Explore Galicia, a Spain Apart
Galicia is the northwest outpost in Spain you have probably never heard of (unless you follow my adventures on Instagram). I hadn’t until I arrived here years ago to teach English—although it did come in at number three on Lonely Planet’s “Best of Europe” list for 2017, so it’s garnering attention. As fate would have it, my first year here I met my husband and have recently moved back to this rugged corner of Spain. Galicia, best known for Santiago de Compostela where the Way of Saint James pilgrimage ends, has a way of creeping into your soul with its people and traditions. It is a mystical land laced with folklore and intrigue. It has a long history and layers of complexity: at once modern yet still rooted in traditions. There are traces of its stone age past, remnants of Roman presence, celtic ruins (hence its traditional bagpipe music), medieval monasteries and castles, 19th century urban expansions, and revived contemporary city centers.
Here are the three main reasons it should be next on your destination list:
1. The landscape is breathtaking.
Galicia boasts some of the best beaches in Europe with pristine waters and relatively low development—there are hardly any high rises along the waterfronts. The bays are home to islands that make for a great excursion by ferry. From almost any location in Galicia you always have a view of lush green mountains in the distance—you can explore them on trails galore and rivers around every turn (rivers so clean they bottle the water from them).
2. Its city centers are big enough for fun, but small enough for leisure.
Galician cities almost all have a medieval core, an industrial era expansion and a modern revitalization seen in new concept stores, creative cafés and a street art movement. They are not as bustling as Madrid or Barcelona, which means the slow life is still embraced. Cafés and bars have outdoor seating in the plazas and on the sidewalks—this is the epicenter of social life. Weekend lunch plans often start with an aperitivo and vermouth session in a quaint bar, then actual lunch around 2:00 p.m. of several rounds of plates, and lingering on for hours always ending in dessert, a coffee and gin and tonics. Night life lasts well until dawn for those who can match the Spaniards’ stamina for staying out late. Galicia is also home to a flourishing fashion industry with Inditex’s headquarters (i.e.: Zara, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Uterque) and other major global brands at the helm (Purificación García, Bimba & Lola, Adolfo Dominguez).
3. The food is delectable.
The star of Galician tables is the parade of seafood pulled from its Atlantic waters—usually cooked without a lot of frills. It is boiled, baked, or grilled with a quality oil, salt and a little bay leaf, then some lemon squeezed on top, letting the flavor of the ocean take precedence. One of the huge perks of the region is that you can eat really well on a low budget. A café con leche (latte) with an elaborate toast will come in around $3.50. There are three main Galician wines: Ribeira, Albariño and Rosal, all from white grapes that pair perfectly with local seafood. Many of the vineyards are open for visiting and there are river boat tours through the canyons that stop at vineyards along the way for tastings.
A trip to Galicia will not disappoint and it is a guaranteed change of pace and scenery from the main tourist sites in Spain. There are plenty of city center hotels or rural houses for renting. It’s easily explored by car, bus or train and still very affordable. Come explore this Atlantic gem and raise a toast to slowing down a bit.