With the flight being just over two hours from London, Galicia felt no distance at all, yet the landscape, culture and food were vastly different to my usual English surroundings. Santiago de Compostela, the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, was a beautiful and central location to fly into and I loved exploring the city with its remarkable architecture, religious connotations, vibrant street performers and refined culture. However, it was the Western coast that showed me a whole new side of Galicia, the more intimate and hidden side with wild, windswept beaches; picturesque fishing villages and a culture steeped in tradition. It was a tough call, but for me the most beautiful side of Galicia is located just off the coast of Pontevedra in the form of a cluster of three islands known as the Cíes Islands (or Illas Cíes), which are one of the most underrated but most beautiful places to visit in Spain.
Baiona, a picturesque tourist town with a medieval historical centre situated by the outlet of the Vigo Bay, is the perfect base from which to visit the Cíes Islands, and here you can also explore the islands easily from Vigo and Cangas. We spent our first night at Baiona, following an interesting walking tour of Santiago de Compostela. Baiona has an understated charm that makes it the ideal place to unwind and soak up some of the local culture. It took us just under an hour and a half to arrive at Baiona from Santiago de Compostela and the drive was a wonderful way to get a real taste of the landscape. The approach to this quaint fishing village was breathtaking, as the majestic medieval fortress stands proud over-seeing the serenity below.
Although the historic fishing trade has declined in recent years, sailors still frequent the area and you’ll often see a yacht or two in the tranquil harbour area. Visitors are enticed in by the medieval quarter and with everything within walking distance, plenty of traditional restaurants and an impressive 4km of pristine beaches, Baiona is definitely worth a visit.
The ferry to the islands from Baiona goes 6 times a day and takes around 40-45 minutes. If you fancy something a little more exhilarating, faster and more bespoke then a private speed boat is the ideal way to embrace the sea air and get up close and personal to the azure waters.
We were lucky enough to spot some cormorants as they fished from the rocks, during our boat trip to the islands. The area is renowned for its wildlife, with pelicans, woodpeckers, birds of prey and doves amongst the species who live here. If you are very lucky you may even spot a rare Iberian guillemot. One type of bird you can’t fail to miss is the seagull, as the islands are home to the largest seagull colony in the world (approximately 22,000 pairs!)
The Cíes Islands
If you like your beaches secluded, your coastlines rugged and wild, your waters impossibly clear and it all illuminated by glorious sunshine then you’ll adore the Cíes Islands. Add in the subtle scent of pine from the surrounding forests and you have the perfect location to spend a long, languid day.
Rodas is the most well-known of all 9 of the beaches in the archipelago (and the longest), some people get a boat straight there and spend the day on the perfect sands. Others like to embrace the rugged scenery and spend the day hiking or birdwatching. Personally, I feel it would be criminal to visit the area without really exploring it. I loved the contrast between the flawless beaches and the wind-whipped landscapes, flanked by monstrous rock formations in the granite that could have been intimidating if not softened by flirtatious glimmers of sunlit quartz.
Because visitors are limited (to 2,200 each day) you can easily find your own secluded paradise and can walk for quite a distance without seeing another soul. The lack of vehicles adds to the charm, as does the complete absence of hotels. The unspoilt landscape and lack of buildings gives the whole area a timeless charm that is deeply relaxing. If you fancy spending a night on the islands, you don’t need to worry about not having accommodation. You can camp on a small, quiet site that overlooks Rodas – what a view to wake up to!
The steep paths were speckled with clusters of rock roses, and the scrubland was also wild with gorse and broom. Although the pine trees and eucalyptus were the most obvious from their scent, we also spotted fig trees and Pyrenaen oaks. These pretty flowers were the only things to litter the path, as this conservation area has no waste bins and visitors are expected to take any rubbish away with them. The restricted daily number of visitors and the strict littering rules have certainly worked, this is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled and captivating areas of the world. The combination of divine beaches accompanied by raw, rugged landscapes is an exciting one and it makes the Cíes Islands one of the most interesting, diverse and relaxing areas to explore – definitely one of Spain’s best-kept secrets!