I haven’t spoken too extensively yet about my time actually in Spain during my study abroad, likely because I’m hoarding all the good stuff. However, as I near my graduation, I’m thinking back to all the wonderful things that happened and how much I learned about how culturally and geographically different areas of Spain can be. Barcelona was super metropolitan, international, and wonderful. Oviedo was still wonderful, but had an infinitely more small-town feel. However, we’re not talking about that right now. We’ll chat about that later. We’re here to talk about one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Let’s go back to late September. I’d moved into a flat with three great, though crazy, men and had just begun a intensive Spanish grammar course. I ran into an American on my first day and, a week later, she ended up in my flat serving tea. Kind of literally (one of my flatmates had a thing with ginger tea), but also figuratively. This chick had all kinds of crazy boy drama going on and I was here for it. She introduced me to an Irish girl, and, over a few too many cups of calimocho one night, we all planned a day trip… for the next day. Mind you, we barely know each other at this point, but the best way to get to know people is to meet up at 9 AM after being out until 4 AM.
I didn’t have high expectations for a poorly-planned trip to a tiny town, but Covadonga blew them out of the water. Picturesque Covadonga was the perfect town to hang out in for a few hours. The gorgeous Picos de Europa, with hiking trails and ski slopes (snow not provided in the middle of October on a sunny day), supplied the backdrop for a beautiful pink cathedral. Nearby rests a small chapel, the Santa Cueva de Covadonga, named due to its amazing and transformational history.
In 722, the Moorish invasion had reached the northern part of Spain, having conquered nearly all the Visigoth tribes in their path. The last hold-outs gathered in the mountains in Asturias, naming a warrior, Pelayo (or Pelagius), as their leader. With a battle looming, Pelayo went to a cave and prayed to a replica of the Virgin Mary for triumph over the much less-Christian foes. When Pelayo’s warriors won, in the first victory of the Reconquista, Mary was nicknamed Our Virgin of Covadonga, the cave and all associated grounds became sacred, and the free kingdom of the Asturias was founded.
Back to the future. Underneath the cave lies a waterfall, most active in the spring after the winter snows melt away, and a fountain. We followed the lead of others and braved the treacherously slippery walkway to drink from the fountain thinking it was probably blessed by the Pope or something. It was, but also, unbeknownst to us, local legend says that if you drink from it, you’ll be married within the year.
Given that I looked like this during the boquet toss in the last wedding I was in, I’ll go ahead and say that’s a negative.
Marriage plans aside, we quickly ran out of things to see and holy relics to touch, and so, to the lakes we go. We secured a taxi driver to take us up through the mountains, wait for a few hours, and then bring us back down for 10€ each. On the way up the mountain, I realized I was in one of most naturally pretty places I’d ever been and also began to understand why every blog I’d read prior to moving to Oviedo said the north of Spain was more Switzerland and less Sevilla.
The Lakes of Covadonga, more commonly called Los Lagos, are nestled in valleys in the Picos de Europa, created by glacial movement and melting some million odd years ago. The tradition of these lakes is so prevelant in Asturian culture that I met a few grown men named after Enol, the bigger lake, throughout my time in Oviedo (and also a few Pelayos). The water was gorgeous, the weather was perfect, and picnicking on the large boulders or grassy hillsides, listening to the bells as the cows grazed nearby, was an amazing way to spend a lazy afternoon.