Stop in the sanctuary first for a 20-minute visit before ascending by bus to a lake hike that will knock your socks off without wearing you out. The hike is an easy loop with mild slopes and several big payoffs. It is absolutely not to be missed.
Here's everything you can see in and around Covadonga, which is an easy day trip from coastal towns such as Llanes.
The Sanctuary of Covadonga
King Pelayo (or Pelagius, as he's known by English-speakers) founded the Kingdom of Asturias in 718 CE and ruled it until he died. In 722, the Battle of Covadonga marked the first victory by Christian forces fighting back against the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. This battle carries important symbolism in that it is considered the first victory of the Reconquista, or the "reconquering" of Spain from Islamic forces. It would take nearly 800 more years to expel the last of the Islamic caliphates from the peninsula.
Take a bus or drive to the Santa Cueva in Covadonga to start your journey. Here, you'll find the grave of King Pelayo and the patron saint of Asturias, the Virgin of Covadonga, who rose out of one of the lakes to guide Pelayo in his journey. You'll also get stunning views of the Basílica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga.
No one lives in this town but monks, so there's little else to see after a brief, gorgeous visit to the Santa Cueva. When you're ready to ascend to the lakes, grab a coffee and make your way to the bus stop.
Getting to the Lake Hike
You can only ascend to the lakes by buying a ticket on an Alsa bus for 9€ per seat. It's easy to see why they don't let just any car ascend: the fog can be thick, and cows and goats scatter intermittently across the road. If you're lucky, you'll also see local bison (a smaller version than those in North American) or quebrantahuesos, a type of vulture which translates literally as "bone-breakers" because of their affinity for dropping bones from high up to split them open and eat the marrow.
Abandoned Iron Mines
Start your hike by exploring the remains of a once-thriving iron mine, surrounded by the empty houses that once lodged a few thousand miners, their families, a local doctor, and even a school. The last mines here shut down in 1972.
Asturias is a region defined by mining. During miners' strikes shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the regional economy shut down completely, since essentially 100 percent of the Asturian population worked in mines.
You'll get to walk through an actual mine shaft and come out the other side.
Lago la ErcinaIf the fog is still heavy, you might not notice at first that, across a broad, green expanse, you're approaching the first lake, Lago la Ercina. It's an idyllic scene, with belled cows wandered around a broad expanse of green. If the fog is too heavy to see the peaks, often still snow-covered in summer, grab a coffee and bocadillo (sandwich) at the bar a little way up the slope and wait. When the sun comes out, there may be no more beautiful place on Earth.
Next, ascend a hill to get an even better view of la Ercina from the Mirador Entrelagos. You'll see fog shifting across the peaks.
There is a third lake in this area but it's usually empty unless it's time for the spring snow melt. In any case, you'll be more than happy with la Ercina, and the next big payoff.
Lago el EnolIt's only a short walk from la Ercina to Lago el Enol, where fast-moving mists shift across the bright blue water. Listen for cowbells ringing in the distance and the bleat of goats. This is a gorgeous spot for a picnic.
From here, it's also just a short walk back to where the Alsa bus will pick you back up again. If you're staying on the coast, head back through the Sunday market in Cangas de Onís before 2 p.m. to buy some delicious local fare.