When people mention Galicia, a small region in northwest Spain, it is usually met with either blank looks or derisive snorts. But no more: I’m here to convince you why you should drop everything and go to one of the most unique and beautiful regions of Spain to soak up both the Celtic-inspired culture and the excellent food. A mix of Spain, Portugal, and Scotland (the regional instrument is the bagpipe), it’s a melting-pot which never fails to charm visitors.
The region has everything going for it, except perhaps a Mediterranean climate. Not that the weather is appalling ALL the time. But I would avoid coming between November and June if you don’t wish to contend with the wrath of the dark and foreboding clouds.
That said, during the main tourist season the weather is usually fairly pleasant. When it’s sunny in Galicia, it’s SUNNY.
Santiago de Compostela and A Coruna are two of the most important cities in Galicia. If it’s a bigger, dynamic city you’re looking for, with pubs and clubs in abundance, A Coruna is the place for you. Plus, the beach there is beautiful, and an advantage to going in the early spring is that you’ll find the sandy shores deserted. There is a reason for that, though, as it’s the Cantabrian Sea and it’s FREEZING.
For good food and rich history, why not take a trip to Santiago? You can easily find a quality three-course meal for 10 euros, with lots of variety and seriously delicious food. Galicia has some of the best seafood in the world, considering the vast majority of it is sourced locally. Fun fact: 90% of clams caught in the entire world originate from Galicia.
The culinary highlight of Santiago is easily the almond cake, Tarta de Santiago. Fluffy and soft, with a sugar cross picked out in the middle, the tarta has become one of my favourite cakes of all time, an accolade not to be sneezed at.
The history and folklore surrounding the Camino de Santiago, or the ‘Way of St. James’, is fascinating. Covering the entire distance is, by all accounts, a life-changing experience. Equally, a trip to Santiago would not be complete without paying a visit to the majestic Cathedral, or a wander through the cobbled streets to soak up the sheer tranquility that emanates from the simple but beautiful stone buildings. I would strongly recommend going to Santiago in the slightly cooler spring months before the hordes of people flock to the city, when the flowers are in bloom and you can stroll around appreciating the peace and quiet.
However, excellent food is not confined to Santiago. The whole region boasts a fantastic tapas tradition whereby you don’t have to pay any extra for tapas with a drink, unlike many other regions of Spain. Lugo in particular, a town in the northeast of the region, is renowned for its tapas.
Unfortunately, Lugo doesn’t have much else to offer, apart from the only complete Roman wall in Europe. But it is still worth a visit if you time it right and go to the town’s annual June festival, Arde Lucus, where the inhabitants stage battles between the Romans and the Celts to pay homage to Galicia’s heritage.
Nature lovers take note as well: for in this region there is some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, from has mist-shrouded mountains, rivers, and valleys, to wild, craggy beaches. In fact, one of the best beaches in the world, according to a recent poll, can be found on Las Islas Cíes, a 40-minute boat trip rom Biona. Whereas stunning rock formations on the Praia das Catedrais, or ‘Beach of the Cathedrals’, are legendary for resembling sacred arches.
Hiking, open-water swimming, and climbing are all within reach; Galicia is a playground for the intrepid adventurer. Just watch out for the black snakes indigenous to the region. Earlier this year, one even slithered up a toilet in a village near A Coruna and bit one unfortunate woman on the bottom!
All in all, there is nowhere else in the world quite like Galicia. The native language sounds Portuguese, their food is sort of Spanish and their festivals seem Celtic. There isn’t anywhere else where you could be in danger of having fire ants stuffed down your top at a religious celebration, but that’s Laza’s pre-Lent carnival all over.
By no means ‘typically Spanish’, in Galicia it’s probable that you will not find flamenco dancers, sunlight, or beautiful Arabic architecture. But what you will discover is a peaceful and fascinating region, stuffed full to the brim with folklore and mystery echoing the pearly mists hanging over the mountains. An eclectic, unique, and very cheap alternative to standard travel destinations, Galicia is a must-see for anyone seeking something that little bit different.