Boat Trips and Broomsticks
Last week, my mother-in-law came to stay. She flew in to Santiago on Ryanair, apparently her broomstick was in for a service. Only joking; she’s a lovely woman. Her visit gave us an excuse to indulge in one of our favourite tourist attractions: a boat trip along the river Sil.
When we first moved to Galicia, one captain plied his trade on the river. At the last count, six boats offered trips through the spectacular Canyon of the river Sil. One of the best, and our favourite, is operated by a young couple Alex and his partner Keka. They own a small activity centre called Turismo en la Ribeira Sacra.
Their vessel is a small pontoon boat accommodating ten guests. It’s a far more personal and intimate service than the larger vessels working the river. Alex’s knowledge of the canyon, and his willingness to relay it in English, gives him an edge over his rivals. A taste of the local wine, as you drift past the riverside vineyards, doesn’t harm either.
‘Don’t forget the wine,’ I called to Melanie as we left the house.
On our last trip down the river I’d promised Alex that I would bring a bottle of my own wine for him to taste. Before establishing his tourist business he used to work at the wine museum in Monforte de Lemos and has an extensive knowledge of the local wines.
The boat departs from a small jetty at Os Chancis. The weather could hardly have been more perfect for river cruising: a cloudless blue sky, bright sunshine and hardly a breath of wind. With everyone aboard, eight including Alex, we set off upstream.
The river canyon was formed by an earthquake, millions of years ago. With a little imagination, I could almost feel the earth fracturing as we floated along. The river is 300 metres above sea level with some of the surrounding peaks rising to over 1,300 metres. This creates a micro-climate within the canyon; sheltered from the harsh extremes of the Galician weather.
The two sides of the canyon are very distinctive and create a natural border between two provinces. To the north is Lugo province and to the south Ourense. The sunny, south facing slopes provide excellent conditions for vine growing whereas the north facing slopes are covered in forests. It’s said that because of the zones unique climate, every species of tree grown in Spain can be, and some say is, grown on the north facing slopes.
These near vertical valley sides provide some of the most dangerous and inaccessible vineyards in the world.
‘One vineyard in Castile and La Mancha, with one tractor and six workers, can produce as much wine as 3000 families in the Ribeira Sacra,’ states Alex.
As we drifted quietly along the river, Alex’s narrative provided an informative and interesting accompaniment.
‘Would you like to sample the wine?’ he asked.
‘Today Alex, you can sample my wine,’ I replied.
I popped the cork and Alex supplied the plastic cups. I poured and handed them out. Using the palm of his hand, Alex rolled the cup along the dashboard of the boat. By now I was becoming a little nervous. He held the cup in his hand and swirled its inky red contents around before checking its nose. I hadn’t expected such a thorough examination.
‘You have oaked the wine?’ he asked.
Crickey! I thought to myself. He hadn’t taken a sip but knew from its subtle aroma that I’d oaked it.
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I use oak chips from France.’
He raised the cup to his lips; I held my breath. A short pause followed while he savoured the flavours on his palate.
‘Excellent wine,’ he said, ‘as good as any of the bodegas in the area,’ he added.
Relief cleared the lump in my throat and I took a gulp of cool air.
I managed to contain my elation on the return journey home; even the arduous climb back to the car floated away on a wave of smug self-satisfaction.
Enjoy your own relaxing boat trip along the river Sil in this short video.
Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs
Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit our website getaway-galicia
Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.