There are so many regions of Spain that fly under the radar of tourists due to location, weather or lack of publicity. Galicia is one of these regions.
Galicia is tucked in the far northwest of Spain above Portugal. It is a wild, rugged, green country which still relies heavily on the fishing and agricultural sectors. The landscape is dotted with small villages in the midst of long green valleys, rolling rocky hills, oak and chestnut forests. Galicia has mountains, but smaller and more weather beaten than the towering Picos de Europa in Asturias or the Pyrenees farther east.
There are so many fantastic hidden gems to visit in Galicia it is impossible to cover them all. I will briefly touch on a couple of the highlights of a recent trip I took with some friends to the interior of Galicia (the coast needs a few entire articles all to itself).
One thing that struck me during this trip is that if you are looking for a vacation on the budget side of things then Galicia will fit the bill. Both the restaurants and hotels/bed and breakfasts that I came across were excellent quality for the price. More on that in a moment… 1st I will talk about what to see in the interior of Galicia.
Take a boat tour along the River Sil gorge
From the Balcones de Madrid, a lookout situated on the outskirts of the the town of Parada de Sil, you get a spectacular view of the Sil River canyon. If you want to experience a different view of the gorge—more of an up-close and personal type—you might want to opt for a Catamaran river tour. The tours are between 45 minutes to one hour and take you through the narrowest part of the gorge while explaining the native vegetation and point out the vineyards that are perched precariously on the steep sides of the river banks. These tours are available all year except in December.
Speaking of vineyards, the Ribeira Sacra is a major wine area that has been producing wine for over 2000 years. The Romans called the legendary “Amandi” wine the gold of the River Sil.
The conditions in the Ribeira Sacra are called “heroic viticulture,” a term that refers to the difficulty that producers have when cultivating their grapes on the precarious slopes. Caring for and cultivating the grapes is done almost entirely by hand without the help of any kind of machinery as the slopes are so steep.
O Castro de Caldelas
This town is hidden away deep in the interior of the Galician mountains about 1 hour from Ourense. Don’t let that stop you exploring it. The drive takes you through some gorgeous scenery of oak and chestnut forests, vineyards on the terraced hillsides as well as through numerous little villages that will tempt you to stop and look around.
O Castro isn’t that large and can easily be walked through in a few hours if you stop at every nook and cranny or much less if you simply stroll through. There are a couple of old churches, one right on the cliff with the graveyard overlooking the valley below.
But the highlight of the town is the castle which you will see as you are driving in. You can tour it for 2€. All of the information displayed within the castle is written in Spanish, however, the displays are well put together so that even without understanding the full explanation you can get a lot out of the museum area. The view from the walls of the castle is more than worth the 2€ entrance fee even if you can’t understand the written explanations inside. You will see the vast lush green Galician valley spread below. Very rarely is the word breathtaking used in its proper context, but on the wall of this castle overlooking the stunning beauty below this word quickly comes to mind.
This is technically in Leon, not Galicia—but as it is literally 1km from Galicia—I will include it. This is a spectacular combination of history and nature.
Normally when we talk about the legacy of the Romans in Spain we talk about the aqueducts, bridges or churches. In this case it is none of these things—rather it was the largest open air mine in the Roman empire which was full of gold.
What is left is reddish mountains which were excavated and moved by the Romans to form what we see today. To fully appreciate this landscape the best way is to walk from the town of the same name, Las Medulas, and follow one of the numerous routes to a lookout.
Where to eat in Galicia
Ever since I have moved to Spain I have been hearing about how in Galicia restaurants serve huge quantities of food for very reasonable prices.
This month I experienced first hand that the legend of Galician restaurants is true.
Pazo San Lorenzo
The term Pazo in Galicia is a manor house which has been converted into a boutique hotel with a restaurant. This is a similar concept to a bed and breakfast, but a Pazo will often have a restaurant open to the public as well. This is the case of Pazo San Lorenzo.
We made reservations in advance as we were with a group of 22. The restaurant was rustic, with stone walls, and basic decoration which included a cozy fireplace which was very welcome on this chilly December afternoon.
I should make a note here that the interior of Galacia is not the best place for vegetarians. With the exception of one of the soups, all the dishes were almost exclusively meat based with vegetables taking a very 2nd or almost non-existent spot at the table.
The portions were very ample. First they offered traditional Galician stews/soups which were followed by a choice of lamb, steak or pork chops.
We all left feeling it was impossible to eat any more.
The price was 11.50€ per person for 2 main dishes, dessert, coffee, bread and wine.
As a side note, this Pazo also has 8 very large bedrooms each with 2 queen beds. They are only 34€/night. I was blown away to learn that our entire family could stay for the price of 34€ in a place that is much nicer than many hotels we have stayed in!
Unlike the other two places on my list, this one we went without a recommendation. We were visiting Las Medulas and needed a place to eat after our hike and this was a place that could accommodate 22 people on short notice.
We were therefore pleased to discover that the food was also very good here—not quite up to the same standard as the Pazo the day before, but still very good. They served a traditional Galician soup that I actually liked better than the previous restaurant, but the meat dishes weren’t up to the same standard. There was a beef stew (excellent) a pork or beef steak that were good but not out-of-this-world.
The price at this place for 2 main dishes, dessert, coffee, bread and wine was 11,50€.
Hostal Chandrexa de Gerardo
Hostal Chandrexa de Gerardo wasn’t as cozy, or as well decorated as the other places, however, when people talk about how restaurants serve food in Galicia they are talking about places like Gerardo’s.
From the moment our group stepped foot in the door Gerardo (the owner) was bringing food or drink or making sure we were comfortable. We didn’t order anything; he just kept bringing food. First he brought 3 different tureen of stews that are from the region, (fabada, callo and caldo) each very hardy and filling. These were plunked on the table and we helped ourselves to the portions and filled up as many times as we wanted and could taste some of each if we wanted to.
Appetizers of octopus also appeared on the table. I am very picky about octopus and rarely am impressed—but I have never had such tasty, tender fantastic octopus as I ate at Gerardo’s restaurant.
Once everyone had the soups/stews he cleared off the tureens and started bringing steaming plates of meat dishes. (remember I said Galicia isn’t the place for vegetarians?) There were spare ribs, steak, roasted ham, lamb, a pigs head (which I admit I didn’t try although apparently the cheeks are a delicacy but I will leave that for a day that I don’t have so many other choices). Each plate was heaping and again everyone was simply helped themselves and on the extremely rare occasion that we finished what was on a plate he brought more.
Geraraldo told me that he is considering retiring soon and as neither of his children have any desire to take over the business you would do well to hurry and take advantage of this gem of a place before it closes for good.
Geraraldo has neither a web page nor Facebook nor any other type of social media. You can make reservations by phone only.
Telephone: 988 33 40 19
Or simply drive to the town of Chandrexa de Queixa, you will see the restaurant on the main street on the road heading through town.
This post is simply scratching the surface when it comes to things to do or places to eat in the Ourense provence of Galicia. This is a beautiful undiscovered area. I would recommend taking advantage of this hidden gem before tourists start to discover its real value and it becomes overpriced and exploited.
I do have a few affiliates in this post, which add no extra cost to you if you happen to follow any of the links and buy anything.
Have you ever been to Galicia? What are some of the areas that you have enjoyed the most? Do you have a favourite restaurant you would like to mention in the comments below?