Thermal Spas - Ourense (1)

Thermal Spas

Camino Secrets – Part 8

In part 7 of my series, Camino Secrets, our excursion to Verin and Allariz took us through Ourense: provincial capital of the only landlocked province in Galicia; and an important stopover on the Camino Sanabrés. On our next adventure we decided to take a closer look at this major inland city.

As usual our day began in the village of Vilatan, in the south of Lugo province. From there we sped off in the direction of Chantada before joining the N-540; following signs for Ourense. After ten kilometres we reached the village of A Barrela where we turned right, heading deeper into the Galician countryside along winding country roads. Within 20 minutes we were trundling through the deserted lanes of Oseira, our first stop of the day.

Oseira

Oseira

Situated in the heart of this rural Spanish village is the imposing Monastery of Santa Maria de Oseira. The monastery, whose origins can be traced back to 1137, is home to several Trappist monks: a branch of the Order of Cistercians. Guided tours run hourly, Monday to Saturday from 10 until 12 in the morning and 3:30 through to 5:30 in the afternoon. As this is a working monastery access is restricted but the splendid architectural features in the public areas are well worth the visit.

Before continuing on we decided to stop for a coffee at the village café/bar Escudo: a typically Galician establishment. Suitably refreshed, we resumed our journey. Rather than double back on ourselves we drove through the village, following signs to Cea. Narrow country lanes wind there way through rolling hills and picturesque countryside. Before too long we reached the N-525: main road between Ourense and Santiago de Compostela.

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Plaza Mayor, Ourense

The city of Ourense is divided by the river Miño and joined together by no fewer than six bridges: three road bridges, two pedestrian bridges and a railway bridge. Two further foot bridges, on the outskirts of the city, link a riverside promenade that runs for over 14 kilometres along both riverbanks. This popular promenade is a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy the river scenery; but for the best river views, my suggestion would be the walkway around the Puente del Milenio (Millennium Bridge).

Millennium Bridge walkway

Puente del Milenio

Designed by Alvaro Varela de Ugarte and completed in 2001, this dynamic suspension bridge carries four lanes of traffic across the river. It marries contemporary design with modern engineering to produce an inescapable city landmark. Suspended from the structure, like a dormant rollercoaster, is a hammock shaped walkway.

We accessed the walkway from the roadside and began our steep descent. The noise of city traffic faded as we descended below the level of the road, replaced by the gushing water of the river Miño: a cool breeze swept through my hair as the water rushed past, just metres below. The climb to the top of the suspension tower was long and steep, and almost took my breath away. Thankfully it didn’t; that privilege was saved for the views.

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Puente Romano

Upstream I had a clear view of the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), the history of which can be traced back to the 1st century. Downstream, the fast flowing river rushed past the ancient thermal spas, renowned for their healing properties; surrounding this is a modern urban skyline set against a backdrop of forested mountains and highland pastures.

The old town of Ourense is a little harder to find. From the Millennium Bridge we walked along Av. Prado de Cela and followed Rúa Progreso for about a kilometre until we reached the square Praza Bispo Césáreo. Here we turned left, walked through the square before entering Praza Maior in the heart of the old town. By now we’d built up quite a thirst so we pulled up a chair at one of the many café/bars lining the square and ordered a cool beer: 1906 is my favourite, brewed in Galicia by Estrella; but a word of advice, if you’re the driver avoid the 1906 Red Vintage: it’s 8% proof.

We were tempted to stay for lunch, enticed by the large number of restaurants and wide choice of cuisine but I had other plans. We left Ourense, following the course of the river Miño along the N-120 towards Monforte de Lemos. At Os Peares the road begins its long and twisting climb out of the valley. The scenery is spectacular: forested slopes of ancient chestnuts, mirrored in the dark water of the river Miño as it snakes through the valley below.

The final stop on our tour was the village of Ferriera de Pantón. Opposite the town hall is the restaurant O Mosteiro (Comandante Cruz Puente 0rdax, nº 1, 27430 Pantón, Lugo +34 982456462). They serve a great value menu del dia (menu of the day). The owners serve up a traditional, home-cooked three course lunch, including wine and coffee; all for a miserly nine euros. My personal favourite is Merluza a la plancha (grilled steaks of hake) served with chips and a fresh green salad. In my opinion, the owner Anna cooks the perfect grilled hake: virgin white and deliciously moist.

The drive back to our luxury farmhouse rental Campo Verde was short, giving us plenty of time to relax in the warm sunshine and enjoy a late afternoon snooze.

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

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