Galicia, Spain | Adventure Travel Guide
The region of Galicia is a historic land drenched in myth, legend and adventure
Galicia is a stunning region of rolling hills and Atlantic coastlines in the northwest of Spain. The area is best known as a religious sanctum for those following the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, though it has more recently become a pilgrimage for adventurers as well.
Galicia has a population of 2,718,525, with the main cities being Santiago, A Coruña and Vigo. Two languages are widely spoken in the area - Galician, which shares similarities to Portuguese, and Spanish, known locally as Castilian.
Galicia has something for everyone. The scenery is some of the most varied and dramatic you'll find the world over; from breath-taking valleys and canyons to enormous lakes and oceanic views. This diversity allows adventures of every kind in the area - and the mountain biking in particular has been developing terrifically in recent years.
Mountain bike routes will bring you to some of the most stunning viewpoints in the region. We'd recommend heading through Riberia Sacra, located in the Sil River Canyon. There are five circular routes here that cover 110km of varying difficulty, and the stunning views you'll get of the canyon during your journey are unforgettable. Vineyards run up the walls of the canyon and you can even take a boat ride through it to completely immerse yourself in the scenery.
The network of trail centres in Galicia is brilliant and set out specifically so that tourists can discover the history and gastronomy of the region while they travel. There are four trail centres which offer an abundance of trails from green to black level.
A hike through Devesa da Rogueira will offer immense stretches of green hills, mountains and valleys, where insatiable plants and forests will eventually bring you out at Formigueiros Peak after passing a glacial lake.
The region is rich in history too. You can walk on the roof of the central Cathedral of St. James in Santiago, which people travel from around the world to see, and get fantastic views of the city below. The entire old town is UNESCO protected.
The Romans believed Cape Fisterra to be the end of the world. Decimus Junius Brutus, the general that led the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula believed that the sun died in the waters of the Atlantic visible from Galicia every night.
You can mountain bike through tiny villages with Roman-age hill-forts pass petroglyphs and dolmens and even stay in ancient monasteries and watch the sun rise over enormous canyons from your bedroom window (head to the 'Where to Stay?' section for more on that).
The gastronomical delights of the area are hard to overhype as well. Galicia can go through four seasons in one day, from torrential rain and wind to perfect blue-sky sunshine, and while this does mean you should probably bringing a raincoat, it also means that the area has a micro-climate perfect for sensual food and drink. The home-made chorizo is beautiful, the wine of the region exceptional and the seafood second to none.
Where to Stay
There's some seriously bucket list-worthy accommodation options in Galicia. Parador de Santo Estevo is a converted monastery from the sixth century which has been converted into a hotel. The stunning building hangs off the edge of a forest and is surrounded by wilderness on every side.
Each of the 77 guest rooms looks out on the outstanding greenery and Sil River Canyon. In the morning you can watch the mist rise up over the canyon and by night watch the sun setting on the Ribeira Sacra region of Galicia. There's an outstanding restaurant, fascinating museums and two cloisters also available to explore in the monastery. This is quite genuinely one of the most spectacular places you'll ever stay.
Back in the capital of Santiago, there's another Parador worth mentioning, and it's even more famous than the de Santo Estevo. In the heart of Santiago, in the central plaza, stands Parador Santiago de Compostela (or Hostal dos Reis Católicos) - the oldest hotel in the world. Just one door down from St. James cathedral, the hotel is right in the heart of the city and offers immense luxury, with four cloisters and incredible views of the cathedral.
If you're looking for more budget options, Albergue Seminaro Menor offers basic but decent accommodation and La Credencial is similar; close to the city centre, cheap, clean and with good Wi-Fi throughout (though you need to pay a small extra to use the kitchen here).
Hotel Quinta de San Amaro is the place to be in Meaño. It's a beautiful hotel with some eclectic rooms and a great view. There's also a pool and while remote you're only 10 minutes away from the best beaches in the Rias Baixas.
Where to Eat
Restaurante O'42 is a sublime showcase of all that's great about Galician gastronomy. The wine is fantastic, the chorizo superb and the ham and cheeses were wonderful. Make sure you try the pulpo too - perfectly served, tender octopus famous in the region, topped with oil, paprika and salt. The pulpo at O'42 was the best we had during our stay. This restaurant is situated down a small back street in Santiago old town.
Restaurante Amaceta in the old town of Santiago is a small, classic option offering brilliant local dishes. Make sure you try the fish here. It's commonly said to be the best in Santiago.
Where to Drink
We'd highly recommend going direct to the source when you're in Galicia and heading for a tour of the Mar de Frades winery in Meis, Pontevedra. The white wine inside their distinct blue bottles is world famous, and the behind the scenes tour - accompanied by wine along the way - is incredibly interesting. Unlike some other tours of the same nature, you go right into the spots where the wine is currently being made, even trying some from several stages of the process before you get the finished product at the end.
Santiago meanwhile is a university town, so there's lots of bars and clubs and you don't have to spent much to get yourself a pint either. Borriquita de Belém offers live music, the quirky Momo is a bar based on the Michael Ende novel of the same name and Chocolate is a great option for cocktail lovers.
It's worth noting that if you're a big fan of the nightlife, there's always a huge carnival and party on St. James Day in Santiago, on the 25 July every year.
What The Locals Say:
"If I had to choose my favourite places to ride a mountain bike I'd take two - one is Ribeira Sacra, because you can combine really nice trails with really nice monasteries and arrive to panoramic views over the canyon. The other is Serra Do Xurés, a national park on the border with Portugal. It's maybe one of the most different places in Galicia, with the granite forest. It's really amazing!"
Guti Martin, local mountain biker and tour guide.
For further information on visiting Galicia, check out the official website.