When you say Galicia, first things that come to my mind are green mountains, amazing food, welcoming people, #TheWay, and the wild sea. But that is just a little portion of what you can find in this land of legends and mysticism in the northwest of Spain. So here is my list of 15 things to do in Galicia at least once in a lifetime.
1.- Imagine that the world ends on an precipice in front of you at Costa da Morte
They used to say that each night the sun would fade, sparkling like a hot coal, and that beyond this place there was only a region of monsters and darkness. Nowadays, many pilgrims continue their way from Santiago to this point only to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.
Fisterra or Finisterre, was known since the Roman Empire as the most western point of the European continent. Although it is not, if you add high cliffs, wild seas and difficult access, you easily understand why they believed it was the end of the world (FinisTerrae in latin.)
2.- Cross the Limia river and forget all your previous life, even if it’s only for a second
An old story says that around 200 BC, the roman army from Decimo Junio Bruto came to conquer Galicia and, marvelled by the beauty of the land and the clear water from its rivers, they believed they had encountered the mythical river Lethes. Afraid to cross the river and lose their memory, they opposed to cross the river of the dead. Decimo Junio Bruto then decided to cross on its own and when he arrived to the other bank started to call each of the soldiers by their name so they should know they would be safe.
Although you cannot truly forget everything when you cross Limia river, you can dress like a roman or a castrexo and cross the river at the Fiesta do Esquecemento (August, Xinzo da Limia).
3.- Look for the treasures that brought Nemo and the Nautilus under the Cies Islands
Well, Mr Aronnax, we are in that Vigo Bay, and it rests with yourself whether you will penetrate its mysteries.
This short sentence at 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, talks about the hidden treasures that sunk at Vigo Bay after the battle of Rande. Many expeditions have tried to recover them, but up to this day no one has yet claimed to have found them.
Never mind, the beautiful Cies Islands have more to offer. For instance, they are home to one of the most beautiful beaches of the world.
4.- Watch men and horses fight at Sabucedo’s Rapa das Bestas
Rapa das Bestas is not about men winning over nature, it is about taking care of the beasts that belong to the local saint Patron. Each year the horses are taken down from the mountains, branding the new ones and cutting down their mane. They fight as wild as they are and men and women do their duty on a dance that is breathtaking.
There are other Rapas in Galicia, but the most famous one is at Sabucedo (A Estrada), Pontevedra in July. Another one is at Candaoso, Lugo.
5. Go back to the birth of civilitation on a night visit at Campo Lameiro
Just 20 kilometers from Pontevedra you will find one of the most important open air Rock Art sites in Europe. Visiting these petroglypgs from the Bronze Era at night, to discover, under a dim light, vivid scenes of wild animals at the beginning of Autumn, is a magical experience.
6. Wake up and be the first to hear that Columbus has discovered America
I will not get into the discussion whether Columbus was Spanish, Portuguese or Italian. What is a fact is that Baiona was the first place to hear the news of his major discovery.
You can become a man of 1493 and hear the news again every year at famous Festa da Arribada or get on board of a Pinta replica. But if you really want to experience the life of this sailors’ town, spend a couple of nights here joining the locals from tavern to tavern.
7. Light up the world from darkness, from the oldest operating roman lighthouse
Hercules Tower sits in front of the end of the world, guiding the ships far from the darkness and safe from the cliffs since the first Century.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has had many names: Farum Brigantium (romans), Faro Vello or Old Lighthouse (medieval) and Hercules Tower (modern.) Although there is no true relation with Hercules, an Irish legend says this is were the Tower of Breogan was located.
They say that when Breogan – the celtic ruler – died, his son Ith saw the coast of Ireland from the top of this tower and decided to conquer it. He didn’t accomplish this feat, but it would be his son Mil who did it, winning over the Thuatha-Dé-Dannan.
8. Get to know yourself, travelling with only a pair of boots, a cane, an empty pumpkin and a scallop shell
Many years before couchsurfing or GPS, before free wifi and travel apps, travellers from around the world would cross Europe on foot through the Way.
Walking just the last 100 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela will grant you the Compostela, but there are other reasons why joining the pilgrims around the way: connecting with nature, getting to know people from every nationality or testing your strength and skills might be only a little number of them.
9. Get ready for reincarnation at San Andres de Teixido
The location of this small town is not coincidental. A beautiful forest and a winding and foggy road take the visitor to an imaginary world that the legend says you will visit dead if you didn’t visit alive. An interesting pilgrimage route where you can also find the flor the namorar, a wild flower that grows at the nearby cliffs that can get you the man (or woman) of your dreams.
10. Dream of the roman gold with a cunca of wine at Ribeira Sacra
Cañones del Sil, where the romans digged their gold mines, were also known as the inner seas of Galicia. An amazing scenery you can navigate through the Sil river or hike between the vineyards, the forest and the dozens of churches and monasteries of Ribeira Sacra (sacred riverbank).
11. Try your last home before you’ll ever need it, at Santa Marta de Ribarteme’s coffin’s procession
Galicia has an outspoken relationship with death and this religious procession is a solid proof of it. Each year, at the end of July, both kids and grown-ups thank Saint Martha for having survived an illness or an accident by getting inside a coffin and going on procession – taken by their relatives like in a funeral – around the church.
There are other similar experiences in Galicia, like famous Festa das Mortallas at A Pobra do Caramiñal in September. Although here the people making the offering don’t get inside the coffins, but dress with their mortuary clothing and follow them around the town.
12. Fight the vikings, but end up partying with them at Catoira
On 1960, the people from Catoira started to represent the attacks they town suffered on the IX century from the vikings. Every year, the norwegian drakkar Ursula arrives full of vikings at Catoira tower, with is protected by the locals at a fight that tends to end with almost everybody drenched in wine.
13. Walk trough the streets of a Roman town that rises from under the water every once in a while
Aquis Querquennis and the road that connected Braga with Astorga (Antonio’s via XVIII or Via Nova) were drowned in 1949 by the As Conchas dam. It is the most important archeological complex in the region, and included a military camp, a small lodging and hot springs. But it can only be visited when the water level is low.
It is located at Portoquintela near Bande, near the Limia river. And if you are looking for an experience not many people has had here, just stop by on your way to Rias Baixas or Ourense.
14. Spend the summer from gastro party to gastro event, without testing the same thing twice (if you don’t want to)
Galicia is a place for food and drink: there are 30 protected Designations of Origin and Geographical Indications that go from wines and cheese to meat, fruit, fish, seafood, and even bread and sweets. And many traditional dishes everybody should try at least once: empanada, lacon con grelos, cocido, pulpo á feira, filloas…
Maybe that is also the reason why – only taking into account July and August – you can attend all the following gastro events:
Eel (anguila) at Valga, longfinned tuna (bonito) at Burela, tripe (callos) at Carnés – Vimianzo, goat in a spit (carneiro ó espeto) at Santa Lucía de Moraña, mussels (mexilón) at Vilanova de Arousa, bread from Cea (pan de Cea) at San Cristovo de Cea, white peppers (pimientos blancos) at Oímbra, Arnoia peppers at Arnoia, Herbón peppers (pimientos de Padrón) at Padrón, octopus (pulpo) at Mugardos and O Carballiño, queimada at Cervo, scallops (vieira) at Cambados, Albariño wine at Cambados, or roasted ham (jamón asado) at A Cañiza.
And I am only naming the gastro parties that are considered of touristic interest. So if you are in Galicia but don’t know what to do here, just ask, there are many local festivities that include these or many other specialties throughout the year.
15. Discovering that it is not men who build Cathedrals, they have always been there
Open to a sea that beats the rocks with violence, the wind and the tide, the whimsical shapes of Playa de las Catedrales (the beach of the cathedrals) form an ever-changing design of arcs and vaults. The light and colors of these Stone catedral walls change depending on the hour, offering a different view for each person. Just check the weather for the rising tides, it is impossible – and dangerous – to visit on high tide.