IT’s often said that if only Ireland had the same sort of climate as, say, the Mediterranean, it’d be the greatest little place on Earth.
Well, with its Celtic heritage – not to mention a lush, green landscape so similar to our own – perhaps Galicia, the crown jewel on the Camino Way, is just that.
It feels far removed from the rest of Spain and it’s vibrant living history is unique.
Flying in to the charming city of Santiago de Compostela, I checked into the boutique Carris Hotel Casa de Troya, smack, bang in the middle of the old town, surrounded by narrow streets filled with bars, restaurants and shops. It was the perfect base for discovering Galicia.
At the heart of this magical UNESCO world heritage site is the 700-year-old Cathedral of Santiago, the final destination for many Camino pilgrims and site of the tomb of St James.
During the Pilgrims’ mass at midday, you may be lucky enough to see them swinging the Botafumeiro – a gigantic incense burner that hangs from the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling. It takes eight men to get it swinging and reaches speeds of up to 75kmh, a spectacle you won’t soon forget.
Then, before you get too dizzy, make your way up to the cathedral roof to get a bird’s eye view of this ancient city.
When eating out in Santiago de Compostela, Franco and Raina streets in the heart of old quarter are the perfect place start. Lined with restaurants and bars, many displaying a wealth of typical dishes and tapas on offer, the quality and flavours will have you coming back for more.
On our first night we were lucky enough to enjoy the mouthwatering food at the Michelin Star Casa Marcelo.
Honestly, I would have licked the plates clean if it wasn’t a bit unpilgrim-like!
Galicia is well known for being a gastronomical hub and whether you are eating out in Santiago or one of the smaller villages you won’t be disappointed.
The choice of seafood is endless, with everything from octopus to percebes – which look like the Gruffalo’s claws but are so sweet and succulent that I managed to polish off the best part of a plate. Whatever you chose, be it empanadas, Galicia broth, scallops and spider crabs, they can all be washed down with refreshing local wines such as an Albarino or Ribeiro. Not bad fare for a pilgrim!
The French way of St James is a colourful path surrounded by mountains, picturesque villages, stone crosses, monuments, churches and the smell of fresh country air. One of my favourite hamlets on the French way, O’Cebreiro, is a beautiful village of traditional thatched dwellings or ‘pallozas’ and is home to the church of Santa Maria. It was here in the winter of 1300, a Benedictine priest was celebrating mass when the eucharistic host miraculously changed to flesh and the wine to blood. Piglrims come every year to see the host, which is preserved in a shrine along with the chalice that contained the blood.
A stop in Palas de Res to see the church of Vilar de Donas is a must. This small church is said to have been built in the 7th century by Irish monks, and boasts beautifully carved stonework, magnificent medieval paintings and sculptures.
Only a ten minute drive from Vilar de Donas you’ll find Arqueixal in Alba, a family farm which produces organic homemade cheese, yoghurt and organic milk. It offers ecotourism activities and a glimpse into the traditional way of life. Pre book for the chance to make your own cheese.
Accommodation along the Camino varies. Spotless government-run hostels from €6 per night, private hostels, country houses, luxurious paradoes and hotels – you can take your pick!
Saying goodbye to Santiago, only an hour to the south is Pontevedra.
Shaped by a rich maritime history and trading past, Pontevedra boasts a well preserved medieval town centre, and you can capture the true essence of the city by exploring its network of lanes and squares which are abuzz with markets, shops, tapas bars and cafes.
Before reaching A Guarda at the very southwest tip of Galicia which borders Portugal, stop for a seafood lunch at Lemos in the village of Redondela. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
Overlooking the Atlantic ocean, the stunning coastline and spectacular beaches surrounding A Guarda will take your breath away. While there, a trip to the deserted village – and Celtic fort – of Santa Tegra is not to be missed.
Originating from about 500 BC, there are remnants of over 100 huts inside an encircling wall. The 341m summit is a 4km drive or a 2km uphill walk from town.
A visit to A Guarda would not be complete without a visit to one of its wonderful wineries. Bodega Terra Gauda provides tours of the vineyards and winery followed by a lovely tasting experience. You won’t leave empty handed.
For our final night in Galicia we made ourselves comfortable at the stunning National Parador of Baiona. Built in the style of a Galician manor house within the walls of a medieval fortress, this parador will exceed all of your expectations, from the food, facilities, helpful staff and superb surroundings.
Flying out of Vigo, Galicia’s largest city, there was just enough time to stroll around the charming and well preserved old quarter and to enjoy a coffee in the sunshine.
After six days in Galicia soaking up the beautiful lush green countryside, eating some of the most fabulous food I’ve ever tasted and completing a mere 10km of the French Camino on foot, it has definitely left me with an itch for more, so watch this space – I’ll be back.
n For more information on your booking your holiday to Galicia visit www.spain.info