Galicia in north-west Spain is a special region full of mysteries and surprises. It has a rich cultural tapestry, outstanding natural beauty, Celtic links and Roman influence. So is one of the wonders of the world to get to know, discover and experience! Pilgrims from all over the world arrive at Santiago de Compostela which is an amazing and ancient city situated in the heart of Galicia, whose four provinces and principal cities are La Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra. Vigo in Pontevedra close to the Cies Islands, is the largest city. Baiona, Sanxenxo, Cambados, O Grove, La Toja Island, Betanzos,Allariz, Ribadavia,Monforte de Lemos, Mondariz, Finisterre, O Cebreiro,Tui, Oia and A Guarda close to Northern Portugal, are some of the places worth visiting.
There is the unspoilt northern coastline which starts at the Costa Da Morte and finishes at Ribadeo on the Asturian border and is known as the Rias Altas. The west coastline comprises of a series of old and unique, fjord-like sheltered estuaries that contain numerous safe Blue Flag swimming beaches and precious islands including the National Park of Las Islas Atlanticas, the most famous of which is the Cies Islands (Islas Cies) and the Ons Islands. This coastline extends to the border with Portugal, separated by the large river Mino and is known as the Rías Baixas. Galicia is also relatively mountainous where there are many nature reserves with magical streams, rivers and woodlands together with an abundance of wildlife, picturesque villages, castles, monasteries, ruins and old farming practices which time has almost forgotten like in Ribeira Sacra,Os Ancares and Courel. Galicia is also renowned for its friendly people, innovative culture, delicious food especially seafood delicacies, high quality wines and famous wine cellars, magnificent architecture and religious heritage. In fact in Galicia there are 1000 rivers, 1300 kilometres of coastline,700 beaches of which 126 are Blue Flag beaches, 21 balnearios (unique spa resorts) and a staggering 5,146 restaurants!
No visit to Galicia is complete without experiencing Santiago de Compostela, the ancient, administrative capital city and after Rome and Bethlehem the third most religious city in the world, with its stunning, granite cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage status covering its beautiful old medieval Old Town.It’s famous throughout the world for its pilgrimage routes “Los Caminos de Santiago”.
La Coruña is a financial centre with a stunning peninsular setting surrounded by the sea and maritime legacy. This is the place to relax and shop at the heart of Galicia’s clothing industry with world famous brands such as Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Caramelo. La Coruña is also the home of the famous Galician brewery, Estrella de Galicia whose beers are appreciated throughout Spain and increasingly further afield. The bars and restaurants of La Coruña are a gastronomic delight and the nightlife vibrant and safe.
Vigo is also stunningly located in the heart of the Ría de Vigo and is Spain’s most important fishing port. It’s also the gateway to the Rías Baixas with a diversity of places to visit including Pontevedra, O Grove, and Sanxenxo. To the south of Vigo is Baiona , which is sometimes called along with Sanxenxo as the Marbella fo the north of Spain! and the Parador there is the best hotel in Spain. From Baiona there are incredible views towards the Islas Cíes which along with the Ons Islands (Atlantic Islands) are the most important nature conservation site in Spain.
Galicia is relatively easy to get too and there are airports at Santiago, La Coruña and Vigo with regular, scheduled cheap flights to London and other major European/world destinations serviced by airlines such as Iberia, Air Norstrum, Vueling, Ryan Air and Easy Jet. It also popular to travel via Porto which is less than an hour drive from Galicia with cheap flights, for example, by TAP, Easy Jet and Ryan Air, from most European/world destinations. Motorists from the UK can arrive either via Brittany Ferries or P&O Ferries to Bilbao or Santander or visitors can travel via France. Transport links within Galicia are excellent with regular bus and high speed train services radiating from the main cities.The motorways are a driver’s paradise despite the small toll charges.
The official languages are Castellano Spanish and Galician (Gallego) which sounds like a rich combination of Portuguese and Spanish. While younger people can speak English or other European languages, given there are comparatively fewer English speaking visitors, travellers are guaranteed a very authentic introduction to local culture and traditions far removed from their own experience.
Galician hospitality is memorable and a warm, trouble-free welcome awaits any visitor spoilt for choice with an amazing variety of bars, pubs and nightclubs. Places are incredibly generous with the size and quality of drinks. The atmosphere and vibrancy of Galician cities at night is a very special and completely different experience. In La Coruña this is concentrated around streets such as Calle Barrera. In Santiago de Compostela its during student term time especially on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and in Vigo people go out at the weekends until 8 am!
Thanks to its diversity Galicia is a place to suit all tastes from families to pilgrims to surfers. Lugo,Ourense, Betanzos,Finisterre,Cambados,A Guarda and Ribadeo are some of the many highlights as well as the numerous spa resorts like La Toja, Mondariz and Guitiriz. It is also easy to visit northern Portugal from the south of Galicia which brings beautiful medieval cities like Oporto, Braga and Guimarães within reach for day trips/short stays. In addition, Galicia has borders with both the regions of Asturias and Castilla y León.!
A great time to visit is during Xacobeo & the Holy Year celebrations when the Festival of St. James the Apostle on 25 July falls on a Sunday. El Camino de Santiago (St. James Way) is one of the the world´s most popular pilgrimage routes & St. James the Apostle awaits. Xacobeo celebrates this special year. The ten ways to Santiago, concerts, cultural and gastronomic events, spiritual & religious activities, pilgrims, life changing experiences, nature and tourism – this is the very spirit of Xacobeo! The next Xacobeo is in 2021.
Galicia is sadly one of the areas of Spain most “forgotten” by foreign visitors. This is itself is rather strange as one of the most famous cities in Europe is to be found there, Santiago de Compostela. In the next few pages I will try to address this “unknown corner”. Whilst I will try to give a complete overview of the community, I fear I cannot do it justice. Fortunately there is the excellent TurGalicia which is an excellent and comprehensive guide.
Galicia is aware of its need to promote itself so in addition to its excellent website it also exhibited at the inaugural Virtual Spain tourism exhibition.