Galacia is the neighboring autonomous community to Asturias, and one we have been told by many Spaniards is a must visit; for the coastal landscapes, lush, green mountains and valleys, and the best seafood in Spain. We decided to rent a car for this four day trip, because Galacia is best accessed by car, due to the many mountainous roads and lower populations led to less bus and train lines connecting towns and cities. Travel by car, while more costly, allows for much more randomness during a trip, as this one attests to.
We set out in the late afternoon from Gijón, Jesse behind the wheel and the rain just starting, coming form dark clouds against blue skies. Austrias also has beautiful green hills and valleys, and runs along the ocean; the rain led to some rainbows that were a good sign for the start of our journey.
It was dark and drizzling when we arrived in Lugo, a city that is centuries old, and was called Lucus Augusti when founded by the Romans in the first century BC, where it was the site of their fortress when they conquered northwest Spain. The fortress walls still stand and encircle the old town, and we were able to walk on them, even later in the evening, as, during this cold, rainy night, the walls and old town were sparsely populated.
The hotel where we stayed at was located above the ancient Roman Baths, similar to those that we visited in Gijón, and we were able to tour them. The Romans loved their baths, and they were very pleased to have these here in Lugo. The hotel even offers spa service using the natural waters, and while the smell of sulfur can be a bother at times, the healing properties make up for it (or so we tell ourselves).
The hotel also had a tiny balcony overlooking the Miño River and with a spectacular view of the ancient Roman bridge. It was irresistible to take pictures of the bridge and river at different times of day.
Our full day in Lugo began with the healing powers of the ancient baths, included eating some excellent octopus (a Galacian specialty), more wall walking, and a trip to a small musuem called Porta Miña, where we learned more about the Romans in Lugo. We also saw another rainbow, so while the sky overhead was overcast, the only raining it did was a mist, and it provided a peaceful serenity to the afternoon.
Our next stop was the town of Parada de Sil in the area of the Ribeira Sacra, which has both the Sil River and the Miño River running through it. The area has mountains and rivers, spectacular views, and many, many monasteries. Our first stop was the Monastery of Santo Estevo, which dates back to the 7th century. It is quite impressive to take in, and since Remembrance Day was recently, there were still many flowers on the gravestones that sat outside the monastery. There is a high-end Spanish hotel chain that I have mentioned before, the Paradores, which come complete with a restaurant and cafe, so we grabbed a cafe con leche before exploring the monastery, its inner courtyards and chapel.
Our next stop was dictated by a road sign that said, Miradoiro de Vilouxe (a Miradoiro is a lookout point) ahead, and we went searching for it. We had to park and walk through a very sleepy town, which looked mostly abandoned, but did have two vending machines next to a small chapel, where we parked. We took the ten minute walk through the towns narrow, streets, seeing the occasional cat, and a few newish cars, until we came to a clearing and a path that led toward the lookout point. We did not know what to expect, but we knew we were high up in the mountains, after driving up many a winding road to reach the Miradoiro de Vilouxe. Once we made it past the clearing we saw the river Sil far below, the mountains on all sides, and one of the most scenic views I have seen.
Our next stop was our hotel, which was at the base of the river. We arrived and the hotel, run by a couple and their multiple dogs, where we were given a room with an enchanting view of the river Sil, from much closer than the Miradoiro.
A friend of ours happened to be visiting a friend in the city of Ourense, which is only an hour from the Parada de Sil, and he invited us for dinner. As there were no restaurants even near where we were staying, and an excuse for a home-cooked meal in a different city, we drove to Ourense, and, as we drove up through the mountains, were treated to a sunset that pictures did not capture (but I tried). Ourense has a welcoming and lively city center, with many people out on the cold evening. They also had some of the best graffiti art I’ve seen in Spain thus far. We ate a hearty meal, walked a bit in the town, shared some drinks, lost track of time, and did not make it back to Parada de Sil until well after midnight.
The next morning we were headed to the capital of Galacia, the end of the Camino de Santiago, Compestela. On the way though, we made a quick stop at another monastery (Monasterio de San Pedro de Rocas), and found our favorite Miradoiro, high above even the clouds. Breathtaking is the perfect word, because how often does one get to look down upon the clouds?
Santiago de Compostela is a bustling town, and we had to park in a public garage, three levels down, and be very aware of the all the traffic and people, as even in tourist off-season, the most popular destinations still have a lot of people. The Cathedral is the spectacular end to the long journey of those pilgrims and others walking the Camino de Santiago; there are many ways to get there, some begin in France, others in North Spain, some in Asturias; and they go through different towns and cities, many that we have visited in North Spain, but they all end in the same place, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. We arrived in the early evening, and while there are still people mulling about on the square, some taking pictures with selfie sticks, caminoers talking with fellow caminoers, their walking sticks in hand, a woman was handing out flyers for one of the many tours of the city, and many, like us, craning our necks to look up at the overwhelming artistry found in the facade of the Cathedral.
However we did not enter the Cathedral as it was closed (and did not actually make it inside on this trip), instead we walked about the town and wound up in front of the Monasterio de San Martin Pinario, with two small, manicured gardens in front, replete with bright flowers. The main entrance was closed, but off to the side we saw the museum entrance, and thought, why not? We paid the 4.50 euro entry price, and first encountered a modern painting and sculpture gallery, which had some interesting pieces, and a few we liked.
Once done with the gallery, we proceeded on, through an ordinary doorway. We were not prepared for the Cathedral or the altar inside. Truly spectacular and enormous, with so much detail it was impossible to know where to look, and what to concentrate on. There was a tour group near the entrance to the Cathedral, but they were still far from the altar, so we made a beeline to it, our mouths agape as we walked around the altar, to the choir area behind the altar.
These pictures only do slight justice to the impressiveness of the Cathedral, if one travels to Santiago de Compostela, one must see them for themselves. As we looked around, there was a door leading into an ancient stone room, with some relics and other artifacts in glass cases. So we went that way, which eventually led into another stone room, this one much more grandiose, with large paintings, sculptures, and a dome.
Again, very impressive, and we spent a long time here as well, until we saw another doorway, and some stairs going up. Of course we took them, and were taken to more rooms of artifacts, populated with ancient crosses, colorful jewels and jewelry, holy frocks, some relics, printing plates, holy china, and even taxidermy displays (monks have a lot of time on their hands).
Each of these rooms were more strange and impressive than the last, and we went up more stairs, until we found ourselves back in the Cathedral, high above and facing the giant altar, behind wicker, criss-crossed, very old lattice, that said “don not touch, very old,” but we could peak through and see the whole cathedral. There was even another, backup choir sitting set, carved in wood, in case the main choir needed a breather.
It is so cool to explore on our own, and, once we made our way past the tour group, we never ran into anyone else, guard or fellow tourist, until we returned to the main cathedral. Jesse always said she wanted to go “behind the scenes” at a grand church, and this was exactly that. So if that is something you’re ever interested in, definitely visit Monasterio de San Martin Pinario.
We ate an earlier dinner that day for Jesse’ birthday of half an octopus, grilled veggies, good wine and later enjoyed drinks on the patio, near our hotel, where they fed us some excellent tortilla tapas. At the end of the evening we walked back toward the main Cathedral, this time of the evening there were very few people, and took in some long looks of it shining, while the brisk evening air reminded us that fall is upon us. The next morning we took our leave of Santiago de Compestela, made a quick pit stop for lunch in the town of Vilalba (we tried to visit the tower, but alas, it was closed) and enjoyed the relaxing drive back to Gijón.
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