Leaving Oviedo was very straight forward as we made our way out of the city and towards the Autovia that would take us almost directly south – only almost directly because first we had to pass through the mountains, or more specifically the Montes de León which are a western section of the Cantabrian mountains that form a natural geographical border between Asturias and Castilla y León.
Even as we started to climb it was effortless motoring on a wide fast road without traffic and we made steady progress towards our destination. All the time we were climbing, climbing, climbing as though into the sky and into the blue and the grey of the clouds through saw edged, snow capped mountains that just kept on soaring into the sky. The climb was endless, swift and dramatic as we climbed to over one thousand five-hundred metres and passed heavy goods vehicles with ease as they laboured and snorted along the constant incline.
We passed through long sinuous tunnels and crossed expansive viaducts and bridges and soon we were at two thousand metres and above the snow line and into a national park high into the mountains where road signs warned of chamois deer and the ambient temperature warning in the car dropped to just four degrees centigrade. For a moment or two I wondered if I had strayed off course and unrestrained by the limitations of time if I was somewhere deep in the Swiss Alps? As we approached the summit, past the emergency parking areas for overheating vehicles I was happy to declare this to be my most memorable motorway journey ever – the Autovia equivalent of the Amalfi drive!
Finally the road levelled out as we reached the summit and we were transported to a most Alpine scene with little red roofed villages, that must spend weeks cut off during the winter, snow clinging stubbornly in the sun-starved crevices and then a mountain lake, the Embalse de los Barrios de Luna, the waters of the moon, as blue as the sky and sparkling in the sunshine as it spread out on either side of the highway as we crossed it on a high level six hundred and fifty metre long suspension bridge – currently the longest in Spain.
A motorway through the mountains such as this is obviously very expensive to build in the first place and then to annually maintain so inevitably we eventually came to a toll booth which charged us €12.80 to pass through but I soon came to terms with this when I realised that €6.40 each for this sort of entertainment was very good value indeed and soon after passing through we stopped at the very top and enjoyed the views back towards Asturias, east and west along the valleys of the National Park and south towards Castilla y León where we passed into soon after resuming our journey.
On the southern side of the mountain range there was a straight, less dramatic road and a more gradual descent towards the high plain of Castilla y León, the spiritual heartland of Christian Spain and as we drove I began to contemplate the prospect of our next city stopover in León.