI, in the early 14th century. It runs over the Sella River, with a gorgeous backdrop to the Picos de Europa.
As we are who we are, we found the closest cafe and just plunked ourselves down in front of the bridge with a cup of coffee. Hi, Mom!
And with our pal, Devlin, visiting from Mexico.
The bridge is open to foot traffic, and there are some nice views of the area from above.
If you’re lucky, maybe there’ll be someone playing the traditional gaita (bagpipes) to set the mood.
There’s not a whole lot else to see in Cangas de Onís, but it’s a nice stop on the way into the mountains and there’s a nice walk to be had in town.
It also gives one a great sense of the origins of Asturias and the history of the area.
If you’re like us, you might find the perfect gift for your dad. You know, maybe the smallest pocket knife in the history of the universe?
And with that, we headed up a winding mountain road to the village of Covadonga.
First up, though, we had to stop for some delicious nourishment at El Repelao.
Sitting on the terrace, one can actually see the main church of Covadonga up in the mountains.
Covadonga itself is hardly a village, but it serves as probably the most important locale in all of Asturias. This is where the kingdom began, and where the entire Iberian reconquest began with the Asturians’ defeat of the moors at the Battle of Covadonga, said to have taken place around the year 722.
This victory laid the foundation for Asturias as we know it, with Pelagius (known as Pelayo in Spanish) as the first king of the kingdom. He even got his own, fresh statue overlooking the mountains.
Next to it is the church, Our Lady of Covadonga, which was erected at the beginning of the 20th century. This basilica was built to complement the original shrine and monastery here, which dates all the way back to the mid-8th century.
Across a ravine from the church is its probably more famous sanctuary, a small church that’s built right into the side of a cliff.
Santa Cueva de Covadonga is was built in the cave where Pelagius supposedly saw the Virgin Mary. Or some version of that, as there are several stories to go around.
The shrine itself was built during the reign of Alfonso I, the third king of Asturias, in the early to mid 8th century. It was destroyed by fire in the 18th century, but rebuilt into what it is today.
It’s certainly a sight to see, and thousands of people make their way up here every year, as pilgrims or just plain old tourists like us.
Even if you’re not religious, or into history for that matter, this area is so drop-dead beautiful – both its nature and its architecture – that it’s a must-stop when you’re in the region. Heck, we went twice, so that’s gotta tell you something.
If you’re planning on making your way up here, be prepared for crowds during the high season in July and August. We first went in June, and nearly had the whole place to ourselves. Not really, but it felt like that as we could walk around with ease, park wherever we wanted, and hang out at a nice, slow pace.
The second time we went, in August, was a mess of tour buses and road trippers and lines and whatever else. It was still a wonderful sight to see, but it was a bit more hectic with hundreds more folks walking around. Either way, it’s definitely worth a visit.
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Have you ever been to Cangas de Onís or Covadonga? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!