Lush green valleys and rugged mountains, sheer cliffs and wild, frothing, slate-grey seas. Bagpipes, baroque cathedrals and the smell of grilled seafood. The architectural grace of Santiago de Compostela and the industrial churn of Vigo. Galicia, the north-west corner of Spain, is a diverse region, but amid the variety there are two constants: first, it’s one of the best places to eat seafood in the world; and, second, its wild landscape, seemingly more Scottish than Spanish, is the most beautiful on the Iberian peninsula.
Galicia is also large, about three-quarters the size of the Netherlands, and so for this guide we’ll travel along its coast, picking out some of the best beaches, coastal towns and seafood restaurants from Ribadeo and Ortigueira in the north via A Coruña and the Costa da Morte and then south to the area known as the Rías Baixas. Although Galicia is good to visit all year round, the best time to go is from June to September. However, even during the hottest months of the year, be prepared for rain, which can be heavy and, at times, persistent.
RIBADEO TO ORTIGUEIRA
Praia das Catedrais, Ribadeo
In Galician, Praia das Catedrais means “beach of the cathedrals” and, as you walk along this beach and through the arches and craggy domes sculpted into the rocks by wind and sea, it is easy to see why. When the tide is low, and the weather holds, it’s possible to spend hours exploring the sea caves. In summer (1 July to 30 September) and Easter week, numbers are controlled and it’s vital to book a visit to the beach (free) at ascatedrais.xunta.gal.
O Barqueiro and Estaca de Bares
O Barqueiro, a small, tranquil fishing village of multicoloured houses, is the perfect place to pass the afternoon staring out at the bay while sipping a nice glass of albariño, Galicia’s most famous grape varietal. From here it’s only a 15-minute drive north to Estaca de Bares, the most northerly point of the Iberian peninsula. Its 19th-century lighthouse is a quiet place from which to appreciate the uninterrupted views of the Bay of Biscay and the relentless ferocity of the Atlantic.
Set amid rolling hills covered with pines and eucalyptus trees, Viveiro is on the estuary of the river Landro. It is a picturesque place, with walls that have withstood pirate attacks and plagues, and springs that have attracted countless Santiago pilgrims. Wander through its idyllic squares, its grand entrance gates and over its medieval bridges. Covas beach is also only a short walk from the town centre.
Praia de Xilloi, O Vicedo
Replete with dunes, imposing cliffs, and fine white sand, this kilometre-long beach is one of the best in Lugo province. The turquoise waters, although brisk, are not too dissimilar to the Caribbean. The beach has parking, showers and restaurants nearby and is a good place for families.
Where to eat and drink
A Lonxa, Burela
This traditional cafe-bar-restaurant is the haunt of local fishermen. It may have a school-canteen vibe but the food is simple and delicious. The product is the protagonist here, not the chef. Try the steamed clams (€12) to start, followed by the fried bonito (€10). The swordfish is also excellent.