Covadonga is where the Spanish Christian army first held fast against the Moors. Nevermind the fact that the battle took place in 722 and it took them another seven and a half centuries to finally kick the Moors out, the Spanish lavish commemoration on the site -- including setting it aside in 1918 as one of country's first national parks. Similarly to Ordesa, the park has been expanded to now include 230,000 acres -- almost the entire western massif of the Picos de Europa -- making it the largest national park in Europe.
History's swell, but the real glory of Covadonga is the land. Covadonga is in the Picos de Europa, a limestone mountain range along Spain's north Atlantic coast. The Picos get first dibs on the moisture laden clouds coming in from the ocean, and are moist and misty all year long. Glacial activity, and the effects of constant precipitation, have carved drama into the mountains - cirques, sinkholes, alpine lakes, columns, and underneath the surface, networks of caverns. Many caves and caverns feature prehistoric paintings. Among spelunkers-in-the-know, the Picos are fabled.
Times to Visit
Late summer is probably the best time to visit Covadonga National Park. November through April are cold and snowy, and even May and June can be stormy. September is hot and more crowded than usual. The temperature becomes cooler in October, and the weather more unpredictable.
Many of the valleys of Covadonga are permacultured haymeadows several centuries old. Even though these hay meadows were created by humans, they have evolved into sparkling wonders of biodiversity, and are home to 40 species of orchids, plus many other wildflowers, including fritillaries, jonquils, and dogtooth violets. A full third of European butterfly species live in the Europas, many among these hay meadows.
Flying above the butterflies are an amazing variety of song birds and, especially, raptors. The skies of Covadonga carry golden eagles, griffon and Egyptian vultures, short-toed and booted eagles, hen harriers in the heathland, goshawks, sparrowhawks, kestrels, peregrine falcons, and eagle owls. Sadly, several of these raptors are now in decline.
Mammals are another glory of the park. Of particular note are the last herds of wild horses. Also to be seen are wild boar, chamois, red deer, and if you're really lucky (and clever), the Pyrenean desman.
The first stop in the park is usually the shrine commemorating the Battle of 722. From the shrine, head uphill to an outlook featuring two stunning alpine lakes and a view all the way to the ocean. There are many choices for hiking, from short ambles to treks lasting several days. A popular hike is to the Mirador de Ordiales, which is relatively easy and offers incredible views. If you want something more challenging and strenuous, you can hike along the main ridge of the Cornmon massif to the Vega Huera refugio, where you can stay overnight. This is a half day in and a half day back -- but probably not on the same day.
Excellent salmon and trout fishing can be found in clear, cold waters of the Picos.
The park offers several refugi, and almost every village has a fonda, a pension or a hostel. For tenting, the park provides official campsites -- but be sure to get a camping permit from the tourist office.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication