Tourism on a significant scale starts to make its presence felt in the next ría south, the RÍA de Arousa. The most popular destination is the old port of O Grove – linked by bridge to the island of A Toxa, which holds a very upscale enclave of luxury hotels – while much the nicest of the old towns hereabouts is Cambados, renowned for its beautiful central plaza. Sadly, both are bypassed by the rail line south from Santiago to Pontevedra and Vigo.
While strip development mars much of the coast, the hillsides just inland are a patchwork of tiny fields, primarily planted with the grapes that go into the delicious local Albariño wine. Gourmets will want to sample authentic pimientos in the village of Padrón.Read More
According to legend, St James completed his miraculous posthumous voyage to Galicia by sailing up the Ría de Arousa as far as PADRÓN. Accumulated silt from the Río Ulla having left it stranded 12km inland, Padrón is no longer even on the sea, and the old town now consists of a handful of narrow pedestrian lanes squeezed between two busy roads. There’s surprisingly little to show for the years of pilgrimage, except an imposing seventeenth-century church of Santiago, where the padrón (mooring post) to which the vessel was tied supposedly resides under the high altar.
Padrón is best known as the source of the small green peppers known as pimientos de Padrón. Available in summer only, they’re served whole, shallow-fried in oil and liberally sprinkled with sea salt. Most are sweet, but around one in ten is memorably hot.
By contrast with most of its neighbours, the village of CAMBADOS, 5km south of the Illa de Arousa bridge, is exquisite. Only its historic core, however, set a couple of hundred metres back from the waterfront and easily missed altogether if you’re driving along the coast road, deserves such praise. The paved stone Praza de Fefiñáns here is an idyllic little spot, overlooked by a seventeenth-century church and lined on all sides with beautiful buildings, several of which hold wine shops and bodegas. As the vines crammed into its every spare square centimetre testify, Cambados is the main production centre for Galicia’s excellent Albariño wine.
The seafront itself is unremarkable, though a small island at its southern end holds the vestiges of a watchtower originally erected to look out for Viking raiders, while the vast seaweed-strewn flats exposed at each low tide play host to legions of redoubtable freelance clam- and cockle-pickers known as mariscadoras.
The wines of Galicia
The wines of Galicia
Thanks largely to the international success of its crisp, dry Albariño, which has become the best known of all Spanish white wines, Galicia is now recognized as a premium wine-producing region. The Romans first introduced vines two thousand years ago, growing them on high terraces sculpted by slaves into the banks of rivers like the Miño and Sil. With its mild climate and high rainfall, Galicia is more akin to Portugal than to the rest of Spain – Galego wines, and especially Ribeiro, were much exported to Britain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before declining relations between Britain and Spain led the Portuguese to develop their own wineries, which produce similar wines to this day.
Technically, “Albariño” is the name of a grape variety, introduced to Galicia by monks who followed the Camino de Santiago all the way from the Rhine during the twelfth century – it translates literally as “white wine from the Rhine”. Albariño cultivation centres around the Rías Baixas (wdoriasbaixas.com), where around five thousand farmers grow grapes on tiny, scattered plots, often banding together and forming co-operatives to bottle and market their wine. The largest co-operative winery, Condes de Albarei, on the main road 2km south of Cambados, is open for guided tours and visits (t986 543 535, wcondesdealbarei.com).
The best-selling wine in Galicia itself is Ribeiro, produced in the region around Ribadavia on the Río Miño. It comes in both white and red, from such grape varieties as Treixadura, Torrontés and Loureira. The recent success of Albariño having spurred greater quality control, white Ribeiro has lost its previous trademark cloudiness, and is seen as the closest Spanish approximation to the dry Muscadet of France. Ribadavia’s tourist office (wribadavia.net) organizes guided tours, and can also provide maps and listings for free, self-guided winery visits.
Only the Ribeira Sacra region, concentrated along the stunning canyon of the Río Sil, produces more red than white wine. That it’s not better known is largely because two thirds of it never reaches the market but is drunk by the producers themselves. There are no large wineries or even co-operatives, but the three thousand or so farmers who create it have instigated a tourist route through the region and its vineyards (wribeirasacrata.com).