After a month of being confined to the old quarter of Oviedo due to sciatica, I was itching to explore the surrounding countryside. My affliction made me realise how much I love wandering, exploring – following narrow paths over hills, into valleys following old trails and local relics.
It was early Autumn in Asturias, in the north of Spain, the sky was cloudless and the fields were emerald green. I phoned my family and hastily told them “I’m heading off”. “I’m coming”, they said, and I waited on a street corner before joining them, limping slightly into the heart of the city, across the train line, up winding streets towards the foot of the hills that afford fine views over the city.
Mountains towered above crests flecked with trees, fields and houses. Wild blackberries bloomed on the side of the road and we stopped and nibbled on several before continuing along an old trail, past a scarecrow and a donkey enjoying the lush grass. I chatted to a couple of Peruvians turned Asturians before we found ourselves at the foot of our first pre-Romanesque UNESCO World Heritage-listed church.
San Miguel de Lillo
A small Roman Catholic church built in 848, San Miguel de Lillo is a striking, tall, narrow edifice that sits conspicuously amidst the foothills of Oviedo. Even though part of the building collapsed sometime during the 12-13th-century, the church houses a handsome door and an elaborate window lattice that’s sculpted from a single piece of stone.
The church is open to the public during certain days of the week, although it wasn’t on this day. However, I enjoyed wandering around its base, sitting on a nearby rise and staring at its home upon the flat sward that helped it look like something out of an old fairy tale.
Santa María del Naranco
About 100 metres away is Santa María del Naranco, another Roman Catholic church which was originally part of a recreational palace for an Asturian king – also built in 848 – that was converted in the 13th-century. It has both Visigoth and Carolingian court structures and two floors. The church is also open during certain times, and while it was closed on this day, I managed to poke my camera into the ‘crypt’ on the lower floor and snap some of the ambience that has surrounded this structure for over 1100 years.
Even though the sunlight was still high in the early afternoon, it bathed the ancient columns and archways in an incandescent glow while shadows fell across the far side. Surrounding the church were lustrous green fields, where we enjoyed splendid views over Oviedo and the mountains that are a trademark of this wild and relatively unknown part of Spain.
I enjoyed the return walk towards town, taking a shortcut through the countryside, admiring miles of leafy hills.