Travel Extra Feb 2018

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alicia is a storyteller’s paradise, so it comes as no surprise that so many films and books have been written about the region and the journey to its capital, Santiago de Compostela. Although our group is treated to a ‘pampered’ version of the French Camino Way – trekking a measly eight kilometres of the more than 700 km route – we still manage to stumble across some fascinating characters. Our guide’s advice is, when you meet a stranger on the route, ask them why they’ve decided to take the pilgrimage. The answer is sure to be fascinating. Take, for example, our encounter with a colourful, young Hungarian chap who was walking the Camino with a donkey. Along a small bank by the Catasol River, he told us the beast had accompanied him on the journey many times. The donkey – an ‘elderly’ 22 years of age – was on his final trip before retiring to a hippy commune in northern Spain. That’s just a flavour of the kind of wonderful encounters you come across in Galicia. We start our journey backwards in the capital of Santiago de Compostela, which is usually the final stop for ‘pilgrims’ – as foreigners become known in these parts – who follow the ‘Way of Saint James’.

Camino struck

Conor McMahon gets a flavour of Galicia

Sil Canyon

For a city that has been associated with religious pilgrimage since the 9th century, there’s a refreshingly modern feeling around Santiago. Perhaps that’s because it has a significant student population, which has injected plenty of young blood into the capital – along with reasonably priced bars and hipster cafés.


ur favourite place to wet our whistles in Santiago is a pub called Modus Vivendi, which was recommended to us by the expert staff at Casa da Troia hotel. It a cosy little spot that was once had a trough in its cellar where horses could drink water. The patrons nowadays prefer Estrella beer.

(Apart from the pubs, of course), the most important building in Galicia’s capital is the cathedral at Praza das Praterías. It’s a magnificent structure, sadly enveloped with scaffolding and endless drilling when we visit since it’s in the middle of a makeover. The interior on the other hand is breathtaking, with embellished altars and icons dotted in virtually every corner of the enormous structure. Hundreds of tourists shuffle through the cathedral throughout the day, many of them here to rejoice after completing the Camino trek. One of the building’s most famous features is the ‘botafumeiro’, a kind of incense burner that dangles from the ceil-


n Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: iconic end point of the various pilgrim trails that have been trekked, beautiful and full of history. Be sure to see the attached museum a And try he Pilgrim’s Mass complete with the Botafumiero n Casco Historico, old palazzos, the palace of Rajoy, who is now communal administration with his sculpture Saint Jacques, in the sud the college of Jeromino, the many church and cloitre and the episcopal palace n As Catedrais Beach Ribadeo, free of charge! Check the times of low and

high tides in their website and ask the hosts you are planning to stay to book a visit for you. n Islas Cies Natural Park Beautiful Natural Park with grat beaches and great nature. Located about 45 minutes by ferry from Bayona/Vigo, note that access is limited pat peak times. n The Roman walls of Lugo UNESCO designated example of late Roman fortifications , a treasure trove of Roman artifacts with a Museum many statues and a Roman bath.The completely enclose the old town and are 2km long.

ing. A team of six priests hoist the object above the congregation, causing it to swing above their heads at great speeds. We’re told the botafumeiro can clock up to 80 km an hour, but it must have been a bit of a slow day when we visit. When it comes to cuisine, seafood is unavoidable in Galicia. Restaurants serve a kaleidoscopic smorgasbord of lobsters, crabs, squid, octopus and other such creatures. Most restaurant sittings require more tools than a dentist’s office so you can hammer and chisel away at each cours


othing goes to waste in Galicia and our local guides explains how to crack open the shells of various sea creatures so we can suck out every last shred of meat. It doesn’t really matter where you eat as long as the fish is fresh. We dined in a hall with sweaty pilgrims, another night we were hosted at the fancy, Michelin-starred Casa Marcelo restaurant – on both occasions the food was exquisite and comforting.

The most luxurious seafood that’s prepared in Galicia is called percebes. It looks unappetising – like an alien’s thumb, complete with nail – but the juicy flavour is divine. It doesn’t come cheap though, selling for more than €40 a kilo. Percebes, which live on rocks, are famously difficult to catch and one fisherman died the week before our Galician tour – hence the hefty price tag. If fine dining and death isn’t your thing, most menus offer a hearty pilgrim’s broth which is very satisfying. If you’re walking the Camino, you can avail of a threecourse meal for €10 which includes the broth with boiled vegetables, a carafe of wine and an almond cake for dessert.


s well as having deep religious roots, Galicia has a strong Celtic connection which might help explain why visitors are so spellbound by the place. With its lush, green valleys, the region is more like the Emerald Isle and a far cry from the sandy beaches of southern Spain.

On our journey, we meet an honorary Irishman in Palas de Res. He oversees the maintenance of a 7th century church which he claims was built by Irish monks. The octogenarian is an enchanting host – although his history might be a bit off. You’ll find an even older structure, dating back to 500 BC, when you visit A Guarda, the location of the Celtic fort and village of Santa Tegra. But if you only want to step back in time a few hundred years, I’d recommend a visit to the beautiful Arqueixal family farm in Alba, where you can sample homemade cheese, yoghurt and unpasteurised milk. If you really want to immerse yourself in socalled ‘ecotourism’, you can book the family in for some activities like learning how to prepare the cheese or how to survive a night sleeping in a stable with only pigs for warmth.


alicia offers a wide range of such agricultural experiences. For example, in Arzúna, A Coruña, you’ll find O Enredo do Abelleiro, an enchanting museum and farm dedicated to beekeeping. Meanwhile in O Rosal, Pontevedra, you can try four delicious young white wines at Bodegas Terra Gaudas vineyard, which produced about 1.5 million bottles last year. You can also book yourself in for a tour of the vineyard and factory to learn how to make wine in a region with little sunshine. As with a lot of Spain, the thing that really makes a trip to Galicia is the people. Their dedication and knowledge of hospitality is second to none. You’ll be well looked after here.

n Conor McMahon travelled to Galcicia as a guest of the Spanish Tourist Board. n Aer LIngus fly 4w to Santiago de Campastela