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Our initial plan was to spend 1 week hiking the Camino de Santiago. But after a week in the Moroccan heat, the plans needed to change immediately.
A week long road trip in Galicia, the north western corner of Spain was sounding a whole lot more appealing. And since nothing had been booked or properly planned it was a breeze to switch gears and plan a different trip.
It wasn’t just the two of us on this one either. One of my closest friends Susan was joining us. And luckily for us she happened to know how to drive a stick shift (aka saving us hundreds on a rental car). According to JustFly if you’re planning on renting a car in Europe I highly recommend learning how to drive a manual, in order to save quite a few pennies on the rental.
In our tiny little car we were off.
Day 1: Ponferada, Lugo, Santiago
With a late start (why is there always a huge line at the rental car counter), we were off, and hungry right off the bat. We stopped at a gas station for a snack, and if you’ve been to Spain you know the gas stations frequently have a full bar, with draft beer, espresso machines and a full menu of sandwiches.
I knew what to recommend – pan con tomate – fresh baguette bread with freshly grated tomatoes and rich hearty olive oil. At least that’s what we were expecting. Instead, we received bread with a ketchup style packet of “tomato natural” Cue sad face. Not what I was going for.
Don’t worry I told Susan (to whom I had been raving about Spanish food) lunch is coming up in the next town.
Or maybe not. We happened to get to Ponferada just as the siesta had set in. Almost every single restaurant was closed from 4-9pm.
Oops. A sad first road trip lunch it would be. Sad and overpriced. And not entirely fresh.
The town itself was a beauty. Medieval walls, churches, castles.
We were short on time so had to head to Lugo, where we had just about an hour to run a quick loop around the city. Another beauty.
On to Santiago, where we were meeting our Airbnb host to let us into our apartment (a 2 bedroom that we rented for $38USD for the night)! Naturally we were late, but he was patiently awaiting out arrival, showed us around the apartment and even offered to drive around town with us helping us find a parking spot. How kind. If only he knew we were also going to kidnap him to help us find a gas station as we were well past the blinking E empty gas light mark.
Luckily for us the man was full of patience and happily went on the gas and parking hunt with us for a solid 30 minutes.
And because we hadn’t already had a full day we needed to immediately head out for a redeeming dinner (filled with octopus, fish, tapas etc) followed by a solid Spanish night of drinking and partying. The highlight must have been when a surly Galician (and only Spanish speaking) bartender suddenly warmed up to us, showed us to his other bar where he proceed to treat us to drinks and Spanish chats (while never creepily hitting on us) and my friend refused to believe that I could not translate and communicate to him in Spanish that this guy “was the man.”
And so we stumbled (and I mean stumbled) back to the apartment the following morning at 7am.
There is no doubt in my mind when I popped up at 11am, four hours later I was very clearly still drunk.
And ready for day two.
Day 2: Santiago, Finisterre
A full day of sightseeing needed to be started with a solid menu of the day lunch. This is a steal in Spain, where you can get an appetizer, entree and drink or dessert for 8-10 euros. Since nobody wanted their complimentary wine, I kept the party going.
Nothing like a slight buzz to delay an inevitable hangover.
And we were ready to walk all around the city in which we would have ended our Camino de Santiago pilgramage. Much better to just drive straight there instead and enjoy the sights on non worn out feet and backs.
The city is absolutely stunning. I must have repeated that same phrase 100 times over the course of our afternoon.
Then it was time to head to Finisterre – the drive during which that hangover set in. Little did I know I could become hungover at 8pm. But we were heading to the “end of the world” as Finisterre used to be called, as the edge of Europe, so I needed to drag myself out of bed and to the sunset spot.
My physical state was irrelevant, I needed to see that sunset. And I did.
Day 3: Cee, Muros, Noia, Pontevedra
Cee and Muros were your standard cute seaside villages, where we were even able to go for a swim.
It wasn’t until Noia that we were thrown into a bit of excitement.
Walking into town, we were transported back in time – we were in the midst of a Medieval festival. Think owls on chains, village folk in costume, and all sorts of trinkets and delicious looking treats on every corner. And the whole village was in on this. We were the only three not in costume.
Day 4: Cies Islands
This was the highlight of the entire trip. I knew nothing about these islands before (which is crime), because these were hands down one of the most magical places I have ever been to in my entire life. Think small islands with no motorized transport that you can only get to by ferry and if you’re staying overnight your camping or budget glamping. No fancy hotel chains, no fancy restaurants. Simplicity and nature at it’s finest.
The islands are packed full of various beaches and trails stretching from one end to the next with each going up and down, showing off gorgeous cliff side vistas where you can see the sea and other islands from each spot.
This was my paradise.
And it wasn’t super crowded and the sea water was cold. Ok maybe a tad a bit too cold. A few degrees warmer would have been a little bit nicer, but I’m not one to complain in paradise.
This is my definition of true unfiltered raw beauty.
And we picked a hell of a day to go – blue skies for miles with perfect visibility. We could not have planned this better (or simply lucked into it). We came to learn later on from Justfly Review that Galicia has about one week of summer and sunny blue skies a year – which happened to be just the week we were there. Normally the scenery is grey, dreary and dramatic, but not for us. We saw the best side of Galicia – the vibrant, cheery, side.
And to top off a magical day, on our ferry back to the mainland there was a whole school of dolphins swimming and showing off right under the boat!
Day 5: Vigo, Patos Beach, Baiona
Vigo, the town on the mainland closest to the Cies islands is know for its seafood – so feast we did – think razor clams (tried for the very first time), scallops, gulas (pollock fish turned into a dish that looks like mini eel worms), etc.
Then some beach time and afternoon tea at the Parador de Baiona, a fortress turned into a hotel where we pretended to be royal ladies before walking the fortress walls in the dramatic cloudy mist.
That poor Galician weather was starting to roll in. We naturally stayed there way to long and as always found ourselves arriving at our sleeping spot for the night way too late. Once we got to our “guesthouse” on the outskirts of Ourense it was clear, dinner was going to be a disappointment.
A sad processed food meal diluted with a solid half liter of beer to wash it down, before a horrible nights sleep in a stuffy room with barely any air circulation and a mosquito harassing Dave the entire night (to the point that he locked himself in the 2 square foot bathroom, opting to sleep on the floor since that was the only safe zone from the relentless mosquito).
Day 6: Ourense, Allariz, Madrid
Not exactly well rested, and without a proper breakfast we set off to explore Ourense, which we did for about 10 minutes before settling in for another solid seafood fueled lunch feast.
And then we drove to Allariz, a magical sleepy town that Susan and I both simultaneously decided deserved at least 2 full days of our time. In our 45 mins there we even met a friendly local who insisted on listing off everything single thing we needed to do in town, including staying to watch the full moon rise over the village. Next time, I sadly had to respond.
And then we were back on our way to Madrid (with a stop in a tiny little town for a snack a local bar – aka the best croquettas that I’ve ever had in my life) and about 1 hour spent trying to figure out all the loop highways to navigate the correct route back to our place in Madrid.
Overall I loved our time in Galicia this underrated and gorgeous corner of Spain. While the rains provide the lush green rolling hills all around I could not have been happier that we picked the one sunny week to head to that region. If you’re in Spain and trying to get away from the crowds while traveling on a budget, Galicia is the way to go.