1) Ride the high-speed train from Santiago de Compostela or A Coruña
|Soportales by the cathedral|
However, most of the work within Galicia is already done, and you can now travel between A Coruña on the coast, to Santiago de Compostela the capital, southwest to Ourense in a little over an hour—formerly a 2-3 hour train ride. The train tracks pass through numerous tunnels and cross dozens of canyons on great bridges, making for a quick but lovely journey through the prettiest landscapes in Spain.
2) Enjoy (or endure) the extreme weather
|Church of Santa Eufemia|
If you get off the train here in the winter, bundle up, and if you come in the summer, bring an, uh, egg…to fry on the sidewalk. (Just kidding!)
3) Eat up free tapas with your drink
|Café bombón with a little cookie tapa|
4) Cross the Miño River on beautiful bridgesOurense is split in half, north and south, by the Miño River that passes through it. To the north lies the train station and much of the Franco-era new town, and to the south you can find the small historic core. Half a dozen or so bridges link the two halves together, but two are particularly fun to cross the river on.
First you have the Roman Bridge, a bit of a misnomer for what is actually a medieval-era bridge that was built on Roman foundations. The official (and more appropriate) name is Ponte Vella, Galician for “old bridge.” Five pointed arches span the river and bring the bridge to a magnificent summit in a very Balkans-eque fashion. Walk across this pedestrianized stone bridge at night and imagine yourself a pilgrim resting from a long day’s hike along the Camino de Santiago. After all, the Vía de la Plata—the pilgrimage route that links Santiago de Compostela with Sevilla—passes through Ourense.
5) Stroll through the simple, serene cathedral
But you can tell that the Romanesque was beginning to transform into the light-filled, vertical Gothic style. Art historians call this era the “late Romanesque,” and you can see it here in Ourense: the vaulting in the ceiling has squeezed a rounded arch into a pointy, triangular tip, and light pours in from upper clerestory windows. Wonder at the explosion of architectural creativity that was about to happen at this point in time, and then wander to the central crossing where a heavenly, octagonal Gothic “lantern tower” (added a few centuries later) lets white light enter inside.
|(Source: Gerardo González)|
6) Relax in dozens of hot spring poolsI saved the best for last. If (when?) tourism picks up in Ourense, the city’s main draw will be its thermal baths that feed off of natural hot springs. Although there’s some drinking fountains and a pool in the old town (As Burgas), the majority of the baths are clustered along the river to the northwest. There are free public pools as well as fancier, spa-like private ones. I tried out the privately-run Chavasqueira and Outariz termas, but smaller public ones are right outside both. The private ones had a wide selection of pools of varying temperatures and were extremely relaxing. The natural spring water is supposed to be beneficial for ailments, your skin, and general achiness because of its mineral content. Plus, hot water is nice! For around 5€ an entrance, I got 1-2 hours to spend in these places for “el relax,” as they said.
|This way to the termas|
Have you ever been to Ourense before? Or even heard of it? What are some other best-kept secrets in northern Spain? Tell me what you think in the comments below!
For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.