It’s fairly normal to select a holiday destination based on the prospect of warm, sunny weather. The effortless combination of historic cities, natural beauty, excellent food and a seamlessly endless supply of blue skies, are just some of the many reasons Spain is a favourite destination. There are occasions when less is more though. Temperatures during our visit to Spain this summer were so hot that we ended up changing our plans and visiting ‘cooler’ parts of the country.
Madrid was like a furnace. As was the lovely university town of Salamanca, where we spent our time seeking out the shade in historic streets and plazas. The heat was just as intense during a few days exploring the spellbinding landscapes and beautiful villages of the Sierra de Francia. We hoped the hills would provide respite from the heat. No such luck. In the end the long drive to the Galician coast via the Ribeira Sacra was our only option. This proved to be an inspired choice, even if not an intentional one.
Galicia is absolutely fabulous. The magnificent landscapes of the Ribeira Sacra took us completely by surprise. As did the ancient winemaking traditions and grape varieties at welcoming vineyards, which often came with the option of having a lunch of delicious local specialities. Throw in picturesque villages, interesting small towns, an occasional castle and a couple of centuries-old monasteries, and I can see us returning to Galicia with monotonous regularity.
We based ourselves in Parada de Sil. This tiny village sits above the River Sil where the reservoir of Encoro de Santo Estevo creates an expanse of water that adds extra drama to the landscape. It’s also close to the beautiful Mosteiro de Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil, a 12th century ruin peacefully set amidst thick woodland. It was the perfect place from which to explore the region, although when we woke on our first day to find mist and light rain it seemed our search for cooler weather had backfired.
The weather in Galicia can be very changeable – it didn’t get to be this green without a decent amount of rain. Luckily, when the sun reappeared it not only stayed with us for the rest of our trip, it also revealed the glorious countryside of the Ribeira Sacra at its verdant best. It would have been easy to stay where we were, but we really wanted to get to Galicia’s wild Atlantic coast for an invigorating dip in the chilly waters, and to its famed Albariño wine producing region.
We drove cross-country along minor roads, with occasional spectacular views, to reach the historic town of Cambados. From where we explored north along the coast to Carnota, one of the most spectacular beaches in the region with a backdrop of forested hills. We saw dolphins leaping as they chased fish at the Praia do Ancoradoiro, and ate pulpo a la gallega in the lovely fishing village of Muros. This Galician-style octopus, is a delicacy along this sweeping coast.
The final days of our trip upon us, we headed south to Pontevedra, a town with a long maritime history. During the Spanish Golden Age it was a major port, and this is where Columbus’ flagship, the Santa María, was built. Today, it’s equally well known for taking the radical step of pedestrianising its entire city centre, which makes it one of the best places in Spain to explore on foot.
Maybe we’d had too much sun but, for reasons that still remain fuzzy, our chosen route back to Madrid took us first to León. We spent a couple of nights in this extraordinary place, before heading south again. It involved a couple of long drives, but the Catedral de León alone is worth making the trip to this greatly underrated city. León receives a fraction of the tourists you might expect in such a beautiful city.