Only 79 miles via the autopista from León, Oviedo, our next destination, was a short drive away. Both Google Maps and our leased Grand Kangoo’s GPS directed us to take Autopista Ruta de la Plata (AP-66), one of Spain’s ultra-modern toll highways, from León to Oviedo. Our Michelin map presented an alternative. A scenic road, CL-643, parallels the autopista and follows the perimeter of the Barrios de Luna Reservoir. It was a tough choice. Stay on the toll road, a spectacular piece of modern civil engineering, or take the slow road around the lake. This time we took the back road.
Dodging rain showers we turned the Kangoo off of AP-66 and onto CL-643. At the start, CL-643 took us by the river along the valley floor past trees tinged with fall colors. We climbed slowly as the valley tightened ahead. At the end of the gorge a large 1950’s era concrete dam is wedged dramatically in a narrow gap in the rocks plugging the rivers flow. Reaching the top of the 315-foot high dam we could see the large reservoir, 2,725 acres when filled, held back by the mass of cement. After a pause, we loaded back into the car and continued along the edge of the lake.
Visiting at the end of the dry season, the waters of Barrios de Luna Reservoir had retreated. Stone buildings and walls of a long buried ancient community had been revealed at the edge of withdrawing water. It was a reminder that the lake was not always there. Further along there is an abandoned bridge. Made redundant by the super highway on the other side of the lake, the large bridge that once spanned a gorge and shortened journey to Oviedo now sits disused. Today the bridge is fenced off and left to decay; like the shore side stonewalls and buildings it is a landmark for curious travelers.
From CL-643 we had a good view across the reservoir to the autopista’s modern cable-stayed bridge and the entrance to a long tunnel. Indeed, both AP-66 and CL-643 share similar views of the valley of the Luna River. In this case, the back road’s appeal is simple; it is slower. With virtually no traffic we could stop, hike over the dam, and take pictures pretty much anywhere we wanted.
Our scenic bypass ended at the far end of the reservoir when we connected back to the autopista. In the increasing rain we sped off to Oviedo. Our side trip delayed our arrival in the capital of Asturias by an hour or so. It was time well spent.