Picos de Europa part 2: Lagos de Covadonga and Arenas de Cabrales

Lago de La Ercina

On our trip to the Picos de Europa, rain turned our planned day hike around the Lagos de Covadonga into a short walk. We augmented it with stops in historic Covadonga and at a queseria in Arenas de Cabrales.

In late June 2017, we spent a week hiking in Spain’s spectacular Picos de Europa. This post covers a rainy trip to Covadonga and a wonderful stop at a cheese factory in Arenas de Cabrales. Additional posts cover our arrival in Bilbao and drive to Espinama, an overnight hike on the Central Massif, and our time in Camarmeña and the Cares Gorge. We also share our notes on planning at trip to the Picos de Europa.

The intended hike for this post, the Lagos de Covadonga, is covered in the Alpina maps set (Western Massif) or the Adorados Macizo Occidental map.


From Espinama, we planned to drive clockwise around the central and eastern massifs of the Picos de Europa to Covadonga. At Covadonga, we would hike around picturesque lakes on the western massive.

We woke up, however, to a rainy morning and dismal forecast. After a quick breakfast, we checked out and set off. The fast-changing weather of the previous days left us with some hope that the weather would improve by the time we reached Covadonga.

Instead, it rained steadily and the clouds hung low, offering limited views on the drive. Conditions had not improved by the time we reached Covadonga. We reevaluated our plans and decided to stop first at the historic town. Covadonga is famous as the site where Pelagius led Christian forces to the first victory of against the Islamic conquest, in either the summer of 718 or 722. This led to an independent principality that later became the Kingdom of Asturias.

We first visited the Basilica of Santa María la Real de Covadonga, a pink limestone church built between 1877 and 1901. From there, we walked down to the Santa Cueva (Holy Cave). While it appears to have been a significant site of worship in prehistoric and Roman times, the cave features prominently in tradition about the Battle of Covadonga. The cave contains the tombs of Pelagius (first king of Asturias) and Alfonso I (third king of Asturias). It also features a lovely waterfall.

After this stop, we decided to head up to the lakes in hopes of clearing. We followed the narrow, winding road with a surprising amount of other hopefuls. When we reached the lakes, however, they were still clouded in. Winds and driving rain whipped across the massif.

We decided to try a hike anyway. For a few moments, the clouds lifted and we got a decent view of the lakes. Kyle and I agreed that, yes, on a nice day, it would be lovely. That day, however, it was mostly cold and wet, and after about 15 minutes we called it quits, and turned around for the car.

Arenas de Cabrales

Searching for rainy day activities on our phone, we read about some cheese and cider options near Arenas de Cabrales, where we would stay that night. We drove first to Asiegu, the starting point of tours for the Ruta’l Quesu y la Sidra. Unfortunately, once there, we learned they were operating a reduced schedule that day, and it would not work for us. The description sounded great, though, and it’s something we’d love to do if we go back.

We moved on to our next option, Queseria Vega de Tordin, on the outskirts of Arenas. When we pulled in, no one was around. Just as we prepared to give up and leave, another family pulled in. We decided this was a good sign, and so we waited, though each reluctant to ask. Eventually, someone else showed up, and it looked like the tour was about to begin.

Kyle inquired, and we learned (as best as we could tell), that it was a private tour for family. They graciously offered to let us join. They also cautioned the tour would be in Spanish. We gratefully agreed.

A wonderful tour followed, thanks to a lot of patience from the owner and the family. One of the family members visiting had spent some time in the US. He generously translated what he could, especially where Kyle’s Spanish was not quite enough to understand. A young boy on the tour also shyly chimed in with missing words when we all got stuck in the translation. We got to spend time with the cows and saw a milking robot in action. Next, we observed the cheese making process and learned about the pastures where the cows had historically grazed and the caves where the cheese was aged. We also got to taste the fantastic cheeses.

After the tour, we drove back into Arenas de Cabrales to check into our hotel, Apartamentos El Caxigu (Booking.com). Here, we had a large, comfortable apartment that would have made a good base for a week of explorations around Cabrales.

Once we were settled, we left again for dinner. We selected Sidreria Calluenga for a dinner of tasty, inexpensive food and plenty of sidra. This Asturian cider was different than the hard ciders we get at home. For both of us, it was a bit of an acquired taste, but we quickly warmed up to this still, cloudy, complex cider.

After dinner, we returned to the apartment to get ready for the next day, our hike through the Cares Gorge.

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