Galicia is a part of Iberia which is largely overlooked by non-Spaniards. Unlike the images I tend to associate with Spain, it’s green and lush, with milder temperatures and beautiful beaches and rias (estuaries dotting the coast). It’s a cheap place to visit, with a glass of great local wine costing no more than €2.5o, and lots of great local seafood, as well as good rail connections between the major towns. I couldn’t find a lot written about Galicia, so I’m putting up a mini guide to the places I visited and enjoyed.
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the best known of the Galician cities for tourists. The end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Northern Spain, it is packed to the gills with tired looking pilgrims and hikers. The prices reflect this, and it was the most expensive place we stayed in Galicia, which is still pretty cheap by Irish standards. It is breathtakingly beautiful, with dramatic gothic buildings, winding streets, and lovely squares.
Scallops are traditional here to mark the end of the pilgrimage, but fish of all kind play a big part. Pulpo a feira, boiled octopus cut in slices and sprinkled with paprika, features on every menu, and at the local market there is a guy with a big pot of ocotopus boiling all day ready for people to buy a tentacle as a snack. We tried it first at a great local place recommended by our concierge, La Bodeguilla de San Roque along with a tangy stew of prawns, oyster mushrooms and seaweed, and a plate of salt cod croquetas.
The next night we returned to the central market for a small tasting menu of fresh fish at the Abastos Taberna at the market. Portions were tiny (think one razor clam per person) but the food was very fresh and elegant, with subtle flavours to accentuate the fish. At €21 a head, it was the most expensive meal we had, but the staff and atmosphere were lovely. Afterwards we joined the crowd of locals drinking wine on benches outside, fuelled with mini pinchos like a warm crab cake. Each evening, we started out in our hotel, Costa Vella, which had the most beautiful garden which was open to non-guests. They have a small cafe and bar there, where you can sit with a plate of olives and a glass of wine and catch the evening sun. This was probably my favourite bit of Santiago and I was so busy enjoying it that I forgot to take photos, but trust me, it is wonderful.
Cambados is a small, pretty coastal town known as the home of Albarino wine. The old quarter is very small but lovely, and dotted with lively tapas bars. Being perfectly honest, this is probably somewhere to spend an afternoon rather than stay, and it turned out to be very difficult to reach by public transport unless you come from Santiago. Buses in Galicia have a habit of not turning up, or turning up late, and their main saving grace is being extremely cheap. They also alternate between saying where they have come from, and where they are going on the front, so you never know where it is actually en-route to.
We did find a truly lovely restaurant in Cambados, hidden in a walled garden beside the beautiful Pazo de Fefinanes, which made the trip worthwhile. The Terraza of Bodega Gil Armada served raciones of fresh fish, salads and empanadas for very reasonable prices, all under the shade of huge magnolia trees. The vineyards which produce the Gil Armada wine are visible in the distance, and a glass of their crisp Albarino cost €2.50 (the standard price for glass of good wine in Galicia we discovered). We tried some pimientos de padron, pan fried local green peppers sprinkled with salt, and were given pinchos of their mussels with vinaigrette and a mussel empanada. Later, we wandered through town and tried a few more spots, including a tiny wine bar where the lady behind the bar produced two freshly cooked mini hamburgers with manchego to accompany our midnight glass of wine.