Discover Spain's green land of Celtic music, pilgrimage, fishing villages, sandy coves, seafood and delicious white wines.
Galicia forms the extreme north-west of Spain, where the sun sets over an apparently infinite Atlantic ocean at Finisterre, “the end of the world” to the Ancients.
It’s the land of mages and superstition, of enigmatic, soft-spoken folk and the best food in Spain. Come savour the mystery!
Southern Galicia and its Pontevedra province bordering Portugal is where the weather is fairest and microclimates allow for pool and beach holidays. You’ll see palm trees and the vineyards whose grapes make Spain’s most refreshing and incisive white wines.
This southern area is beautifully unspoilt and largely undiscovered. The small border town of Tui is off the radar for most tourists and yet one of Galicia’s jewels with a historic architecture and atmosphere that reflects Santiago de Compostela. It’s delightful to hire mountain bikes or kayaks for trips along the river.
Cross the broad River Miño and Portugal’s beaches and people provide an added dimension to the holiday experience.
It’s impossible to talk about Galicia without reference to the sea. There are 1,500 km of coastline and fishing fleets that provide a vital livelihood for many while supplying kitchens with fresh fish, crab, mussels, octopus and other seafood. The sea was also the historical route of emigration to Argentina and elsewhere in South for thousands of enterprising or poor gallegos.
Beaches at the fishing towns of A Guarda (La Guardia) and Baiona are joined by a lovely coastal drive. Continue up the Atlantic coast and you’ll find more strands on Galicia’s famous Rias Baixas and Rias Altas. These beautiful Low Estuaries and High Estuaries penetrate the land like gentle fjords and create beaches that rival those along the Atlantic shores.
Take a boat to one of the Atlantic Isles for a day trip and you’ll find white sands that match the Caribbean and turquoise—although shockingly cold!—waters.
The islands of Ons and Cies are a joy to relax on or wander. They were declared a National Park in 2002 and no motor traffic is allowed on them. Walk across to the other side of the islands for cliffs and views out to the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll send you booking details for the ferries in the detailed Local Guide you receive before travelling to your Galicia holiday villa.
Vigo (population 300,000) is the main town for the Pontevedra region. It’s built on hills that slope down to the sea, giving the visitor a San Francisco-like experience. Samil (with waterslides and pools for children) and El Bao beaches south of the city are long, sandy and popular for their good facilities.
North of the Rias Altas estuaries, there are spectacular and pretty beaches at Carnota and Corcubion, followed by a stretch of coast that is another story altogether. Stand on the vertiginous cliffs at Fisterra (Finisterre) lighthouse and watch the ocean crash against the dark granite of the infamous Costa da Morte (Coast of Death), the doom of many a seafarer.
For the Spain of sun and paella, look to Andalucia. These folk are made of sterner stuff.
Northern Galicia is intriguingly off the beaten track, with forests, rivers and very pretty yet almost deserted beaches even in summer.
The hinterland of the massively rugged coastline is semi-mountainous and forested, run though with broad or rushing rivers. Its native green wildness is relieved by eucalyptus woods, meadows and vineyards. Wine routes with visits to bodegas are an interesting way to explore the interior.
Some people find in rural Galicia a resemblance to Ireland or Scotland. The climate may be kinder, but rain is not infrequent. What you get in return is a green, hilly landscape and the satisfaction and interest of an old culture with depth and cohesion. A Celtic influence shows through in a predilection for festivals, often based on food and drink, with music played on flute, drum and gaita, Galician bagpipes.
Almost every weekend from April to September brings some fair or fiesta to celebrate the local parish saint or seasonal harvests, often involving dressing in traditional costumes and music-playing, and these represent wonderful opportunities to get a feel for the place, mix with the people and sample pies, clams, prawns, chestnuts, prime beef, or white wines: Albariño, Godello or Ribeiro all suit fresh seafood and fish to perfection.
A curious event held on the first weekend in July is the Sabucedo horse-taming. Wild horses (road signs you see for wild deer usually signify these) are quite common in the area and once a year young men capture and wrestle with the horses to tame them, cutting short the tails and leaving a brand.
Rural holiday homes are often within easy day trip reach of Galicia’s finest and illustrious town, Santiago de Compostela.
Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral square, cobbled streets, small shops and restaurants all share in the pleasant atmosphere of welcome extended to those who have travelled from afar to be there.
Pilgrims from all over the world who have trod the Camino de Santiago to reach the grand cathedral of St James mix in elegant streets and squares with university students, tourists, and local citizens. It’s a special little city and we dedicate a separate article to it.
There is mystery in Galicia and its people have the reputation of being superstitious, as well as humorously taciturn, as if resigned to a contented melancholy. They are loath to part with their land in trade, considering its soil as sacred and the Galician emigrant misses their land keenly.
It’s an attitude that soon makes sense when you start to sample the produce of this region. With probably the finest seafood and shellfish in Europe, healthy beef cattle, poultry farming, plentiful vegetables and fruit and some excellent wines and orujo spirits, every meal is a feast in Galicia.
Seafood is more a staple than a luxury here. The mussels, scallops, oysters, squid and tenderized octopus are top quality.
El Pulpeiro is not a place but an age-old profession, the pulpeiro’s job is to prepare fresh octopus and serve it with daubed olive oil and red paprika, with a couple of cachelos, tasty local potatoes. On a Sunday, you may see the peripatetic local octopus master or mistress on a street corner plying their trade.
Read our Santiago de Compostela guide
Unlike most other regions of Spain, Galicia is not somewhere you find traces of an earlier Moorish presence. Instead, human habitation is marked by dolmens and ancient petroglyphs carved into weather-beaten rocks, also Celtic settlements, Roman bridges and medieval monasteries, convents and churches.
Old stone crosses are a common feature of the landscape in a land where Christian beliefs go hand in hand with a folklore based on oaths and the supernatural. You’re bound to see these, commonly eaten away by wind and rain. Often placed at crossroads to guide recently deceased souls on their way, they combine native Galician superstition with Catholic tradition.
Local fiestas can bear a remarkable resemblance to magic ceremonies. Sharing a queimada—a fiery alcoholic potion with coffee beans—is a friendly ritual among acquaintances these days, but is still supposed to be presided over by a meiga, witch-like figures who long ago were considered protectors of the region’s Celtic tribes.
Galicia has its own language, gallego, whose sound and vocabulary has mingled Spanish with neighbouring Portuguese, whose people’s even-temperedness is agreeably reproduced in the Galician temperament.