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Camino Secrets – Part 9

For people with health issues, or those on a tight schedule, walking the Camino de Santiago is not always practical or possible. Touring by car is not only a great alternative but provides unique opportunities for interesting and lengthy detours. As if to emphasise this point, our next tour turned a 100 metre bridge crossing into a 65 kilometre diversion that introduced us to some of the most stunning scenery in Galicia.

As usual our day began in the quiet village of Vilatan, location of our luxury rural retreat Campo Verde. Having driven through the village we joined the CG2.1 (LU-533) heading in the direction of Chantada. After five kilometres the road crosses the river Miño on a long road bridge, suspended above the valley on tall concrete pillars. Immediately before crossing the bridge we turned left. A narrow lane, shaded from the morning sunlight by ancient chestnut trees, leads down to the riverbank.

We followed the course of the river for a further three kilometres where we entered the village of Belesar. On the right, nestled into the riverbank, is the restaurant Abaceria O Batuxo. The magical scenery from this peaceful riverside eatery provided us with the perfect excuse to take our first refreshment break of the day.

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Belesar Bridge

The restaurant takes its name from the flat bottomed boats once used to cross the river, carrying anything from grapes to livestock. Today it provides patrons with the perfect view of Belesar Bridge, the only river Miño crossing along the Camino Invierno (Winter Route). We ordered refreshments and soaked up the stunning scenery. From the dark cool waters of the river, terraced vineyards rise hundreds of feet following the contours of the steep river valley. Ghostly reflections of colourfully painted village houses shimmer in the still water.

Suitably refreshed we continued on. The bridge at Belesar was the starting point of our detour. Rather than crossing we drove straight past, following the course of the river. The photo opportunities along this narrow winding road are endless as it meanders its way downstream through small vineyards, roadside orchards, and pine forests. Eventually the road begins its steep ascent up the valley towards the village of Fion. Just outside the village was the next stop on our tour, Ecomuseo de Arxeriz.

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Ecomuseo de Arxeriz

The museum is housed in a renovated stately home or Pazo. A stroll through the grounds gives a unique insight into the privileged lives of the Spanish aristocracy. It’s open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. with regular guided tours that are usually available in English.

The museum is split into three sections; the history of the Ribeira Sacra region, the process and commerce of viniculture, and the constantly changing story of the river Miño. After the guided tour we wandered around the beautifully manicured gardens, admiring the craftsmanship of the stone terracing and garden walls. The stonemason, Alfonso, also built the garden walls at Campo Verde.

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Lunchtime was quickly approaching: a fact reinforced by my rumbling stomach. Without delay we continued on, following signs for Ferreira. From there we joined the N-120 in the direction of Ourense. The road descends steeply, careering down the valley side; ending at the village of Os Peares. It’s here that two great rivers, the Miño, and the Sil converge. It’s also home to the restaurant Acea do Bubal. This converted watermill and chocolate factory serves an excellent menu del dia in a tranquil riverside setting.

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Acea do Bubal

By far the most interesting way to reach the restaurant is by walking across the railway bridge. On entering the village a road bridge crosses the river Sil. Immediately after this we parked the car in the shade of several plane trees. From here, steps lead down to the railway bridge and the pedestrian walkway. Even in the middle of summer, the air is fresh and cool as the river Miño races past beneath.

With our hunger satisfied, we made our way back to the car and continued on. After less than two kilometres we turned left and drove across the Os Peares dam. From here we turned right, following signs for Chantada along the LU-P-1801. The road hugs the contours of the valley, twisting and turning as we headed upstream. After about 12 kilometres we pulled into the roadside verge to feast on this amazing landscape. From here we could clearly see the river island: an unusual feature formed as the water level rose following the completion of the Os Peares dam in 1955.

We continued on for another 14 kilometres, passing through tiny hamlets and small villages until we saw a signpost directing us back to Belesar. We’d almost come full circle, turning our 100 metre bridge crossing into a day-long adventure. In the village of Lincora we turned left and began our very steep descent back towards the bridge in Belesar. About halfway down the valley is the restaurant and winery Meson e Adega do Veiga. Surrounded by terraced vineyards, it’s a great place to stop and sample the local wines: I can particularly recommend the 2006 Mencia, if there’s any left.

One glass of this fine, fruity wine is never enough. Having bought a couple of bottles we headed for home. The drive back to Campo Verde took about ten minutes: not too long to wait for another glass.

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

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