Galicia, the inimitable multicultural land, with its medieval history and Celtic festivals, its Roman past, ancient cathedrals and centuries-old monasteries, left rock-hard footprints on my heart. Old-world picturesque villages, where time seems to stand still, are situated on every turn and corner. Hundreds of archaeological relics and ruins, all tell a story of Galicia’s colorful and sometimes mysterious and dark history.
I was eager to set foot on Spanish soil for the first time and although I was understandably tired after almost 30 hours in transit, nothing perks up a tired body like a hot shower, a glass of this land’s magnificent wine and my first introduction to Galician cuisine.
Vigo, the largest city in Galicia, is situated in the province of Pontevedra in north-west Spain. Not only is Vigo known as ‘The city of the Olive tree’, the ‘City of Emotions’, or the ‘City of the Sea’ but frequently referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Atlantic’. This unique city was going to be my fortress for the next month and I was more than ready to explore every corner of it.
The olive tree, which symbolizes Vigo’s powerful and constant growth, together with a cathedral, and the ocean, feature on their Coat of Arms. The oldest olive tree in Vigo is located in Paseo de Alfonso Avenue opposite the beautiful A Fonte square. Olive trees were once the pride of Vigo, but during the 1400’s the nobles sided with Joanna la Beltraneja, daughter of Henry IV of Castile, during a civil war against Isabella, Henry’s half-sister. Isabella won the battle and all olive trees had to be cut down as a chastisement to those who supported Joanna. However, her troops were unable to touch the one olive tree that was planted in the church ground and consequently, it became the symbol of pride for the people of Vigo.
The city's exquisite character comes from a blend of nature and culture. Evergreen urban gardens and plus-minus 77ha of forests, endless beaches and islands with crystal clear waters and powdery white sand, enriched by culture preserved in museums and art galleries. A visitor has a choice of more than 5000 hotels, 800 restaurants, and lively tapas bars as well as many bustling shopping centers.
The oldest church in Vigo is situated at the Plaza de Pedra. The Santa Maria, a former collegiate, is a neo-classic piece of architecture which dates back to the Middle Ages and was designed by Melchor de Prado. Although it was damaged and almost destroyed throughout the years, it was rebuilt to its present grandeur in 1836. Plaza de Pedra is also home to A Pedra Market where you will find a variety of authentic Galician souvenirs (sometimes ‘made in China’), clothes, arts and crafts, an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and of course the ever so popular tapas bars.
The very famous Rua de Pescaderia or Fish Street is also situated in this historic neighborhood, home to the Ostreiras or women oyster sellers. A trade that has been part of Galicia for more than 60 years. According to tradition, it is expected of a first-comer to order a dozen of Vigo’s famous oysters and wash it down with a glass of Albariňo or DO Rias Baixas wine. Although I love oysters very much, I was more interested in having my first plate of the very popular Pulpo a la Galeca. (Galician octopus) and Pimientos Padron (green peppers).
Rūa dos Cesteiros or Artisans’ street as it is known was one of my favorite attractions in Vigo. Traditional crafts and art are on display, and meeting the renowned, Antonio Suárez Dávila, a master basket weaver was a highlight of my visit to old town Vigo. I learned from Antonio that he is the third member of a generation of basket weavers and has devoted his whole life to this craft.
Statues, some of which are very controversial, like Sireno, the half man, half fish, the Swimmer, together with numerous monuments and art galleries will be covered in future blogs. However, Dinoseto, Vigo’s green dinosaur sculpture at Central Square, looked a bit out of place to me, but it unmistakably provides a lot of entertainment to tourists and selfie -addicts. It must be a very tedious and time-consuming task to keep this dino-bush trimmed and in shape all year round.
One of the main tourist attractions in Vigo is, of course, the O Castro, a prehistoric Celtic village, home to the first settlers of Vigo, some 2,000 years ago. Situated on a hill, in the center of Vigo, it provides a panoramic view of this cosmopolitan city with its ancient history. Magnificent gardens, the remains of the walled city and the replicated Celtic houses on the slopes of the hills are truly a sight to behold. The fortress of the Castro was built in 1665 to protect the city from continuous attacks coming from the British navy allies of Portugal.
As the first day of adventure drew to an end, we started chasing a perfect sunset and head for the ever so popular and beautiful Albatros Terraza & Bar, located in the cruise terminal of the Port of Vigo. It has the most spectacular view overlooking the bay. With the soothing music of the ocean, waves intertwining, a breathtaking sunset, and a glass of Ribeiro, I, most certainly, ended the day with gratitude.
Late night wanderings in the crowded streets of O Calvario brings back fond memories. With its old-world charm, street musicians and pedestrian-friendly pathways, families, dogs, lovers, and loners, all find comfort after a hot summer's day.
July and August are fiesta (festival) time in Galicia! Gastronomic festivals, whether it be the humble farmers’ bread, the empanada, a slippery sardine or the aphrodisiac oyster, vinos (wines) and Port, or the ever so famous pink pulpo (octopus), every city and town celebrate food in one way or the other. Singing accompanied by Celtic bagpipers, flowers, and fireworks, traditional dress, and processions all form part of the festivities in Galicia. The majority of the festivals have a strong Roman influence, but medieval and Viking festivals are just as popular and it is expected of every citizen to take part and/or attend. Many of the festivals are in commemoration of one of the many saints.
Galicia is a rainy region but with its hot summers and mild winters Vigo has become a popular holiday destination not only for Galicians but Europeans discovered this hidden jewel too. The coastline is absolutely spectacular and a sun-and-surf paradise. Although the water of the Atlantic is cold it does not deter any holidaymaker or Vigues to make use of the sun and the powdery white sand.
Driving and parking your car in Vigo is an adventure on its own. Parking spaces are limited and streets are narrow. The locals have a saying that cars kiss each other, as most of the cars in Vigo has a dent caused by a “kiss-in-the-parking-lot.” I can honestly say that I would rather take my chances to walk with an African lion than drive and park in Vigo.
It was extremely hard for me to depart from Galicia and in particular Vigo, the city, perfect to live in and a must to visit. Galicia’s bucolic lifestyle and astounding character make one believe in a higher power.
Vigo, I salute you!!
|Aerial view of Vigo|
|Replicated Celtic house|
|Replicated Celtic houses|
|The Olive Tree|
|The Olive Tree|
|The famous Dinoseto|
|One of many beaches in Vigo|
|A room with a view|
|Vigo by night|
|Gardens at O Castro|
|Gardens at O Castro|
|A Galician witch|
|One of many street musicians|
|Sand art on the beach|
|View from Albatros Terraza & Bar|
|Pleasure boats in the harbour|