Five Heritage Walks in Galicia, Spain
Do you enjoy an easy hike to a lighthouse? A walk around a fishing town? A stroll to a Celtic settlement? Galicia in Northwest Spain has plenty of heritage walks on offer. And they offer a variety of experience, from climbing high above uninhabited islands, to spotting grain houses and learning about fishing traditions. With the help of the Spanish tourist board I put one foot in front of the other and checked out five fabulous heritage walks on or near the coast of Galicia…
Lighthouse Walk on Islas de Cies
The walk: A walk to Portas Lighthouse on Lighthouse Island, (Isla do Medio) in the Islas de Cies; an archipelago off the coast of Pontevedra.
How long does it take? About three hours from the jetty near Playa de Rodas Beach to the lighthouse and back.
Suitable for: Any reasonably fit family member although you’ll need to carry any toddlers in backpacks. The route follows a waymarked footpath but there are some steepish hairpins and very little shade for the first part if the sun is hot. Also no toilet facilities apart from those at Playa de Rodas.
The highlights: This walk slowly winds up from the sea providing lip smacking views of the Cies island of San Martiño which was once the location for a salt factory. San Martiño can only be reached by private boat and even then you are only permitted to visit the beach so it’s a rare chance to see it. As you rise above these islands on sandy paths that have been burnished by the sun, the coastline looks smaller, and the people winding their way up the hairpin bends look more ant-like. And then you find yourself at the top, looking out onto the world. And you are feel like you are king of the hill. In fact you are not. The king is standing next to you; the huge lighthouse that stands firmly in the wind.
The islands are part of the Islas Atlanticas National Park, where even the undersea world is protected. Stay awhile and enjoy the views before a gentle walk back through pine and eucalyptus. You are heading for Playa de Rodas, a beach The Guardian called the best in the world. It has white sand that swallows your feet like a pale velvet carpet and the sea is so intensely crystal you feel nature has been out with the polish. You can stay a night if you book ahead and camp at the island’s campsite– there are 700 spots and they have some pre-erected tens you can rent. National Park rules mean you can only stay for a maximum of five nights on the island. Beside the beach there’s a restaurant with a wide terrace overlooking the jetty.
Watch out for: The seagulls in spring. There are 22,000 pairs of them and they can get a bit annoyed if they think you are a threat to their nests. But do enjoy watching the cormorants bathing on the rocks.
Lighthouse and grain store walk on Ons Island
The walk: Ons island from the settlement of O Curro to the lighthouse and back
How long does it take? Leave an hour to do it comfortably. Or take more time and wander other parts of the island. It’s so pretty you won’t want to rush it.
Suitable for: Any family member able to tackle a gently inclining footpath.
The highlights: In 2001 the European Union designated the Island of Ons a Special Protection Area for bird-life. If you’re not a bird lover then the star of this walk is the view across the bay. The architecture is interesting too and a product of the winter weather; the rear of the houses are built into the ground to protect them from storms. All you can see from one angle is the roof! As you walk you’ll pass various stone grain stores, which traditionally stored the household’s vegetables and corn. Our guide tells us there are 30,000 of them in 30,000 square kilometres of Galicia. They resemble large dolls houses; many are brightly painted and the oldest are protected by law.
The lighthouse is the end point of the walk. This tiled building covers a distance of 35 meridian miles; it is one of the largest and most powerful of Spain and it is located on the highest part of the island with lovely views. You can’t get in as it’s fenced off, but you can walk around the perimeter, which is strewn with wild flowers in summer, before you head back down to the main settlement and jetty. As you wander back to the village call in at the church of San Joaquin. There’s also a little visitor centre that can give you some of the history of the island.
Watch out for: The lighthouse keeper. Or keepers; apparently the building is looked after by two sets of twins. (Ons Lighthouse is one of the few left in Spain that isn’t electric.) The salamanders are curiosities too. Because of the storms on the island in winter they have evolved to carry their children like mammals rather than hatching from eggs. Apparently. We didn’t see one.
The fishing town of Muros
The walk: The town centre and the harbour of Muros
How long does it take? You can stroll the town in around an hour but you may want to leave extra time to visit the market, take a look at the boats in harbour or visit one of the little shops.
Suitable for: Any family member.
The highlights: Muros is a lovely little fishing town and out of season you might get it to yourself although numbers swell massively in summer. Enjoy a stroll around the narrow streets and admire the pretty galleries and old salt arches. The street names will amuse you- they are named after emotions. See how many of the family you can squash into the street of loneliness! The market is well worth a visit and the harbour is a hive of bright blue activity. Muros is big on mussel growing (It was once a huge and important port) and you can watch the boats get ready for mussel action, go out into the bay and watch the shell fishermen work or attend one of the evening auctions after the catch has come in.
Watch out for: Secret signs in the church. San Pedro de Muros, with its ‘fisherman’s gothic’ architecture, was funded by the local fisherman and if you look closely you can see secret fishy marks painted on the walls to claim ownership.
Baiona and its ramparts
The walk: Baiona and its fortress and coastal path
How long does it take? It depends what you want to do. If you would like to walk the ramparts, take a stroll along the coastal path and have a quick peek into replica of The Pinto, it’s probably half a day’s activity. If you are just doing the fortress walls then an hour should be fine.
Suitable for: Anyone.
The highlights: Baiona is the oldest port in Galicia and many people stop and have a look around on their way to the Cies Islands. It was also a jumping off point for Christopher Columbus fleet back in 1493 when The Pinta and two other ships arrived at the port on the way back home. If you have time then a replica of The Pinta is a small navigational museum with a collection of things that came from America; cotton, potato, corn etc.
The town has a very colourful history – in its time it was attacked by Vikings, Moors, English Pirates, Frances Drake, Napoleon and the Portuguese to name a few. It was protected by a Medieval castle fortress, the Fortaleza de Montreal, which still stands today and is a highlight of a visit to the town. If you can afford it then stay at the Parador de Baiona which is built into the grounds. Walk the walls at sunset or sunrise (I did both) or head off on the coastal path below -you don’t need to be a hotel guest to walk around the perimeter and get a birds eye view of the bay. The town is lovely too.
Watch out for: A sculpture below the fortress, – a monument between two worlds. Nine metres high with figures representing Galicia and America, arranged around a sphere symbolising the world.
Castro de Baroña Celtic settlement
The walk: From the car park near the C550 to Castro de Baroña Celtic settlement
How long does it take? Allow an hour if you’d like to look around the remains but it’s only a 10-15 minute walk from the car park to the best viewpoint of the roundhouses if you are pushed for time.
Suitable for: Anyone with reasonable mobility. Although be aware, the path is rocky and rough and slippery in wet weather.
The highlights: Castro de Baroña is one of over 600 settlements like this you can explore in Galicia. The 20 stone dwellings set on a slight hill above the spectacular Playa de Baroña beach would have provided shelter, a workplace and a community for a number of people in pre-Roman times. It’s fun to weave around the roundhouses, imagining the lives of the people that lived here going hunting and fishing with the crashing seas below. If you want information about the Castro you’ll find it in the visitors centre at Porto do Son. If you want refreshments there’s a little bar in the car park.
Watch out for: The house standing all on its own on the beach. How on earth did they get planning permission for that?
Getting to Galicia
Galicia is in North West Spain. If you fly from a UK airport you can touch down in Santiago de Compostela, Vigo or La Coruña in around two hours. From there it’s a short drive to the coast.
In summer there are regular passenger boats to the Cíes Islands from Vigo, Baiona and Cangas with reduced service at other points in the year. The boats from Baiona to Cies Islands take about forty minutes but it is important to book in advance as visitor numbers are restricted in the National Park. Further information at iatlanticas.es.
Disclosure Note: My Galician trip was supported by the Spanish Tourist Office and organised by Captivate Digital Media a part of the #InGalicia campaign. All the walking, photography, experience and views are my own. As were the blisters.