Covadonga, Lakes De La Ercina, and Belbin Picos de Europa,

Northern Spain


Visiting the lakes area of the Eastern Picos is recommended online, and is an area we had not previously visited. We were looking forward to seeing the 2 glacial lakes, limestone pavements, alpine flora and the apparently magnificent view from the Vega de Ario. However, things don't always go as planned.

We were holidaying in the Picos area of Northern Spain, staying at The Hotel La Rivera, Arenas de Cabrales. Unfortunately for us breakfast  was served from 8.30am, but having decided to leave earlier than this we went to Santelmo cafe, just down the road, having coffee and toast €6 for 2. It is a 30 minute drive to the start of today's walk at Covadonga near Cangas De Onis. We were following a walk given in the Sunflower guide to the Picos, and planned to drive up to the Lakes and park as described in the book.

We arrived at 8.45am to find out that after 8.30am it is no longer  possible to drive to the lakes. Since our book was published, in order to reduce the car pollution within the area many large car parks have been built, and a bus service provided to the Lakes. We parked in the final car park at the top of the valley, just before the barrier, to enable us to visit the town of Covadonga later. Parking is free, but the bus fare is €9 return adult, €3.5 child, the first bus being at 9.30am, last one down is at 7.30pm, but  the times do alter throughout the year. In Ordesa National park in the Pyrenees, there is a similar scheme, but the bus is €4.50 return and runs more frequently.

The bus is large and was about half full, this was a quiet mid-week in September, again get there early if wishing to travel. Two dogs per trip can be taken in the luggage area underneath the bus. If you have booked into the Refuge it is permitted to drive through the barrier and park at the Lake at any time of day.

The bus left at 9.30am and followed the steep windy road for 12km with excellent  views to mountains in the distance. We arrived at the top car park at 9.50am,with free toilets, and a kiosk giving out maps of the lakes. The visitor centre and shop open at 10am.

We struggled to find the start of the path, as the bus does not actually go to the Lake itself. If you don't want to walk to the lake, there is a small bus to take which costs €1. We walked past the closed visitor centre, along a road, then on the right spotted the sign to Belbin, where we went later. Our path goes near the east shore of Lago de La Ercina, past some cow sheds on the left, then away from the lake. At this point, we were at least an hour later than we had expected to be.

 Beautiful alpine limestone scenery, meadows and gorse heath are now reached with only cows for company, having left the crowds behind by the Lakes. It is all very pretty, cows with bells, hens running around amongst them, with some scattered shepherds' huts.  A cacophony of noise.

We reached  a sign post to Vega de Ario and los Lagos at 11.45am, eating our lunch just near a dried-up lake. In the guide book it is about one hour from the car park by the lake to here. It had taken us over 3 hours from where we had parked near Covadonga. From here it is a further 2 to 3 hours to the Refugio de Ario, which was our original destination. However, due to time constraints we had to can that idea, and  we took a path down a different valley to the one that we had come up, towards Belbin. If wishing to go to the Refuge turn right up the hill.

The path down is mostly easy to follow, (except in bad weather) along the left hand side of the small valley, past cows and further shepherds' cottages with views towards the mountains to the northeast and back towards the mountains behind. After 45 minutes, we cut down off  the ridge we were on and walked all round the seemingly deserted village of Belbin - no facilities. Sheep and cows graze here peacefully, their milk being made into local cheeses. This could be made into a film set from the middle ages, as it is so beautiful. We followed the dirt road from here that leads back towards the lakes and visitor centre.

If you wanted a short walk, just walk to this village from the car park - it is well worth it. We continued along the road arriving at the visitor centre at 1.45pm. Within it is a very interesting reconstruction of  The Picos, a museum, free toilets, and no cafe. We assumed the cafe is somewhere near the lakes, but did not actually go there.

We walked the ten minutes back to the car park to wait in an orderly queue under cover (fortunately as it was 26°) for the bus back down to Covadonga. At 2.30pm the bus arrived, we got on, many did not, and would have to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus- another reason to curtail this walk early. We reached  the car at 3pm.

Having parked near the village of Covadonga, we went to visit. Alternatively you could get off the bus here, look at the village, then catch another bus down the valley-if you could get on. The car parks are spaced out over a few miles along the valley. Covadonga is definitely worth a visit if in the area. It possesses a church within a cave, waterfall, a huge Cathedral with free entry, a museum, tombs, and a couple of cafes.  All within a stunning location.

Distance 6.98 miles (15.7km)

Duration of Walk Hours  4.10

Average Pace  Min/Mile 35.55

Steps  23196

Elevation gained 1557feet (474m)



As usual we wore boots, took sun hats, sun tan lotion, food and plenty of water. A compass and a whistle would be useful in bad weather.

I am not sure if I would recommend this walk at all, even though it was beautiful. I realise the reasons why a bus has been introduced, but feel that the time and money spent waiting for it was not worth it. There are many other fantastic walks in the area that could be completed instead.

If we were to do this walk again, I would definitely arrive early enough to be able to drive up to the lakes, and start walking early. We felt that this was the only way that the walk from the lakes to Refugio de Ario could be completed in a day whilst allowing yourself enough time to enjoy it.

The lakes are at 1134m and it would be easy to get lost especially in foggy weather.

A smaller walk can be done around the lakes of about 5 miles taking 2.5 hours.

This area of Northern Spain is accessible from England either by driving through France, or flying to Bilbao, then hiring a car or the route that we took, driving from our home in Manchester then catching the 24 hour relaxing ferry from Plymouth to Santander. From Santander  we visited Aldi in Torrelavega  as the food is more expensive in the Picos national park area, and drove to where we were staying in La Rivera Arenas de Cabrales for 5 days.

Resources  Used

Picos de Europa car tours and walking guide, by Teresa Farino, Sunflower Press

Picos de Europa Map scale 1:80.000

A book we did not have is, Spanish Trails, Book 1, Los Picos De Europa by Phil Lawler, but recommended by fellow walkers.

Another book is Picos de Europa et sur la cote Cantabrique, by Alban Boyer. This is in French, but with maps in and accurate timings, you could get the gist even without knowledge of the language.

Websites used

/ This is the bus timetable to the lakes, but check an up to date website before you go.