Fodor's Spain (2015)

Galicia and Asturias

Main Table of Contents

Welcome to Galicia and Asturias

Santiago de Compostela and Eastern Galicia

The Costa da Morte and Rías Baixas

A Coruña and Rías Altas

Asturias

The Picos de Europa

Cantabria

Welcome to Galicia and Asturias

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Top Reasons to Go | Getting Oriented | What’s Where | Planning | Eating and Drinking Well in Galicia and Asturias

Updated by Elizabeth Prosser

Spain’s most Atlantic region is en route to nowhere, an end in itself. This magical, remote area is sure to pull at your heartstrings, so be prepared to fall in love. In Gallego they call the feeling morriña, a powerful longing for a person or place you’ve left behind.

Stretching northwest from the lonesome Castilian plains to the rocky seacoast, Asturias and Galicia incorporate lush hills and vineyards, gorgeous rías (estuaries), and the country’s wildest mountains, the Picos de Europa. Santander and the entire Cantabrian region are cool summer refuges with sandy beaches, high sierras (including part of the Picos de Europa), and tiny highland towns. Santander, once the main seaport for Old Castile on the Bay of Biscay, is in a mountainous zone wedged between the Basque Country and Asturias.

Northwestern Spain is a series of rainy landscapes, stretching from your feet to the horizon. Ancient granite buildings wear a blanket of moss, and even the stone horreos (granaries) are built on stilts above the damp ground. Swirling fog and heavy mist help keep local folktales of the supernatural alive. Rather than a guitar, you’ll hear the gaita (bagpipe), a legacy of the Celts’ settlements here in the 5th and 6th centuries BC. Spanish families flock to these cool northern beaches and mountains each summer, and Santiago de Compostela, where a cathedral holds the remains of the apostle James, has drawn pilgrims for 900 years, leaving churches, shrines, and former hospitals in their path. Asturias, north of the main pilgrim trail, has always maintained a separate identity, isolated by the rocky Picos de Europa. This and the Basque Country are the only parts of Spain never conquered by the Moors, so Asturian architecture shows little Moorish influence. It was from a mountain base at Covadonga that the Christians won their first decisive battle against the Moors and launched the Reconquest of Spain. Despite being very much its own region, Cantabria is in spirit much closer to Asturias—with which it shares the Picos de Europa, Castilian Spanish, and similar architecture—than its passionately independent neighbor, the Basque Country.

TOP REASONS TO GO

Experience gourmet heaven: The beautiful Santiago de Compostela is said to contain more restaurants and bars per square mile than any other city in Spain.

Go on rugged hikes: Spend days in the spectacular Picos de Europa range getting lost in forgotten mountain villages.

Get in on the grapevine: The Ribeiro region yields Spain’s finest white wines.

Enjoy the waterfront activity: Watch the oyster hawkers at work while dining on a fresh catch on Vigo’s Rúa Pescadería.

Discover Santander: With its intoxicating schedule of live music, opera, and theater performances on the beach and in gardens and monasteries, the city’s August festival of music and dance is the perfect backdrop for exploring this vibrant city.

GETTING ORIENTED

The bewitching provinces of Galicia and Asturias lie in Spain’s northwest; these rugged Atlantic regions hide a corner of Spain so remote it was once called finis terrae (the end of the earth). Galicia is famous for Santiago de Compostela, for centuries a destination for Christian pilgrims seeking to pay homage to St. James. As for Asturias, its verdant hills, sandy beaches, and the massive Picos de Europa mountain range are all part of its pull. To the east, Cantabria borders the Bay of Biscay.

WHAT’S WHERE

Santiago de Compostela and Eastern Galicia. Books and movies have been written about it and millions have walked it, but you don’t have to be a pilgrim to enjoy the journey of Camino de Santiago. At the end of the path is Santiago itself, a vibrant university town embedded in hills around the soaring spires of one of Spain’s most emblematic cathedrals.

The Costa da Morte and Rías Baixas. From Fisterra (“World’s End”) down to Vigo and the Portuguese border, this area takes in the peaceful seaside towns of Cambados and Baiona, the exquisite beaches of Las Islas Cíes, and the beautifully preserved medieval streets of Pontevedra.

A Coruña and Rías Altas. Galicia has more coastline and unspoiled, nontouristy beaches than anywhere else in the country. You can opt for vast expanses of sand facing the Atlantic Ocean or tiny, tucked-away coves, but take note: the water is colder than the Mediterranean, and the region’s weather is more unreliable.

Asturias. Also known as the Senda Costera (Coastal Way), this partly paved nature route between Pendueles and Llanes takes in some of Asturias’s most spectacular coastal scenery, including noisy bufones (large waterspouts created naturally by erosion) and the Playa de Ballota.

Picos de Europa. One of Spain’s best-kept secrets, the “Peaks of Europe” lie across Asturias, Cantabria, and León. In addition to 8,910-foot peaks, the area has deep caves, excellent mountain refuges, and interesting wildlife. This region is also known for its fine cheeses.

Cantabria. Santander’s wide beaches and summer music-and-dance festival are highlights of this mountain and maritime community. The Liébana Valley, the Renaissance town at Santillana del Mar, and ports and beaches such as San Vicente de la Barquera all rank among northern Spain’s finest treasures.

PLANNING

WHEN TO GO

Galicia can get very hot (more than 90°F [30°C]) between June and September, although summer is the best time for swimming and water sports and for Celtic music festivals. Asturias, in the mountains, is cooler. Galicia can be rainy to the point of saturation—not for nothing is this region called Green Spain—so avoid the area in winter: the rain, wind, and freezing temperatures make driving an arduous experience. Spring and fall are ideal, as the weather is reasonable and crowds are few.

PLANNING YOUR TIME

You can fly into Santiago de Compostela, and a week should be long enough to cover the Santiago area and Galicia’s south. From Santiago, you can drive down the PO550 to Cambados, stopping on the way at fishing villages along the Ría de Arousa. If you take the coastal road to Pontevedra, you can spend time there exploring the medieval streets and tapas bars and then drive down to Vigo for a lunch of oysters on Rúa Pescadería. Continue south and arrive before dark at the Baiona parador. Alternatively, travel to A Coruña, and from there head north to some of Spain’s loveliest beaches and Viveiro. From here cross into Asturias and spend time in Luarca or Gijón. Another attractive option is getting lost in a small village in the Picos de Europa.

Heading farther east, Santillana del Mar’s Renaissance architecture, the Altamira Caves, and the Sardinero Beach at Santander are top spots, while the fishing villages and beaches around Llanes in eastern Asturias, and San Vicente de la Barquera in Cantabria have charming ports and inlets. If you want to delve more deeply into the Picos de Europa and the region’s pretty coastline, Asturias and Cantabria merit more than a week’s exploration.

Festivals

There’s a full calendar of special events in Galicia, including international festivals, major national celebrations, saints’ days, and unique local events, some in towns that don’t otherwise have much to offer the average traveler.

Carnival.
In February and March, on this first major fiesta of the year after Three Kings’ Day (January 6), cities, towns, and villages across the region erupt with festive fun, including parades, parties, and wild costumes.

Corpus Christi.
During this feast day in June, the town of Ponteareas celebrates flowers and the harvest by carpeting the streets throughout the night with an intricate weave of fresh flowers and leaves, over which a somber parade progresses the following day.

El Día de Santiago (St. James’s Day).
Since it’s named for the saint, Santiago is a good place to be on his feast day, June 25, celebrated here with processions, street parties, and spectacular fireworks. It is also one of the few days of the year that the enormous botafumeiro (incense burner) is released and swung across the naves of Santiago’s Cathedral.

Festa da Arribada.
Celebrating the arrival on March 1, 1493, of the news that the New World had been discovered, the town of Baiona stages a spectacular reenactment on the beach, while the streets go medieval with a costumed procession and artisan market. There’s plenty of food and entertainment, and the bars are open all day. It’s held on the first weekend in March. | www.baiona.org.

Festa do Chourizo en Sant Anton de Abedes (St. Anthony of Abedes Sausage Festival).
The town of Verin honors its patron saint every January 17 with a parade and other events dedicated to its chourizo (sausage).

Festa do Marisco (Seafood Festival).
Galicia’s famous culinary event, held in O Grove in October, draws crowds to feast on a stunning number of seafood delicacies. | www.turismogrove.es.

Festa do Queixo.
Food, folklore, and music are the attractions of this cheese festival, held in the first week of March in Arzüa, near A Coruña. | 981/500000, 981/815001 | www.festadoqueixo.org.

Festa do Viño Albariño (Albariño Wine Festival).
On the first Sunday of August, the town of Cambados, capital of the Albariño wine region, draws thousands to witness its processions, concerts, cultural events, fireworks, and other revelry honoring local vineyards and wineries—including wine tastings from around 40 different Rias Baixas wineries. The festival goes back to the early 1950s. | www.cambados.es.

Festival Internacional Santander.
The city of Santander’s big event fills up almost all of August with world-class opera, ballet, classical concerts, and recitals, and attracts top international musicians and dancers. | 942/210508, 942/314853 | www.festivalsantander.com.

Hogueras de San Juan (San Juan Bonfires).
On the night of June 23, the skies of A Coruña are alight with hundreds of bonfires, notably along the beach, following a day of parades, colorful costumes, and traditional music and dance. | www.hoguerassanjuan.com.

La Folía.
San Vicente celebrates this event in late April (the name translates roughly as “folly,” and the exact date depends not only on Easter but also on the high tide). Its main attraction is a magnificent maritime procession: the town’s colorful fishing fleet accompanies the figure of La Virgen de la Barquera as she is transported in part by boat from her sanctuary outside town to the village church. There she’s honored with folk dances and songs before being returned to the sanctuary for another year. | San Vincente de la Barquera.

La Reconquista.
Marking the anniversary of the expulsion of Napoléon’s army on March 28, 1809, Vigo re-creates the events and the atmosphere of that day (which earned it the title “faithful, loyal, and courageous”) with battle reenactments, townsfolk in costumes, a 19th-century market, street parties, and lots of food and wine. | www.reconquistadevigo.com/en.

Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary).
On August 15, sailors and fishermen in Luarca celebrate the Lady of the Rosary by parading their boats and an image of the Virgin through the harbor, in memory of fishermen who died at sea.

Ortigueira Festival.
This major Celtic music festival, which takes place in early or mid-July over four days in the coastal city of Ortigueira, attracts folk musicians from around the world. | 981/422089 for tourist office | www.festivaldeortigueira.com.

Procesión de las Mortajas (Procession of the Shrouds).
This late-September event in A Pobra do Caramiñal (A Coruña) dates back to the 15th century. Thousands of people take to the streets, and survivors of illness, bad luck, or bad love parade around town in gratitude for their salvation, preceded by open coffins carried by their families and friends.

Procesión dos Fachós (Procession of the Scarecrows).
Every January 19, the village of Castro Caldelas, in the Ourense province, commemorates its survival of a 1753 cholera outbreak with a torchlight procession. | www.turismourense.com.

Rapa das Bestas (Taming of the Beasts).
The beasts that are tamed during this celebration, held in various locations around Galicia over the first weekend in July, are wild horses, which are grappled and subdued by local experts. | www.rapadasbestas.es.

Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Easter and the rest of Holy Week are observed throughout the region with religious services and colorful processions. Viveiro has a barefoot parade of flagellants illuminated by hundreds of candles. | semanasanta.galiciadigital.com.

BEACHES AND THE OUTDOORS

Galician and Asturian beaches include urban strands with big-city amenities steps from the sand, as well as remote expanses that rarely become as crowded as the beaches of the Mediterranean. When the sun comes out, you can relax on the sand on the Asturian beaches of (from east to west) Llanes, Ribadesella, Cudillero, Santa Ana (by Cadavedo), Luarca, and Tapia de Casariego, among others. In Galicia, the beaches of Muros, Noya, O Grove, the Islas Cíes, Boa, and Testal are the top destinations. For surfers, Galicia’s Montalvo, Foxos, and Canelas beaches, near Pontevedra, are tops. Others with good waves are Nerga and Punto de Couso, near Cangas, and, farther south, El Vilar, Balieros, Rio Sieira, and Os Castros. Santander has excellent sandy beaches.

GETTING HERE AND AROUND

Air Travel

The region’s domestic airports are in Santander, A Coruña, Vigo, and near San Estéban de Pravia, 47 km (29 miles) north of Oviedo. Santiago de Compostela is a hub for both domestic and international flights. Airport shuttles usually take the form of ALSA buses from the city bus station. Iberia sometimes runs a private shuttle from its office to the airport; inquire when you book your ticket.

Bike Travel

Cycling the Camino is becoming increasingly popular every year, particularly with international visitors. The official French Way by Bicycle booklet, available from Xacobeo or from the Santiago tourist office, warns that the approximately 800-km (500-mile) route from the French border to Santiago is a very tough bike trip—bridle paths, dirt tracks, rough stones, and mountain passes. The best time of year to tackle it is late spring or early autumn. The Asturias tourist office’s booklet, Sus Rutas de Montaña y Costa, available online (www.asturias.es), outlines additional routes. For something a little less arduous, try the final leg of the camino francés, from Sarria to Santiago.

Bike Routes
CaminoWays.com. This tour operator can help you bike the Camino with tailor-made packages for individuals and families, child-friendly accommodations if necessary, meals, luggage transfer, and bike rental. | 353/15252886 | www.caminoways.com
Santiago bike route information. | www.caminhodesantiago.com.br/index3.htm
Xacobeo. | www.xacobeo.es.

Bus Travel

ALSA runs daily buses from Madrid to Galicia and Asturias. Once here, there is good bus service between the larger destinations in the area, like Santiago, Vigo, Pontevedra, Lugo, A Coruña, Gijón, Oviedo, and Santander, though train travel is generally smoother, faster, and easier. Getting to the smaller towns by bus is more difficult. Galicia-based Monbus offers quick, inexpensive transportation between major cities like Santiago, A Coruña, Vigo, and Pontevedra, as well as smaller towns that may not be easily accessible by train.

Contacts
ALSA. | 902/422242 | www.alsa.es/en
Monbus. | 902/292900 | www.monbus.es.

Car Travel

Driving is the best way to get around. The four-lane A6 expressway links the area with central Spain; it takes about five hours to cover the 650 km (403 miles) from Madrid to Santiago, and from Madrid, it’s 240 km (149 miles) on the N1 or the A1 toll road to Burgos, after which you can take the N623 to complete the 390 km (242 miles) to Santander.

The expressway north from León to Oviedo and Gijón is the fastest way to cross the Cantabrian Mountains. The AP9 north–south Galician (“Atlantic”) expressway links A Coruña, Santiago, Pontevedra, and Vigo, and the A8 in Asturias links Santander to Luarca and beyond. Local roads along the coast or through the hills are more scenic but slower.

Train Travel

RENFE (www.renfe.es) runs several trains a day from Madrid to Santander (4½ hours), Oviedo (7 hours), and Gijón (8 hours), and a separate line serves Santiago (11 hours). Local RENFE trains connect the region’s major cities with most of the surrounding small towns, but there may be dozens of stops on the way. Narrow-gauge FEVE trains clatter slowly across northern Spain, connecting Galicia and Asturias with Santander, Bilbao, and Irún, on the French border.

RESTAURANTS

From the humblest of cafeterias to the hautest of dining rooms, chefs in Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria emphasize the use of fresh, local ingredients. Excellent, cheap meals can be found at smaller, family-run eateries, which usually stick to traditional foods and tend to draw mostly local crowds. Restaurants that stray from the culinary norm—and which also offer top-notch service and elegant surroundings—usually also include a higher price tag. Restaurant prices are the average cost of a main course or equivalent combination of smaller dishes at dinner.

HOTELS

Expect to feel at home in the region’s classic inns: they’re usually small, centuries-old, family-owned properties, with plenty that’s pleasing, such as gardens, exposed stone walls, and genuinely friendly service. City hotels may not have the same country charm, but they make up for it with professional service, sparkling facilities, and spacious, comfortable rooms. Many big chain hotels may resemble their American counterparts, but you may not be able to assume that they also come with ample parking, big breakfasts, fitness rooms, or other amenities that are more-or-less standard back home. It’s a very good idea to book ahead of time May through September, particularly if your stay includes a weekend. Hotel prices are the lowest cost of a standard double room in high season.

TOURS

FEVE’s Transcantábrico narrow-gauge train tour (www.eltranscantabricogranlujo.com) is an eight-day, 1,000-km (600-mile) journey through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. English-speaking guides narrate, and a private bus takes the group from train stations to natural attractions. Passengers sleep on the train in suites and dine on local specialties. Trains run March to November; the all-inclusive cost is €4,250 for two people in a suite.

EATING AND DRINKING WELL IN GALICIA AND ASTURIAS

Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria are famous for seafood and fish so fresh that chefs frown on drowning the inherent flavors in sauces and seasonings. Inland, the Picos de Europa and the mountain meadows are rich in game, sheep, and beef.

The northern coast of Spain is justly famous for fish and seafood, and specialties include merluza a la gallega (steamed hake with paprika sauce) in Galicia, to merluza a la sidra (hake in a cider sauce) in Asturias. Look also for Galician seafood treasures such as vieiras (scallops) and pulpo a la gallega (boiled octopus that’s drizzled with olive oil and dusted with salt and paprika). The rainy weather means that bracing stews are a favorite form of sustenance, especially fabada asturiana (Asturian bean-and-sausage stew) and Galicia’s caldo gallego (a thick soup of white beans, turnip greens, ham, and potatoes). Cantabria’s cooking is part mountain fare, such as roast kid and lamb or cocidos (pork-and-bean stews) in the highlands, and part seafood dishes, such as sorropotún (a bonito, potato, and vegetable stew) along the coast.

Cabrales Cheese

Asturias is known for having Spain’s bluest and most pungent cheese, Cabrales, made of raw cow’s milk (with goat curd added for a softer consistency). Produced in the Picos de Europa mountains of eastern Asturias, the cheese gets such praise because of the quality of the milk and the dry highland air used to cure it. Cabrales is ideal melted over meat or for dessert with a sweet sherry.

Beans and Legumes

Fabada asturiana (fava-bean-and-sausage stew) is as well known in Spain as Valencia’s paella or Andalusia’s gazpacho. A meal in itself, fabada is usually consumed in copious quantities. The secret to great fabada lies in slow simmering while adding small quantities of cold water, and crushing some of the beans so that the creamy paste becomes part of the sauce. Fatback, black sausage, chorizo, and pork chops are added to this powerful dose of protein and vitamin B, and it’s cooked on low heat for at least 2½ hours.

Vegetables

Turnip greens (grelo in Gallego) are a favorite vegetable in Galicia, celebrated in La Festa do Grelo during Carnavales in February. Lacón con grelos is a classic Galician specialty combining cured pork shoulder, turnip stalks and greens, potatoes, and chorizo, all boiled for about four hours. The grelo’s acidity and the pork shoulder’s heavy fat content make the marriage of these two products an ideal union. Similarly, caldo gallego is a powerful mountain or seafarers stew, the whole garden in a pot—including grelos stalks and greens, alubias (white beans), and potatoes—with pork for ballast and taste. Traditionally served in earthenware cups called cuncas, the diverse ingredients and the fat from the pork make this a fortifying antidote to the bitter Atlantic climate of Spain’s northwest corner.

Pulpo a la Gallega

This typical Galician specialty, also known as polbo á feira, consists of octopus that’s been boiled (traditionally in a copper cauldron), cut into slices, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and bittersweet paprika, and served on a wooden plate. A variation is served atop slices of boiled potato; the texture of the potato slices balances the consistency of the octopus.

To Drink

The best Galician wine is the fresh, full-bodied, white albariño from Rías Baixas, perfect with seafood. Ribeiro, traditionally sipped from shallow white ceramic cups, or tazas, in order to allow aromas to expand, is lighter and fresher. Asturias is known for its sidra (hard cider), poured from overhead and quaffed in a single gulp for full enjoyment of its effervescent flavor. Brandy buffs should try Galicia’s queimada (which some locals claim is a witches’ brew), made of potent, grappa-like orujo mixed with lemon peel, coffee beans, and sugar in an earthenware bowl and then set aflame and stirred until the desired amount of alcohol is burned off. Orujo is also the basis for several digestifs that Gallegos often sip at the end of a large meal.

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Santiago de Compostela and Eastern Galicia

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Santiago de Compostela | Side Trip from Santiago: Padrón | Ourense and La Ribeira Sacra | Lugo | O Cebreiro

The main pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, the camino francés, crosses the Pyrenees from France and heads west across northern Spain. If you drive into Galicia on the A6 expressway from Castile-León, you enter the homestretch, but many people fly into Santiago de Compostela and start exploring from here.

Santiago de Compostela and Eastern Galicia

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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

650 km (403 miles) northwest of Madrid.

A large, lively university makes Santiago one of the most exciting cities in Spain, and its cathedral makes it one of the most impressive. The building is opulent and awesome, yet its towers create a sense of harmony as a benign St. James, dressed in pilgrim’s costume, looks down from his perch. Santiago de Compostela welcomes more than 4.5 million visitors a year, with an extra million during Holy Years (the next will be in 2021), when St. James’s Day, July 25, falls on a Sunday.

Getting Here and Around

Santiago is connected to Pontevedra (61 km [38 miles]) and A Coruña (57 km [35 miles]) via the AP9 tollway. The N550 is free, but slower. Parking anywhere in the city center can be difficult unless you use one of the numerous car parks around the outside edge of the historical quarter.

Bus service out of Santiago’s station is plentiful, with eight daily buses to Madrid (7 to 9 hours) and hourly buses to A Coruña.

High-speed Talgo trains to Madrid take just over six hours; there is daily service to Irún, on the French border, via León and Santander. Trains depart every hour for Galicia’s other major towns.

Santiago’s center is very pedestrian-friendly, and the distances between attractions are relatively short, so walking is the best and often the only way around town.

Essentials

Bike Rentals
Bici Total. | Cuesta de San Marcos 9 | 981/564562 | www.bicitotal.es.

Bus Station
Santiago de Compostela. | Praza de Camilo Díaz Baliño s/n | 981/542416.

Tour Information
La Asociación Profesional de Guías Turísticos de Galicia. Santiago’s association of well-informed guides, which is part of the tourist office, can arrange private walking tours of the city or tours to any place in Galicia. | 981/576698 | www.guiasdegalicia.org | From €100 for a general tour, for up to 10 people.

Train Station
Santiago de Compostela. | Rúa do Hórreo 75 | 902/240505.

Visitor Information
Santiago de Compostela. | Rúa do Vilar 63 | 981/555129 | www.santiagoturismo.com.

Santiago de Compostela

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EXPLORING

Top Attractions

Fodor’s Choice | Casco Antiguo(Old Town).
The best way to spend your time in Santiago de Compostela is to simply to walk around the casco antiguo, losing yourself in its maze of stone-paved narrow streets and little plazas. The streets hold many old pazos (manor houses), convents, and churches. The most beautiful pedestrian thoroughfares are Rúa do Vilar, Rúa do Franco, and Rúa Nova—portions of which are covered by arcaded walkways called soportales, designed to keep walkers out of the rain.

Cathedral.
From the Praza do Obradoiro, climb the two flights of stairs to the main entrance of Santiago’s cathedral. Although the facade is baroque, the interior holds one of the finest Romanesque sculptures in the world, the Pórtico de la Gloria. Completed in 1188 by Maestro Mateo, this is the cathedral’s original entrance, its three arches carved with figures from the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and purgatory. Below Jesus is a serene St. James, poised on a carved column. Look carefully and you can see five smooth grooves, formed by the millions of pilgrims who have placed their hands here over the centuries. On the back of the pillar, people, especially students preparing for exams, lean forward to touch foreheads with the likeness of Maestro Mateo in the hope that his genius can be shared.

In his bejeweled cloak, St. James presides over the high altar. The stairs behind it are the cathedral’s focal point, surrounded by dazzling baroque decoration, sculpture, and drapery. Here, as the grand finale of their spiritual journey, pilgrims embrace St. James and kiss his cloak. In the crypt beneath the altar lie the remains of James and his disciples St. Theodore and St. Athenasius.

A pilgrims’ mass is celebrated every day at noon. On special, somewhat unpredictable occasions, the botafumeiro (huge incense burner) is attached to the thick ropes hanging from the ceiling and prepared for a ritual at the end of the pilgrims’ mass: as small flames burn inside, eight strong laymen move the ropes to swing the vessel in a massive semicircle across the apse. In earlier centuries, this rite served as an air freshener—by the time pilgrims reached Santiago, they were not, to put it mildly, at their freshest. A botafumeiro and other cathedral treasures are on display in the museums downstairs and next door.

On the right (south) side of the nave is the Porta das Praterías (Silversmiths’ Door), the only purely Romanesque part of the cathedral’s facade. The statues on the portal were cobbled together from parts of the cathedral. The double doorway opens onto the Praza das Praterías, named for the silversmiths’ shops that once lined it. | Praza do Obradoiro | 902/557812 for cathedral | www.catedraldesantiago.es | Cathedral free, museum €6 | Cathedral daily 7 am–8:30 pm; museum Apr.–Oct., daily 9–8; Nov.–Mar., daily 10–8.

Cidade da Cultura.
More than a decade in the making, Santiago’s vast new City of Culture, a controversial striated-stone-and-glass edifice on Mt. Gaiás, has whisked Galician culture into the future. It contains a museum, archive library, performing arts theater, and international arts center. Behind the museum’s sweeping facade lie temporary cultural exhibitions. The design of the complex, by the American architect Peter Eisenman, is based on the shape of a scallop shell, the emblem of St. James, and the five medieval caminos that lead pilgrims to Santiago’s cathedral. | Mt. Gaiás s/n | 881/997584 | www.cidadedacultura.org | Library Tues.–Sun 10–8; museum Tues.–Sun. 11–8.

Hostal dos Reis Católicos (Hostel of the Catholic Monarchs).
Facing the cathedral from the left, the hostal was built in 1499 by Ferdinand and Isabella to house the pilgrims who slept on Santiago’s streets every night. Having lodged and revived travelers for over 500 years, it’s the oldest refuge in the world; it was converted from a hospital to a parador in 1954. The facade bears a Castilian coat of arms along with Adam, Eve, and various saints; inside, the four arcaded patios have gargoyle rainspouts said to be caricatures of 16th-century townsfolk. Behind the lobby is the building’s focal point, a Renaissance chapel in the shape of a cross. Thanks to the “Parador Museo” initiative, visitors (as opposed to only guests staying at the parador) can behold these architectural treasures for a small fee (or for free with the purchase of a meal at one of the parador’s restaurants). | Praza do Obradoiro 1 | 981/582200 | www.parador.es | €3 | Sun.–Fri. noon–2 and 4–6.

Worth Noting

Cathedral roofs.
For excellent views of the city, join one of the tours arranged by Xelmírez Palace that takes you across the cubiertas, the granite steps of the cathedral roofs. Call ahead to arrange one in English. Pilgrims made the same 100-foot climb in medieval times to burn their travel-worn clothes below the Cruz dos Farrapos (Cross of Rags). | Pazo de Xelmírez, Praza do Obradoiro | 902/557812 | www.catedraldesantiago.es | €12 | Tours: Apr.–Oct., daily on the hr 9–8; Nov.–Mar., daily on the hr 10–8.

Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (Galician Center for Contemporary Art).
On the north side of town, off the Porta do Camino, the CGAC is a stark but elegant modern building that contrasts with the ancient feel of most other places in Santiago. The Portuguese designer Álvaro Siza built the museum of smooth, angled granite, which mirrors the medieval convent of San Domingos de Bonaval next door. Inside, a gleaming lobby of white Italian marble gives way to white-walled, high-ceilinged exhibition halls flooded with light from massive windows and skylights. The museum has a good permanent collection and even better changing exhibits. | Rúa Valle Inclán 2 | 981/546619 | www.cgac.org | Free | Tues.–Sun. 11–8.

Museo das Peregrinacións (Pilgrimage Museum).
North of Acibechería (follow Ruela de Xerusalén) is the Museo das Peregrinacións, with Camino de Santiago iconography from sculptures and carvings to azabache (compact black coal, or jet) items. For an overview of the history of St. James, the cathedral, and the pilgrimage, as well as the Camino’s role in the development of the city itself, this is a key visit. | Rúa de San Miguel 4 | 981/581558 | www.mdperegrinacions.com | €2.40 (free Sat. 5–8 pm and Sun. all day) | Tues.–Fri. 10–8, Sat. 10:30–1:30 and 5–8, Sun. 10:30–1:30.

Museo do Pobo Galego (Galician Folk Museum).
Next door to the CGAC stands the medieval convent of San Domingos de Bonaval. The museum within includes photos, farm implements, traditional costumes, and other items illustrating aspects of traditional Galician life. The star attraction is the 13th-century self-supporting spiral granite staircase that still connects three floors. | C. San Domingos de Bonaval s/n | 981/583620 | www.museodopobo.es | €3 (free Sun.) | Tues.–Sat. 10:30–2 and 4–7:30, Sun. and public holidays 11–2.

Pazo de Xelmírez (Palace of Archbishop Xelmírez).
Step into this rich 12th-century building to view an unusual example of Romanesque civic architecture, with a cool, clean, vaulted dining hall. The little figures carved on the corbels in this graceful, 100-foot-long space are drinking, eating, and listening to music with great medieval gusto. Each is different, so stroll around for a tableau of mealtime merriment. | Praza do Obradoiro | 902/557812 | www.catedraldesantiago.es | €6, includes cathedral museum | Tues.–Sat. 11–2 and 4–6, Sun 10–2.

Praza da Quintana.
The wide Praza da Quintana, behind the Santiago cathedral, is the haunt of young travelers and folk musicians in summer. The Porta Santa (Holy Door) is open only during years when St. James’s Day falls on a Sunday (the next is 2021).

WHERE TO EAT

A Barrola.
SPANISH | One of the better options on a street packed with tourist eateries, this seafood-heavy restaurant has polished wood floors and a lively terrace; it’s a favorite with the university faculty. The caldo gallego, santiaguiños (slipper lobsters), arroz con bogavante (rice with lobster), and seafood empanadas are superb, and local delicacies like angulas (elvers) and lamprey are served seasonally. If options overwhelm you and you can’t decide, you might opt for the parrillada de pescados (mixed seafood grill). | Average main: €20 | Rúa do Franco 29 | 981/577999 | www.restaurantesgrupobarrola.com.

Fodor’s Choice | Abastos 2.0.
TAPAS | “From the market to the plate” is the philosophy of Iago Pazos y Marcos Cerqueiro’s restaurant. The concept here, to start and finish the day with an empty larder and a blank menu, has quickly grown in reputation. This inventive tapas bar has been transformed from a collection of tiny market stalls adjoining Santiago’s food market into a vibrant and contemporary glass-walled space. Ingredients are handpicked in the market each morning and crafted into impeccable dishes bursting with fresh flavors and new ideas. These flavors can be enjoyed in the small 12-seater dining room (reservations highly recommended) or alongside the regulars by simply leaning up against the bar surrounding the exterior. | Average main: €25 | Casetas 13–18, Plaza de Abastos s/n | 981/576145 | www.abastosdouspuntocero.es | Closed Sun. and Mon.

Adega Abrigadoiro.
TAPAS | This rustic stone-wall bodega serves some of the best Galician delicacies in town. Its centerpiece, a fully functioning waterwheel, contrasts with the bodega’s central location, a five-minute walk from the Colexio San Xerome. Lean up against a barrel or sit at one of the long wooden tables and feast on embutidos (cold cuts of meat) and cheeses, accompanied by a selection of wines by the glass or bottle. | Average main: €15 | Rúa da Carreira do Conde 5 | 981/563163.

Bierzo Enxebre.
SPANISH | Tucked behind the cathedral, this tapas bar specializes in products from El Bierzo, a region of Castilla and León, either in the animated bar or in one of the stone walled dining rooms. Visitors stopping in for a drink at the bar can expect a generous portion of free tapas, while the menu has a selection of grilled meats, revueltos (scrambled eggs with a variety of toppings—a regional favorite), cold meats and cheeses. | Average main: €12 | Rúa La Troia 10 | 981/581909 | www.bierzoenxebre.es | Closed Tues.

Carretas.
SEAFOOD | This casual spot for fresh Galician seafood is around the corner from the Hostal dos Reis Católicos. Fish dishes abound, but the specialty here is shellfish. Start with a plate of melt-in-your-mouth battered miniscallops, then, for the full experience, order the labor-intensive variado de mariscos, a comprehensive platter of langostinos, king prawns, crab, and goose barnacles, a white or gray crustacean found in deep waters. Salpicón de mariscos presents the same creatures shelled. For dessert, there’s the tastier-than-it-sounds fried milk pudding. | Average main: €25 | Rúa das Carretas 21 | 981/563111 | www.restaurantesanclemente.com | Closed Sun. and Mon.

La Bodeguilla de San Roque.
TAPAS | This is one of Santiago’s favorite spots for tapeo (tapas grazing) and chiquiteo (wine sampling); it’s just a five-minute walk from the cathedral. The tapas live up to their reputation, and they’re a better choice than the main dishes. The traditional bar area takes center stage, playing host to locals, pilgrims, and tourists alike, all gathering for wine, Iberian cured meats, cheeses, and seasonal dishes. It can get crowded, but this only adds to the atmosphere. | Average main: €15 | C. San Roque 13 | 981/564379 | www.labodeguilladesanroque.com.

Restaurante Ana.
SPANISH | In a converted 200-year-old tannery a short stroll from the city center, chef Ana García offers contemporary Galician cuisine. The tasting menu serves as a mouthwatering introduction, with a selection of house favorites such as Iberian pork-jowl stew, or scallops on a bed of pumpkin puree. Wine is more lavishly represented here than in most other Santiago restaurants; go local with an Albariño from the Rìas Baixas or a Mencía, and make sure to book a day in advance to secure one of the six popular tables in the cobbled courtyard, which has a fountain. | Average main: €25 | Rúa Olvido 22 | 981/570792 | No dinner Sun.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Costa Vella.
B&B/INN | At this classically Galician inn, there’s a perfect little garden and views of red-tile rooftops, the baroque convent of San Francisco, and the green hills beyond (ask for a garden view). The cheerful interior is awash with smooth blond wood and natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows—the better to behold the vistas, particularly from the airy breakfast room and reading area. Pros: charming views; ideal location; warm, accommodating staff. Cons: creaky floors; thin walls; no elevator. | Rooms from: €82 | Rúa Porta da Pena 17 | 981/569530 | www.costavella.com | 14 rooms | No meals.

Hotel Monumento San Francisco.
HOTEL | Contemporary stained-glass windows add a touch of pizzazz to the solemn interior of this converted 13th-century convent, adjoining the church of the same name. The guest rooms are also somber, with Franciscan dark browns, wooden beams, and stone walls, but are enlivened by views of the cathedral or gardens. The San Francisco is run with monastic efficiency. Pros: superb location in tranquil corner of Santiago’s old town; very tidy; easily accessible by car. Cons: a bit too quiet at times; mediocre food. | Rooms from: €140 | Campillo San Francisco 3 | 981/581634 | www.sanfranciscohm.com | 81 rooms | No meals.

Fodor’s Choice | Parador de Santiago de Compostela: Hostal dos Reis Católicos.
HOTEL | One of the parador chain’s most highly regarded hotels, this 15th-century masterpiece was once a royal hostel and hospital for sick pilgrims. Its mammoth baroque doorway gives way to austere courtyards of box hedge and simple fountains, and to rooms furnished with antiques, some with canopy beds. Dos Reis, the restaurant in the grand vaulted dining room, serves top-notch regional fare, including lonchas de pulpo (octopus with paprika and potato), foie gras, and filloas de manzana y crema caramelizadas (apple-and-caramel-cream pancakes). The tapas bar, Enxebre, is lively and informal. Pros: views of Obradoiro square; excellent cuisine; fascinating collection of antiques and paintings. Cons: confusing corridors; often filled with people on guided tours; pricey. | Rooms from: €284 | Praza do Obradoiro 1 | 981/582200 | www.parador.es | 131 rooms, 6 suites | Breakfast.

Pazo Cibrán.
B&B/INN | This comfortable 18th-century Galician manor house, 7 km (4 miles) from Santiago de Compostela, has six rooms in the main house and five large rooms in the old stable. The antique-packed living room overlooks gardens with camellias, magnolias, palms, vines, and a bamboo walk. Breakfast is served in the pazo itself, with lunch and dinner available in the nearby Restaurante Roberto. To get here, take the N525 toward Ourense from Santiago and turn right at Km 11, after the gas station. Pros: personal hospitality; authentic and stately country house; delightful gardens. Cons: inaccessible without a car; poor local dining options. | Rooms from: €75 | San Xulián de Sales s/n Vedra | 981/511515 | www.pazocibran.com | 11 rooms | Breakfast.

NIGHTLIFE

Santiago’s nightlife peaks on Thursday night, because many students spend weekends at home with their families. For up-to-date info on concerts, films, and clubs, pick up the monthly Compostela Capital Cultural, available at the main tourist office on Rúa do Vilar, or visit the official tourism website (www.santiagoturismo.com). Bars and seafood-themed tapas joints line the old streets south of the cathedral, particularly Rúa do Franco, Rúa da Raiña, and Rúa do Vilar. A great first stop, especially if you haven’t eaten dinner, is Rúa de San Clemente, off the Praza do Obradoiro, where several bars offer two or three plates of tapas free with each drink.

Bars

Babel.
Popular with students, this bar is a hub for world music, from Galician to Brazilian and Cuban, which it often showcases in concerts during the week. | Rúa Calderería 26 | 981/573625.

Casa das Crechas.
Drink to Galicia’s Celtic roots here, with live music and Celtic wood carvings hanging from thick stone walls, while dolls of playful Galician witches ride their brooms above the bar. | Vía Sacra 3 | 981/560751 | www.casadascrechas.com.

O Beiro.
This rustic wine bar attracts a laid-back, professional crowd. It has an excellent selection of wines and small portions of tapas. | Rúa da Raiña 3 | 981/581370.

Cafés

Santiago is a great city for coffee drinking and people-watching. Most of the cafés are clustered around the cathedral, in the Casco Antiguo, especially on Rúa Calderería and Rúa do Vilar.

Cafe Bar Derby.
Once a gathering place for Galician poets, this remains a serene spot for coffee and pastries. | Rúa das Orfas 29 | 981/586417.

Café Casino.
Upholstered armchairs, mirrors, and wood paneling make this atmospheric art-nouveau café feel like an elegant and comfortable library. | Rúa do Vilar 35 | 981/577503.

Iacobus.
Cozy Iacobus blends stone walls with contemporary wood trim and light fixtures; there’s a glass cache of coffee beans in the floor. Another branch is at Rua Calderería 42. | Rúa da Senra 24 | 981/585967 | www.iacobuscafe.com.

PERFORMING ARTS

Auditorio de Galicia.
This modern concert hall, north of town, has high-quality classical and jazz programs and a fine art gallery. In residence is the Royal Galician Philharmonic, which has hosted Il Giardino Armonico, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. | Av. Burgo das Nacións s/n | 981/552290 | www.auditoriodegalicia.org.

Teatro Principal.
This venue hosts plays in Spanish, as well as dance performances and film festivals. | Rúa Nova 22 | 981/542349.

SHOPPING

Augusto Otero.
Founded in 1906, this boutique carries fine handcrafted silver. | Placa de las Platerías 5 | 981/581027.

Bolillos.
In the fishing town of Camariñas, women fashion exquisite lace collars, scarves, and table linens. This is the best place to buy their work, and watch some of it being crafted. | Rúa Nova 40 | 981/589776.

Noroeste.
On a tiny lane off Acibechería, Noroeste sells handmade jewelry. | Ruela de Xerusalén s/n | 981/577130.

Sargadelos.
Galicia is known throughout Spain for its distinctive blue-and-white ceramics with bold modern designs, made in Sargadelos and O Castro. There is a wide selection at Sargadelos. | Rúa Nova 16 | 981/581905.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Golf

Real Aero Club de Santiago.
Located 11 km (7 miles) outside Santiago de Compostela, this year-round golf club has an 18-hole course, a putting green, and a golf school. | Ameixenda, San Mamede de Piñeiro, Ames | 981/888276, 981/954910 | www.aerosantiago.es.

Water Sports

Turisnorte.
These diving experts have information on scuba lessons, equipment rental, guided dives, windsurfing, and parasailing. | C. Raxoeira 14 Milladoiro | 981/530009 | www.turisnorte.es.

SIDE TRIP FROM SANTIAGO: PADRÓN

20 km (12 miles) south of Santiago.

Padrón grew up beside the Roman port of Iria Flavia and is where the body of St. James is believed to have washed ashore after its miraculous maritime journey. The town is known for its pimientos de Padrón, tiny green peppers fried and sprinkled with sea salt. The fun in eating these is that about one in five is very spicy. Galicia’s biggest food market is held here every Sunday.

Casa-Museo Rosalía de Castro.
Padrón was the birthplace of one of Galicia’s heroines, the 19th-century poet Rosalía de Castro. The lovely Casa-Museo Rosalía de Castro, where she lived with her husband, a historian, now displays family memorabilia. | C. A Matanza s/n | 981/811204 | www.rosaliadecastro.org | €2 | July–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 4–8, Sun. 10–1:30; Oct.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–7, Sun. 10–1:30.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Pazo de Oca.
The barons who ruled over Galicia’s peasants and the rest of its feudal society lived in pazos (country manor houses) like this one, 27 km (17 miles) southeast of Santiago. Here you can stroll the gardens to the lily pond and lake, where a stone boat stays miraculously afloat. | A Estrada Pontevedra | 986/587435 | €4 | Apr.–Oct. daily 9–8:30; Nov.–Mar. daily 9–6:30.

OURENSE AND LA RIBEIRA SACRA

105 km (65 miles) southeast of Santiago, 95 km (59 miles) east of Vigo.

Despite the uninspiring backdrop of Ourense’s new town, Galicia’s third-largest city has bubbling thermal springs and an attractive medieval quarter whose animated streets, tapas bars, and plazas come alive, particularly on weekends. A scattering of notable historical monuments includes the colossal arches of the Ponte Vella spanning the River Miño and the 13th-century Cathedral of San Martino. Ourense is a good starting point for exploring the surrounding dramatic landscapes of the Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Riverbank) and Cañon do Sil (Sil River Canyon). This less explored region of interior Galicia is dotted with vineyards, Romanesque churches, and monasteries. Well worth a visit or a short stay is the Parador Estevo, converted from the Benedictine 10th-century Monasterio de Santo Estevo and perched high above the spectacular scenery of the Cañon do Sil.

Getting Here and Around

RENFE and Monbus offer frequent services to Ourense from Santiago and Vigo in less than two hours. The A52 links Ourense to Vigo and Pontevedra, and the AG53 with Santiago.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Carrís Cardenal Quevedo.
HOTEL | Offering stylish city-chic accommodations, this hotel is in a handy location for Ourense’s shopping district, restaurants, and lively tapas scene, and is only a five-minute stroll from the historical quarter. Rooms blend smart contemporary lines with crisp white bedding and polished wooden floors. The lobby extends into a bustling café-bar area, and there is a small restaurant serving regional cuisine. Pros: well positioned for both shopping district and historical quarter; knowledgeable and friendly staff. Cons: expensive breakfast; tight parking space. | Rooms from: €83 | Rúa Cardenal Quevedo 28–30 | 988/375523, 902/105173 | www.carrishoteles.com | 37 rooms, 2 suites | Breakfast.

Fodor’s Choice | Parador de Santo Estevo.
HOTEL | Clinging to the edge of the Cañon do Sil, this parador, carefully built into the colossal 12th-century Benedictine Monasterio de Santo Estevo, stands out for its atmospheric setting and spectacular vistas. It’s worth the extra cost for a superior room overlooking views of the Cañon and forested hillside. Designer furniture and intriguing artwork by well-known Spanish artists pepper the common spaces and lounge areas, and a spa with a bubbling outdoor Jacuzzi encourages reconnection with nature. The cavernous restaurant is grand, yet the food lacks depth. Pros: magnificent setting; historical sanctuary surrounded by nature. Cons: mediocre food; can get booked up by wedding parties. | Rooms from: €90 | Monasterio de Santo Estevo, 26 km (16 miles) northeast of Ourense, off CV323 beyond Luintra | 988/010110 | www.parador.es | 77 rooms | Closed Dec.–Feb. | No meals.

LUGO

102 km (63 miles) east of Santiago.

Just off the A6 freeway, Galicia’s oldest provincial capital is most notable for its 2-km (1½-mile) Roman wall. These beautifully preserved ramparts completely surround the streets of the old town. The walkway on top has good views. The baroque Ayuntamiento has a magnificent rococo facade overlooking the tree-lined Praza Maior (Plaza Mayor). There’s a good view of the Río Miño Valley from the Parque Rosalía de Castro, outside the Roman walls near the cathedral, which is a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, baroque, and neoclassical styles.

Getting Here and Around

RENFE runs eight trains per day to and from A Coruña, a journey of 1½ to 2 hours. Several daily ALSA buses connect Lugo to Santiago de Compostela, Oviedo, and Gijón.

Essentials

Bus Station
Lugo. | Praza do Campo 11 | 982/251658.

Train Station
Lugo. | Pl. Conde de Fontao s/n | 902/240505.

Visitor Information
Lugo. | Praza do Campo 11 | 982/251658.

EXPLORING

Museo Provincial.
This museum has a large collection of clocks and sundials you may want to take the “time” to see. | Praza da Soidade s/n Lugo | 982/242112 | www.museolugo.org | Free | Weekdays 9–9; Sat. 10:30–2 and 4:30–8; Sun. 11–2.

WHERE TO EAT

Mesón de Alberto.
SPANISH | A hundred meters from the cathedral, this cozy venue has excellent Galician fare and professional service. The bar and adjoining bodega (winery) serve plenty of cheap raciónes (appetizers). The surtido de quesos gallegos provides generous servings of four local cheeses; ask for some membrillo (quince jelly) to go with them and the brown, crusty corn bread. For dessert, try the filloas con nata y miel (flambéed pancakes with cream and honey). The dining room upstairs has an inexpensive set menu. | Average main: €20 | C. de la Cruz 4 | 982/228310 | www.mesondealberto.com | Closed Sun. No dinner Tues.

WHERE TO STAY

Casa Grande da Fervenza.
B&B/INN | This graceful 17th- to 19th-century manor house, on the banks of the Miño river 14 km (8 miles) south of Lugo, is filled with rustic but comfortable rooms. The heavy ceiling beams, wooden columns, exposed stone, chestnut floors, and hand-painted sinks and crockery make for pleasant surroundings. Pros: intimate feel. Cons: a bit out of town. | Rooms from: €76 | Ctra. Lugo-Paramo, Km. 11, O Corgo | 982/150610 | www.fervenza.com | 9 rooms | No meals.

O CEBREIRO

181 km (112 miles) southeast of Santiago, 82 km (51 miles) southeast of Lugo.

Deserted and haunting when it’s not high season (and often fogged in or snowy to boot), O Cebreiro is a stark mountaintop hamlet built around a 9th-century church. Known for its round, thatched-roof stone huts called pallozas, the village has been perfectly preserved and is now an open-air museum showing what life was like in these mountains in the Middle Ages. One palloza was still inhabited until the mid-1970s; another is now a museum of the region’s Celtic heritage. Higher up, at 3,648 feet, you can visit a rustic 9th-century sanctuary.

Getting Here and Around

Getting to isolated O Cebreiro is nearly impossible without a car. Take the A6 motorway to Lugo, which is just under an hour away; or to A Coruña or Santiago de Compostela (both about 2 hours away).

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The Costa da Morte and Rías Baixas

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Fisterra | Muros | Noia | Pontevedra | O Grove | Cambados | Vigo | Baiona | Tui

West of Santiago, scenic C543 leads to the coast. It’s windy, rocky, and treacherous—hence its eerie name, the “Coast of Death.” Small villages and towns, often surrounded in mist, dot this dramatic stretch of coastline, each with its own collection of legends and traditions. In contrast, the series of wide, quiet estuaries south of here are called the Rías Baixas (Low Estuaries). The hilly drive takes you through a green countryside dappled with vineyards, tiny farms, and Galicia’s trademark hórreos, most with a cross at one or both ends. There is plenty to see and do along its coast. You can find Galicia’s most popular holiday towns and beaches, and taste exceptional wine and some of Galicia’s best food. At its heart lies the medieval charm of handsome Pontevedra; the striking natural port of Vigo dominates a large part of its coastline.

The Costa de Morta and Rías Baixas

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FISTERRA

50 km (31 miles) west of Santiago, 75 km (48 miles) southwest of A Coruña.

There was a time when this lonely, windswept outcrop over raging waters was thought to be the end of the earth—the finis terrae. In fact, the official westernmost point of Europe is in Portugal. Despite this, many Camino pilgrims choose to continue the tradition of continuing onto the “end of the earth” from Santiago de Compostela to triumphantly finish at Fisterra’s windswept lighthouse, beyond which there is nothing but the boundless expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Fisterra all but shuts down in winter, but in summer it’s a pleasant seaside resort with an attractive harbor.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Fisterra. | Calle Real 2 | 981/740781.

EXPLORING

Santa María das Areas.
Aside from legends, another draw in this tiny seaside town is its main plaza and the 12th-century church of Santa María das Areas. Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque elements combine in an impressive (but gloomy) facade. | Manuel Lago País s/n.

MUROS

65 km (40 miles) southwest of Santiago, 55 km (34 miles) southeast of Fisterra.

Muros is a popular summer resort with lovely, arcaded streets framed by Gothic arches. The quiet back alleys of the old town reveal some well-preserved Galician granite houses, but the real action takes place when fishing boats return to dock from the mussel-breeding platforms that dot the bay. At around 6 pm, a siren signals the start of the lonja (fish auction), to which anyone is welcome, although you need a special license to buy. Trays spilling over with slimy octopi or cod line the floor, covered in a sheen of saltwater, squid ink, and fish blood; the favored footwear is knee-high rubber boots. Good beaches nearby include Praia de San Francisco and Praia de Area.

Getting Here and Around

Monbus runs frequent buses between Muros and Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña. By car, take the AP9 north from Vigo and Pontevedra (just under 2 hours away) or the AC550 west from Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña (1½ hours).

Essentials

Visitor Information
Muros. | C. Curro da Praza 1 | 981/826050.

NOIA

30 km (19 miles) east of Muros, 36 km (22 miles) west of Santiago.

Deep within the Ría de Muros y Noia, the compact medieval town of Noia is at the edge of the Barbanza mountain range. The Gothic church of San Martín rises over the old town’s Praza do Tapal, facing resolutely out to sea. La Alameda is a lovely park in the town center that gives way to a tiled pedestrian street lined with palm trees and wrought-iron and stone benches. You can catch glimpses of the ría through the trees; in the summer, the street fills with terrace cafés. Nearby are the beaches of Testal and Boa.

EXPLORING

Santa María A Nova.
This 14th-century church has many well-preserved medieval tombstones, each carved with a family emblem and the tools or symbols of the buried artisan. One shipbuilder’s stone depicts a compass, an anchor, and an ax. | C. del Escultor Ferreiro s/n.

PONTEVEDRA

135 km (84 miles) southeast of Fisterra, 59 km (37 miles) south of Santiago.

At the head of its ría, Pontevedra is a delightful starting point for exploring the Rías Baixes. Its well-preserved old quarter is a dense network of pedestrian-only streets and handsome plazas flanked with elegant stone buildings, many of which are dressed in cascading flowers in spring and summer. The city got its start as a Roman settlement (its name comes from an old Roman bridge over the Río Lérez). As a powerful base for fishing and international trade, Pontevedra was a major presence in the Atlantic in the 16th century. Nowadays, its streets and plazas are awash with bars and restaurants, and it can get very busy on weekends. It also has the only operating plaza de toros (bullring) in Galicia.

Getting Here and Around

RENFE and Monbus offer quick, frequent service between Vigo and Pontevedra, a half-hour journey; the same bus and train routes also link Pontevedra to Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña to the north along the AP9.

Essentials

Bus Station
Pontevedra. | Calle de la Estación s/n | 986/852408.

Visitor Information
Pontevedra. | Casa da Luz, Praza da Verdura s/n | 986/090890.

EXPLORING

Museo de Pontevedra.
Housed in two 18th-century mansions connected by a stone bridge, this museum includes exquisite Celtic jewelry, silver from all over the world, and several large model ships. The original kitchen, with a stone fireplace, is intact; below, you can descend steep wooden stairs to the reconstructed captain’s chamber on the battleship Numancia, which limped back to Spain after the Dos de Mayo battle with Peru in 1866. Complete the loop by going upstairs in the first building, where there are Spanish, Italian, and Flemish paintings, and some inlay work. | Calle Pasantería 2–12 | 986/804100 | www.museo.depo.es | Free | Tues.–Sat. 10–9, Sun. 11–2. Closed Dec. 24–Jan. 1 and Jan. 6.

Basílica de Santa María Mayor.
The 16th-century seafarers’ basilica has lovely, sinuous vaulting and, at the back of the nave, a Romanesque portal. There’s also an 18th-century Christ by the Galician sculptor Ferreiro. | Av. de Santa María s/n | 986/869902 | Free | Mon.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 5–9, Sun. 10–2 and 6–9.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

La Navarra.
TAPAS | Join the locals leaning on great oak wine barrels to watch soccer on the TV here and eat some of the spicy chorizo sausage that hangs from ceiling racks above the bar. | Average main: €10 | C. Princesa 13 | 986/851254 | Closed Sun.

Casa Solla.
SPANISH | Pepe Solla brings Galicia’s bounty to his terrace garden restaurant, 2 km (1 mile) outside of town toward O Grove. Try the menú de degustación (tasting menu) to sample a selection of regional favorites, such as lomo de caballa (grilled mackerel), caldo gallego de chorizo (Galician chorizo sausage soup), merluza con acelga (cod with chard), or jarrete de cordero (sliced lamb shank). Finish off with a selection of Galician cheeses and torrija con flan de coco y mango (bread pudding with mango and coconut flan). | Average main: €30 | Av. Sineiro 7, San Salvador de Poio | 986/872884 | Closed Mon. No dinner Thurs. and Sun.

Parador de Pontevedra (Casa del Barón).
HOTEL | A 16th-century manor house in the heart of the old quarter, this rather dark parador has guest rooms with recessed windows embellished with lace curtains and large wooden shutters; some face a small rose garden. Built on the foundations of a Roman villa, the building has a baronial stone stairway winding up from the front lobby. The restaurant, which serves fine Galician food, is full of antique mirrors, candelabras, and portraits. Pros: interesting collection of bric-a-brac; tranquil yet central location. Cons: confusing corridors; limited parking; gloomy rooms—a bit haunted house–ish. | Rooms from: €155 | Rúa Barón 19 | 986/855800 | www.parador.es | 45 rooms, 2 suites | No meals.

EN ROUTE: Vineyards of Albariño.
Driving west on the PO550, you’ll pass vineyards of Albariño. As you wind your way through the small towns around here, you may come across the occasional donkey hauling wagons heaped with grapes. | Pontevedra.

O GROVE

31 km (19 miles) northwest of Pontevedra, 75 km (47 miles) south of Santiago.

Essentials

Visitor Information
O Grove. | Praza do Corgo s/n | 986/731415 | www.turismogrove.es.

EXPLORING

O Grove throws a famous shellfish festival the second week of October, but you can enjoy the day’s catch in taverns and restaurants year-round. From O Grove, you can cross a bridge to the island of A Toxa (La Toja), famous for its spas—the waters are said to have healing properties. Legend has it that a man abandoned an ailing donkey here and found it up on all fours, fully rejuvenated, upon his return. The island’s south side has a palm-filled garden anchored on one side by the Capilla de San Sebastián, a tiny church covered in cockleshells.

WHERE TO STAY

Gran Hotel La Toja.
HOTEL | Extravagant and exorbitant, this classic spa hotel is on the breezy island of La Toja, just across the bridge from O Grove. Surrounded by pine trees and spilling out onto a delightful golf course, the hotel has simple guest rooms, their charm slightly faded compared with the grandiose formality of the lobbies and salons. Try to book a room with a sea view, it’s worth paying a little extra for. Pros: glittering sea views; golf course; excellent services. Cons: rooms can be noisy. | Rooms from: €160 | Isla de la Toja | 986/730025 | www.granhotellatoja.com | 199 rooms | No meals.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Golf

Club de Golf La Toja.
Spectacular coastal views and verdant pine forests set the backdrop for players at the 18-hole Club de Golf La Toja. | Isla de La Toja | 986/730158, 669/444888 | www.latojagolf.com.

CAMBADOS

34 km (21 miles) north of Pontevedra, 61 km (37 miles) southwest of Santiago.

This breezy seaside town has a charming, almost entirely residential old quarter and is the center for the full-bodied and fruity albariño, one of Spain’s best white wines. The impressive main square, Praza de Fefiñanes, is bordered by an imposing bodega.

Getting Here and Around

Cambados is less than an hour from Santiago de Compostela, to the north, and Vigo and Pontevedra, to the south, via the AP9.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

María José.
SEAFOOD | From a first-floor spot across from the parador, this long-established restaurant produces inventive dishes like scallop salad, mango soup with mascarpone ice cream, or salmon with anchovy mayonnaise. Specialties include arroz de marisco caldoso (shellfish, stock, and rice). | Average main: €25 | C. San Gregorio 2–1 | 986/542281 | No dinner Sun.–Tues.

Parador de Cambados (El Albariño).
HOTEL | This airy mansion’s rooms are warmly furnished with wrought-iron lamps, area rugs, and full-length wood shutters over small-pane windows. The bar, offering an excellent selection of local wines, is large and inviting, with natural light and wooden booths. The kitchen’s lenguado al vino albariño (sole in Albariño wine sauce) is great, as are the empanadas filled with scallops. Pros: easily accessible; comfortable rooms; excellent dining. Cons: Wi-Fi is patchy in some rooms. | Rooms from: €169 | Paseo Calzada s/n | 986/542250 | www.parador.es | 58 rooms | No meals.

NIGHTLIFE

Bar Laya.
This wine bar is easy to spot day or night, because it’s alway filled with a youngish crowd. Its stone walls and close quarters feel very inviting, and one of its corners is used for a wine shop. | Rúa Real 13 | 986/542436.

SHOPPING

Cucadas.
Head to this crafts shop for its large selection of baskets, copper items, and lace. | Praza de Fefiñáns 8 | 986/542511.

VIGO

31 km (19 miles) south of Pontevedra, 90 km (56 miles) south of Santiago.

Vigo’s formidable port is choked with trawlers and fishing boats and lined with clanging shipbuilding yards. The city’s gritty exterior gives way to a compact and lively center that clings to a tiered hill rising over an ancient Roman settlement. A jumbled mass of modernist buildings and granite, red-roofed fisherman houses hide the narrow streets of Vigo’s appealing casco vello (old town). Vigo’s highlights can be explored in a few hours.

From 10 to 3:30 daily, on Rúa Pescadería in the barrio called La Piedra, Vigo’s famed ostreras—a group of rubber-gloved fisherwomen who have been peddling fresh oysters to passersby for more than 50 years—shuck the bushels of oysters hauled into port that morning. Competition has made them expert hawkers who cheerfully badger all who walk by their pavement stalls. When you buy half a dozen (for about €8), the women plate them and plunk a lemon on top; you can then take your catch into any nearby restaurant and turn it into a meal. A short stroll southwest of the old town brings you to the fishermen’s barrio of El BerbésRibera del Berbés, facing the port, has several seafood restaurants, most with outdoor tables in summer.

Getting Here and Around

A small airport connects Vigo to a handful of destinations, like Madrid and Barcelona, but trains and buses are the best bet for transportation within Galicia. Northbound RENFE trains leave on the hour for Pontevedra, Santiago de Compostela, and A Coruña, making stops at the smaller towns in between. Monbus and ALSA also connect Vigo to the same destinations via the AP9, while AUTNA runs a daily shuttle south to Porto and its international airport, a 2½-hour trip.

Essentials

Bus Station
Vigo. | Av. de Madrid 57 | 986/373411.

Train Station
Vigo. | C. Areal s/n | 902/432343.

Visitor Information
Vigo. | Estación Marítima de Ría, Oficina 4, C. Cánovas del Castillo 3 | 986/224757.

Cruise Ship Travel to Vigo

Cruise ships dock at the Muelle de Transatlanticos cruise terminal. In front of it is a shopping mall, which can be handy. The city center is a short, easy stroll away, across the Rúa Cánovas del Castillo promenade, and the nearest main tourist information office is opposite the port, at Cánovas del Castillo, 22.

All of the city’s highlights are within walking distance, but keep in mind that parts of Vigo’s compact center are on a steep incline. You can discover much of Vigo in just a few hours. Head for Praza de Compostela, and from there you can then wander into the old town. There are also plenty of decent cafés and restaurants to provide respite. If you would like to explore farther afield, there are metered taxis waiting just outside the port entrance. Vigo’s train station is about a 20-minute walk away, or a 5-minute taxi ride that will cost you about €10, from which you can travel to Santiago de Compostela. You may want to consider hiring a taxi to go to the nearby towns along the pretty Rías Baixas. Expect to pay about €30 for a taxi to Tui, and €40 to Pontevedra. To travel by taxi to Santiago de Compostela would cost around €120. (Supplements are usually applied for luggage. In Spain it is not customary to tip taxi drivers—but if you want to leave something, rounding up by 1 or 2 euros is acceptable.)

Best Spanish Cruises

Rúa Pescadería. Experience world-class seafood and famous oyster hawkers.

Casco Vello. Explore the narrow streets of Vigo’s pleasant old town.

MARCO. Visit Vigo’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Rías Baixas. Take a taxi to medieval Pontevedra, historical Tui, or Galicia’s wine capital, Cambados.

Islas Cías. Take a 45-minute ferry ride from Vigo to discover the natural beauty of these stunning islands.

EXPLORING

Islas Cíes.
The Cíes Islands, 35 km (21 miles) west of Vigo, are among Spain’s best-kept secrets. They form a pristine nature reserve that’s one of the last unspoiled refuges on the Spanish coast. Starting on weekends in May and then daily June–late September, Naviera Mar de Ons (986/225272 www.mardeons.com) runs about eight boats from Vigo’s harbor (subject to weather conditions), returning later in the day, for the round-trip fare of €18.50 (tickets must be booked in advance on the website). The 45-minute ride brings you to white-sand beaches surrounded by turquoise waters brimming with marine life; there’s also great birding. The only way to get around is your own two feet: it takes about an hour to cross the main island. If you want to stay overnight, there’s a designated camping area. | Estación Marítima | www.campingislascies.com.

MARCO (Museum of Contemporary Art).
Housed in a refurbished prison on Vigo’s main shopping drag, this gallery hosts intriguing temporary exhibitions along with solo shows of featured artists. | C. del Príncipe 54 | 986/113900 | www.marcovigo.com | Free | Tues.–Sat. 11–2:30 and 5–9, Sun. 11–2:30.

Parque del Castro.
South of Vigo’s old town, this is a quiet, stately park with sandy paths, palm trees, mossy embankments, and stone benches. Atop a series of steps are the remains of an old fort and a mirador (lookout) with fetching views of Vigo’s coastline and the Islas Cíes. Along its shady western side lies the Castro de Vigo, the remains of Vigo’s first Celtic settlement, which dates back to the 3rd century BC. | Av. Marqués de Alcedo, between Praza de España and Praza do Rei | Free | Castro de Vigo: May–Sept., Tues.–Sun. 10–1 and 5–8; Oct.–Apr., Tues.–Sun. 10–2 and 4–6.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Bar Cocedero La Piedra.
SPANISH | This jovial tapas bar is a perfect place to devour the freshest catch from the Rúa Pescadería fisherwomen, and it does a roaring lunch trade with Vigo locals. The chefs serve heaping plates of mariscos (shellfish) and scallops with roe at market prices. Fresh and fruity Albariño is the beverage of choice; the chummy, elbow-to-elbow crowd sits at round tables covered with paper, although on a nice day you might want to grab a seat on the terrace to enjoy your oysters and watch the old-town bustle. | Average main: €10 | Rúa Pescadería 3 | 986/431204.

El Mosquito.
SPANISH | Signed photos from the likes of King Juan Carlos and Julio Iglesias cover the walls of this elegant rose- and stone-wall restaurant, open since 1928. The brother-and-sister team of Ernesto and Carmiña has been at the helm for the last few decades, and specialties include lenguado a la plancha (grilled sole) and navajas (razor clams). The tocinillos, a sugary caramel flan, is also definitely worth trying. The restaurant’s name refers to an era when wine arrived in wooden barrels: if mosquitoes gathered at the barrel’s mouth, it held good wine. | Average main: €25 | Praza da Pedra 4 | 986/433570 | www.elmosquitovigo.com | Closed Sun. and Aug. 15–Sept. 15.

Fai Bistes.
SPANISH | A rare meat-lovers’ paradise in the heart of Vigo’s casco vello, Fai Bistes specializes in Galician food with an Italian twist, such as chuletón de buey (T-bone steak) and chorizo criollo (sausages) grilled in a coal-fired oven and seasoned lightly with oregano, garlic, and salt. For the complete experience, order the enormous parrillada mixta (a mixed grilled meat platter consisting of pork ribs, beef ribs, criollo, roasted chicken, and steak) and accompany it with a glass of Rioja. | Average main: €10 | Rúa Real 7 | 986/229204 | Closed Mon. No dinner Tues.

Tapas Areal.
TAPAS | This ample and lively bar flanked by ancient stone and exposed redbrick walls is a good spot for tapas and beer, as well as Albariño and Ribeiro. | Average main: €8 | C. México 36 | 986/418643 | Closed Sun.

Rectoral de Cobres.
B&B/INN | This good-looking hotel combines contemporary design and handsomely aging rural charm; it was originally built as the village parsonage in 1729. Set amid pretty gardens, the hotel comes with panoramic views of Vigo and the Strait of Rande (where Francis Drake made a habit of sinking Spanish galleons). Each room blends crisp linens and modern amenities with rustic wood furniture and stone walls. Most face out over sweeping coastal views. The Rectoral offers golf nearby, as well as visits to the beautiful port of San Adrián de Cobres, scuba diving to search out those galleons, and visits to the prehistoric rock carvings at Campo Lameiro. There is an outside pool open in summer. Pros: quiet country charm; lots of activities. Cons: far from the city—you’ll need a car. | Rooms from: €160 | San Adrián de Cobres Vilaboa | 986/673810 | www.rectoral.com | 8 rooms | No meals.

NIGHTLIFE

The streets around Praza de Compostela and the pedestrian-only Rúa Montero Ríos, down toward the waterfront, come alive in the early evening for drinks and tapas. Night owls should check out the snazzier cocktail bars in the Areal district (along Rúa Areal and Rúa de Rosalía de Castro), or the pumping rock and indie scene in the Churruca neighborhood (Rúa Rogelio Abalde, Rúa Churruca), from midnight onwards, where you can often stumble across live music.

La Trastienda del Cuatro.
Around the corner from Praza de Compostela, this wine bar and restaurant serves fresh and inventive “fusion tapas” and a good selection of wines to a lively, professional crowd. | Rúa de Pablo Morillo 4 | 986/115881 | www.latrastiendadelcuatro.com.

SHOPPING

There’s a large shopping center next to where the cruise ships dock. Close by you’ll find A Pedra, the city’s main market, where all manner of clothing and electrical goods are for sale. For souvenirs head to the old town, where there is an abundance of artisanal shops selling locally crafted leather, wood, and ceramic goods. On Rúa Cesteiros you can check out Vigo’s famous handwoven baskets. Vigo’s commercial shopping area is centered on Rúa Principe.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

There are several horse-riding clubs in the hills around Vigo. The Galician Equestrian Federation is an excellent source of information. And golfers can work on their game at the nearby Ría de Vigo Golf Club.

Golf

Ría de Vigo Golf Club.
The 18-hole Ría de Vigo Golf Club comes with breathtaking views overlooking the estuary and city. | San Lorenzo Domaio, Moaña Pontevedra | 986/327051 | www.riadevigogolf.com.

Horseback Riding

Federación Hípica Gallega.
This group has a list of all riding facilities in Galicia. | C. Fotógrafo Luís Ksado 17 | 986/213800 | www.fhgallega.com.

Granja O Castelo.
The Granjo O Castelo conducts horseback rides along the pilgrimage routes to Santiago from O Cebreiro and Braga (Portugal). | Castelo 41, Ponte Caldelas Pontevedra | 986/425937, 608/381334 | www.caminoacaballo.com.

BAIONA

12 km (8 miles) southwest of Vigo.

At the southern end of the AP9 freeway and the Ría de Vigo, Baiona (Bayona in Castilian) is a summer haunt of affluent gallegos. When Columbus’s Pinta landed here in 1492, Baiona became the first town to receive the news of the discovery of the New World. Once a castle, Monte Real is one of Spain’s most popular paradores; walk around the battlements for superb views. Inland from Baiona’s waterfront is the jumble of streets that make up Paseo Marítima: head here for seafood restaurants and lively cafés and bars. Calle Ventura Misa is one of the main drags. On your way into or out of town, check out Baiona’s Roman bridge. The best nearby beach is Praia de América, north of town toward Vigo.

Getting Here and Around

ATSA buses leave every half hour from Vigo, bound for Baiona and Nigrán. By car, take the AG57 from Vigo to the north or the PO340 from Tui to the southeast.

WHERE TO STAY

Fodor’s Choice | Parador de Baiona.
HOTEL | This baronial parador, positioned on a hill within the perimeter walls of a medieval castle, has plush rooms, some with balconies and ocean views toward the Islas Cíes. The restaurant serves fine seafood; try the rodaballo con papaya y langostinos (turbot with papaya and prawns) or go for the bogavante azul a la parrilla (grilled blue lobster). A more casual tapas restaurant comes with blustery sea views; it serves high-quality seafood raciones that can be paired with local wines. Pros: stupendous medieval architecture; views of the ría; luxurious bathrooms. Cons: especially pricey for rooms with sea views; occasional plumbing problems. | Rooms from: €290 | Ctra. de Baiona at Monterreal | 986/355000 | www.parador.es | 122 rooms | Breakfast.

TUI

14 km (9 miles) southeast of Baiona, 26 km (16 miles) south of Vigo.

The steep, narrow streets of Tui, rich with emblazoned mansions, suggest the town’s past as one of the seven capitals of the Galician kingdom. Today it’s an important border town; the mountains of Portugal are visible from the cathedral. Across the river in Portugal, the old fortress town of Valença contains reasonably priced shops, bars, restaurants, and a hotel with splendid views of Tui.

Getting Here and Around

From Vigo, take the scenic coastal route PO552, which goes up the banks of the Miño River along the Portuguese border or, if time is short, jump on the inland A55; both routes lead to Tui.

EXPLORING

Cathedral de Santa María de Tuí.
A crucial building during the medieval wars between Castile and Portugal, Tui’s 13th-century cathedral looks like a fortress. The cathedral’s majestic cloisters surround a lush formal garden. | Pl. de San Fernando | 986/600511 | Free | June–Sept., daily 10:30–2 and 4–9; Oct.–May, daily 10:30–2 and 4–8.

WHERE TO STAY

Parador de Tui.
HOTEL | This stately granite-and-chestnut hotel on the bluffs overlooking the Miño is filled with local art, and the rooms are furnished with antiques. Views of the woods surround the dining room, where specialties from the River Miño include Atlantic salmon, lamprey eel, sea trout, and river trout. For dessert, try the pececitos, almond-flavor pastries made by local nuns. Pros: enticing gardens; varied services; good seafood. Cons: a bit of a walk from Tui proper; somewhat pricey. | Rooms from: €132 | Av. Portugal s/n | 986/600300 | www.parador.es | 32 rooms | Closed Dec.–Feb. | No meals.

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A Coruña and Rías Altas

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A Coruña | Betanzos | Vilalba | Mondoñedo | Viveiro | Ribadeo

Galicia’s gusty and rainy northern coast has inspired poets to wax, well, poetic. The sun does shine between bouts of rain, though, suffusing town and country with a golden glow. North of A Coruña, the Rías Altas (Upper Estuaries) notch the coast as you head east toward the Cantabrian Sea.

A Coruña and Rías Altas

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A CORUÑA

57 km (35 miles) north of Santiago.

One of Spain’s busiest ports, A Coruña (La Coruña in Castilian) prides itself on being the most progressive city in the region. The weather can be fierce, wet, and windy—hence the glass-enclosed, white-paned galleries on the houses lining the harbor.

Getting Here and Around

The A9 motorway provides excellent access to and from Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, Vigo, and Portugal, while Spain’s north coast and France are accessible along the N634.

Buses run every hour from A Coruña to Santiago. Trains also operate on an hourly basis to Santiago and Pontevedra from the city’s San Cristóbal train station; Madrid can be reached in eight hours on high-speed Talgo trains.

Outside the old town, the city’s local buses shuttle back and forth between the Dársena de la Marina seafront and more far-flung attractions, such as the Torre de Hércules lighthouse.

Essentials

Bus Station
A Coruña. | Rúa Caballeros 21 | 981/184335.

Train Station
A Coruña. | C. Joaquín Planells Riera s/n | 902/240505.

Visitor Information
A Coruña. | Oficina de Turismo, Pl. de María Pita 6 | 981/923093 | www.turismocoruna.com | Oficina de Turismo Torre de Hércules, Av. Navarra s/n | 981/923093.

Cruise Ship Travel to A Coruña, Spain

Ships dock near the center of the city. In the port terminal there is a shopping mall and tourist information office. A Coruña’s main tourist office is a few minutes’ walk from the port, on Plaza de María Pita 6, which is also near the center of old town and close to many cafés and restaurants.

From the port you can walk to most places, including the old town and beaches, but A Coruña’s iconic Torre de Hércules is at least a 40-minute walk away. A taxi ride to the Torre de Hercules costs less than €15 and takes about 10 minutes. Luggage usually costs a little extra. In Spain it is not customary to tip taxi drivers, but if you want to leave something, rounding up by 1 or 2 euros is acceptable. The A Coruña train station, on Calle Joaquín Planelles Riera, is a five-minute taxi ride from the port and has direct links with the pilgrim capital Santiago de Compostela.

Top Attractions for Spanish Cruise Travelers

Torre de Hércules. Visit the oldest still-functioning lighthouse in the world.

Plaza María del Pita. Enjoy a drink in the plaza and take in the crowds, before nibbling on tapas in one of the many bars that line the surrounding streets of the old town.

Paseo de Marítimo. See the sweeping views of the bay and the city’s striking glass galleries

Playas Orzán and Riazor. Kick off your shoes and relax on A Coruña’s sandy beaches.

EXPLORING

Top Attractions

Paseo Marítimo.
To see why sailors once nicknamed A Coruña la ciudad de cristal (the glass city), stroll the Paseo Marítimo, said to be the longest seaside promenade in Europe. Although the congregation of boats is charming, the real sight is across the street: a long, gracefully curved row of houses. Built by fishermen in the 18th century, they face away from the sea—at the end of a long day, these men were tired of looking at the water. Nets were hung from the porches to dry, and fish was sold on the street below. When Galicia’s first glass factory opened nearby, someone thought to enclose these porches in glass, like the latticed stern galleries of oceangoing galleons, to keep wind and rain at bay. The resulting emblematic glass galleries spread across the harbor and eventually throughout Galicia.

Plaza de María Pita.
The focal point of the ciudad vieja (old town), this stirring plaza has a north side that’s given over to the neoclassical Palacio Municipal, or city hall, built 1908–12 with three Italianate domes. The monument in the center, built in 1998, depicts the heroine Maior (María) Pita. When England’s Sir Francis Drake arrived to sack A Coruña in 1589, the locals were only halfway finished building the defensive Castillo de San Antón, and a 13-day battle ensued. When María Pita’s husband died, she took up his lance, slew the Briton who tried to plant the Union Jack here, and revived the exhausted coruñeses, inspiring other women to join the battle.

Torre de Hércules.
Much of A Coruña sits on a peninsula, on the tip of which sits this city landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site—the oldest still-functioning lighthouse in the world. First installed during the reign of Trajan, the Roman emperor born in Spain in AD 98, the lighthouse was rebuilt in the 18th century and looks strikingly modern; all that remains from Roman times are inscribed foundation stones. Scale the 245 steps for superb views of the city and coastline—if you’re here on a summer weekend, the tower opens for views of city lights along the Atlantic. Lining the approach to the lighthouse are sculptures depicting figures from Galician and Celtic legends. | Av. de Navarra s/n | 981/223730 | www.torredeherculesacoruna.es | €3 (free Mon.) | Oct.–May, daily 10–6; June–Sept., daily 10–9.

Worth Noting

Castillo de San Antón.
At the northeastern tip of the old town is St. Anthony’s Castle, a 16th-century fort that houses A Coruña’s Museum of Archaeology. The collection includes remnants of the prehistoric Celtic culture that once thrived in these parts, including silver artifacts as well as pieces of the stone forts called castros. | Paseo Alcalde Francisco Vázquez 2 | 981/189850 | Free | Sept.–June, Tues.–Sat 10–7:30, Sun. 10–2:30; July and Aug., Tues.–Sat. 10–9, Sun. 10–3.

Colexiata de Santa María do Campo.
Called “St. Mary of the Field” because the building was once beyond the city’s walls, this Romanesque beauty dates to the mid-13th century. The facade depicts the Adoration of the Magi; the celestial figures include St. Peter, holding the keys to heaven. Because of an architectural miscalculation the roof is too heavy for its supports, so the columns inside lean outward and the buttresses outside have been thickened. Inside is A Coruña’s Sacred Art Museum, which holds a collection of gold and silver religious art dating from the 16th century onwards. | Placa Santa María 1 | 981/203186 | Oct.–May, Tues.–Fri. 10–1 and 3:30–5:30, Sat. 10–1; June–Sept., Tues.–Fri. 9–2, Sat. 10–1.

Iglesia de Santiago.
This 12th-century church, the oldest church in A Coruña, was the first stop on the camino inglés (English route) toward Santiago de Compostela. Originally Romanesque, it’s now a hodgepodge that includes Gothic arches, a baroque altarpiece, and two 18th-century rose windows. | Pl. de la Constitución s/n.

Museo de Belas Artes da Coruña (Museum of Fine Arts).
Housed in a converted convent on the edge of the old town, this fine art museum has French, Spanish, and Italian paintings from the 16th through the 20th centuries, and a curious collection of etchings by Goya. | Rúa Zalaeta s/n | 881/881700 | museobelasartescoruna.xunta.es | €2.40 | Tues.–Fri. 10–8, Sat. 10–2 and 4:30–8, Sun. 10–2.

BEACHES

Playas Orzán and Riazor.
A Coruña’s sweeping Paseo Marítimo overlooks two excellent, well-maintained beaches, Playa del Orzán and Playa de Riazor. These long curves of fine golden sand tend to be busy in summer with chattering groups of local families and friends enjoying the milder climate. The area of Playa del Orzán in front of Hotel Melía Pita is popular with surfers. Cross the Paseo Marítimo for a choice of cafés and restaurants with animated terraces, while on the seafront, kiosks sell ice cream and snacks. Keep in mind that this is the Atlantic, so test the temperature before taking the plunge. There is no natural shade, but you can rent hammocks and parasols. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming; walking. | Paseo Marítimo.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Adega O Bebedeiro.
SPANISH | Steps from the ultramodern Domus, this tiny restaurant is beloved by locals for its authentic food. It feels like an old farmhouse, with stone walls and floors, a fireplace, pine tables and stools, and dusty wine bottles (adega is Gallego for bodega, or wine cellar). Appetizers such as pulpo con almejas al ajillo (octopus with clams in garlic sauce) are followed by fresh fish at market prices and an ever-changing array of delicious desserts. | Average main: €17 | C. Ángel Rebollo 34 | 981/210609 | Closed Mon. and 1st wk in Jan. No dinner Sun.

Coral.
SEAFOOD | The window is an altar of shellfish, with varieties of mollusks and crustaceans you’ve probably never seen before. Inside, wood-panel walls, crystal chandeliers, and 12 white-clad tables help create an elegant yet casual experience. Specialties include octopus, spider crab, barnacles, and turbante de mariscos (a platter—literally, a “turban”—of steamed and boiled shellfish). | Average main: €30 | Callejón de la Estacada 9 at Av. Marina | 981/200569 | www.restaurantemarisqueriacoral.com | Closed Sun.

La Penela.
SEAFOOD | This contemporary, bottle-green dining room is the perfect place to feast on fresh fish while sipping Albariño—try at least a few crabs or mussels with béchamel, a dish that La Penela’s is locally famous for. If shellfish isn’t your speed, the roast veal is also popular. The restaurant occupies a modernist building on a corner of the lively Praza María Pita. Some tables have views of the harbor, or you can eat in a glassed-in terrace on the square. | Average main: €15 | Praza María Pita 12 | 981/209200 | Closed last 2 wks of Jan. No dinner Sun.

Hesperia Finisterre.
HOTEL | A favorite with businesspeople and families, the oldest and busiest of A Coruña’s top hotels is only a few minutes walk from the port, and is bursting with on-site amenities. Part of the Scandinavian NH Hotels chain, it has large rooms with modern wood furnishings and bright upholstery; ask for a room overlooking the bay. The outdoor pool is heated for use any time of year, and there’s a sports center, spa, and restaurant. Bikes are available to hire so that you can discover the city at your own pace. Pros: port and city views; helpful staff; good leisure activities. Cons: inconvenient outdoor parking; unimpressive breakfast. | Rooms from: €139 | Paseo del Parrote 2 | 981/205400 | www.hesperia-finisterre.com | 92 rooms | No meals.

NIGHTLIFE

Begin your evening in the Plaza de María Pita: cafés and tapas bars proliferate off its western corners and inland. Calles Estrella, Franja, Riego de Agua, Barrera, Galera, and the Plaza del Humor have many bars, some of which serve Ribeiro wine in bowls. Night owls head for the posh and pricey clubs around Praia del Orzán (Orzán Beach), particularly along Calle Juan Canalejo. For lower-key entertainment, the old town has cozy taverns.

Mesón A Roda.
Try the tapas (such as pulpo a la gallega, fried calamari, and hearty stewed chicken) in the company of a high-spirited evening crowd. | Calle Capitán Troncoso 8 | 981/228671 | www.mesonaroda.com.

SHOPPING

Calle Real and Plaza de Lugo have boutiques with contemporary fashions. A stroll down Calle San Andrés, two blocks inland from Calle Real, or Avenida Juan Flórez, leading into the newer town, can yield some sartorial treasures. The local branch of El Corte Inglés is on Rúa Ramón y Cajal; it has a full range of sportswear, fashion, and accessories.

Adolfo Dominguez.
Galicia has spawned some of Spain’s top designers, including this one. | Av. Finisterre 3 | 981/252539 | www.adolfodominguez.com.

Alfarería y Cerámica de Buño.
The glazed terra-cotta ceramics from Buño, a town 40 km (25 miles) west of A Coruña on C552, are prized by aficionados—to see where they’re made, drive out to Buño itself, where potters work in private studios all over town. Stop in to this store to see the results. | C. Barreiros s/n, Malpica de Bergantiños Buño | 981/721658.

José López Rama.
Authentic Galician zuecos (hand-painted wooden clogs) are still worn in some villages to navigate mud; cobbler José López Rama has a workshop 15 minutes south of A Coruña in the village of Carballo. | Rúa do Muiño 7, Carballo | 981/701068.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

In A Coruña and the surrounding area there are sports and leisure activities available year-round, including sailing, golf, and hiking. Swimmers and surfers can take advantage of the two kilometers of beach and coastline in the heart of the city.

Golf

Real Club de Golf de La Coruña.
Mackenzie Ross designed this tree-lined course, which has wide fairways and a scattering of lakeside holes. | La Zapateira s/n | 981/285200 | www.clubgolfcoruna.com.

Hiking

Nortrek.
A one-stop source for advice and equipment for hiking, rock climbing, and skiing. | C. Inés de Castro 7 | 981/151674.

Water Sports

Yatesport Coruña.
Yachting can be a spectacular way for courageous and experienced sailors to discover hidden coastal sights. Yatesport Coruña rents private yachts and can arrange sailing lessons. The main office is in Vigo. | Marina Sada, Avenida del Puerto, 18 km (11 miles) east of A Coruña | 981/620624 | www.yatesport.com.

BETANZOS

25 km (15 miles) east of A Coruña, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Santiago.

The charming, slightly ramshackle medieval town of Betanzos is still surrounded by parts of its old city wall. An important Galician port in the 13th century, it has silted up since then.

Getting Here and Around

From Vigo and other destinations to the south, head north up the AP9; from A Coruña, head east for half an hour along the same motorway.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Betanzos. | Praza de Galicia 1 | 981/776666.

EXPLORING

Iglesia de San Francisco.
The 1292 monastery of San Francisco was converted into a church in 1387 by the nobleman Fernán Pérez de Andrade. His magnificent tomb, to the left of the west door, has him lying on the backs of a stone bear and boar, with hunting dogs at his feet and an angel receiving his soul by his head. | Pl. de Fernán Pérez Andrade.

Iglesia de Santa María de Azogue.
This 15th-century church, a few steps uphill from the church of San Francisco, is a National Monument. It has Renaissance statues that were stolen in 1981 but subsequently recovered. | Pl. de Fernán Pérez Andrade.

Iglesia de Santiago.
The tailors’ guild put up the Gothic-style church of Santiago, which includes a Door of Glory inspired by the one in Santiago’s cathedral. Above the door is a carving of St. James as the Slayer of the Moors. | Pl. de Lanzós | 981/776666 for tourist office.

VILALBA

87 km (52 mi) east of A Coruña.

Known as Terra Cha (Flat Land) or the Galician Mesopotamia, Vilalba is the source of several rivers, most notably the Miño, which flows down into Portugal. Hills and knolls add texture to the plain.

WHERE TO STAY

Parador de Vilalba.
HOTEL | Part of the inn is in a massive 15th-century tower that was once a fortress; a drawbridge leads to the two-story lobby, hung with tapestries. The three large octagonal chambers in the tower have beamed ceilings, wood floors, hand-carved Spanish furniture, and chandeliers. The restaurant menu includes empanada de Rax, made of beef loin, and empanada de atún (with tuna); for dessert, order the San Simón, a cone-shaped, birch-smoked cheese served with apples or pears. Pros: the historic tower; elegant guest rooms; spa facilities. Cons: the uninspiring new building across the drawbridge. | Rooms from: €70 | C. Valeriano Valdesuso s/n | 982/510011 | www.parador.es | 48 rooms | No meals.

MONDOÑEDO

34 km (20 miles) northeast of Vilalba.

Founded in 1156, this town was one of the seven capitals of the kingdom of Galicia from the 16th to early 19th century. The cathedral, consecrated in 1248, has a museum, a bishop’s tomb with inlaid stone, and medieval murals showing St. Peter and the Slaying of the Innocents. The cathedral dominates the ancient Plaza Mayor, where a medieval pageant and market are held the first Sunday in August. The quiet streets and squares are filled with old buildings, monasteries, and churches, and include a medieval Jewish quarter.

VIVEIRO

121 km (75 miles) northeast of Betanzos.

The once-turreted city walls of this popular summer resort are still partially intact. Two festivals are noteworthy here: the Semana Santa processions, when penitents follow religious processions on their knees, and the Rapa das Bestas, a colorful roundup of wild horses that occurs the first Sunday in July on nearby Monte Buyo.

Getting Here and Around

Narrow-gauge FEVE trains connect Viveiro to Oviedo, Gijón, and other points eastward. By car, head east on the AP9 from A Coruña and then take the LU540 to Viveiro.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Viveiro. | Avda. Ramón Canosa s/n | 982/560879.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Ego.
HOTEL | The view of the ría from this hilltop hotel outside Viveiro is unbeatable, and every room has one. The glassed-in breakfast room also faces the estuary, as well as a cascade of trees; on a rainy day, you’d much rather be cooped up here than in town. Adjoining is the hotel’s elegant Nito restaurant, which serves excellent Galician cuisine, such as percebes (gooseneck barnacles), spider crab, and lobster. Pros: hilltop views; relaxing public areas and spa. Cons: a little generic; the facade resembles an airport terminal. | Rooms from: €100 | Playa de Area 1, off N642, Faro (San Xiao) | 982/560987 | www.hotelego.es | 45 rooms | No meals.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Cerámica de Sargadelos.
Distinctive blue-and-white-glazed contemporary ceramics are made at Cerámica de Sargadelos, 21 km (13 miles) east of Viveiro. In July and August it’s usually possible to watch artisans work (weekdays 9–1:15) but it’s a good idea to call ahead and check first. | Ctra. Paraño s/n Cervo | 982/557841 | www.sargadelos.com | Weekdays 9:30–2 and 3–7:30, weekends and holidays 11–2 and 4–7.

RIBADEO

50 km (31 miles) southeast of Viveiro.

Perched on the broad ría of the same name, Ribadeo is the last coastal town before Asturias. The views up and across the ría are marvelous—depending on the wind, the waves appear to roll across the ría rather than straight inland. Salmon and trout fishermen congregate upriver.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Ribadeo. | C. Dionisio Gamallo Fierros 7 | 982/128689.

WHERE TO STAY

Parador de Ribadeo.
HOTEL | Most rooms in this low-slung former country house have glassed-in sitting areas with views across the ría to Asturias (Room 208 has the best). Parquet floors and harvest-yellow walls are accented by watercolors of the area. In the dining room a cornucopia of shellfish is served, much of it swimming around in a holding tank before you make your selection. Try the sopa de mariscos (seafood soup with a pastry top) and the ice cream flavored with tetilla cheese and drizzled with honey. Fishing, horseback riding, and boating can be arranged. Pros: balconies in rooms; ría views; tasty seafood. Cons: rooms are smallish; restaurant doesn’t open until 9 pm. | Rooms from: €208 | C. Amador Fernández 7 | 982/128825 | www.parador.es | 46 rooms, 1 suite | Breakfast.

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Asturias

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Luarca | Oviedo | Gijón | Villaviciosa | Ribadesella | Llanes

As you cross into the Principality of Asturias, the intensely green countryside continues, belying the fact that this is a major mining region once valued by the Romans for its iron- and gold-rich earth. Asturias is bordered to the southeast by the imposing Picos de Europa, which are best accessed via the scenic coastal towns of Llanes or Ribadesella.

Western Asturias

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LUARCA

105 km (65 miles) east of Luarca, 92 km (57 miles) northeast of Oviedo.

The village of Luarca is tucked into a cove at the end of a final twist of the Río Negro, with a fishing port and, to the west, a sparkling bay. The town is a maze of cobblestone streets, stone stairways, and whitewashed houses, with a harborside decorated with painted flowerpots.

Getting Here and Around

To get to Oviedo, Gijón, and other destinations to the east, you can take a FEVE train or an ALSA bus; it’s about a two-hour trip. By car, take the A8 west along the coast from Oviedo and Gijón or east up through Luarca from A Coruña.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Luarca. | Pl. de Alfonso X El Sabio s/n | 985/640083 | www.turismoluarca.com.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Casa Consuelo.
SPANISH | One of the most popular spots on Spain’s northern coast, this restaurant first opened in 1935 and is famed for merluza (hake) served with the northern Spanish delicacy of angulas (baby eels); this comes to about €55 for two, depending on market prices. This dish is one among many highlights of the busy restaurant, whose name means “house of comfort”; portions are generous and there are some 12,000 bottles of wine to choose from in the bodega. Otur is also known for its great beach. | Average main: €25 | CN634, Km 511 Otur, 6 km (4 miles) west of Luarca | 985/641809 | www.casaconsuelo.com | Reservations essential | Closed Mon.

El Barómetro.
SEAFOOD | Decorated with an ornate barometer to gauge the famously unpredictable local weather, this small, family-run seafood eatery is in a 19th-century building in the middle of the harborfront. In addition to an inexpensive menu of the day, there’s also a good choice of local fresh fish, including calamares (squid) and espárragos rellenos de erizo de mar (asparagus stuffed with sea urchins). For a bit more money, you can dig into bogavante, a large-claw lobster. For dessert, the fig ice cream is delicious. | Average main: €12 | Paseo del Muelle 4 | 985/470662 | Closed Wed., Oct. 1–15, mid-May–mid-June.

Sport.
SPANISH | This friendly, family-run restaurant has been going since the 1950s. Here you will find large windows overlooking river views, walls adorned with artwork, and a kitchen adept at fabada. Sport specializes in seafood: locally caught fish or pulpo a la gallega are two of the tempting choices here. | Average main: €17 | Calle Rivero 9 | 985/641078 | Closed Jan. 6–Feb. No dinner Wed. and Sun.

Villa La Argentina.
B&B/INN | Built in 1899 by a wealthy indiano (a Spaniard who made his fortune in South America), this charming Asturian mansion, on the hill above Luarca, offers modern apartments in the garden or Belle Époque suites in the main building. One of the latter has a pleasant glassed-in reading room. On site are a small antiques museum and an old coach house, surrounded by palm trees and imported shrubs. Pros: friendly staff; lovely gardens; peace and quiet. Cons: a short uphill walk from town. | Rooms from: €98 | Urbanización Villar s/n | 985/640102 | www.villalaargentina.com | 9 rooms, 3 suites | Closed early Jan.–mid-Mar. | No meals.

EN ROUTE: Cudillero.
The coastal road leads 35 km (22 miles) east of Luarca to this little fishing village, clustered around its tiny port. The emerald green of the surrounding hills, the bright blue of the water, and the white of the houses make this village one of the prettiest in Asturias. Seafood and cider restaurants line the central street, which turns into a boat ramp at the bottom of town.

OVIEDO

92 km (57 miles) southeast of Luarca, 50 km (31 miles) southeast of Cudillero, 30 km (19 miles) south of Gijón.

Inland, the Asturian countryside starts to look more prosperous. Wooden, tile-roofed horreos strung with golden bundles of drying corn replace the stark granite sheds of Galicia. A drive through the hills and valleys brings you to the capital city, Oviedo. Though primarily industrial, Oviedo has three of the most famous pre-Romanesque churches in Spain and a large university, giving it both ancient charm and youthful zest. Start your explorations with the two exquisite 9th-century chapels outside the city, on the slopes of Monte Naranco.

Getting Here and Around

Oviedo is served by the A66 tollway, which links to Gijón and Avilés, where you can get on the A8 west to A Coruña or east toward Santander. Madrid is reached on the N630 south.

There are several buses per day to Gijón (30 minutes) and to Santiago and A Coruña (5 hours). Madrid is 5½ hours away by rail from Oviedo’s RENFE station, situated on Calle Uría. The FEVE service operates across the north coast, with Gijón easily reached in half an hour and Bilbao just under eight hours away.

Local buses operate along the main arteries of Oviedo, between the train station and shopping areas, but skirt around the rim of the historical center, where Oviedo’s oldest buildings are clustered in the labyrinth of streets around the Plaza Alfonso. Considering the short distances, walking is the best option, though taxis are inexpensive.

Essentials

Bus Station
Oviedo. | Calle Pepe Cosmen.

Train Station
Oviedo. | C. Uría s/n | 902/240505.

Visitor Information
Oviedo. | Pl. de la Constitución 4 | 985/213385 | www.turismoviedo.es.

EXPLORING

Cathedral.
Oviedo’s Gothic cathedral was built between the 14th and the 16th centuries around the city’s most cherished monument, the Cámara Santa (Holy Chamber). King Ramiro’s predecessor, Alfonso the Chaste (792–842), built it to hide the treasures of Christian Spain during the struggle with the Moors. Damaged during the Spanish Civil War, it has since been rebuilt. Inside is the gold-leaf Cross of the Angels, commissioned by Alfonso in 808 and encrusted with pearls and jewels. On the left is the more elegant Victory Cross, actually a jeweled sheath crafted in 908 to cover the oak cross used by Pelayo in the battle of Covadonga. | Pl. Alfonso II El Casto | 985/203117 | www.catedraldeoviedo.es | Free; €5 combined ticket for Cámara Santa, cloister, and museum | Weekdays 10–2 and 4–7, Sat. 10–2 and 4–6.

Museo Arqueológico de Asturias.
Housed in the splendid Monastery of San Vicente (behind the cathedral), this museum contains fragments of pre-Romanesque buildings. | C. San Vicente 3–5 | 985/208977 | www.museoarqueologicodeasturias.com | Free | Wed.–Fri. 9:30–8, Sat. 9:30–2 and 5–8, Sun. and holidays 9:30–3.

San Julián de los Prados (Santullano).
Older than its more famous pre-Romanesque counterparts on Monte Naranco, the 9th-century church of Santullano has surprisingly well-preserved frescoes inside. Geometric patterns, rather than representations of humans or animals, cover almost every surface, along with a cross containing Greek letters. | C. Selgas 1 | 607/353999 | €1.20 (free Mon., without guide) | May–Sept., weekdays 10–12:30, Sat. 9:30–noon; Oct.–Apr., Mon. 10–12:30, Tues.–Sat. 9:30–11:30.

Santa María del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo.
These two churches—the first with superb views and its plainer sister 300 yards uphill—are the jewels of an early architectural style called Asturian pre-Romanesque, a more primitive, hulking, defensive line that preceded Romanesque architecture by nearly three centuries. Commissioned as part of a summer palace by King Ramiro I when Oviedo was the capital of Christian Spain, these masterpieces have survived for more than 1,000 years. Tickets for both sites are available in the church of Santa María del Naranco. | Ctra. de los Monumentos, 2 km (1 mile) north of Oviedo | 638/260163 | www.santamariadelnaranco.blogspot.com.es | €3, includes guided tour (free Mon., without guide) | Apr.–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 9:30–1 and 3:30–7, Sun. and Mon. 9:30–1; Oct.–Mar., Tues.–Sat. 10–2:30, Sun. and Mon. 10–12:30.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Casa Fermín.
SPANISH | Skylights, plants, and an air of modernity belie the age of this sophisticated restaurant, which opened in 1924 and is now in its fourth generation. The creative menu changes seasonally and might include cigala en tocino ibérico con su caldo (langoustines served in broth with ibérico ham), lubina asada con salsa de su jugo y boletus (roasted sea bass with a wild mushroom sauce), and wild game in season. There is also a tasting menu. | Average main: €24 | C. San Francisco 8 | 985/216452 | www.casafermin.com | Closed Sun.

La Máquina de Lugones.
SPANISH | For the best fabada in Asturias, head 6 km (4 miles) outside Oviedo toward Avilés and stop at the farmhouse with the miniature train out front. The creamy fava beans of the signature dish are heaped with delicious hunks of morcilla sausage, chorizo, and bacon. To leave without trying the arroz con leche (rice pudding), though, would be a mistake. The simple, whitewashed dining room has attracted diners from across Spain for decades, some of whom think nothing of making a weekend trip just to eat here. | Average main: €15 | Av. Conde de Santa Bárbara 59,Lugones | 985/263636 | www.lamaquinadelugones.es | Closed Sun. and Jun. 21–Jul. 20. No dinner.

Barceló Oviedo Cervantes.
HOTEL | A playful revamp of this town house in the city center added a neo-Moorish portico to the original latticed facade and indulgent amenities like entertainment systems in some of the bathrooms. Public areas feel quicky and information, and guest rooms are stylish with polished wooden floors and sleek furniture, although the colors are somber and lighting subdued. Delicious seafood from the Bay of Biscay is served in the restaurant. Pros: fun art and design features; central location close to train station. Cons: uninteresting views; confusing light switches. | Rooms from: €90 | C. Cervantes 13 | 985/255000 | www.barcelo.com | 72 rooms | No meals.

Fodor’s Choice | Hotel de la Reconquista.
HOTEL | Occupying an 18th-century hospice that’s emblazoned with a huge stone coat of arms, the luxurious Reconquista is by far the most distinguished hotel in Oviedo. The wide lobby, encircled by Doric pillars and an oak balcony, is decked out with velvet upholstery and 18th-century paintings. One wing’s guest rooms are large and modern, with comfortable beds and large armchairs, while the other wing has rooms decorated in traditional opulence. It’s a good idea to ask for a room facing over the wide interior patio, as rooms on the road can be a little noisy. Pros: spacious rooms; good breakfast. Cons: some rooms have uninteresting views; poorly lit rooms. | Rooms from: €135 | C. Gil de Jaz 16 | 985/241100 | www.hoteldelareconquista.com | 131 rooms, 11 suites | No meals.

NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS

Calle de Mon.
Oviedo gets a little rowdy after dark on weekends, and there’s plenty in the way of loud live music. Most of the bars are concentrated on Calle de Mon and its continuation, Calle Oscura. Calle Canóniga, off Calle de Mon, is another street with a number of bars. Calle Gascona is the place to try local Asturian cider in one of the popular sidrerías (cider bars) that line the street. Poured from a great height into the glass by the bartender, they impressively hit the mark each time—which also aerates the naturally still cider.

SHOPPING

Shops throughout the city carry azabache jewelry made of jet.

Casa Veneranda.
Vacuum-packed fava beans are sold here. | C. Melquíades Álvarez 23 | 985/212454.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Golf

Campo Municipal de Golf Las Caldas.
This moderately difficult 18-hole course is surrounded by the rolling green hills of the Asturian countryside, just a few kilometers outside of Oviedo. | La Premaña s/n Las Caldas | 985/798132 | www.golflascaldas.com.

Real Club de Golf La Barganiza.
These 18 holes have quite a backdrop: against the Picos de Europa mountain range. The course is 12 km (7 miles) outside of Oviedo. | La Barganiza s/n, Siero | 985/742468 | www.labarganiza.com.

Skiing

San Isidro.
In the Cantabrian Mountains, San Isidro has four chairlifts, eight drag lifts, and more than 22 km (14 miles) of slopes. | Oficinas Sector Salencias, Puerto de San Isidro s/n, Puebla de Lillo León, 69 km (43 miles) south of Oviedo | 987/731115 | www.san-isidro.net.

Valgrande Pajares.
This resort has two chairlifts, eight slopes, and cross-country trails. | Estación Invernal y de Montaña Valgrande-Pajares, Brañillín Pajares, 60 km (37 miles) south of Oviedo | 985/957123, 985/957117 | www.valgrande-pajares.com.

GIJÓN

30 km (19 miles) north of Oviedo.

The Campo Valdés baths, dating back to the 1st century AD, and other reminders of Gijón’s time as an ancient Roman port remain visible downtown. Gijón was almost destroyed in a 14th-century struggle over the Castilian throne, but by the 19th century it was a thriving port and industrial city. The modern-day city is part fishing port, part summer resort, and part university town, packed with cafés, restaurants, and sidrerías.

Getting Here and Around

Oviedo is only 30 minutes away by ALSA bus or FEVE train, both of which run every half hour throughout the day. The A8 coastal highway runs east from Gijón to Santander, and west to Luarca, and eventually A Coruña.

Essentials

Bus Station
Gijón. | C. Magnus Blikstad 1 | 902/422242.

Train Station
Gijón. | C. Sanz Crespo s/n | 902/240505.

Visitor Information
Gijón. | C. Rodríguez San Pedro s/n | 985/341771 | www.gijon.info.

EXPLORING

Cimadevilla.
This steep peninsula, the old fishermen’s quarter, is now the hub of Gijón’s nightlife. From the park at the highest point on the headland, beside Basque artist Eduardo Chillida’s massive sculpture Elogio del Horizonte (In Praise of the Horizon), there’s a panoramic view of the coast and city.

Muséu del Pueblu d’Asturies (Museum of the People of Asturias).
Across the river on the eastern edge of town, past Parque Isabel la Católica, this rustic museum contains traditional Asturian houses, cider presses, a mill, and an exquisitely painted granary. Also here is the Museo de la Gaita (Bagpipe Museum). This collection of wind instruments explains their evolution both around the world and within Asturias. | Paseo del Doctor Fleming 877, La Güelga s/n | 985/182960 | €2.50 (free Sun.) | Oct.–Mar., Tues.–Fri. 9:30–6:30, weekends and public holidays 10–6:30; Apr.–Sept., Tues.–Fri. 10–7, weekends 10:30–7.

Termas Romanas (Roman baths).
Dating back to the time of Augustus, Gijón’s baths are under the plaza at the end of the beach. | Campo Valdés s/n | 985/185151 | €2.50 (free Sun.) | Tues.–Fri. 9:30–2 and 5–7:30, weekends 10–2 and 5–7:30. Closed Jan. 1 and 6, Aug. 15, Christmas wk.

BEACHES

The capital of the Costa Verde, Gijón, overlooks two attractive sandy beaches that are large enough to avoid overcrowding in summer.

Playa de Poniente.
Tucked into the city’s harbor, Playa de Poniente (Sunset Beach) is a horseshoe-shape curve of fine artificial sand and calm waters that’s wonderful for a stroll as the evening draws in. Amenities: lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming; walking. | C. Rodriguez San Pedro.

Playa de San Lorenzo.
Gijón’s second popular beach, on the other side of the headland from Playa de Poniente, is a large stretch of golden sand backed by a promenade that extends from one end of town to the other. Across the narrow peninsula and the Plaza Mayor is the harbor, where the fishing fleet comes in with the day’s catch. As long as the tide is out, you can sunbathe. The waves are generally moderate, although the weather and sea currents can be unpredictable along the northern coast. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunset; swimming; walking. | Av. Rufo García Rendueles.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

La Pondala.
SPANISH | This friendly, folksy, and romantic chalet was founded in 1891. When the weather cooperates, the terrace is a perfect spot for roast beef, rice with clams, or fabada asturiana. The restaurant is 3 km (2 miles) east of town. | Average main: €20 | Av. de Dionisio Cifuentes 58 | 985/369346 | www.lapondala.com | Closed Thurs. No dinner Sun.

Parador de Gijón.
HOTEL | This is one of the simplest and friendliest paradores in Spain, and most of the rooms in the new wing have wonderful views over the lake or the park. This compensates for their small, plain interiors, with wood floors and pine shutters. In the restaurant, try the caldereta de marisco (an aromatic seafood stew made with crab, lobster, and shrimp), chopa a la sidra (sea chub cooked in cider), or tigres (spicy stuffed mussels). The parador is a bit of a hike from the old town, occupying an old water mill in a park not far from the San Lorenzo Beach. Pros: park views; welcoming, down-to-earth staff; great food. Cons: austere guest rooms; fairly expensive; difficult to find; some distance from the old town. | Rooms from: €171 | Av. Torcuato Fernández Miranda 15 | 985/370511 | www.parador.es | 40 rooms | No meals.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Ballooning

Globoastur.
Stable weather conditions and outstanding mountain landscapes make the Picos de Europa ideal for year-round ballooning. | 985/355818 | www.globoastur.com | €139 per person for 1-hr flight (min. group of 6).

Golf

Campo Municipal de Golf La Llorea.
Just outside Gijon, coastal Campo Municipal de Golf La Llorea presents wide fairways, which are punctuated by oak, hazelnut, and chestnut trees. | N632, Km 62, no. 6779 La Llorea | 985/181030 | www.golflallorea.com.

Real Club de Golf de Castiello.
A straightforward 18-hole course that runs through wooded and mountainous landscape. The club also has a swimming pool for adults and children. | C. Camino del Golf 696, Bernueces | 985/366313 | www.castiello.com.

VILLAVICIOSA

32 km (20 miles) east of Gijón, 45 km (28 miles) northeast of Oviedo.

Famed for its cider, Villaviciosa also has a large dairy and several bottling plants as well as an attractive old quarter. The Habsburg emperor Carlos I first set foot in Spain just down the road from here. The town’s annual five-day Fiesta de la Manzana (Apple Festival) begins the first Friday after September 8.

Getting Here and Around

ALSA runs several daily buses to Villaviciosa from Oviedo and Gijón; the trip could take anywhere from a half hour to an hour along the A8.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Villaviciosa. | Teatro Riera, Pl. Obdulio Fernández | 985/891759.

WHERE TO STAY

Carlos I.
HOTEL | From the crests emblazoned on the facade to the wood floors, antique furniture, plants, and oil paintings, this late-17th-century mansion in the heart of the old town is a local classic, and a bargain as well. Guest rooms are well maintained and comparatively large, and there’s a cozy, tile-floored bar-cafeteria. Pros: great location; oozes historical character. Cons: old bath facilities; noisy in the morning. | Rooms from: €60 | Pl. Carlos I 4 | 985/890121 | 16 rooms | Closed Dec.–Apr. | Breakfast.

RIBADESELLA

67 km (40 miles) east of Gijón, 84 km (50 miles) northeast of Oviedo.

The N632 twists around green hills dappled with eucalyptus groves, allowing glimpses of the sea and sandy beaches below and the snowcapped Picos de Europa looming inland. This fishing village and beach resort is famous for its seafood, its cave, and the canoe races held on the Sella River the first Saturday of August.

Getting Here and Around

FEVE and ALSA connect Ribadesella to Gijón and Oviedo by train and bus, a journey of 1½ to 2 hours. By car, you can take the A8 from Gijón and Oviedo past Villaviciosa to Ribadesella.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Ribadesella. | Paseo Princesa Letizia s/n | 985/860038.

EXPLORING

Centro de Arte Rupestre Tito Bustillo.
Discovered in 1968, the cave here has 20,000-year-old paintings on a par with those in Lascaux, France, and Altamira. Giant horses and deer prance about the walls. To protect the paintings, no more than 375 visitors are allowed inside each day, so reservations are essential. The guided tour is in Spanish. There’s also a museum of Asturian cave finds, open year-round. | Av. de Tito Bustillo s/n | 902/306600 | www.centrotitobustillo.com | €7.10, includes museum; €5.20 museum only | Cave: Apr.–Nov., Wed.–Sun. 10:15–5. Museum: July–mid-Sept., Wed.–Sun. 10–7; mid-Sept.–Dec. and Feb.–June, Wed.–Fri. 10–2:30 and 3:30–6, weekends 10–2:30 and 4–7.

BEACHES

Playa Santa Marina.
To the west of the Sella River’s estuary, which divides the town, this gentle curve of golden sand is one of the prettiest beaches in Asturias, tucked neatly beneath the town’s seafront promenade, which is lined with elegant 20th-century mansions. Moderate waves provide safe swimming conditions, although, as with all of Spain’s Atlantic-facing beaches, currents and weather can be unpredictable. In high season (particularly in August), the beach can get very busy. This part of the coast is not called the “dinosaur coast” for nothing—over by the Punta’l Pozu Viewpoint, you can see footprints embedded in the rocks and cliff faces where dinosaurs left their mark millions of years ago. The amenities listed are only open between June and September. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: sunbathing; surfing; swimming. | Paseo Agustin de Argüelles Marina.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Ribadesella Playa.
B&B/INN | Spending a night in this quirky, restored, turn-of-the-20th-century mansion on the beach is unusually pleasant and peaceful: it’s family run, and has a timeless, stately charm that may remind you of black-and-white European art films. For an extra 10 euros you can get a room with a sea view. Pros: proximity to the Tito Bustillo cave and the beach; lovely views of the Cantabrian sea. Cons: limited availability in high season. | Rooms from: €125 | C. Ricardo Cangas 3 | 985/860715 | www.hotelribadesellaplaya.com | 17 rooms | Closed Nov.–Mar. | Breakfast.

LLANES

40 km (25 miles) east of Ribadesella.

This beach town is on a pristine stretch of the Costa Verde. The shores in both directions outside town have vistas of cliffs looming over white-sand beaches and isolated caves. A long canal connected to a small harbor cuts through the heart of Llanes, and along its banks rise colorful houses with glass galleries against a backdrop of the Picos de Europa. At the daily port-side fish market, usually held around 1 pm, vendors display heaping mounds of freshly caught seafood.

Getting Here and Around

The scenic A8 coastal route from Gijón continues past Villaviciosa and Ribadesella and then winds through Llanes before heading east towards Santander. FEVE trains and ALSA buses make the trip in 2 to 3½ hours.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Llanes. | Casa de Cultura, C. Posada Herrera 15 | 985/400164.

EXPLORING

Basílica de Santa María del Conceyu.
This 13th-century church, which rises over the square here, is an excellent example of Romantic Gothic architecture. | Pl. de Christo Rey.

Mirador Panorámico La Boriza.
Dotting the Asturian coast east and west of Llanes are bufones (blowholes), cavelike cavities that expel water when waves are sucked in. Active blowholes shoot streams of water as high as 100 feet into the air; although it’s hard to predict when this will happen, as it depends on the tide and the size of the surf. They are clearly marked so you can find them, and there are barriers to protect you when they expel water. There’s a blowhole east of Playa Ballota; try to watch it in action from this mirador east of Llanes, between the villages of Cué and Andrin, near to the entrance of the Campo de Golf Municipal de Llanes. If you miss it, the view is still worth a stop—on a clear day you can see the coastline all the way east to Santander.

Plaza Cristo Rey.
Peaceful and well-conserved, this plaza marks the center of the old town, which is partially surrounded by the remains of its medieval walls.

BEACHES

Playa Ballota.
Just 1 km (½ mile) east of Llanes is one of the area’s most secluded beaches, the pristine Playa Ballota, with private coves and one of the few stretches of nudist sand in Asturias. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude; nudists; swimming; walking. | Camino Ballota.

Playa del Sablón.
Steps from the old town is the protected Playa del Sablón (whose name derives from the Asturian word for “sand”), a little swath of beach that gets crowded on weekends. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: swimming | C. Sablón.

Playa Torimbia.
Farther west of Llanes is the partially nudist Playa de Torimbia, a wild, virgin beach as yet untouched by development. This one you can reach only via a footpath—roughly a 15-minute walk. A secluded crescent of fine, white sand and crystal-clear waters, backed by Asturias’ green hills tumbling down upon it, makes this one of the region’s most picturesque beaches. Winds can be strong, and there is no real infrastructure. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude; nudists; swimming; walking. | Off C. Niembru, 8 km (5 miles) west of Llanes.

Playa Toró.
On the eastern edge of town is the Playa de Toró, where fine white sands are peppered with unique rock formations. This pristine beach is ideal for sunbathing and families. Amenities: lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: swimming. | Av. de Toró.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

La Casa del Mar.
SEAFOOD | Llanes has prettier, cleaner, and less noisy places to enjoy seafood, but if you feel like rubbing shoulders with Asturian fishermen and eating their catch cooked just the way they like it, then this spot by the port, guarded by a parrot named Paco, is for you. The glassed-in terrace has a view of the small harbor bobbing with boats, and the menu offers such local classics as baby squid in ink, spider crab, seafood meatballs, and razor clams, all with a minimum of fuss but maximum value. | Average main: €10 | Calle El Muelle 4, C. Marinero | 985/401215.

La Posada de Babel.
B&B/INN | This family-run inn just outside Llanes stands among oak, chestnut, and birch trees on the edge of the Sierra de Cuera. You can expect plenty of personal attention and roaring fires in the public rooms. There is some unusual architecture, including a granary converted into a guest room. Pros: extremely amiable staff; comfy base for hiking. Cons: slippery stairs to certain rooms; closed in winter. | Rooms from: €124 | La Pereda s/n, 4 km (2½ miles) southwest of Llanes | 985/402525 | www.laposadadebabel.com | 10 rooms, 2 suites | Closed Dec.–Mar. | No meals.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Golf

Club de Golf La Cuesta.
This picturesque 18-hole course lies between the Picos de Europa and Cantabrian Sea; its location, 325 feet above sea level, comes with excellent views. | C. Las Barqueras s/n | 3 km (2 miles) east of Llanes, between Cue and Andrin | 985/403319 | www.golflacuesta.com.

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The Picos de Europa

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Cangas de Onís | Covadonga | Potes

With craggy peaks soaring up to the 8,688-foot Torre Cerredo, the northern skyline of the Picos de Europa has helped seafarers and fishermen navigate the Bay of Biscay for ages. To the south, pilgrims on their way to Santiago enjoy distant but inspiring views of the snowcapped range from the plains of Castile between Burgos and León. Over the years, rain and snow have created canyons plunging 3,000 feet, natural arches, caves, and sinkholes (one of which is 5,213 feet deep).

The Picos de Europa National Park, covering 646.6 square km (250 square miles), is perfect for climbers and trekkers: you can explore the main trails, hang glide, ride horses, cycle, or canoe. There are two adventure-sports centers in Cangas de Onís, near the Roman Bridge.

Picos de Europa

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CANGAS DE ONÍS

25 km (16 miles) south of Ribadesella, 70 km (43 miles) east of Oviedo.

The first capital of Christian Spain, Cangas de Onís is also the unofficial capital of the Picos de Europa National Park. Partly in the narrow valley carved by the Sella River, it has the feel of a mountain village.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Cangas de Onís. | Av. de Covadonga 1 | 985/846135.

EXPLORING

Medieval Bridge.
A high, humpback medieval bridge (also known as the Puente Romano, or Roman Bridge, because of its style) spans the Sella River gorge with a reproduction of Pelayo’s Victory Cross, or La Cruz de la Victoria, dangling underneath.

Picos de Europa Visitor Center.
To help plan your rambles, consult the scale model of the park outside the visitor center, while staff inside can advise you on suitable routes. There are various stores on the same street that sell maps and guidebooks, a few in English. | Casa Dago, Av. Covadonga 33 | 985/848614.

A Good Tour: the Picos de Europa

The best-known road trip in the Picos connects Cangas de Onís and Riaño along the twisting Sella River gorge. Part of this trip is along the Ruta de los Beyos through the Beyo Canyon, on the N625 road. It’s a two-hour drive up to the pass at Puerto del Pontón (Pontón Pass, 4,232 feet). Just beyond the pass, turn left (northeast) and drive up to the Puerto de Panderruedas (4,757 feet) for a panoramic view of the peaks, especially impressive in the early evening sun. From here you can descend northeast to the town of Posada de Valdeón and continue to Caín for a look at the famous Ruta del Cares. Another drive, beginning from Cangas de Onís, takes you up past Covadonga to Lakes Enol and Ercina on the AS262.

For the Ruta del Cares, drive east on the AS114 from Cangas de Onís toward Panes, stopping just before Arenas de Cabrales at the mirador (lookout) onto the Naranjo de Bulnes, a huge tooth of rock way up in the peaks. The mountain was named for its occasional tendency to glow orange (naranja) at sunrise and sunset. At Arenas de Cabrales, turn south onto the AS264 road to reach Poncebos, where you can leave the car for the four-hour Ruta de Cares walk to Caín through the Garganta (gorge) de Cares. The canyon presents itself fairly soon, so you can turn back without pangs if you don’t want to make the full hike. This route is popular, so arrive in Poncebos early in the day to avoid parking problems.

If you have another day, leave Cangas and drive via Panes and Potes to the eastern, Cantabrian portion of the park, where you can stay at the Parador de Fuente Dé. South of Panes, turn right at Urdón’s hydroelectric power station to Tresviso for unforgettable views and a chance to buy some local cheese. South of La Hermida on the N621 the Garganta de la Hermida cuts through sheer 600-foot limestone cliffs up to Potes.

West of Potes off the N621 is the Monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liébana, with a 13th-century Gothic church and 17th-century cloisters. The N621 ends at Fuente Dé, where a cable car can whisk you to the top of the Picos. South of Potes the N621 continues to Riaño, a two-hour drive. About halfway there, Puerta de San Glorio is the jumping-off point for the 2.2-km (1.3-mile) walk up to the Monumento al Oso, where a white stone bear marks another splendid view.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Restaurante Los Arcos.
SPANISH | This busy tavern on one of the town’s main squares has lots of polished wood and serves local cider, fine Spanish wines, and sizzling T-bone steaks. The mouth-watering dishes include revuelto de morcilla (scrambled eggs with blood sausage), which is served on torto de maíz (a corn pastry base), and pulpo de pedreu sobre crema fina de patata, oricios y germinados ecologicos (octopus with creamed potato, sea urchins, and bean sprouts). Their well-priced lunchtime menu is a real draw. | Average main: €20 | Pl. del Ayuntamiento 3 | 985/849277 | www.restaurantelosarcos.es.

Hotel Posada del Valle.
B&B/INN | British couple Nigel and Joanne Burch converted a rustic, 19th-century, stone-wall farmhouse into an idyllic guesthouse; built near the side of a hill, it faces out over spectacular panoramas of the Picos. The couple’s knowledge of the area is extensive, and they are happy to provide self-guided maps of walking trails for all levels, as well as useful information about the whole region. Each of the cheerfully decorated rooms looks out over the wildflower-speckled valley, and has either stone walls or wood beams. An organic farm on the premises provides ingredients for satisfying breakfasts and dinners, which are served to hungry walkers in the panoramic glass-gallery dining room. Pros: surrounded by nature; views of the Picos; wealth of local knowledge at your fingertips. Cons: remote and difficult to find; breakfast costs extra. | Rooms from: €79 | Collía, Arriondas | 985/841157 | www.posadadelvalle.com | 12 rooms | Closed Nov.–Mar. | No meals.

Parador de Cangas de Onís.
HOTEL | On the banks of the Sella River just west of Cangas, this friendly parador is made up of an 8th-century Benedictine monastery and a modern wing: the older building has 11 period-style rooms. Excellent local dishes, such as merluza del Cantábrica a la sidra (hake cooked in cider) garnished with asparagus, are served in the dining room. Pros: helpful staff; gorgeous riverside location with mountain views; oodles of history. Cons: limited menu; chilly corridors. | Rooms from: €111 | Monasterio de San Pedro de Villanueva, Villanueva s/n, Ctra. N625 | From N634 take a right turn for Villanueva | 985/849402 | www.parador.es | 64 rooms | Breakfast.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

The tourist office in Cangas de Onís can help you organize a Picos de Europa trek. The Picos visitor center in Cangas has general information, route maps, and a useful scale model of the range.

Hiking

AsturSellaAdventure.
Part of the Hotel Montevedro, AsturSellaAdventure can organize canoeing, canyon rappelling, spelunking, horseback riding, and Jeep trips. | Ramón Prada Vicente 5 Cangas de Onís | 985/848079 | www.astursellaaventura.com.

COVADONGA

14 km (9 miles) southeast of Cangas de Onís.

To see high alpine meadowland, some rare Spanish lakes, and views over the peaks and out to sea (if the mist ever disperses), take the narrow road up past Covadonga to Lake Enol, stopping for the view en route. Starting to the right of the lake, a three-hour walk takes in views from the Mirador del Rey, where you can find the grave of pioneering climber Pedro Pidal. Farther up the road from Lake Enol are a summer-only tourist office and Lake Ercina, where Pope John Paul II picnicked during his 1989 tour of Asturias and Galicia.

Getting Here and Around

From Gijón and Oviedo, head east on the N634 and then take the AS262 to head up into the Picos de Europa. From Santander and the east, head west on the A8 and then take the AS262.

EXPLORING

Santuario de Covadonga.
Covadonga’s shrine is considered the birthplace of Spain. Here, in 718, a handful of sturdy Asturian Christians led by Don Pelayo took refuge in the Cave of St. Mary, about halfway up a cliff, where they prayed to the Virgin Mary to give them strength to turn back the Moors. Pelayo and his followers resisted the superior Moorish forces and set up a Christian kingdom that eventually led to the Reconquest. The cave has an 18th-century statue of the Virgin and Don Pelayo’s grave. Covadonga itself has a basilica, open to visitors except during services, and its museum (Daily 10:30–2 and 4–7:30 €2.50) has the treasures donated to the Virgin of the Cave, including a crown studded with more than a thousand diamonds.

POTES

51 km (31 miles) southwest of San Vicente de la Barquera, 115 km (69 miles) southwest of Santander, 173 km (104 miles) north of Palencia, 81 km (50 miles) southeast of Cangas de Onís.

Known for its fine cheeses, the region of La Liébana is a highland domain also worth exploring for other reasons. Potes, the area’s main city, is named for its ancient bridges and surrounded by the stunning 9th-century monasteries of Santo Toribio de Liébana, Lebeña, and Piasca. The gorges of the Desfiladero de la Hermida pass are 13 km (8 miles) north, and the rustic town of Mogrovejo is on the way to the vertiginous cable car at Fuente Dé, 10 km (6 miles) west of Potes.

Getting Here and Around

Potes is just over 2 hours from Gijón and Oviedo via the A8, and 1½ hours from Santander via the A8 and N621.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Potes. | Pl. de la Serna s/n | 942/730787.

EXPLORING

El Mirador del Cable.
As you approach the parador of Fuente Dé, at the head of the valley northwest of the hamlet of Espinama. you’ll see a wall of gray rock rising 6,560 feet straight into the air. Visible at the top is the tiniest of huts: El Mirador del Cable (the cable-car lookout point). Get there via a 2,625-foot funicular (€16 round-trip). At the top, you can hike along the Ávila Mountain pasturelands, rich in wildlife, between the central and eastern massifs of the Picos. There’s an official entrance to Picos de Europa National Park here. | 942/736610 | www.cantur.com | Daily 10–6; hrs vary Jan. 10–Feb. 10.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

El Bodegón.
SPANISH | A simple, friendly, and cozy space awaits behind the ancient stone facade of this restaurant, 200 meters from the main plaza. Part of the house is original, but much has been renovated, providing an attractive combination of traditional mountain design and modern construction. The menu focuses on standard highland comfort food, such as a delicious cocido montañes (mountain stew of sausage, garbanzo beans, and vegetables) at good prices. The lunch menu is one of the best values for miles around. | Average main: €15 | C. San Roque 4 | 942/730247 | Closed Wed.

Hotel Valdecoro.
B&B/INN | In this family-run mountain house, which faces the main road through town, an efficient staff and guest rooms with modern appointments make for a pleasant stay. The restaurant is a town favorite for simple and authentic highland recipes prepared with care. In winter, try the cocido lebaniego, a powerful mountain soup made of broth, beans, pork, chard, and chicken. Pros: cozy, mountain feel; fine rustic restaurant. Cons: on the main road; rooms are efficient but lackluster. | Rooms from: €75 | C. Roscabao 5 | 942/730025 | www.hotelvaldecoro.com | 41 rooms | Breakfast.

Parador de Fuente Dé.
B&B/INN | Although it has a good restaurant, this modern parador is somewhat spartan. It’s still a fine no-frills base for serious climbers and walkers. The kitchen can restore your energy with dishes such as cocido lebaniego (a sturdy local stew) and steaks topped with Cabrales, a local blue cheese. The parador is east of the Cantabrian border, in a valley beside the cable car that ascends a soaring rock face to 2,705 feet in about four minutes. Pros: mountainside location; next to cable car. Cons: simply furnished; limited access in winter snow. | Rooms from: €110 | Crta. de Fuente Dé s/n, 23 km (14 miles) west of Potes | 942/736651 | www.parador.es | 77 rooms | Closed Dec.–Mar. | No meals.

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Cantabria

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Santander | Santillana del Mar | Comillas | San Vicente de la Barquera

Historically part of Old Castile, the province of Cantabria was called Santander until 1984, when it became an autonomous community. The most scenic route from Madrid via Burgos to Santander is the slow but spectacular N62, past the Ebro reservoir. Faster and safer is the N627 from Burgos to Aguilar de Campóo connecting to the A67 freeway down to Santander.

Cantabria

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SANTANDER

390 km (242 miles) north of Madrid, 154 km (96 miles) north of Burgos, 116 km (72 miles) west of Bilbao, 194 km (120 miles) northeast of Oviedo.

One of the great ports on the Bay of Biscay, Santander is surrounded by beaches that can often be busy, but it still manages to avoid the package-tour feel of so many Mediterranean resorts. A fire destroyed most of the old town in 1941, so the rebuilt city looks relatively modern. The town gets especially fun and busy in summer, when its summer-university community and music-and-dance festival fill the city with students and performers.

From the 1st to the 4th century, under the Romans, Santander—then called Portus Victoriae—was a major port. Commercial life accelerated between the 13th and 16th century, but the waning of Spain’s naval power and a series of plagues during the reign of Felipe II caused Santander’s fortunes to plummet in the late 16th century. Its economy revived after 1778, when Seville’s monopoly on trade with the Americas was revoked and Santander entered fully into commerce with the New World. In 1910 the Palacio de la Magdalena was built by popular subscription as a gift to Alfonso XIII and his queen, Victoria Eugenia, lending Santander prestige as one of Spain’s royal watering holes.

Modern-day Santander benefits from several promenades and gardens, most of which face the bay. Walk east along the Paseo de Pereda, the main boulevard, to the Puerto Chico, a small yacht harbor. Then follow Avenida Reina Victoria to find the tree-lined park paths above the first of the city’s beaches, Playa de la Magdalena. Walk onto the Península de la Magdalena to the Palacio de la Magdalena, today the summer seat of the University of Menéndez y Pelayo. Beyond the Magdalena Peninsula, wealthy locals have built mansions facing the long stretch of shoreline known as El Sardinero, Santander’s best beach.

Getting Here and Around

Santander itself is easily navigated on foot, but if you’re looking to get to El Sardinero beach, take the bus from the central urban transport hub at Jardines de Pereda.

Essentials

Bus Station
Santander. | C. Navas de Tolosa s/n | 942/211995.

Train Station
Santander. | Pl. de las Estaciones s/n | 902/240505.

Visitor Information
Santander. | Mercado del Este, Hernán Cortés 4 | 942/310708.

Cruise Ship Travel to Santander

The port of Santander faces out over the sweeping Bay of Biscay. Ferries dock at the passenger terminal, Estación Marítima, which is downtown. Facilities inside the terminal include a supermarket, a café, and a tourist information desk. The city’s main tourist office is on Jardines de Pereda. Santander’s old town and commercial shopping area is a short, easy walk away.

There are plenty of hotel options close to the port, but you may also want to consider staying over in the city’s popular Playa del Sardinero beach area; it’s 5 to 10 minutes away from the center, via taxi. Metered taxis can be picked up right outside the entrance of the terminal, and a one-way trip to Playa del Sardinero will cost less than €11 (luggage usually costs extra). In Spain it is not customary to tip taxi drivers, but if you want to leave something, rounding up by 1 or 2 euros is acceptable. The train station (Plaza de las Estaciones) is about a 10-minute walk from the station, and from here you can reach of Spain’s major cities. Local and national buses, which can be taken from the Estación de Autobuses (Calle Naveas de Tolosa s/n), run to many nearby destinations, including Santillana del Mar, a 30-minute drive away.

Best Attractions for Spanish Cruise Travelers

Playa del Sardinero. Belle Époque mansions and guesthouses overlook this famous promenade and beach.

Peninsula de la Magdalena. Amble through the pretty gardens surrounding the Palacio de la Magdalena, to the spectacular panoramas of the Bay of Biscay.

Santander Cathedral. An interesting mix of Romanesque, Gothic and neo-Gothic styles

Santillana del Mar. Experience Spanish medieval and Renaissance village life.

EXPLORING

Catedral de Santander.
The blocky cathedral marks the transition between Romanesque and Gothic. Though largely rebuilt in the neo-Gothic style after serious damage in the town’s 1941 fire, the cathedral retained its 12th-century crypt. The chief attraction here is the tomb of Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo (1856–1912), Santander’s most famous literary figure. The cathedral is across Avenida de Calvo Sotelo from the Plaza Porticada. | Calle de Somorrostro s/n | 942/226024 | Free | Daily 10–1 and 4:30–7:30 (except during services).

Gran Casino del Sardinero.
The heart of El Sardinero, west of the old city, is the elegant belle epoque casino and restaurant—worth a quick visit even if gambling holds no charm for you. A white building fronted with red awnings and set in a park among sycamores, the casino lies at the center of the vacationer’s Santander, surrounded by expensive hotels and several fine restaurants. | Pl. de Italia s/n | 942/276054 | www.grancasinosardinero.es | €3 (one-day entrance) | Daily 8 pm–4 am; slot machines open at 2 pm.

Museo de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo de Santander y Cantabria (MAS).
The former Museo de Bellas Artes is now a bright and modern art space with a constantly rotating collection of sculptures, photography, paintings, and installations from up-and-coming artists, many of them local. | Calle Rubio 6 | 942/203120 | www.museosdesantander.com | Free | Mid-June–mid-Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10:30–1 and 6–9, Sun. 11–1:30; mid-Sept.–mid-June, Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 5:30–9, Sun. 11–1:30.

Biblioteca Menéndez y Pelayo.
Next door to the Museo de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo this library, with some 50,000 volumes, also holds the study of the scholarly writer Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo (1856–1912), whose life is celebrated in an adjoining museum. | Calle Rubio 6 | 942/234493 for museum, 942/234534 for library | Free | Library weekdays 9–1:30. Museum: June–Sept., weekdays 10:30–1 and 6:30–8, Sat. 10:30–1; Oct.–May, weekdays 10:30–1 and 5:30–8, Sat. 10:30–1.

Plaza Porticada.
In the old city, the center of life is this unassuming little square, officially called the Plaza Velarde. In August it’s the venue for Santander’s star event, the outdoor International Festival of Music and Dance.

BEACHES

Playa El Sardinero.
Gently curving round the bay from the Magdalena Peninsula, Santander’s longest and most popular beach has a full range of amenities and fine, golden sands. Although this northeast-facing stretch is exposed, moderate waves in summer make it generally fine for bathing, but its location on the Cantabrian coast keeps the water very cold. In winter months it is a favorite with surfers, particularly the part of the beach in front of Hotel Cuiqui. Be sure to arrive at the beach via the sun-dappled Piquío Gardens, where terraces filled with flowers and trees lead the way down to the beach. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunbathing; surfing; swimming; walking.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Bodega del Riojano.
SPANISH | The paintings on wine-barrel ends that decorate this classic restaurant have given it the nickname Museo Redondo (Round Museum). The building dates back to the 16th century, when it was a wine cellar, which you can see in the heavy wooden beams overhead and the rough and rustic tables. With culinary specialties from La Rioja and fresh seafood from the Bay of Biscay, there is much to choose from. The menu changes daily and seasonally, but the fish of the day is a sure bet. | Average main: €17 | C. Río de la Pila 5 | 942/216750 | No dinner Sun.

El Serbal.
SPANISH | Five blocks from Santander’s marina, this elegant dining room maintains an impressive attention to detail: order the tasting menu, for instance, and you’ll be served no fewer than five varieties of olive oil to accompany a delicious assortment of breads. Only the freshest ingredients are used, and the chef makes tasty use of Santander’s famed seafood. The menu may feature cod alpil pil (a Biscayan sauce of olive oil and garlic) or suckling pig roasted with orange and flambéed with peach. The tasting menu is expensive, but worth it for the quality of the food and the experience. | Average main: €24 | C. Andrés del Rio 7 | 942/222515 | www.restaurantesdesantander.es | Reservations essential | Closed Mon. (except in Aug.). No dinner Sun.

Abba Santander.
HOTEL | Occupying the building of the historic Hotel México, Abba Santander has gradually been transformed from a family-run inn into a chain hotel with contemporary interiors and modern conveniences. Rooms are outfitted with sleek contemporary furnishings, and many have glassed-in galerías (atria) facing the port. A few charming vestiges of the former property remain: the pillars and stained-glass windows in the lobby are from the original 1913 building, which barely escaped a fire in 1941. Pros: cheerful service; central location. Cons: slippery bathroom floors; busy part of town. | Rooms from: €130 | C. Calderón de la Barca 3 | 942/212450, 902/153163 | www.abbasantanderhotel.com | 37 rooms | No meals.

Bahía.
HOTEL | Classical style combined with state-of-the-art technology and contemporary furnishings make this Santander’s finest hotel—a grand and comfortable perch overlooking the water. Rooms are spacious and filled with gauzy drapes and noble pieces of oak and mahogany furniture, while the public spaces are ample and elegant, recalling Santander’s regal past as a summer watering spot for the Spanish royal family during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pros: in the center of town; great for watching maritime traffic. Cons: nearby cathedral bells can be noisy if you’re not on the sea side of the hotel; not right on the beach. | Rooms from: €177 | Av. Alfonso XIII 6 | 942/205000 | www.hotelbahiasantander.com | 188 rooms | No meals.

Las Brisas.
B&B/INN | Jesús García runs his family’s century-old mansion as an upscale, cottage-style hotel by the sea. Each room or apartment is different, from dollhouse-like alcoves to an odd but attractive family duplex apartment with a spiral staircase. The basement bar and breakfast room are especially cozy and full of agreeable kitsch. The hotel is a short walk from the beach, and many of the rooms have fine views out to sea. Pros: close to the shore; fresh and briny Atlantic air; friendly and helpful staff. Cons: mildly disorganized; some rooms are a bit cramped. | Rooms from: €120 | C. la Braña 14, El Sardinero | 942/275011 | www.hotellasbrisas.net | 13 rooms | Closed Dec. 15–Feb. 15. | Breakfast.

NIGHTLIFE

Most people start their evening drinking in the bars and taverns in Plaza de Cañadío, on Calle Hernán Cortés and the surrounding streets, while grazing on tapas that can be plucked straight from the top of the bar. Night owls can head to Calle del Sol and Calle de Santa Lucía, which have cozy spots for late-night drinking, some with live music.

Cañadio.
An after-work favorite, Cañadio draws a lively evening crowd for tempting tapas and chilled beer on tap. | Calle de Gómez Oreña, 15 | 942/314149 | www.restaurantecanadio.com.

SHOPPING

For most items head to the center: the streets around the ayuntamiento are good for clothing, shoes, and sportswear. At the bustling Mercado de la Esperanza, just behind the ayuntamiento, you can find fish and shellfish that have been freshly plucked from the sea of Cantabria, and locally produced cheeses and meat. Open-air fruit and vegetable stalls mark the entrance.

Azul–Looky.
A great shoe store. | C. Santa Clara 2 | 942/227769.

Del Rosa al Amarillo.
For fashions in a designer setting, this boutique carries a full range of hot items. | C. Hernán Cortés 37 | 942/313917 | www.delrosaalamarillo.es.

Mantequerías Cántabras.
Fine foods, including the Santanderino specialty dulces pasiegos (light and sugary cakes), can be sampled and bought here. | Pl. de Italia s/n | 942/272899.

SANTILLANA DEL MAR

29 km (18 miles) west of Santander.

Santillana del Mar has developed a thriving tourism industry based on the famed cave art discovered 2 km (1 mile) north of town—and the town itself is worth a visit of at least a day. Just as the Altamira Caves have captured the essence of prehistoric life, the streets, plazas, taverns, and manor houses of Santillana del Mar paint a vivid portrait of medieval and Renaissance village life in northern Spain. Its stunning ensemble of 15th- to 17th-century stone houses is one of Spain’s greatest architectural collections.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Santillana del Mar. | C. Jesús Otero 20 | 942/818812.

EXPLORING

Altamira Caves.
These world-famous caves, 3 km (2 miles) southwest of Santillana del Mar, have been called the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art for the beauty of their drawings, believed to be some 20,000 years old. First uncovered in 1875, the caves are a testament to early mankind’s admiration of beauty and surprising technical skill in representing it, especially in the use of rock forms to accentuate perspective. The caves are closed to visitors, but the reproduction in the museum is open to all. | Museo de Altamira, Av. Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola s/n | 942/818005 | museodealtamira.mcu.es | €3 (free Sat. afternoon and Sun.) | May–Oct., Tues.–Sat. 9:30–8, Sun. 9:30–3; Nov.–Apr., Tues.–Sat. 9:30–6, Sun. 9:30–3.

Colegiata de Santa Juliana.
Santillana del Mar is built around the Colegiata, Cantabria’s finest Romanesque structure. Highlights include the 12th-century cloister, famed for its sculpted capitals, a 16th-century altarpiece, and the tomb of Santa Juliana, who is the town’s patron saint and namesake. | Pl. Abad Francisco Navarro s/n | 639/830520 | €3 | Nov.–Mar., Tues.–Sun. 10–2 and 4–7; Apr.–Oct., Tues.–Sun. 10–2 and 4–8.

Museo Diocesano.
Inside the 16th-century Regina Coeli convent is a museum devoted to liturgical art, which includes wooden figures of saints, oil paintings of biblical scenes, altarpieces, and a collection of sacred treasures from the colonial New World. | C. El Cruce s/n | 942/840317 | www.santillanamuseodiocesano.com | €3 | Oct.–May, Tues.–Sun. 10–1:30 and 4–6:30; June–Sept., Tues.–Sun. 10–1:30 and 4–7:30.

WHERE TO STAY

Casa del Organista.
B&B/INN | A typical casona montañesa (noble mountain manor) with painstakingly crafted stone and wood details, this intimate hideaway makes a slightly rustic, elegant base for exploring one of Spain’s finest Renaissance towns. Dating from the 18th-century, the house is cozy, with comfortable and tastefully appointed rooms, and makes a handy alternative to the pricier and more famous national paradores nearby. Pros: personal and friendly service; warm interior design; lovely views of tiled roofs and rolling hills. Cons: limited availability and difficult to book in high season; some rooms are very small. | Rooms from: €93 | C. Los Hornos 4 | 942/840352 | www.casadelorganista.com | 14 rooms | Closed Dec. 22–Jan. 15 | No meals.

Fodor’s Choice | Parador de Santillana Gil Blas.
HOTEL | Built in the 16th century, this lovely stone palace comes with baronial rooms, with heavy wood beams overhead and splendid antique furnishings. The spacious dining hall has a medieval feel and specializes in local cuisine as well as roasts and hearty stews and soups in the Castilian tradition. Pros: storybook surroundings; elegant and attentive service. Cons: expensive; a little breezy and chilly in winter. | Rooms from: €188 | Pl. Ramón Pelayo 11 | 942/028028 | www.parador.es | 27 rooms, 1 suite | No meals.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Puente Viesgo.
In 1903, in this 16th-century hamlet in the Pas Valley, four caves were discovered under the 1,150-foot peak of Monte del Castillo, two of which—Cueva del Castillo and Cueva de las Monedas—are open to the public. Bison, deer, bulls, and humanoid stick figures are depicted within the caves; the oldest designs are thought to be 35,000 years old. Most arresting are the paintings of 44 hands (35 of them left, curiously), reaching out through time. The painters are thought to have blown red pigment around their hands through a hollow bone, leaving the negative image. Reservations are essential. | Mt. del Castillo Puente Viesgo | 942/598425 | cuevas.culturadecantabria.com | €3 per cave | Nov.–Mar., Wed.–Fri. 9:30–3:30, weekends, 9:30–2:30 and 3:30–5:30; Apr.–mid-June and mid-Sept.–Oct., Wed.–Sun. 9:30–2:30 and 3:30–6:30; mid-June–mid-Sept., Tues.–Sun. 9:30–2:30 and 3:30–7:30.

COMILLAS

49 km (30 miles) west of Santander.

This astounding pocket of Catalan Art Nouveau architecture in the green hills of Cantabria will make you rub your eyes in disbelief. The Marqués de Comillas, a Catalan named Antonio López y López (1817–83), whose daughter Isabel married Antoni Gaudí’s patron Eusebi Güell, was the wealthiest and most influential shipping magnate of his time and a fervent patron of the arts. He encouraged the great Moderniste architects to use his native village as a laboratory. Gaudí’s 1883–89 green-and-yellow-tile villa, El Capricho (a cousin of his Casa Vicens in Barcelona), is the town’s main Moderniste attraction. The town cemetery is filled with Art Nouveau markers and monuments, most notably an immense angel by eminent Catalan sculptor Josep Llimona.

Getting Here and Around

Comillas is 45 minutes from downtown Santander on the A67 and A8 motorways. From Gijón and Oviedo, the trip along the A8 takes just under two hours.

Essentials

Visitor Information 
Comillas. | Pl. Joaquín del Piélago 1 | 942/722591.

EXPLORING

Palacio Sobrellano.
Built in the late 19th century by Catalan architect Joan Martorell for the Marqués de Comillas, Palacio Sobrellano is an exuberant neo-Gothic mansion. It now holds surprising collections of sculpture and paintings as well as archaeological and ethnographical material. The chapel has benches and kneeling stalls that were designed by Gaudí. | Barrio el Parque | €3 | Nov.–Feb., Tues.–Sun. 9:30–3:30; Mar.–Oct., Tues.–Sun. 9:30–2:30 and 3:30–6:30 (until 7:30 mid-June–mid-Sept.).

SAN VICENTE DE LA BARQUERA

64 km (40 miles) west of Santander, 15 km (9 miles) west of Comillas.

This is one of the oldest and most beautiful maritime settlements in northern Spain; it was an important Roman port long before many other shipping centers (such as Santander) had gotten firmly established. The 28 arches of the ancient bridge Puente de la Maza, which spans the ría, welcome you to town.

Getting Here and Around

To get to San Vicente de la Barquera, take an ALSA bus from Santander or drive down the A67 before turning on to the A8.

Essentials

Visitor Information
San Vicente de la Barquera. | Av. del Generalísimo 20 | 942/710797.

EXPLORING

Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Our Lady of the Angels).
The Romanesque portals of this 15th-century church are extremely striking. | C. Alta 12.

Plaza Mayor.
Make sure you check out the arcaded porticoes here and the view over the town from the Unquera road (N634) just inland.

The Road to Santiago

Ninth-century sources have the apostle James preaching in northwest Iberia, not far from Fisterra. Herod beheaded him in AD 44 (Acts 12:2), and according to legend his remains were placed in a stone boat and guided by God to the Galician river Iria Flavia, near Padrón. As the boat arrived, a horse on the shore bolted into deep water only to emerge covered in scallop shells, along with its rider, which led to the scallop becoming the symbol of St. James. Much later, in 813, religious leaders unearthed a sarcophagus said to contain the remains of the apostle. “Santiago” comes from Sant Iago (St. James); “Compostela” probably comes from the Latin campus stellae (field of stars).

At the height of its fame in the 12th century, up to 2 million people made the trek to Santiago each year, nearly as many as went to Rome and Jerusalem. After the 12th century, pilgrim numbers began to decline gradually, due to the dangers of robbery along the route, a growing skepticism about the genuineness of St. James’s remains, and the popular rise of science in place of religion. It was only in 1993, when the Galician government launched the Xacobeo initiative to increase the number of visitors to the region, that the pilgrimage’s popularity experienced a massive resurgence. The number of yearly pilgrims is about 50,000, but in Holy Years—years when July 25, the feast of St. James, falls on a Sunday (the most recent was in 2010)—it doubles. The determined bunch is composed of spiritual seekers and nature lovers—scenery along the route is wild and stunning, ranging from untouched beech forests in the Pyrenees to wildflower-covered plains in central Spain and verdant forests and empty peaks in Galicia.

Although most medieval pilgrims were poor and infirm, today’s average hiker is an educated, middle-class, thirtysomething Western European. The main path is the camino francés (the French route), which enters Spain from France at Roncesvalles and hits Santiago 750 km (465 miles) later, a month’s walk.

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