Galicia is known for its food, its history, its climate and landscapes. Let me share some of the bits I loved, starting with the race venue of Pontevedra.
The City: Pontevedra
Pontevedra is a lovely city, I’d go back to explore the history, food, nightlife and surrounding countryside. It has a well preserved Casco Viejo, with tons of cafeterias, restaurants and terrazas to sit at enjoying a drink. It’s situated on a nice wide river, about 10 miles from the open sea. It’s under an hour from Santiago de Compostela.
The people of Pontevedra (pontevedrenses) are particularly friendly and welcoming. It’s not like tourist hot spots along the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, Balearics or Canary Islands, as there are way less English and Germans, so no signs for English breakfasts, Sky Sports, Warsteiner or Der Spiegel. There are tourists, it’s just most of them are Spanish, so it feels more authentic and less imposing/artificial.
The only limitation may be that menus are not always translated, so if you don’t speak Spanish it can be a bit harder to order food (which is a pity, as there is SO MUCH amazing seafood and tapas which everyone should sample, but you might miss some of this if you don’t know what you should order). Also coeliacs like Gluten Free Cailín might need to check what gluten free options are available, as lots of bread, but seafood should be GF.
Galician cuisine is renowned all over Spain for its seafood, bread, wine and vegetables. I love seafood (pescados y mariscos) – so dinner each night was a joy. Octopus is a must (pulpo gallego) as are all sorts of shellfish where it’s gambas, langostinas or ostras, or the wealth of fish such as sea bass (lubina), cod (bacalao), sardinas or tuna empanadas (empanadas de bonito).
One speciality we loved was arroz con bogvante (lobster rice). We saw the lobster go straight from the fish tank to the kitchen, only to return 15mins later presented on a large iron griddle with juicy rice. (We also learned lots about lobster – bogavante has claws and a wide tail, whereas langosta has antennae and a thin tail. Great tapas include pimientos de padron, tortilla, chipirones, empanadillas or fresh bread (pan).
Breakfasts and snacks were so relaxing – having a nice café cortado on a sunny terrace or maybe a succulent zumo natural (de naranja) – so simple but so fresh and juicy. The quickest lunches on the go were bocatas de jamon o lomo (freshly cooked bacon or pork), yum. Desserts were ok – lots of tarta de queso (cheesecake) and flan, but a lot of frozen desserts too – best to go to a patisseria instead.
Galicia doesn’t fit your stereotype of Spain – yes it’s sunny and warm for us Irish, but it also rains a lot, gets lots of cloud cover and can be very windy. So just like Ireland with Atlantic weather fronts, just with 5-10 degrees warmer! In late May/June it’s low 20s, which was so enjoyable to be out in, although the weather can change pretty quickly and there is a bit of wind, being on the Atlantic coast.
Galicia has a long and proud history, with Celtic roots linking it to places like Ireland, as well as more modern links with Latin America and the Caribbean due to huge emigration. Galicia has been home to the Romans, Celts, Castilian kings and was its own kingdom at one time. The Galician language is one of four official languages in Spain (along with Spanish, Catalan and Basque) – it’s a mix of Portuguese and Spanish and spoken by the majority of people (words like “junta” are written “xunta” or “grazas” instead of “gracias”)
Places Worth Visiting
We travelled around the southern part of Galicia, basing ourselves near the famous resort and port of Sanxenxo.
Raxo: a lovely quiet little fishing village about 5 minutes drive from Sanxenxo. We stayed here for 4 days – everything was at our fingertips – the sandy beach was 5 yards from the hotel front door, the bar was 50m and the café was 100m. Great for a lazy holiday.
Sanxenxo: a famous tourist resort, with a large marina and port for pleasure craft. In summer this place is hopping with Spanish tourists. There’s lots of nice restaurants and a lovely long beach.
Illa O Grove: this island is connected to the mainland via a sandbar and road – we cycled here one day and discovered some amazing views of the sea, the prevalence of lobster pots and shellfish farms dotting the coast.
A Guarda & Santa Tecla: the Celtic ruins of Santa Tecla (Santa Tegra) are renouned but we’d never heard of them. Straddling the side of a steep hill are the remains of over 300 round shaped stone hosues, built over 2,500 years ago by the Celts. The views from the top are breath-taking – looking down on the fishing port of A Guarda and to the south you have the amazing vista of Portugal across the mouth of the Rio Mino. Such nice beaches and the seafood in A Guarda is de puta madre! Well worth a visit. It’s also the heart of the Rias Baixas wine region – so lots of Albarino and Rosal.
Tui: for stunning Roman streets that are still alive, yet quiet if you turn a corner into a narrow sandstone street, visit Tui. It sits on the river banks of the Rio Mino, inland from A Guarda. It’s one of the most authentic examples of Roman street architecture that I’ve seen. Plus you’ve the town of Valenca in Portugal across the bridge if you fancy a coffee in another country!
Ribadavia: Continue driving inland along the river valley, criss crossing the river and the border and you’ll arrive at Ribadavia. The river is wide and fast flowing now, with steep banks filled with vineyards. Another old town with Roman streets – I had such a nice run along the river banks here.
Sanxenxo: A Postina – great seafood (arroz con bogavante is a speciality) with a lovely terrace overlooking a beach. Nice for dinner to watch sun set.
A Guarda: Marusia – more great seafood, especially shellfish. Try the arroz con bogavante or the fresh scallops (vieira) – they’re cooked in the shells and served in a tomato sauce.
A Guarda: Cafeteria Miami – super bocadillos and ice cream, with the cutest old lady and her 92 year old mother to give you the Spanish Inquisition on who you are (she remembers an Irish wedding party who came for 2 weeks and ordered hamburgers at 11am!)
Pontevedra: Bar Galicia 2000 – we went here twice, the night before the race for our last supper of jamon asado con patatas fritas and then went back for the post-race celebrations where the super friendly host Juan served us great salad, trout and a carajillo to celebrate the race.