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Exploring Galicia

Lorna Roberts is undoubtedly a Parador expert having explored every nook and cranny of Spain and visiting almost all of the Paradors throughout her experience as their Irish Agent and leading numerous escorted tours across Spain using these wonderful hotels.

Here she shares her knowledge of the verdant region of Galicia and its Paradors:

GALICIA is the region in the North-West of Spain perched on top of Portugal with the Atlantic washing its northern and western shores. It is similar to Ireland in so many ways with its Celtic influence and heritage, its green countryside and the fact that it is made up of four very different provinces. All over the region local seafood is a speciality, best accompanied by the Albariño wines of the Rías Baixas and the Ribeiro wines produced inland. Whilst there recently I drove around its four provinces of Lugo, Ourense, Pontevedra and Coruña – the “four green fields” – starting with a drive, and a short walk, along part of the Camino de Santiago.

AIRPORTS: There are flights to Santiago from Dublin between May and September, and from Stansted and Gatwick from February to October. There are other flights to Porto and Coruña.

I started my journey in the PROVINCE of LUGO where I greatly admired the scores of pilgrims on foot or bicycle, but taking the lazy option I veered off the route in a southerly direction to the comfort of the Parador de MONFORTE DE LEMOS. The traditionally restored former Monastery of San Vicente de Pino sits proudly on a hill above the town and has terrific atmosphere as all the public rooms lead off the central cloister, where I felt a pang of guilt as I enjoyed a relaxing pre dinner drink and thought of all those pilgrims heading towards the next hostel.

The River Sil, south of Monforte, forms the boundary between Lugo and the PROVINCE of OURENSE. After following a breathtakingly scenic road alongside the Ribeiro vineyards above the dramatic canyons and gorges, we reached another converted monastery nestling amongst chestnut groves. The Parador de SANTO ESTEVO is one of two Paradors in Ourense, and well worth the journey on narrow, winding roads to experience this extraordinary combination of old and new in this recently restored building, with the central cloister being the main feature. Both Paradors at Monforte and at Sto Estevo are close to the embarkation points for a scenic cruise on a boat which winds its way along the River Sil through the canyons with vines growing on the hillsides on either side of the river.

Further south, and surrounded by vineyards is the Parador at VERIN, in a traditional Galician country house close to the castle of MONTERREI which has been restored and opened as a Parador. The area is an ideal stopping place (the meaning of the word Parador) as it is just off the Autovia (non-paying motorway) from Vigo to Madrid. Being close to the Portuguese border, the area is a good base for exploring both countries. Continuing westwards the Rivers Sil and Miño join in the city of Ourense to form another boundary a little further downstream – between Spain and Portugal.

Having reached the coastal PROVINCE of PONTEVEDRA, I was now at the Parador de TUI. Overlooking the River Miño with far-reaching views of Northern Portugal, this charming, friendly hotel has large gardens with willow trees leading down to the pool and the river. It is a perfect setting to relax or walk along a path beside the river to explore the historic centre of the town. Following the Miño in a westerly direction one passes through the Albariño vineyards and a fruit growing area specialising in kiwi fruit, before arriving at La Guardia from where a steep, winding road passes a beautifully restored Celtic village, above which are the chapel and stations of the cross of Santa Tecla. The panoramic views from the top of the hill stretch in both directions along both the Spanish and Portuguese coastlines.

BAIONA is a pretty town and harbour close to the city and port of Vigo. I had visited its Parador almost forty years earlier and vowed that one day I would return to this spectacular walled fortress surrounded by the Atlantic. I was looked after by the most friendly staff, had a room with a view across the harbour and enjoyed excellent food and service in both the restaurant in the Parador and “La Pinta”, another restaurant within the grounds from where we watched the light fading over the Islas Cies. These islands are part of one of Spain’s highly protected National Parks, and they were recently named as having one of the ten best beaches in the world. This tranquil haven, a paradise for walkers can be reached by ferry from Baiona or Vigo.

The province of Pontevedra has four Paradors. As well as Tui and Baiona, a delightful small traditional Parador is in the historic centre of PONTEVEDRA and has many original features including an authentic Galician kitchen, and a restaurant opening on to the garden. It is only a few minutes’ walk from the city centre and also the Ria de Pontevedra, one of the many wide estuaries known as the Rís Baixas.

With views across the Arousa estuary is yet another Parador in the town of CAMBADOS. Beside the old town this country house style Parador is built round a cloister where meals are served, and behind which is a garden surrounding the large seasonal pool. Cambados is a working fishing port, the centre of the Albarino wine growing area and close to some of the best beaches in Galicia. Just a few miles away is the wonderful beach at Lanzada with sand dunes and a causeway leading to the island of La Toja. In the other direction is the tourist town of Sanxenxo, from where ferries go to Isla de Ons, also part of the National Park of the Atlantic Islands. There are first class golf courses in the province including Ria de Vigo with views across the estuary to the city of Vigo, and Meis, near Cambados.

Less that an hour’s drive from Cambados, in the PROVINCE of CORUÑA, is the jewel in the crown of Galicia. SANTIAGO DE COMPESTELA, is the city of St James, the goal for pilgrims from all over the world who are welcomed at the special Mass on Sunday mornings when the giant incense holder, the botafumeiro, swings precariously above the congregation. The city is alive with music and tourists mingling around the Cathedral alongside which is the Parador or “Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos” in the main square, La Plaza do Obradoiro. It is difficult to decide if this is a hotel or a museum, but there is no doubt that it is the most atmospheric place to stay. Restaurants line the streets and specialise in local seafood and “Tarta de Santiago”, the almond cake with the cross of St James that symbolises the city.

The city of LA CORUÑA (or A Coruña in Gallego, the language of Galicia) is built on a peninsula between the port on one side and a long beach with a promenade lined with hotels and restaurants on the other side. The old town and main square are in the centre of the peninsula at the end of which is the city’s most famous landmark, the Tower of Hercules – a Roman lighthouse dating back to the 2nd century.

The coastline of Coruña is another series of headlands indented by wide estuaries, known in this area as “Rias Altas”, on one of which is the naval base and large port at EL FERROL. Here, overlooking the estuary, is a small, but friendly Parador where I had one of the best dinners that I have had in any Parador. Although in the centre of the city, a short drive leads to some wonderful beaches and picturesque harbours. The road West of Coruña passes a remote headland at MUXIA where the Parador de COSTA DA MORTE opened in 2020 in one of the most stunning coastal locations in Spain, close to Cape Finisterre. The stylish Parador is designed to to blend into the wild coastline and is built with sustainability in mind enjoying fantastic sea views and an seasonal outdoor infinity pool and spa.

I had almost completed this circular route as I returned to the PROVINCE of LUGO. I had followed the Camino in the hilly south and now at the end of my journey I had two more Paradores to visit. Inland in the centre of the town of VILALBA a 15th century Medieval tower had only six rooms, but a recent tasteful extension has added more bedrooms and public rooms to make it an attractive small hotel.

Last but by no means least is the lovely Parador de RIBADEO, overlooking the estuary that separates Galicia from its neighbouring region – the principality of Asturias, an area of green hills and valleys, mysterious mountains and coastline and cider! The “Ruta de las Playas” is a series of golden Galician beaches with a 10 Km coastal walk linking Ribadeo with the famous Cathedral beach. This is a charming Parador to be enjoyed by those who appreciate “Real Spain” and all it has to offer.

There are 12 Paradors in Galicia and a new one being built at Muxia. By staying in these unique, comfortable and very Spanish hotels one discovers the parts of Spain that might otherwise be missed.

The CAMINO DE SANTIAGO – The French Way is the best-known route from Roncevillas in the Pyrenees. It enters Galicia in the mountains near O Cebreiro, 152 Km from Santiago de Compostela.

If you  are interested in escorted tours to the Paradors, please contact us. Lorna can tell you virtually everything there is to know about the Paradors of Spain, and she will be very happy to arrange all your booking requirements.