Where we went and what we ate 🙂
Now we’ve been back a couple of weeks, it’s interesting to consider what stood out on our trip as some of the memories fade.
What certainly stands out for me is the friendliness of the people. From helpful hotel owners offering advice to a customer in a tiny chiringuito in the middle of nowhere insisting we share his chorizo and bread as the kitchen was closed.
What else stands out? In Galicia, it was the lack of heaving crowds, most definitely. Near deserted beaches, with clear waters and the super-greenness of it all reaching all the way down to the beach. The abundance of albarino, one of my favourites, and Ribeiro de Duero, one of Simon’s at 2 Euros a glass. The seafood – from the local delicacy, pezebes, pink and black claws, like reptilian feet of a superhero bad guy, lobster, enormous langoustine, every mollusc and of course all the fish you could wish for. Rarely accompanied by anything resembling a vegetable, except for some chips, boiled potatoes or possibly a red onion, I must say I yearned for a little veg. Even a mixed salad meant lettuce, tomato and onion, with sweet corn or olives if I was very lucky. But, there was always a good supply of fruit at breakfast and for dessert and an abundance of proper tomatoes which more or less made up for it.
Sam’s stand out places were the Islands of Cies. We were staying in Pontevedra and took the boat from Vigo. If you Google it, you’ll find articles on it being the best beach in the world, and so we were a little cynical, I have to admit. Fortunately, the island absolutely lived up to expectations and more. Stunning beaches and the clearest waters, with a hinterland of eucalyptus tress to scent our way. There were two main bars / restaurants (more canteens really) and a couple of tiny tea rooms / cafes to service the visitors and small campsite. You can walk round the island, visiting various coves. None are crowded as they control the amount of people that can visit the island (so it’s a good idea to book early). We booked through direct ferries, which also sorted the permission to visit (every visitor has to provide passport details). You can book ferries through http://www.piratasdenabia.com/tour/barco-islas-cies/ And on the way back we saw dolphins. Amazing.
His standout restaurant was Bagos in Pontevedra https://www.vinotecabagos.com. This was recommended (as were most of the places) by Jorge who used to work at Papadeli. He is from Pontevedra and expertly guided us (via Whatsapp) around Galicia. Bagos is different to many of the more traditional restaurants we ate in. It’s all very white and minimal and specialises in natural wines. The food is definitely Spanish but with a twist of flavours and styles from other countries, particularly Asian. Highlights were a superb tuna stew, tempura prawns and little burgers in bao buns.
Tom was more general when asked what stood out – he loved Cudillero in Asturias and the chilled feel of this old fashioned fishing village, along with the friendly staff at the hotel there and all the food, of course!
We drove to Cudillero after arriving in Bilbao airport. We stayed in the friendly, small hotel Casona la Paca. It’s very traditional decor-wise and run by superbly helpful people. Breakfast consisted of a variety of homemade cakes (bizcocho), fruit, yoghurts, breads and eggs. There’s a lovely sitting room where we sat and played games and a garden where we had delicious (Galician) gin and tonic. We spent our three evenings there walking down to the village, all blues, greens and terracotta, full of locals (and some tourists) drinking the local cider, poured from a height by specially trained waiters. El Faro was particularly good for food – enormous portions of perfectly cooked tuna, arroz negro (rice with squid ink), fideos (short, narrow noodles) with seafood all finished off with crema al limon. Restaurante Opera had good food (and a plate of grilled courgettes, aubergines, peppers and mushrooms – so I got my fix of veg!) and an intimidating waiter who reprimanded us for asking for chips “we are not that sort of restaurant”. He did come round eventually and show a more humorous side, but not before other diners left offended.
During the day we visited Playa del Silencio and Playa de Oliveiro. Both wonderfully peaceful beaches with the clearest waters, the former with a tiny snack bar at the top. Beaches like this are hard to find anywhere in August. We found all the Galician beaches to be pretty quiet, which is possibly due to the more “British” weather there, in contrast to the rest of Spain.
We drove on to a place called Feas, which no-one, including our Whatsapp guide, Jorge, had heard of. Not even big enough to feature on many maps, we managed to find it and the truly lovely Hotel a Miranda.
A very different style of hotel – extremely stylish, run by Marisa, a local woman who has superb taste (and again is very friendly and helpful). The rooms are small but have all that you need, and ours had balconies looking down over the estuary. While we were there the weather was cooler, but the day after we left, temperatures reached 36 degrees, so not sure how comfortable they would be in the heat. The downstairs, communal area, is all glass and contemporary furniture and the perfect place to sit and read. There are only 7 rooms here, so it’s all very low key and relaxed. Breakfast is delicious with a local Gallego sugar topped sweet bread, Rosco, barra Gallega bread slices, pulped tomato, jams, freshly squeezed juices or a cooked breakfast.
From here, we drove up the peninsula to the lighthouse where the view of rocks into the sea and pinky sunset was breathtaking. On the way back we stopped in chirinquito San Xiao which is on the side of the road. The menu is very simple – they’ll make you a whole tortilla, a plate of tomatoes, deep fried squid, a cheese or charcuterie plate and padron peppers. Used to the padron peppers we eat at home, where it’s unlikely you’ll get a hot one, we got stuck in and were speechless for some time on realising it was unlikely we’d get a non spicy one! Amazing value for money and full of locals stopping by for a beer and a snack, this is one of those places that feels genuinely untouched by tourism ( and also where the very kind customer insisted on sharing his bread and chorizo).
We took a trip on a yacht around the peninsula – Alvaro, the skipper was, I think Marisa, our hotel owner’s friend, and didn’t seem to be too concerned about life jackets or whether we could swim or not. He had been to Torquay and loved how “happy the English are in their pubs” in comparison to how “we are in our bars”. Wonderful how the grass is always greener! He recommended Praia de forno, a local beach, which we absolutely loved.
We also visited Cedeira, an absolutely charming town with its own, deserted beach, as well as Morouzo, a beautiful, seemingly endless white sandy beach with its own pine forest and snack van, frequented by locals stopping by for a coffee or beer. Playa del Pantin is a world renowned surfing beach (apparently) where we came across lots of cool surfer types from all over. Again, not too crowded, despite its reputation. The little cafe here serves a gorgeous glass of albarino (I had Martin Codax) for 2 Euros as well as excellent looking sandwiches (we didn’t eat, just salivated at the food on the next table).
We did visit Praia as Catedrals, which according to many tourist blogs is a must for its incredible rock arches. We weren’t keen as it was absolutely heaving and we were told off (and pushed to one side) by an extremely officious official who gave us a leaflet on the rules and details of how we must register with the council and provide passport numbers to access the beach. We did this and queued up again. The beach was so busy we couldn’t walk around comfortably and the tide was high so we couldn’t see the arches. No doubt others have had a better experience!
Sometimes a chance visit to an unplanned restaurant is where you find the best food – and we certainly came across a brilliant place at Praia de Areas. The weather was misty and grey, so we headed straight for a restaurant near the beach, Louzao. We were shown into the back room, which reminded me of childhood birthday parties at the Caprice in Aberystwyth – fancy wallpaper, a dado rail (remember those?), formal fabric covered chairs and waiters in black suits, all over the age of retirement. The seafood was out of this world (locals were ordering enormous platters that kept coming of pezebes, every mussel, whelk, clam type creature you can imagine, lobster, langoustine etc). We had the best langoustine, octopus, calamares – and steak – which was also superb. The waiters were so helpful and smiley. We loved it there.
We visited so many places and ate so much, it’s really hard to pick the best and listing it all must be getting a little dull for you. I’ll fast forward to Pontevedra, a picturesque old town with enough eateries for a town ten times the size. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was Simon’s standout place. I’ve mentioned Bagos, Sam’s favourite and Simon’s favourite was Restaurant Roman. Again, pretty old fashioned with its textured wallpapers and formal waiters, the service was brilliant and the food absolutely delicious. We went for their set menu, which consisted of scallops, empanada de mariscos (empanada is a Galician speciality), perfectly grilled John Dory all finished off with little pastry tubes of lemony custard, coffee and a bottle of … yes you guessed it, albarino.
We did visit Santiago de Compostela and yes it is a beautiful town with a breathtaking cathedral – but it’s absolutely packed full of walkers (you see them all over Galicia following the pilgrim signs). The queue into the cathedral wound its way all around the very large square. We visited the market instead and found something to eat. We visited on a Monday, which is not the best day as many of the museums and galleries are closed. It was also raining, so we scuttled back to Pontevedra, to our Parador haven.
Our super helpful WhatsApp guide Jorge, was actually in Pontevedra when we were there, so he took us to the atmospheric little square, Plaza de Lena and we had supper in one of my favourite restaurants, Loaira Xantar. The tuna tartare was exceptional as were the ribs, tempura prawns and a gorgeous salad of goat’s cheese with nuts and dried fruit.
I nearly forgot to mention the breakfasts in Pontevedra, and they are worth mentioning. We ate at a number of panaderia / pastelerias, thinking we’d have a coffee and choose a lovely cake. We did this in the first, only to be given a plate of cakes and churros in addition to our chosen cakes, as well as a ‘chupito’ shot of (non alcoholic) juice. We quickly learnt that we needn’t order our own cakes as all the cafes gave out a plate of cakes free. Jorge told us this is normal and that many people will go out for breakfast every day of the week. Don’t blame them!
The town art gallery is a must in Pontevedra – it feels like one for a much bigger town or city and the building itself is very impressive. We were mostly on our own in there, which was an amazing opportunity to really take our time and take it all in.
We always visit art galleries and museums when we can and ones that really stand out are the one at Pontevedra, the town art gallery / museum in Oviedo (did I mention we went there? It’s a lovely town ) and for me, one of my all time favourites was Serralves in Porto
I would gladly go back many times – from the architectural design of the galleries, the brilliantly varied art to the sculpture gardens and pink art deco mansion. Superb!
Finally we left our hire car in Vigo and took the 2 hour bus journey (8 euros each) to Porto. From the cooler, calmer climes of Galicia (low/mid twenties and sometimes misty) we hit 40 degrees and what felt like millions of tourists. This city is absolutely beautiful with its colourful houses, terracotta roofs, river banks of cafes and port distilleries, elegant churches etc etc but it’s SO busy in August! The main tourist areas were heaving. We visited my beloved Serralves gallery, which was pretty much deserted and took a tourist bus to the nearby beaches where we ate at tiny cafe O Pepino with an outside BBQ serving a huge variety of fish and seafood. They spoke no English and our Portuguese is non existent but with humour and pointing we had a fabulous meal. The waiters found it highly entertaining to make Simon drink a glass of something out of an unlabelled plastic bottle. He was quiet for a few moments immediately after and then enthused about this eau de vie type shot.
A little further along the coast, we had lunch at Cafe Oporto which was certainly more upmarket, but still friendly service and perhaps the best meal I’d had – a selection of the most delicious wild mushrooms to start followed by perfectly cooked sea bass. We swam in the sea just outside the restaurant, so I have particularly happy memories here. Oh, and another place we loved in Porto was Puro 4050 http://www.puro4050.com – a super cool restaurant and mozzarella bar which made pizzas with a wafer thin base and offered all types of mozzarella. We would have revisited if there hadn’t been so many other places to try! If we’d had more time, we would also have eaten in Matosinhos, an area just outside the city, near the beaches, where there rows of incredible seafood barbecues. We went past on our open top bus and desperately wanted to jump out!
We all loved our road trip and would certainly go back, particularly to explore more of the beaches of Galicia and some of the towns and cities we missed. It’s very easy to get there (fly to Bilbao or Porto) and to get around. Perfect if you like peace and quiet, beautiful natural scenery and good seafood and wine.