Guide to Galicia, Basque Country (Pais Vasco), Spain
Gorgeous Galicia in the far North West corner of Spain is one of the country’s greenest, loveliest and most unusual regions.
It boasts one of the longest and most unspoilt coastlines of any Spanish region, offering some of the finest seafood in Europe. It is also home to what is probably the world’s best-known walk – the hallowed Santiago Way.
This is a relatively little-known corner of the Iberian Peninsula which attracts history and culture buffs, bird watchers, water sports enthusiasts and Spanish holidaymakers keen to escape the crowds and blistering summer heat of the Southern and Eastern costas. Walkers and cyclists from all over the world make for the Galician capital, Santiago de Compostela, their destination when they embark on the famous ‘Camino de Santiago’ (Santiago Way) which has been trodden by pilgrims for more than 1,000 years.
The age-old pilgrimage is comprised of various routes, all leading to the shrine of St James the Apostle at the magnificent Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – a city which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993. The city is teeming with places of historic interest including the world’s oldest hotel – the Hostal Tres Reyes Catolicos which was originally a pilgrims’ hospital and is now one of the most exclusive hotels in the Government owned chain of Spanish Paradors.
Low key tourism has started to develop here in recent years but despite Galicia’s wealth of glorious beaches, the holiday hordes have largely been kept at bay because the sea’s too cold and the weather’s too unpredictable. There are no major theme parks and mega tourist centres such as Benidorm and Torremolinos along the Galician coastline.
Exploring Galicia’s 200-kilometre coastline is an absolute delight if you’re not in any particular hurry and you’re the sort of person who abhors the over development of the cluttered holiday costas. There are magnificent long, sandy stretches which are never over-crowded (even in high season), Norwegian-style fjords and sheltered inlets with shallow lagoons for safe and relatively warm bathing.
The coastline is peppered with pretty fishing ports and superb fish restaurants offering the sumptuous fresh seafood for which the region is so famous. Local delicacies include the rather gruesome-looking ‘goose barnacles’ known as percebes of which Hollywood actor/director Woody Allen is said to have remarked: “How can anything so ugly be so delicious?.” Many a foreign visitor bold enough to try one has concluded that the taste of these particular barnacles is quite as gruesome as their appearance!
First-time visitors to the region are often perplexed by thousands of odd looking buildings on stilts, topped with crosses, which are a distinctive feature of the Galician countryside. At first glance, they appear to be some kind of religious shrine but in fact, they are the traditional way of storing grain. Known as ‘horreos’ these grain stores are no longer used for their original purpose but are proudly preserved as an essential element of Galician heritage. You can buy miniature ceramic versions as souvenirs and full-size new horreos are still built today (as decorative features rather than for any practical purpose).
Galego – the language of Galicia
The people of Galicia are proud to speak their own language which is more akin to Portuguese than it is to the main language of Castilian (Castellano). And they safeguard their ancient culture and heritage which binds them more closely in many ways to their fellow Celtic ‘nations’ such as Ireland or Cornwall than to neighbouring Spanish regions. Galicia is a land of rolling mists, green hills and an abiding belief in witchcraft and Celtic folklore – all a far cry from sunny Spain known to millions of foreign package holidaymakers.
Places of interest in Galicia
The capital of Galicia and final destination of the famous pilgrimage way is certainly among Spain’s most beautiful cities.
This city, of high economical importance, is located at a peninsula. Major attractions include the Romanesque churches, the synagogue and the old quarter which offers an interesting contrast between almost fragile buildings and massive stone palaces. In LaCorunaa you’ll also find the world’s oldest working lighthouse – the Tower of Hercules which overlooks the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Cantabrian Sea. This was the departure point for the ill-fated Spanish Armada which set sail for England in 1588 and was repulsed by Sir Francis Drake’s navy.
Galicia’s most populated city with the most important port. The historic quarter is very charming and well preserved.
The old quarter of Lugo, to the South East of La Coruña, is completely encircled by defence walls built by the Romans 1,700 years ago and are still perfectly preserved
This province is said to be one of the most beautiful in Spain, thanks to the marvellous landscapes of Rias Baixas. The city itself offers an outstanding monumental centre.
And in the town of Ourense you can visit the Roman spa baths, where the water is a constant 70 degrees centigrade all year round or the beautiful Romanesque cathedral.