Sunday, 17 August 2008

Galicia - Spains North Western Paradise

Galicia, is quite simply one of most picturesque areas of Spain I have visited, after residing for so many years in the dryer hotter south you really notice the change in climate, vegetation, atmosphere and oldie worldly charm so similar to the villages and small hamlets of Ireland. Galicia is known in Spain as the "land of the 1000 rivers" , they wind there way all over the region from the mountainous inland to the coast, where they form the characteristical "Rias".

Galicia is made up of four sub provinces, A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra, and also the cities of Vigo and Ferrol. The regions capital is the beautiful city of Santiago . The population, quite scattered, is almost three million inhabitants, residing mostly along the coastal regions it has around 100 inhabitants per square kilometre, which is much higher than the Spanish average.

Galicia has really everything to offer, it is clean, green, offers a pleasant climate throughout spring and summer, the coastline is quite spectacular with picturesque villages and small quaint harbours dotted all along its long coastline.

Lush meadows and orchards are abound in this idyllic part of Spain. Driving around the country side and coastline is a real pleasure with fantastic views from almost every corner of the province. The coastal areas offer great contrasts with most of Spain's best beaches to be found in this area.

There are a staggering 105 blue flag beaches in Galicia almost the highest number anywhere in mainland Spain and the Islands. These outstanding beaches regularly win awards for there sheer natural beauty, cleanliness, sea and sand quality. There are too many of them to list here although some of the exceptional ones would be the Playa del Estorde , Playa de Longesteira with its smooth white sands and the famous San Francisco Beach located at the mouth of the River Muros and Noi.

On the other extreme Galicia has its fair share of dangerous and wild cliffs , specially of the Costa de la Muerte, the "coast of death" located on the northwest coast of Galicia. Here is where a dedicated band of fishermen risk their lives in hunting Percebes one of Spain most sought after and prized seafood's. Perecebes ( Barnacles ) are a delicacy for the taste and because of the work involved in cultivating them and need large amounts of oxygen to survive and as such grow in the most dangerous places along the Coast of Death. Many a fisherman have perished over the years whilst trying to avoid the wild crashing waves.

One of the must see sites is the Catedral de Santiago in Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral of Santiago is the goal of a long pilgrimage path that comes along the north of Spain, starting in France. Thousands of people every year walk this Camino de Santiago , not only religious believers make this unusual pilgrimage, many are people searching for something different , perhaps being in contact with ones inner self. The Cathedral is a Baroque masterpiece and the city has a magic feeling with stone everywhere and small winding streets around the cities old quarter. Coruña city has the oldest lighthouse still on duty in the world: from the Roman period, the Torre de Hércules is witness of every ship that enters the bay and has been wintness to every wreckage for centuries. Also one of the most important fishing ports in Europe.

One of the prettiest towns in Galicia would have to be O.Grove, situated in the middle of the Rias Baixas region , some 25 kms west of Galicias capital Pontevedra. O,Grove is one of Galicias many charming fishing villages, and due to its situation on the eastern side of the headland which faces the mainland it is protected from the tidal force of the Atlantic Ocean. It has a gentle personal charm endearing to all visitors, there are many warm and friendly hotels in O'Grove including an excellent choice of restaurants and tapas bars to suit all tastes and pockets and most of them have one thing in common, seafood, its everywhere and so fresh it basically walks onto the plate by itself.

And of course if your a seafood fanatic, then Galicia is most certainly a must destination. It serves up arguably the best tasting and fresh seafood anywhere in Spain with almost every restaurant and tapa bar serving this local delicacy in some form or other. The Rias Baixas area is the largest producer of shellfish in Spain with crabs, mussels, clams, cockles, lobsters, percebes and oysters all in abundance and pretty reasonably priced to, it really is a case of from fishing boat to plate in Galicia.

Gastronomy has a great reputation in this part of Spain and other local dishes include Empanada Gallega (a typical pie of fish or meat) and many traditional sweets some of which are prepared in monasteries. As you walk along the beaches in the area as the tide reseeds it is easy to come across cockles , clams , shrimps and small crabs laying in clean golden sands of the Rios. Be careful though not to get the urge to fill up a bag to take away as this practice is not allowed, and beware as this true treasure of the sea is jealously guarded by the ladies who work in the local cooperatives who making their living cultivating these local delicacies.

Galicia with its DO regions of , Monterrey Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra , Ribeiro and Valdeorras , produces some very fine quaffable wines both Red and White, specially when they accompany a plate of the freshest sea food straight out the nutrient rich estuaries along this beautiful coastline. I would highly recommend a visit to O,Grove for the Sea food Feria ( Festa de Marisco) in October ( around the 6th to the 15th ) however make sure you book your hotel in O' Grove early as they receive visitors from all over Spain and indeed the world for this coveted Feria where you can try every kind of fresh local seafood produce at rock at bottom prices.