Galicia has four provinces:
This region, occupying the extreme north western corner of
the peninsula and called Finis Terrae by the Romans who believed
it to be the westermost land in the world, was widely known
in the Middle Ages thanks to the Route of St. James, the principal
pilgrimage route in Europe. A mountainous, wet region, its
jagged coastline is especially noteworthy. It is formed by
a succession of inlets, or rias, wide, rocky estuaries and
is rich in seafood. Galicia has a culture all its own a rich
folkloric tradition its own language, Galician.
Corunna (A Coruña) is the largest Galician city. Of
historically remote origins, it has preserved a considerable
heritage of monuments and old buildings, among which are Romanesque
churches and Roman lighthouse. Its most beautiful and original
feature is perhaps the characteristic façade on its
houses, which are completely covered by mirador windows.
Santiago de Compostela, is the current capital of Galicia
and one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. The old world
famous centre of European pilgrimage, its Romanesque cathedral,
with a grandiose Baroque façade, constitutes the centre
of life in Santiago. The city has many other interesting buildings,
such as the Old University, the Romanesque Collegiate Church
of Santa Maria del Sar, the Gelmirez Palace and the magnificent
Reyes Catolicos Hotel, currently a luxurious tourist hotel,
Lugo, the capital of the province of the same name, has preserved
all of its Roman walls and a beautiful Romanesque cathedral.
Orense (Ourese) located inland, also has a beautiful Romanesque
Pontevedra, on the headland on the ria that carries its name
is a serene, tranquil city with beautiful arcaded buildings.
Vigo is the second largest city in Galicia and the regions
most important port. Despite spectacular growth, the city's
old Quarter has maintained.
The Galician coast begins at Vegadeo or more precisely at
the bridge which spans the river. The first of the Rias Altas
or Upper Estuaries furnishes the traveller with a rather comprehensive
idea of the scenery which awaits him from here until the Costa
de la Muerte and Cabo de Finisterre, where the Rias Bajas or
Lower Estuaries begin. Ribadeo is an old port city which descends
sharply from its Plaza Mayor to the dock area. Just as in so
many other towns along this coast, its true charm lies more
in its atmosphere which continues to float through the steep
streets, rather than in its monumental possessions. It would
be superfluous to call the traveller's attention to the beauty
of Ribadeo's surroundings.
And from here and until Viveiro, the trip transpires through
eucalyptus forests, corn fields and meadows though the sea
is forever present. In this section, the coast is lined with
some very beautiful beaches, which are never very crowded and
can be reached by any of the side roads which cut off from
the main coastal highway. Viveiro at the foot of an estuary
has a lovely maritime esplanade of glass-enclosed façades
and an important medieval church which combines Romanesque
and Gothic elements. Passing by the Covas beach and without
leaving the coastline, the traveller will soon reach the Area
Longa beach, sheltered from the winds and very close to Estaca
de Bares. The northernmost point of the Peninsula offers a
truly magnificent panorama.
Backtracking along our route to El Barqueiro, the trip continues
amidst almost untouched landscape to the Ladredo estuary, a
small sandy cove included in that of Santa Marta. The main
town here -also in this case, protected from the ocean by the
winding route of the coast- is Ortigueira, a town of great
rural charm. At the mouth of the Ria and enveloped in an unmistakable
seafaring atmosphere is Cariño, which also deserves
a visit. It is unnecessary to call the traveller's attention
to the beauty of the empty beaches of sparkling white sand,
which alternate with the cliffs and reefs, forming the coastline.
In order to reach Cedeira, one must return to Mera and skirt
the Sierra de la Capelada, a place of wild beauty which the
traveller should not miss. Cedeira is a town of peaceful vacations
and glassed-in façades. The Gothic church of Santa Maria
del Mar and the landscape are the most interesting aspects
of this town. Before we continue South, we suggest to the traveller
another turn off, in order to discover the beautiful landscape
of the peninsula which is formed from the Ortegal Cape, and
one of the most interesting Sanctuaries of Galicia: San Andres
de Teixido. The road runs along a cornice between forests and
meadows, inhabited only by wild horses, and the ever present
sea. The Sanctuary is a little more than a small temple set
on a pedestal of cliffs in which the ocean frequently gives
signs of its mercilessness. The alms collectors, amulets and
votive offerings in the event that we coincide with a pilgrimage,
the ambience filled with a rural piety which appears to have
come straight out of the Middle Ages, all make San Andres de
Teixido a place of great charm and enchantment.
The mountainous landscape extends beyond Cedeira to the proximity's
of the El Ferrol Estuary. When we reach Valdoviño, we
should stop in order to admire the lagoons and sand dunes and
the nearby beach of Frouxeira. Lovers of solitary and rugged
landscapes should turn off at the entrance to El Ferrol in
the direction of Cabo Prior and the surrounding beaches. El
Ferrol is one of those orderly and austere cities which arose
in the 18th century from the shadows of the spirit of the Enlightenment.
Today, it is the seat of an important industrial center which
extends to the shores of the estuary. From here and until La
Coruña, the irregular horizons cede the way to one of
the areas of greatest historical importance in Galicia: monasteries,
castles and ancient cities replace isolated villages. The national
highway brings the traveller promptly to Pontedeume, a village
of steep streets that has known how to conserve its medieval
atmosphere, which envelops the Keep of the Andrade castle.
If the traveller arrives on Saturday he will be able to get
to know o Feiron, a market which sells cheese, bread and freshly
Miño is a summer resort area set on a broad beach.
Near it, the very narrow Ria begins, with the city of Betanzos,
one of Galicias most beautiful towns. A medieval gateway marks
the entrance to the city centre, the heart of a city of porticoes
and galleries, which has remained unchanged over the centuries.
Near the Plaza Mayor, which is called O Campo and which is
the site selected for the noisy fairs, a small monumental centre
of great interest is found. We should draw the traveller's
attention to the Church of Santa Maria del Azogue and its valuable
sculpture collection on display in its naves. We can only mention
ever so briefly, because of our limited space, that this church
also contains the tomb of Fernan Perez de Andrade, a personage
of major importance in Galicia's history.
A good national highway runs from here to La Coruña.
However, perhaps we should recommend a detour to Sada, an old
fishermen's village, converted into a summer resort area, as
has been the case with the major part of this sector of the
coast. Very close by Sada is the Pazo de Meiras, built in the
past century for the Countess of Pardo Bazan. The highway makes
its entrance into La Coruña a little farther on.
It is difficult to summarise here the highly personalised
charm of this old, refined port city, whose romantic influence
was inherited from its seafaring past and its literary references.
Between the Darsena -that maritime esplanade of lovely façades
which make up the most traditional image of La Coruña
- the old quarter, the Garden of San Carlos (enclosed within
a fortification) and the Torre de Hercules (Tower), the city
offers a very cosy ambience which attracts loyal admiration
from its visitors. The traveller should be sure to pay a visit
to La Coruña's historic centre in an unrushed manner
and stop before some of its outstanding buildings as the Church
of Santiago, the Pazo de Cornide or the Palace which houses
its military headquarters. As for the Torre de Hercules, despite
the legends which associate its construction with a mythical
Celtic king Breogan, we should say that it is really a well-conserved
To the South of La Coruña is the Costa de la Muerte
(Coast of Death), a section of the littoral of overwhelming
beauty. Its name refers to the many storms and shipwrecks which
have occurred here throughout history and also the risks involved
in the capturing of the highly prized percebes of goose barnacles.
The sea is feared here by the inhabitants and yet it is something
which forms a very major part of their lives. Many a lovely
tale or legend has been told about the existence of mermaids
and other unusual sea creatures in these dark waters.
Cayon, our first stop, is a fishermen's village set on a tiny
peninsula. The regional highways lead to Carballo and from
there to an encounter with the sea at Malpica, another graded
port city with a good beach. From here, we should head for
Cabo de San Adrian, a lonely place from which one can a glimpse
of the Sisargas Islands. Ponteceso is located at the foot of
an estuary which assures the safety of its fishing fleet. And
on the way to Laxe, we can take a short detour to visit the
Dolmen of Dombate, a fine example of Galicia's rich prehistoric
In Laxe, one should visit the 14th century parish church of
Santiago and the broad beach with its lighthouse at the very
Camariñas also deserves a visit. It is a seafaring
village but on this occasion, we must out two outstanding features:
the first would be the city landscape, quite different from
the neighbouring towns because the residents use pastel colours
the paint the socles of their homes. Secondly, if the weather
permits, the female inhabitants, the palilleiras (lace makers),
can be seen sitting outside their homes making bobbin lace
in the traditional manner.
Skirting the estuary we pass by Cereixo, with its beautiful
Romanesque church and a 17th century pazo (country manor).
Muxia, opposite Camariñas, is also a place which requires
a compulsory visit. Muxia is a small medieval burg on the sea
which does not lack for fine mansions with striking coats of
arms. Standing tall against the horizon and the ocean is the
Church of Santa Maria, a Sanctuary of seafaring devotions,
particularly when fishing trips become dangerous adventures.
Before the church, is the pedra dos cadris, a rock which, according
to tradition, has prophetic powers if one is able to interpret
its movements, resulting from the rock's unsteady position
on the ground. The next stop is Corcubion and Finisterre. Before
we arrive, however, we should point out that the real Finis
Terrae ("End of the World") is located at the Touriñan
cape, farther north and west of the town of Finisterrre. A
regional highway which starts out from the road connecting
Muxia and Corcubion leads to that wild and lovely place. Corcubion
is city which skirts an estuary and features an interesting
medieval church. On the road to Finisterre Lighthouse, the
Alangosteira beach and the small fishing port (with another
12th century church) also deserve a stop. And finally the lighthouse
is one of those mythical places which is always enchanting.
Beaten and lashed by the four winds, it makes up a very majestic
image very much in accordance with the fact that for many centuries
it was considered "The End of the World".
Returning to the open sea, after skirting the Corcubion estuary,
we discover El Pindo, an unusually shaped hill where the Celts
were said to have their Olympus. During the Middle Ages, it
was a sacred site for pagan worship. Carnota has a broad beach
and an 18th century Horreo (granary) which is thought to be
the largest in all Galicia. Farther ahead, the roadway makes
its way to the Estuary of Muros and Noya, the first of the
Muros conserves intact all of the beauty of its porticoed
streets and its medieval traced labyrinth, presided over by
a lovely Romanesque church. Continuing along the Ria, with
the mountains as a backdrop, the road follows to Noya where
the traveller should take the time to visit the town's valuable
collection of monuments. The first stop here should be the
cemetery of the Romanesque church of Santa Maria, with an interesting
series of tombstones marked with the signs of the different
guilds existing between the 10th and the 16th centuries. There
is also a medieval cross and a small 16th century temple. The
complex made up of the Church of San Francisco, the Town Council
and the noble buildings which surround the Church of San Martin
are Noya's main attractions.
The road to Santa Eugenia de Riveira reveals some very beautiful
and solitary landscape. If we venture along the back roads,
the traveller will discover magnificent beaches along the entire
coast to Cabo Corrubedo, where there is a beautiful strip of
sand dunes. Santa Eugenia de Riveira marks the entrance to
the Arosa Estuary which is densely populated, particularly
in summer by vacationing tourists. From here to Bayona, the
route unfolds amidst summer resort areas, where the scenery
loses it previous ruggedness. On the other hand, the traveller
is compensated with a greater artistic offering, found in the
feudal palaces, known here as Pazos. When we reach Puebla (or
Poboa) del Caramiñal, the traveller will discover beside
the roadway a beautiful 15th century pazo -that of Las Torres
Xunquiras- in which martial notes combine in a unique manner
with a palatial refinement. In the city centre, is another
palace, the Casa Grande, dating back to the 16th and 18th centuries.
Heading towards Padron, the highway passes Rianxo on the right,
an old port city with the Gothic Church of Santa Comba and
a 17th century pazo. This town can also be proud of the fact
that it was the birthplace of Castelao, a poet who, together
with Rosalia de Castro, represented the true spirit of Galicia.
Rosalia's birthplace is very close to Padron. Before we enter
the city, we should know that according to a popular legend
of the Middle Ages, while the Apostle St. James sailed up the
Ulloa river, he preached a sermon to the salmon which escorted
his ship. He told them to rejoice at their destiny: that of
satiating the hunger of the Christian stomachs. In Padron's
church of Santiago (St. James) a rock is kept below the altar
(archaeologists consider it a Roman lapida) which according
to the aforementioned legend was said to have been used to
moor St. James vessel. Padron can also boast of some fine buildings
and a well-conserved city centre. Santiago de Compostela is
very close by and is an absolute must on any journey through
Galicia. But for the moment we will continue along our route
through the Rias Bajas.
Crossing a medieval bridge which spans the Ulla River, we
come to Pontecesures, with some fine architecture. At this
point, the traveller should leave the main highway which heads
for Pontevedra and follow the local road which skirts the estuary
and passes by such lovely towns as Cambados and La Toja. In
Catoira, the ruins of seven Pre-Roman towers are conserved.
These fortifications were built and destroyed successively
by Romans, Vikings, and also be the powerful Santiago de Compostela
Bishop. A little farther on is the island of Cortegada, followed
by Villagarcia de Arosa. Famous author Valle Inclan was born
in Villanueva de Arosa and his birthplace is still standing.
The Island of Arosa has fine beaches and some very lovely scenery.
The Pazo of Fefiñanes, a magnificent 16th century building,
appears on the right as we enter the city of Cambados, noted
for its monumental wealth. The Church of Santa Mariña
in ruins, the Pazo of Bazan (converted into a tourism Parador)
and the Pazo of Santo Tome are the most outstanding places
of interest in this town, which is very proud of its young,
white Albariño wine. It appears that the wine stocks
were brought over to Spain by the pilgrims, on their way to
Santiago de Compostela. The island of La Toja - the next stop
on our route - closes off a small cove of peaceful waters.
It continues to display that somewhat affected elegance which
was so typical of the 19th century health resorts. On the other
side of the bridge and at the mouth of the estuary is O Grove,
a famous fishing port, noted for its delicious seafood catches.
Near here is the La Lanzada beach, whose shores were related
to ancient fertility rites.
In Sangenjo, the traveller enters the Pontevedra estuary.
From here and until Combarro, the summer vacation spots alternate
with the fishermen's homes, the horreos, the cruceiros (typical
crosses) and a peaceful rural landscape. As soon as we become
familiar with Combarro, the traveller should head for the Monastery
of Poyo, a medieval building with a fine Baroque church. Pontevedra
is very close by and naturally deserves an unrushed visit.
Its old quarter contains a lovely collection of simple monuments,
with the added attraction of their location, amidst a charming
and cosy setting which appears to belong to a distant and more
peaceful epoch. The Church of La Peregrina (the Pilgrimess)
and the Convent of San Francisco preside over the main square,
which a network of narrow medieval streets extend. The loveliest
corner is indeed the tiny square of La Leña. The Church
of Santa Maria, that of the Convent of Santa Clara and the
Plaza del Tuecro are "musts".
Once again we should reject the shortest and most direct route
- in this case, the fast motorway to Vigo - in order to make
our way through the Peninsula del Morrazo, passing by Bueu,
with its lovely scenic view, in order to reach Cangas de Morrazo,
an old fishing port located at the mouth of the Vigo estuary.
Moaña has a lovely little church of Romanesque origin,
though it was restored in the 18th century. From here we should
continue around the Vilaboa cove and from Arcade, follow the
road which leads to the Soutomaior castle, a beautiful medieval
fortress which belonged the Count of Camiña, an aristocrat,
with a rather turbulent past. In Vigo, the traveller should
head directly for its old quarter, which is naturally found
beside the port area. After we wander through the old streets
which surround the Collegiate Church, we should climb up to
the castle which crowns the El Castro park in order to take
in its lovely view.
Upon leaving Vigo, the coast becomes a succession of beaches,
which are all very crowded during the summer months. Close
by, but outside of the estuary zone, is Bayona, a fishing village
which has managed to maintain its ancient appearance despite
the fact that it is also a popular summer resort. In addition
to the old quarter and an excellent beach, Bayona has a magnificent
fortress (converted into a Tourism Parador) which crowns Monte
Real, enjoying a splendid view. Its history is filled with
pirate episodes, wars and the fact that it was the first place
to learn of the discovery of America for one of Columbus' caravels
laid anchor in the tiny bay.
From here until La Guardia the highway runs along a solitary
coastline, battered by the strong Atlantic winds. The trip
ends with the Ascent of the Santa Tecla Hill, standing high
above the Miño estuary and on the gentle rolling landscape,
covered with vineyards. A well-conserved Celtic castro is found
on the slopes of the hill, with a reconstructed dwelling which
helps the visitor to imagine the lifestyle of that remote people
whose basic characteristics helped to mould the identity of
old Galicia and in general, the greater part of the North of
Spain. There could certainly be no better way to end our lengthy
journey along this coastline of very beautiful horizons. Here
is a land which owes a great deal to its own past and which,
at times, seems to have become lost, even today, in that same
cloudy and primitive tranquillity which enveloped our world,
before history began to leave its heavy mark on Mother Nature.
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