The Ría de Vigo ranks among the most sublime natural harbours in the world. Its narrowest point is spanned by a vast suspension bridge that carries the Vigo–Pontevedra highway; you’ll see its twin towers from all around the bay. On the inland side is what amounts to a saltwater lake, the inlet of San Simón. The road and railway from Pontevedra run beside it to Redondela, separated from the sea by just a thin strip of green fields, and pass close to the tiny San Martín islands, once a leper colony and used during the Civil War as an internment centre for Republicans. Beneath these waters lies a fleet of Spanish bullion galleons, sunk by a combined Anglo-Dutch force at the Battle of Rande in 1703.
The city of Vigo looks very appealing, spread along the waterfront, but although it makes a good base for trips along the south shore to Baiona, across the bay to Cangas, and, especially, out to the wonderful Illas Cíes, it has few attractions of its own.Read More
Few cities enjoy such a magnificent natural setting as VIGO. Arrayed along the sloping southern shoreline of its namesake estuary, it enjoys superb views not only of the bay itself, surrounded by green forest ridges, but also out towards the ocean. While it’s undeniably magnificent when seen from a ship entering the harbour, once ashore it fails to live up to that initial promise, and few visitors use it as anything more than an overnight stop.
Although Vigo is now the largest city in Galicia, home to some 300,000 people, Baiona, closer to the mouth of the ría, was the principal port hereabouts until the nineteenth century. Then the railways arrived, and Vigo became the first Galego town to industrialize, with the opening of several sardine canneries. It’s now Spain’s chief fishing port, with wharves and quays that stretch almost 5km along the shore.
Pride of place in the middle still belongs to the passenger port where generations of Galego emigrants have embarked for the Americas. These days, cruise passengers mingle with tourists arriving at the Estación Marítima de Ría off the Cangas ferry, and set off to explore the steep, cobbled streets that climb up into the old city, known as O Berbés and crammed with shops, bars and restaurants.
Along the seafront early in the morning, kiosks revive fishermen with strong coffee, while there and in the lively daily market hall nearby, the Mercado da Pedra, their catch is sold. Immediately below, on the aptly named Rúa da Pescadería, women set out plates of fresh oysters on permanent granite tables to tempt passers-by. On Rúa Carral, shops sell kitsch marine souvenirs.
The Illas Cíes
The Illas Cíes
The most irresistible sands of the Ría de Vigo adorn the three islands of the Illas Cíes, which can be reached by boat from Vigo, and (less regularly) from Baiona and Cangas. Sprawling across the entrance to the ría, battered by the open Atlantic on one side but sheltering delightful sandy beaches where they face the mainland, the islands were long used by raiders such as Sir Francis Drake as hide-outs from which to ambush Spanish shipping, but are now a nature reserve. The most southerly, Illa de San Martiño, is an off-limits bird sanctuary; the other two, Illa do Monte Ayudo and Illa do Faro, are joined by a narrow causeway of sand, which cradles a placid lagoon on its inland side.
Most visitors stay on the sands, with their sprinkling of bars and a campsite in the trees, so if you want to escape the crowds, it’s easy to find a deserted spot – particularly on the Atlantic side. From the beach, a long climb up a winding rocky path across desolate country leads to a lighthouse with a commanding ocean view. The islands’ campsite has a small shop and restaurant, but if you’re on a budget you’re better off taking your own supplies.
BAIONA (Bayona), 21km south of Vigo, is situated just before the open sea at the head of a miniature ría, the smallest and southernmost in Galicia. This small and colourful port, which nowadays makes a healthy living from its upscale tourist trade, was the first place in Europe to hear of the discovery of the New World. On March 1, 1493, Columbus’ Pinta made its triumphant return to Spain; the event is commemorated by numerous sculptures scattered around the town. An exact replica of the Pinta (daily 10am–8.30pm; €2) is moored in the harbour, which these days contains pleasure yachts rather than fishing boats.
The medieval walls that surround the wooded promontory adjoining Baiona enclose an idyllic parador (see Praia de América). It’s definitely worth paying the €1 fee to walk around the parapet, which provides a series of changing, unobstructed views across the ría to the chain of rocky islets that leads to the Illas Cíes. Another hugely enjoyable footpath circles beneath the walls at sea level, and provides access to several diminutive beaches. These are not visible from the town proper, which despite its fine esplanade has only a small, if attractive, patch of sand.