Galicia: The Ireland of Spain

Spaniards say the northern region of Galicia is home to some of the best food and wine around. So when Mr. Dame in Spain’s mom and stepdad come to Spain for a visit, we figured Galicia – situated above Portugal and surrounded on two sides by Atlantic Ocean – would be perfect for a four-day trip.

After the most terrifying 50-minute flight of my life on Ryan Air, we arrived in Galicia. (Seriously, the plane’s wheels were just about to touch down on landing when WHOOOOOSH, the engine kicked back on with the force of a volcano and we shot back up in to the air. Second try for the landing was more successful.) Our first stop was in Santiago de Compostelo, which is a major pilgrimage site for Catholics, and the last stop on popular Camino de Santiago trail, also known as St. James Way, We checked in to our hotel in the pouring rain and walked next door for some tapas. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we had landed in Ireland or Scotland instead of Spain, which makes sense because Galicia was once inhabited by Celts.  The next morning, another drizzly day, when we sipped coffee (espressos really, this is Europe, after all) in a local cafe filled with damp but happy locals and then toured around the city’s religious sites, umbrellas in hand. Galicia is a place with so much ripe greenery and stone everything that the rain just feels like it belongs. That afternoon, after Mr. Dame and Spain and my in-laws enjoyed some of the ubiquitous Galician octopus (sold at restaurants called pulperias) we did a wine tasting in a cozy cellar/wine shop called O Biero were we tried a bunch of Galician wine, but I discovered my favorite Spanish wine is the Riberia del Duro, which comes from the Northern region of Castilla y Leon. Sorry Galicia.

At night, we found ourselves in a coffee shop/bar bobbing our heads to the bizarre beats of a bagpiper, two drummers, and a tambourine player. The star of that show, however, was a bartender who came out to make the flaming liquor concoction called queimada, which is an ancient Celtic specialty of grain liquor, fruit, sugar, and coffee beans, all lit on fire. Apparently, there is a spell that one can incant that goes along with stirring the fire, which makes sense because witches hold an important place in Galician lore. So how was the fire drink, you ask? Exactly how you would expect something called fire drink to taste.

The next day, the rain stopped and we left Santiago de Compostelo, and hit the road. We braked in a picturesque yet working-class fishing village of Muros for a cafe con leche, had a major photo opp at a waterfall in Ezaro, and then had an even better photo opp in the western most part of Spain, Cape Finisterre, which translates to “The end of the Earth.” This spot was once, incredibly, thought to be the actual end of the world. In reality, it’s not even the most western point in Europe, a distinction held by Cabo de Roca in nearby Portugal. Finisterre is popular end-point for hikers and religious pilgrims on the Way of St. James trail, and it’s a tradition for pilgrims to burn their hiking clothes, shoes, or just leave their shoes facing the sea at the end of the long trek.

That night we checked in to a 10th Century Benedictine monastery-turned-parador located up on top of a forested mountain. (Paradors are government-owned hotels, often in old monasteries or castles). Driving up to this parador was like discovering a secret – it’s not near anything, it feels slightly haunted, it’s amazingly grand, there is a cemetery right out front next to a church that is still in use; and there is a snow white hotel cat that just roams the ground. I’m not saying its a ghost cat for sure, but that’s a distinct possibility.

The next morning, Mr. Dame and I walked the spooky leafy grounds of the parador and I tried to get him to reenact scenes from Pan’s Labyrinth. Our concierge recommended a wine tasting at a nearby vineyard, Adega Algueira (less than 10 miles away, but still nearly an hour’s drive on the loopy roads). The winery’s owner, Fernando,, provided a complete lecture and wine-tasting (entirely in Spanish) and lunch was included in the deal as well. After, we drove to a nearby mirador with awe-inspiring views of the River Sil and terraced vineyards, and then drove down to the river for a guided boat tour. My limited Spanish was insufficient to follow all the ghost stories, fables, and witch’s tales our enthusiastic guide Dori told us but Mr. Dame was an exceptionally good translator.

The following day, we made our way back toward the airport in Santiago de Compostelo, but first made a pitstop in the town of Lugo, which is entirely surrounded by a well-preserved Roman wall.

In all, my favorite jaunt in Spain yet. Totally unexpected, beautiful, and probably a little bit haunted. Oh, and while everyone else ate their share of octupus, I discovered my new favorite food in Spain – pimientos padrones, which are little sweet green peppers native to Galicia that are quickly fried and blistered and sprinkled with course salt. Mmmm.

To green hills and green peppers,

The Dame in Spain

A carnival in Santiago de Compostelo, Spain
A carnival in Santiago de Compostelo
The making of Galacia's fire drink, queimada.
The making of Galicia’s ancient fire drink, queimada.
Waterfall in Ezaro, Spain.
Waterfall in the town of Ezaro.
Traps, fishing boats, and a tour bus in the seaside town of Muros.
Traps, fishing boats, and a tour bus in the seaside town of Muros.
"The End of the Earth" Finisterre, Spain
“The End of the Earth” Finisterre, Spain
A hiker on the Camino de Santiago left behind his worn-out shoes. Lucky shoes to enjoy this view.
A hiker on the Camino de Santiago left behind his worn-out shoes. Lucky shoes to enjoy this view.
A spectacular viewpoint, or mirador, in Ourense, Spain.
A spectacular viewpoint, or mirador, in Ourense, Spain.
The River Sil flows through terraced land, which is part of the Ribiera Sacra wine region.
The River Sil flows through terraced land, which is part of the Ribiera Sacra wine region.

 

 

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