Galicia: A haven of natural beauty
Located in North West Spain, Galicia is a haven of natural beauty; filled with towns, villages and countryside as well as cities such as the golden Santiago de Compostela. This region is part of what is known as ‘Green Spain’ due to its luscious mountains and valleys and many Paradors are located within vicinity or amongst this greenery in order to be able to enjoy it to the full!
Santiago de Compostela
We begin with Santiago de Compostela, one of Spain’s finest cities and the region’s capital, which many would argue is Galicia’s crowning glory. Steeped in history, Santiago’s historic centre became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and many visitors enjoy digging into the depths of the city and discover hidden secrets around each corner.
A significant city during the middle ages, Santiago once rivalled Rome and Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage and is famously the final destination for pilgrims undertaking the Camino de Santiago, or ‘Way of Saint James’, a pilgrimage which ends in the Plaza de Obradoiro in front of the cathedral. The imposing Baroque cathedral is rumoured to house the remains of Saint James and, with its fine architecture and grand vestibule, can only be considered a masterpiece - is undoubtedly Santiago’s greatest attraction.
Weary travellers can rest their feet at the spectacular Parador de Santiago, an ancient former Pilgrim’s Hospice which borders the Plaza de Obradoiro and boasts luxurious communal areas, bedrooms and suites, complete with gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements and a magnificent ancient dining hall.
South of Santiago we have Baiona with its fine walled-fortress Parador and bay views - however there is more to this town than just its spectacular Parador. This is a fantastic coastal location at the mouth of the Vigo estuary with views across to the Cíes Islands, an idyllic nature reserve whose ancient sand dunes and emerald green waters can fool you into thinking you are on your very own desert island.
Baiona has a fascinating history; it was the first place in the ‘old world’ to learn of the New World discoveries following the return of Columbus’ ships. There is a museum in the harbour which is designed to look like a traditional Caravel (the sailing ship used by Spanish and Portuguese explorers) where you can learn more about Columbus’ first forays to the Americas.
Those looking to explore beyond the realms of the town will be greeted with a picturesque coastline and verdant natural surroundings. Follow the ‘Camellia Trails’ to see these flowers brighten up the Galician countryside. Originally from the east, camellias have adapted well to the Galician climate and the region is now home to almost 8000 varieties.
Also known as A Coruña in Galician and Corunna in English, this was the former Galician capital before being replaced by Santiago de Compostela. You cannot fail to be charmed by this lovely city with its expansive beaches and dramatic cliffs jutting out into the Atlantic.
One of the symbols of the city is the Tower of Hercules, the only working roman lighthouse in the world. If you are feeling active, climb the 242 steps to access a magnificent view of the city and its coastline. You will find it in the old city where you will also find interesting Romanesque streets, squares and medieval churches. The oldest of which is the Church of Santiago built in the 12th century. Similarly of which, in the upper part of the old city, find another church, called Santa María del Campo, incidentally where one finds inside the museum of religious art.
For any history buffs out there, you may recognise La Coruña and its region from the role it played in the Anglo-Hispanic conflicts during Elizabeth I’s reign. The nearby town of Ferrol (birthplace to Dictator Francisco Franco) was used by King Phillip II as a base for launching his Armada attach on England in 1588. As a counter-attack, Sir Francis Drake sailed into La Coruña and proceeded to sack and burn down much of the town before being fought off by a citizen uprising led by the brave Maria Pita.
Its claim to fame is as the base from which Spanish King Phillip II launched his Armada attack on England on 22nd July 1588. A year later, Sir Francis Drake sailed into La Coruña, only to be defeated by the resistance of the citizens led by Maria Pita. Nowadays, step back in time and see the glazed balconies on the tall houses.
The Parador de Ferrol is located in the ancient town of Ferrol, an east drive to La Coruña. Or you could stay in a comfortable Keytel Hotel such as the Eurostars Ciudad de La Coruña or NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre.
This Galician town is a mixture of old and new, with the newer elements of the city sprawling into the outskirts, and the fascinating historic centre at the heart of the town, remaining largely unchanged - this is where you will find the Parador de Pontevedra. Nestled in the ancient streets near the Puente del Burgo Bridge you will find an ideal stopping place to explore this wonderful little place. Ancient houses, many complete with ‘escudos’ (coat of arms), line the streets and the cathedral only serves to impress with its intricate carving of the crucifixion on the West front.
For those who love nature, Pontevedra lies in the heart of the attractive Rías Baixas, a sunken valley of bodies of water similar to the Norwegian fjords, which include the Vigo Ría and connect the city to the Atlantic.
Cambados also benefits from a privileged location beside the sea. It is a pleasant town on the Ría de Arousa full of character and history. Explore the hidden ruins of the 16th century Santa Marina church or the Plaza de Fefiñanes bordered by the Pazo de los Figueroa, a traditional Galician manor house, and the 16th century San Bieito church. The Parador de Cambados is built around a 17th century Pazo de Bazán ancestral home, with peaceful patios and tranquil gardens to relax in.
Cambados is widely considered to be the home of the popular Albariño white wine. The grape is grown in Galicia and northern Portugal, and for any wine lovers looking for a great Spanish vintage, look out for the special Rías Baixas D.O. classification. Along this part of the coast you will find many small ‘Pazos’ (Galician manor houses) which have their own vineyards.
From the Parador de Ribadeo, you get magnificent panoramic views across the estuary to Castropol, a lovely village with a church which has an inverted golf tee-shaped spire. As for Ribadeo itself, it is a quiet fishing town with a small harbour below the Parador charming town centre.
The main attraction of Ribadeo is its fantastic location on the estuary, perfect bird watching, and its proximity to some of northern Spain’s best beaches including the breath taking Playa de las Catedrales.
Of course, no trip to Galicia is complete without sampling some of the delicious fish and seafood on offer. Typical seafood found in the area includes oysters, mussels, cockles and sardines, but the region is also home to some fantastic dairy produce, such as the scrumptious tetilla and San Simón cheeses. Chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and wild mushrooms can all be found in the region’s forests and are eaten seasonally.
Delicious regional dishes that can be found throughout the region include the Galician empanada - a pastry filled with tuna and bell peppers, Galician broth - consisting of green beans, French beans, cabbage, parsnip, potatoes and haricot beans and the famous Tarta de Santiago, an almond-based cake made as a tribute to St James himself.
One cannot go wrong by accompanying these dishes with a delicious, regional Albariño wine.
Celebrate the gastronomy of Galicia by attending one of the many gastronomic fiestas held throughout the region, where visitors and locals alike exalt in the regions local produce. These fiestas are typically held during harvest time and religious holidays such as ‘romerías’ where promises are made to the patron saint over a traditional meal. These fiestas can pull in big crowds and ones of note include the Alvariño wine festival of Cambados, the lamprey festival of Pontevedra and the cuttlefish festival of Redondela.