Galicia is not Spain as most people know it. Many Galicians would argue they are not Spanish at all. They are Galician and, to prove it, have a different language, climate and landscape to the rest of the arid Iberian Peninsula.
Galicia is Spain’s Celtic corner, bravely jutting out into the Altantic, it’s granite mass taking on the full force of the ocean swell.
Like it’s Celtic cousins further north, it is verdantly green and verdantly beautiful.
It’s dramatic rocky coastline is fringed with forests of pine and eucalyptus, growing up the impressive hills which fall down to the sea.
The jagged headlands give way to small coves and bays offering up beautiful white sand beaches, tickled by perfect turquoise waters.
It is a coastline of wide tidal estuaries, ‘Rías’, each with its own unique character, that offer a perfect cruising ground and wide array of idyllic anchorages and well equipped marinas protected from the open sea.
We started in Bayona, which sits on the southern edge of the bigger Ría Vigo. It’s atmospheric medieval centre has been hewn from the granite hillside against which it nestles, giving the narrow streets and thick stone buildings a feeling of paleozoic timelessness, as though they grew out of the very rocks themselves and will still be standing in another few million years.
Its old town came alive a night as the crowds from its many restaurants and tapas bars spilled out onto the streets. We saw it during the ‘quiet’ season which suggests it may be impassable in the height of summer.
Bayona, despite its obvious appeal as a tourist destination, has largely managed to escape the ravages of high rise development that has crucified other sections of the Spanish coastline – although at some point a planning official with the aesthetic awareness of a slug allowed a monstrous set of khaki bunkers to be built upon the hillside above the town.
It’s piece de resistance is the castle. A huge fortress built upon a rocky peninsula that juts out from the town covering 18 hectares. It is ringed by three kilometres of giant defensive walls, built between the 11th and 17th centuries. The historic buildings and gardens within have now been primped and preened to create a hotel, conference centre and restaurant.
A walk around the bottom or top of the walls offers dramatic views back over Bayona and further afield towards the Ría Vigo and Islas Atlanticas.
After two nights enjoying the luxury of a marina, proper showers and electricity, we headed north to the southernmost of the Islas Atlanticas.
The wind had finally listened to our pleadings and we enjoyed a glorious sail to drop anchor four hours later in the picture-perfect bay of Playa de Rodas in the Islas Cíes, a protected national park and wildlife sanctuary which requires a special license to visit by boat. It is made up of two islands joined by a narrow sandy isthmus.
Watching the sun set over the empty white sand beach beside us was the stuff sailing dreams are made of.
Some excitement was provided that evening by a visit from the Guardia Civil in their threatening looking patrol boat. Two officers buzzed across in a rib just after we had cracked open the beers, to ask first to see our permit for anchoring on the island, then to see our boat papers, then our passports. They spent about 20 minutes going through each document in minute detail, writing down a biblical number of notes – no doubt to be filed in an archive somewhere never to be looked at again. Then handing them back with a friendly smile told us in Spanish: “You have a beautiful boat! Perfect for drinking and enjoying all this!” And off they buzzed.
The following morning we awoke early as the only boat in the bay and landed the dingy on the sunny shore for a walk to the lighthouses at either end of the conjoined islands. Ferries bring visitors from the mainland throughout the day to enjoy the amazing scenery, wildlife and hiking on offer, but we guessed correctly that no-one would arrive until after 10am. This gave us a magical two hours in which the islands were ours and ours alone. We walked in the rising morning heat up wooded slopes, breathing the sweet scent of pine and eucalyptus, then out onto more exposed banks adorned with mimosa and flurries of pink and white wild flowers, listening to the chatting of the yellow leg gulls which call the islands home.
First to the high Illa do Montefaro with its spectacular views of another island neighbour, Illa de San Martiño, and its own rocky exposed western coast. We then headed back across the narrow isthmus to the Illa de Monteagudo, to enjoy its gentler woodland scenery. It was a privilege to soak up the islands’ dramatic beauty through those untouched morning hours.
After ten miles of rambling our way ten miles across both Montefaro and Monteagudo, north to south, we returned to the boat hungry and happy and full of love for Galicia and its natural wonders.