Northwest Spain continues to amaze me the more I learn about it. You’d think it’d be hard to top a region that happens to have coastal islands with pristine white-sands beaches, one of the most beautiful historic town centers in Europe, or the only city that is still completely enclosed by its original Roman walls. But Galicia’s got yet another stunning treasure: the only river in continental Europe that empties into the sea via a waterfall.
The Xallas River pours down the glossy hillside of Mt. Pindo, having trickled out of a dam that’s been generating hydroelectric power since the ‘60s. When friends both Galician and expat alike raved to me about the Ézaro Waterfall—pronounced “EH-thah-row” [ˈe.θa.ɾo]—I always imagined a river rushing over something like the White Cliffs of Dover before dramatically crashing into the ocean. The real thing is a lot more subdued, as the river merely rolls down an eroded hillside into a tiny estuary before it reaches the open seas. But knowing that there’s nothing like this anywhere else in Europe makes the Ézaro a special place indeed.
This waterfall is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the popular pilgrimage site of Fisterra (“the End of the World” on the Camino de Santiago), so it’s understandably mobbed by tourists daytripping from Santiago de Compostela in charter buses on their way to see the cliff-bound lighthouse. To escape the crowds, it’s best to drive up, up, and away from the parking lot to the miradoiro or lookout point within eyeshot of the dam. The lookout point gives you some perspective on the whole lay of the land as Galicia’s rugged granite terrain gives way to the infinite Atlantic Ocean.
It’s not every day you come across a deserted beach that literally stretches for miles beneath a deep blue sky. Yet that’s exactly what happened to me one warm, sunny Saturday in April while exploring the far western reaches of Galicia in northwest Spain.
The town of Carnota (really just a collection of rural houses and small family farms) stretches across a flat tract of Galicia’s Atlantic coastline, tucked away in a bend of the Ría de Corcubión—one of many inlets of the sea that extend like fingers into the mainland. Five of these estuaries trickle down the region’s western coast, where steep hillsides contrast with white-sands beaches and where the economy depends on both fishing and white wine production.
But Carnota’s got more than just stunning, vast beaches and pretty rural scenery. This little coastal town is also home to one of the region’s longest hórreos or stone corncrib used to store corn and other crops after the harvest—a common sight across the region, but never as long as the one here. Called an hórreo comunal, this “communal granary” served multiple families when it was built in the late 1700s and is one of those “curiosities” you often find in rural Galicia.