Few Americans travel to Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic Coast, the northwest corner. However, it is a popular destination for sommeliers, wine experts, and others. The area is known for its green hills, top-notch wineries and the distinct Gallego culture. Galicia has five different denominaciones of origin, each with its own microclimate and soil type. These range from the sandy soils along the coast of Rias Baixas up to the steeply terraced vineyards in the inland Ribeira sacra. Godello, Mencia and lesser-known Treixadura, Espadeiro and Treixadura grapes are vinified to produce remarkable wines with minerality, complexity and diversity that may remind you those in Portugal. The Caminos are a popular pilgrimage route for tourists and pilgrims, but Spaniards know that the Albarino is worth the trip to Galicia.
The local food is just as popular as wine in this area, particularly seafood. Galicia’s protected estuaries (rias) offer shelter to a variety of mollusks, crustaceans and finfish from the icy waters of the Atlantic. The Mercado de Abastos (Market of Abastos) in Santiago is a great place to find live crabs and octopus. You can also see clams as well as finfish.
Galicia is awash with water, which powers flour mills and irrigates grapevines. It also greens hillsides and waters cattle. Locals and pilgrims enjoy the natural thermal springs in Ourense, along the Minho River. Balneario visitors can spend a few hours in the indoor and outdoors pools, saunas and the Palacio de Agua spa. The spa was renovated in spring 2020. The Celtic Circuit is a five-step progression of therapeutic baths with different temperatures. Both treatments are a great way to relax before you go on a walk through the nearby villages or woods, or visit a winery in Pontevedra.
Galicia shares more similarities with Portugal than any other part of Spain. They share a border, a coastline and a language that is a mixture of both. It retains its Celtic roots from its past as a settlement in the 5th and 6th centuries BC. This is why you might hear gaitas (the Gallego Bagpipe) played at a local bar or village street corner. These are some ideas for your trip.
How to Get There
Take the high-speed Renfe trains with up to three daily direct departures. It takes about four hours to travel at speeds of up to 150 mph. Porto is also within driving distance.
What To Do When You Are Looking For A Place To Stay
Casa Beatnik was opened in May of 2022. It is a stylish and bohemian hotel located just 20 minutes south of Santiago de Compostela. Dani Alonso is the owner of Bonhomme Hospitality in Chicago, which has Mediterranean restaurants such as Beatnik, Porto. Alonso’s parents, who are Gallegos natives, purchased the pazo which is located in an Alabarino working vineyard. The bright pink hotel will feature some of Alonso’s signature design elements, which he claims are inspired by Morocco France and Italy. These include handmade Beni shag Moroccan rugs and Murano crystal chandeliers.
You can also enjoy a drink on the patio (which has a retractable roof), relax by the saltwater pool with red tiles, walk under the trellised arches, or check out Krygys yurts. Then, compare the latest vintages of wine from the vineyard after a yoga or spa session. Two restaurants are located on the lavish property. Beatnik’s loungey indoor/outdoor atmosphere and global cuisine features fresh seafood, aguachiles, and ceviches, or Moroccan-style pastry stuffed with spiced and braised poultry. Tribu is a six-table fine-dining restaurant that offers a tasting of local proteins, including hyper-fresh products from Santi Peman’s farm Finca de los Cuervos.
What To Buy
You can find postcard views in the coastal fishing villages of the west, with marisquerias or pulperias serving local shellfish, and octopus. Bring an extra bag to pick up some seafood souvenirs. The world’s finest conservas are canned in this region. Visit the Los Peperetes factory in O Carril and learn about canning tradition. Then, pick up some tinned goodies.
Sargadelos produces porcelain tableware in Galicia, since 1806. This famous shop is a great place to find pieces with striking geometric patterns. Many are in the signature blue color.
Since more than 100 year, workers at O Muino De Cuina mill grain continuously. The water-powered stonemill allows you to watch the milling process and buy local wheat, rye or spelt flour. Schedule extra time to explore the grounds where locals stroll their dogs up the hillside.
Where To Eat and Drink
In a whitewashed house with a sunny waterfront patio, O Loxe Mareiro offers a local tasting menu in its open kitchen, featuring the best of the estuary at their front door. A parade of raw seafood (cockles, razor clams, almejas, zamburinas, which are the local scallops) starts you off, then small plates of anchovies, sardines, octopus, and finfish join in.
Pepe Vieira just earned its second Michelin star in November 2022. But don’t worry that the experience will be formal or stuffy; in Galicia, the servers wear sneakers and so can you. Chef Xose Cannas and team gives their all, from rias views to sparkling hyper-local seafood served with an avant garde sense of humor — your sashimi may be presented on a roasted fish head, while your salad is served with a rubber spatula to scrape up the vinaigrette and your cheese course is just pretending to be cheese. Make a day of the stunning drive to get here; experience the exquisite lunch tasting menu, leave time to admire the kitchen garden and the contemporary architecture.
At O Balado, Marta Fernandez and Roberto Filgueira open their farmhouse and cozy hearth (wave to the sheep, donkeys and chickens that live on the grounds on your way in) to serve traditional Galician cuisine like rustic bread with house butter, crab croquetas, and simply roasted meats in an exquisite, comfortable setting.
Laguina lieux-dit, a wine bar in a stone house tucked into a vineyard-studded hill, offers comforting specialties like chistorras (a Basque sausage), pulpo, and roast lamb, plus local cheeses, and sparklingly fresh fish pulled from the nearby sea. The food is matched to a wine list befitting its co-owner, Eduardo Camina Ucha, a former head sommelier at Mugaritz.
What To Drink Before You Go
Looking to try a taste of Galicia at home? Wine production in Galicia focuses on native grapes, both white and red, from old vines and tiny vineyards and microclimates, in a variety of soils from granite to sand. “The appellation of Ribeiro showcases a variety of white grape varietals including the mainstay Treixadura, along with Torrontes, Godello, Albarino, Loureiro, Lado and Caino Blanco,” says Craig Perman, owner of the wine shop Perman Wine Selections and the wine bar Le Midi in Chicago and a frequent visitor. “Grapes have been grown here since the Middle Ages.” He suggests two wines to start your Galician education.
2020 Do Ferreiro Albarino
“Over 175 different vineyard plots are used to produce this bottle,” Perman says. “The vineyards are farmed sustainably and there is no trickery in the winery, with natural yeasts to start fermentation and several months of aging on its lees. The aromas and flavors are incredibly evocative of the Atlantic Ocean, and there is no better pairing with the freshest of shellfish, oysters, hake, or goose barnacles. [This is] one of my all-time favorite wines from anywhere, and the Mendez family also happen to be some of the nicest people you will ever meet.”
2019 Vina Mein “O Gran Mein” Ribeiro Blanco
“There are times when you visit a vineyard that you are overwhelmed by a sense of history,” Perman notes. “Such is the case with Vina Mein, whose beautifully terraced vineyards are located close to the Cistercian monastery of San Clodio.” Winemaker Laura Montero Rodil produces this deeply mineral blend, “with a mixture of stone fruit and citrus, and a texture that offers some mid-palate weight, but also an underlying freshness and elegance.”