Our writer Holly Daffurn has recently returned from Galicia, Spain on the #inGalicia blog trip. With wild beaches, rugged landscapes and divine cuisine, Galicia offers a unique and under-the-radar tourist destination…
Nestled in the north-west of Spain (between Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean) Galicia has a hint of Spanish flavour but also a distinct location with a lush, verdant landscape that is unmistakably Galician coupled with a rich, diverse cultural history. Natives swap between Galiago and the Spanish language without missing a beat, depending on the nature of the conversation. Though the softer language of Galicia is associated with the countryside and the upper classes refuse to speak it. In Galiago there are over 30 different words for rain and the area does have a more temperate climate and slightly more rain than other areas of Spain, especially the South.
Many people visit Santiago de Compostela when they are in Galicia. This renowned city has vast religious and historic roots, and since the major release of the film The Way, more and more people flock to the area to carry out their own pilgrimage. The Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St James) attracts more than 200,000 people each year with the majority of those embarking of the pilgrimage being of Spanish descent. While in Santiago de Compostela people can enjoy tapas, pick up religious souvenirs, enjoy the regular street music and even visit the cathedral where St James’ earthly remains are believed to be buried. Although the city has breathtaking architecture and a fascinating history, many people neglect to visit the striking coastline and the more off-the-beaten-tracks areas of beautiful Galicia. Here is my journey through Galicia in pictures…
Santiago cathedral where St James’ remains are believed to be housed.
Our guides Ana and Sabela in Plaza del Obradoiro, Santiago de Compostela, looking out at the striking landscape beyond.
Upon arrival in Santiago de Compostela, pilgrims would be given a scallop shell as a token to represent the journey that they had completed. They would drink water from the shell. Nowadays, this tradition continues but the streets are also lined with stalls selling scallop shells to tourists. The scallop shell has long been associated with fertility and femininity, and the camino (or pilgrimage) is seen as a symbolic form of rebirth. In Galicia, the shell symbol has come to represent more than the pilgrimage. Large seashells are used as interesting side plates in restaurants and in the town of La Toja, street stalls selling pretty shell jewellery as a popular part of the culture. Mariano Rajoy, the president of Spain (who was born in Galicia), got married at La Toja Chapel, a charming building with an exterior covered in pearly cockle shells. Galicia is celebrated for its seafood (which is the main industry) and the shell has become a symbol of this, as well as the breathtaking coastlines and islands of the area. These areas exhibit exceptional natural beauty but are often sadly overshadowed by the grandeur of Santiago de Compostela.
Chapel la Toja, covered in seashells. La Toja is also renowned for its mineral soaps and we had a very relaxing thermal spa in the mineral waters at Gran Hotel La Toja.
Harbour at Muros. Muros is a traditional fishing town with narrow medieval streets and fishermen’s houses. Home of one of the few tidal mills in Spain (which is no longer in use) and former salting factories.
We were fortunate enough to meet the hard-working Lago family who invited us onto their boat, Lourdes del Mar, to get a taste for the mussel industry in Muros.
The best way to truly appreciate the beauty of small harbour towns such as Muros, is by taking a boat around the mussel farms and embracing the wild sea air. There are plenty of boats for hire, and many have space beneath the deck where they will grill fresh food for you and your party to enjoy during your adventure.
In contrast to the humble, working feel of Muros, Baiona is a pretty and peaceful harbour town. As well as a quiet spot to enjoy the local cuisine, Baiona is also the ideal place to catch a speedboat to The Cíes Islands.
The rugged coastline of The Cíes Islands (approached by boat). Due to restricted visitor numbers, this archipelago has a majestic serenity and the natural beauty is perfectly preserved.
Views from The Cíes Islands. The area is dense with aromatic eucalyptus trees. These were initially planted by Franco, as their robust nature and speedy growth made them ideal for the paper industry. Unfortunately, they are now draining the soil of the nutrients needed for native trees such as oak trees. While the eucalyptus trees spread like a plague, measures are being put in place to slowly remove them. Despite their vampiric nature, these trees are an identifiable and important part of the current landscape of Galicia.
La Playa de Rodas has been listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It joins the two of the largest of the Cíes Islands (Faro and Monteagudo). The impressive coastline, lush foliage and secluded island location make this beach a real gem.
This beautiful lighthouse on the Island of Ons is one of the few to still be maintained by a lighthouse keeper. There are many lighthouses in the area as the coastline is so rugged and fishing is such an important part of the culture.
As well as a plethora of lighthouses, the area also boasts an abundance of granaries. The one pictured was amongst many on the Islands of Ons. Although they were initially built for practical purpose (to store, protect and preserve food), they are now an important part of the heritage and a noticeable aspect of the landscape of the area.
Pimientos de Padrón, a delicious and entertaining tapas dish
The food in the area isn’t all seafood, though the locals are immensely proud of this aspect of their cuisine. One of the most unique (and non fish-based) food options are Padrón peppers (pimientos de Padrón). Served charred and drizzled with a liberal helping of olive oil and a hearty sprinkle of coarse rock salt, these green peppers hail from the province of A Coruña. A popular tapas dish evolves into a gastronomic game of Russian roulette as some of the peppers naturally grow to be very hot while the majority have a mild taste. The unpredictability of this simple dish makes it a popular snack amongst friends.
The perfect accompaniment to seafood and tapas, albariño wine is notorious in Galicia. The perfect albariño has the perfect combination of delicate fruitiness and a lean acidity.
Although Santiago de Compostela is worth exploring and has a fascinating history; the sense of wonder and beauty that you get from the rugged coastlines, traditional fishing towns, wild beaches, charming granaries, iconic lighthouses and the simple yet deliciously fresh cuisine mean that Galicia has so much more to offer than just caminos and religious relics.
All words and images by our writer Holly Daffurn. This post was written as part of the #inGalicia blog trip, created and managed by Captivate in partnership with the Spanish tourism board. All opinions are Holly’s own.