Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Diary of our holiday in Galicia

The first of many "horreos" we were to see in Galicia.
Day One - Monday 23rd July 07
Cambados, O Grove, la Toja and Sanxenxo

Breakfast at the hotel was to be a sumptuous affair with a huge selection of fattening goodies such as pancakes, toasted croissant and a host of cakes baked locally. The only healthy food in sight was freshly squeezed orange juice.

The first day we visited the coast of the peninsula we were staying at on the Ria de Arousa. This included visiting Cambados, O Grove, the island of La Toja and Sanxenxo. At Cambados we bought quite a lot of local produce such as “orujo” / aguardiente, the Galician equivalent of schnapps – quite potent stuff. We also got a bag of chorizos which we regretted later as they smelt out the suite of our hotel. The Rías Baixas are famous for Alvariño white wine which is just delicious, fresh and very slightly fruity. At Cambados we bought a box of Terras Gaudas, one of the best brands. Cambados is a beautiful old town with a small sea front and a port which we were to recognise later at most of the other towns in the area. They are all very similar and equally beautiful. Cambados is also the home of a Parador which as soon as we saw it we decided we would stay there next year. This same feeling was repeated in nearly all the places we were to see during the week. Paradors are state run hotels which are usually monumental buildings in the best locations and they are a guarantee of quality for accommodation and food.

Daddy and I in Cambados - the only day we needed a raincoat.
From Cambados we headed to the famous town of O Grove and the small island of La Toja or A Toxa as it is called in Galicia. We had been recommended a restaurant by my friend Ana Valdivieso in O Grove called La Posada del Mar. She got a ten out of ten for her recommendation. Wonderful food we had, specially the scallop pie (empanada de zamburriñas). Thanks Anita!

Eladio and my Father outside Posada del Mar

Eladio in O Grove
After lunch we took a walk around the town and from there headed off to see Sanxenxo, perhaps one of the most famous holiday places in Galicia. The beach there is spectacular.

In the afternoon we went back to the hotel for a siesta which began at 7 pm and finished at 8.30! That’s holidays for you. Then in order to work up an apetite for dinner we went for a walk on the seafront of the town we were staying at, Vilagarcía de Arosa. So we walked till nearly 11 at night and even then were not hungry. However we had another recommendation from Ana and it was a restaurant in Carril round the corner from where we were staying called Loliña. Ana said it was the best restaurant in Galicia in her opinion and it turned out to be ours too later. However that night it was closed as it apparently closed on Mondays. So we didn’t know where to go but ended up going into a tiny little restaurant on the sea front where we were the only guests. The menu had only 2 items but the place was perhaps the most romantic we had ever been in. So if you every visit Carril, be sure to go to Loxe Mareiro. We will remember it for ever after.

Outside Loxe Mareiro in Carril
Day 2 – Tuesday 24th July, 07
Rianxo, Muros, Death Coast and Finisterre

Holidays are supposed to be for resting but we are the not that kind, as we always want to explore new places and find spending too much time on the beach a bit boring. So Tuesday was dedicated to visiting the Rías Baixas above where we staying and right up to the supposedly most westerly point in Spain, Cape Finisterre (Spain’s equivalent to Land’s End) on the Costa da Morte – the legendary “death coast” near where the Prestige tanker spilt its ghastly oil a few years ago and contaminated the whole coast. Finisterre has the fame but the real most westerly point is another cape a bit further up called Cape Touriñan which was just a bit too far to visit that day.

On our way up we visited the historic little town of Rianxo which has a gem of a church as most of the Galician villages we visited turned out to have too. They are often of Roman origin and made of the beautiful local stone and they all have steps leading up and a Galician cross or “cruceiro” outside.

The church in Rianxo
From Rianxo we worked our way round the peninsulas and stopped at a breathtakingly beautiful harbour town called Muros. There both Eladio and I were tempted by a plate of crayfish which Galicia is famous for. However it is only really recommended in the months which have an “R” in it and that is definitely not July or August. Unfortunately the crayfish was later to play havoc on our stomachs over the next couple of days. However, we were that unwell enough to stop eating the lovely Galician fare during the rest of our holiday.

Eladio in Muros
From Muros we made our way up to Cape Finisterre. I have a thing about capes, specially those that are significant and most recently Eladio and I have seen the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and Land’s End in England. So here was another cape to add to our collection. And it was not disappointing as you can see from the pictures. I was not able to enjoy the scenery very much as up on the top of the hill overlooking the Atlantic ocean, a small emergency occurred on the work scene so I spent most of my time on the cape in conversations with the office and some journalists. One of the calls was even taken in the loo!!!

The cross at Cape Finisterre

Cape Finisterre
We then made our way down to the town of Finisterre to see yet another harbour village with picturesque fishing boats from out of a picture. Just as we were getting back into the car, a local lady approached us offering us a fish called Merluza (sort of hake) going for a song. Unfortunately we couldn’t buy it as there would have been nowhere to cook it!!

The harbour at the village of Finisterre
We got back to the hotel very late but not too late to walk to the famous Loliña restaurant to try out the dishes Ana had recommended us. That night was to be the first of 3 dinners at Loliña where we nearly always ate the same: caldo gallego (broth), fish pie and a single scallop (viera) in its shell. Loliña is now added to my list of favourite restaurants globally. It is a small old fishing harbour village house with its original stone walls and wooden furniture decorated with locally painted pictures. The service is great – the owner is also a waiter and metre in one and the food is out of this world.

Drinking Albariño at Loliña

Scallop at Loliña's
Day 3 – Wednesday 25th July 07
The feast of Santiago – the patron saint of Galicia – visit to Portugal.

One of the main items planned for this holiday was a trip to Portugal. Portugal means quite a lot to the 3 of us and of course Portugal being so near to where we were staying was an obvious must.

I studied Portuguese at University and spent many a Summer there on language courses. Then when Eladio and I first met some nearly 30 years ago we went camping to Portugal and toured the coast from north to south. And just before we were married we took my Mother and Father there too to visit Nazaré, Ovidos, Lisbon and the Algarve. So we had all many happy memories and had not been back for many years and were therefore very much looking forward to another visit, even if it was only for one day.

But, oh what a wrong day to choose to visit Portugal. And why you will say? Well we chose to go on a Wednesday because we had been told that Wednesday was the market day in Valença do Minho, the main border town. Of course, we also wanted to go there to buy what everybody who goes there from Spain wants to buy: fake brand items but mostly household linen such as towels and bedclothes which are made in Portugal, are very good quality and are very cheap. But it was also a holiday in Galicia because of the feast of Santiago so the road into Portugal was probably the fullest day in the year. What a wrong decision we took to go that day because the traffic and the crowds were horrendous.

We actually made it to the open market but it was so hot and the produce so typical of most markets with an awful lot of rubbish that we headed back to the car and made our way to the town of Gondarem in search of a lovely old hotel in the mountains called Estalagem do Boega, where we had a table booked for lunch. It had been recommended to us by my sister-in-law, Dolores and it turned out to be yet another extremely good recommendation.

The Estalagem da Boega
The Estalagem nestles at the top of a tortuous mountain road overlooking the Miño river, so the view is spectacular. The Estalagem itself which is a remarkable building in typical Portuguese architecture was previously a convent and then a hospital for the poor. It also served as a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago. The dining room traditions still remain today and the meals, at least at lunchtime, always start at 13.30 and are announced by a gong. The dining room itself is a jewel of a room with wooden panelling and ceiling. When people are seated (only by reservation), the buffet dishes appear and the gong sounds again to announce the first course. The second courses and desserts are also announced by the gong. The system is a bit archaic and has you sitting at lunch for over 2 hours. Also people tend to behave like vultures with their prey and as soon as the gong sounds rush to the table to overfill their plates.

The view of the Miño valley from the Estalagem
After lunch we wondered through the gardens of the Estalagem and made our way to the swimming pool which was located on a plateau overlooking the Miño. There the 3 of us enjoyed a long siesta reading the papers and eventually I took a dip in the freezing cold stone made pool. Very refreshing I must say!

After our long siesta we made our way back to Valença where we had heard that the shops which sold household linen were located in the Fortaleza (Fortress). I think most Gallegos had had the same ideas as us, to judge by the amount of cars and the time it took us to find a place to park our car. But the effort was not made in vain as the produce on sale was well worth the effort. We eventually bought sets of towels for the whole family as well as kitchen cloths. The same way I have a “thing” about capes, I actually have a thing about towels and am a sucker for nice ones as Eladio kept trying to point out. But I didn’t take one bit of notice.

Shopping in Valença do Minho
On our way back to the hotel we made a quick stop at the Spanish border town of Tui which has a great Cathedral to visit.

Tuy Cathedral
Once back at the hotel it was very late and this was when our stomachs began to complain about the crayfish we had eaten at Muros. So we made our way to Loliña with the idea of just having the caldo (broth) for dinner but again it was closed, this time because of Santiago. So we went some nasty little restaurant next door where the broth tasted a bit on the off side. That certainly didn’t help our stomachs.

Day 4 – Thursday 26th July, 07 – Baiona and Tui

On Thursday we went to visit Baiona which perhaps with Sanxenxo and La Toja is the most aristocratic holiday location in Galicia. It is yet another harbour town but with beaches on either side and in a valley with stunning views of both the mountains and the sea, including the Cie Islands. My first thoughts when I saw the bay of Baiona for the first time was why in earth my Aunty Masha hadn’t discovered Baiona instead of Benidorm all those years ago! It was through her that I first came to Spain and it would have been far nicer to get introduced to Spain through Baiona rather than tacky Benidorm.

But what dominates Baiona and makes it so special is the fortress overlooking the whole of the town. On the fortress itself is the Parador de Gondomar which is perhaps the most spectacularly located Parador I have ever seen, even more so than the one in Jaen. We made our way up to the Parador and immediately booked a table for lunch. Then in order to work up an apetite we walked all the way round the fortress stopping at every nook and cranny to take pictures. Here again we were to see hydrangers in all the colours possible including the most difficult colour to bloom which is blue. Hydrangers seem to be the most typical flower we were to see in Galicia.

View of the sea around Baiona from the Parador

Eladio outside the Parador
Lunch with a view of the Cie islands consisted of a buffet which seemed to include all the Galician fare possible. So here was where Eladio and I tried one of our favourite Galician dishes, “Lacón con grelos” and it was good. Unfortunately we were not that hungry because of our funny stomachs.

After lunch we made our way down to the nearest beaches and were in great luck to find 3 empty sundecks with parasols which we immediately grabbed for our daily siesta. The men slept but I made my way into the freezing sea as this was my first chance to swim in Galicia. The beach (praia de barbeira) was in a cove that formed part of the fortress and was very pleasant indeed with not many people.

The beach where we bathed in Baiona Praia da Barbeira
We then went for a walk on the promenade and also went inside the town to take a look at the little stone streets and the omnipresent church and its “cruceiro”. We had a bit of bad luck on the walk as a seagull decided to drop its “doings” on Eladio’s stomach and legs. No sooner had we cleaned off the **** another little surprised landed on his shoulder, this time, from a pigeon. So not a very nice end to our day in Baiona!!

That night we were luck as Loliña was open again and for the second time we dined there and enjoyed their wonderful food and drink; not to forget the great Albariño wine.

Day 5, the last day – Friday 27th July 07
The Morrazo Peninsula

Friday was our last day and the only peninsula we hadn’t visited in the Rias was Morrazo and more specifically the famous seaside town Cangas de Morrazo. So it was to Cangas that we headed on our last day. It was market day there too and very difficult to park. I was a bit disappointed when I first saw Cangas as it wasn’t particularly pretty with a lot of industrial looking buildings on the sea front. So we made our way to a lovely little beach at the entrance of Cangas where we both bathed to kill the heat a bit. Against all forecasts, we actually had great weather in Galicia all week apart from the rain of our arrival.

After lunch in a little restaurant overlooking the Ria, we set off to visit the rest of the peninsula but ended up going to the first beach we could find which was near Bueu. The beach was called Praia Agrelo and this was where we had our siesta except that there wasn’t enough shade for Eladio and I and we got rather burnt, or least the prominent parts of my face did!

Praia Agrelo in the Morrazo peninsula
We had our last dinner at Loliña’s and then went back to the hotel to pack because the next day we were leaving Galicia for the annual family reunion the next day in Montrondo, Eladio’s family’s village. The car next day was going to be very full, not only of our suitcases but of the bulky towels and the many boxes of Albariño we had bought, including a pack of 3 for all 5 of Eladio’s brothers and sisters.

And so a good time was had by all 3 of us. We all want to go back next year and cannot decide between O Grove, Sanxenxo, Cambados or Baiona. But I think it has to be Baiona. Well only time will tell.

1 comment:

Ana said...

I told you Loliña was going to surprise you and what can I say about La Posada del Mar... They are both Tomy's restaurants, though, since he made good used of both of them to charm me during our short/long kind of closed friendship/engagement. So he should get all the credit not me!