Thursday, November 30, 2017

The 7 Major Cities of Galicia, Spain

Galicia in northwest Spain is famous for its lush green countryside. Standing in stark contrast to the dry, high plains of central Spain, Galicia’s wooded hills guard a landscape that reminds many visitors of Ireland or the Pacific Northwest, and its thousands of small towns preserve distinct accents, delicious dishes, and centuries-old festivals.

Yet today, most Galicians live in cities scattered along the Atlantic coast, a region that the train company Renfe refers to as the eje atlántico. This “Atlantic Axis” stretches from Vigo at the southern edge, through Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela, and ends on the northern coast at A Coruña and Ferrol. Keep reading to learn what makes these big cities and others tick.

1) Vigo

Vigo boasts 292,817 residents, making it Galicia’s most populous city. Strategically situated along the Ría de Vigo, an estuary on Galicia’s southwest Atlantic coast, Vigo has Europe’s second-most important fishing port. Because of this, the fish canning industry is huge here—and the fresh oysters are second to none. Apart from good seafood, there’s not much to draw you to Vigo’s old town, and the newer parts of the city were built so quickly and haphazardly over the last century that they are, in a word, uninspiring. Fortunately, ferries depart multiple times a day for the city’s Cíes Islands, three pristine islands that float out at the mouth of the estuary and offer white-sands beaches and forest hikes.

Friday, November 10, 2017

How to Spend a Week in Galicia, Spain

There is SO. MUCH. to see in Spain that you could live there for decades and still not manage to see the entire country. From beaches to mountains, big cities to villages, and national parks and monuments, Spain is home to a rich and diverse heritage of culture, history, food, and languages.

This can sometimes be overwhelming for folks who want to travel to Spain but who only have a limited amount of time. Cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada all beckon, yet so do cozy corners of the country like Asturias and Aragón…not to mention the 3,000 miles of coastline and myriad of islands.

My recommendation for this quintessential #FirstWorldProblem is to focus on a single region or part of the country and get to know that one part really well over the course of a week. Rather than a whirlwind tour where you spend 1-2 days in the biggest metropolitan areas that are scattered at huge distances across the country, traveling like this slows you down and saves you the stress of forever catching that next train or flight; plus, it also lets you savor a region’s unique character.

Having lived for two years in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, I’ve put together a suggested itinerary for folks interested in spending a week in northwest Spain.

This circuit starts in A Coruña, where you could fly in via Iberia or Vueling, but you could just as easily start this trip in Ourense or Lugo as a road trip from Madrid.

Day 1: A Coruña

A Coruña, Spain
A Coruña
Arrive in A Coruña in the early morning and introduce yourself to Galicia at a local café-bar. A small plate of sugar-drizzled churros will get you started for breakfast. Spend your first day in Galicia by exploring Coruña’s old town, by checking out museums and military forts, and by strolling along the oceanfront promenade, where you can appreciate the beauty of the city’s galerías or glassed-in balconies that stretch from one house to the next. An essential part of any visit to the Glass City is the Tower of Hercules, a monumental lighthouse that has been in continuous use since Roman times. What to eat here? A mariscada, or seafood platter, that you can order at any of the restaurants behind the Praza de María Pita square.

Sleep in A Coruña

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The 4 Natural Wonders of Galicia, Spain

Spain’s far northwestern corner is only a third the size of the U.S. state of Indiana, but it’s got a plethora of manmade sights that are truly astonishing, from the historic old town of Santiago de Compostela and the Tower of Hercules, a monumental lighthouse that has been in service since Roman times, to the slate-stone Roman city walls that encircle Lugo.

There’s a lot of monuments that nature has created as well. The region of Galicia sometimes feels a world away from the rest of Spain with its rugged terrain, rainy climate, and green forested landscapes. This unique setting has given us some jaw-dropping scenery that sets Galicia apart from the flat, high plains of central Spain or the overdeveloped beaches of the Mediterranean.

1) Ribeira Sacra — Galicia’s grand canyon

Sil Canyon, Spain
Sil Canyon
Although nothing can live up to the majestic scenery and diversity of ecosystems that Arizona’s Grand Canyon offers, Galicia’s own “grand canyon” comes pretty close. The name Ribeira Sacra or “Sacred Riverbanks” has been applied to the Sil River Canyon that cuts deep into the granite massif of central Galicia because this austere, isolated landscape was home to no fewer than 18 monasteries from the early Middle Ages onward.

Sil Canyon, Spain
Sil Canyon
The human activity here only serves to make the natural surroundings that more stunning. Tour boats cruise the Sil as it flows through here, minuscule against the vast canyon walls. Weathered Romanesque monasteries hewn from the earth beneath them reveal the building materials that sustain the Cañón do Sil today. And a glass of rich red Mencía wine lets you taste the unique terroir of a wine-producing whose stair-stepped terraces were originally planted by monks.
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