It was as we strolled through the pedestrianised centre of Cambados’ old town that we first heard a mournful wail wafting through the night air from a small park. We decided that either someone was playing the bagpipes, or the local psychopath was torturing a cat. We made our way towards the origin of this confusing noise which, to our delight, was an evening of music and protest held by Galician nationalists – bagpipes it was. Our arrival didn’t go unnoticed.
The group had brought food and plenty of booze for the event, and although they were packing up for the night, an over-friendly man made his unsteady way over and offered us a couple of beers. We were soon chatting about Scotland, a kindred Celtic country that has also modelled its most famous musical instrument on the octopus. It quickly transpired that we were on the opposite ends of the debate when it came to Brexit. To me it’s a disaster, to Galician nationalists it’s proof of what’s possible.
Galicia is one of those Spanish regions that has always been different. Its Celtic history stretches back over 2,500 years and, like the Basque Country and Catalonia, it has its own language. Strongly influenced by Portuguese, there are some Celtic elements to Galego, as it’s known. It was this lack of a ‘true’ Celtic language though that prevented Galicia from being accepted into the Celtic League. Not that this has stopped Galician nationalists from building their case on their Celtic heritage.
Spanish was forcibly brought to the region only in the 15th century, when Isabella I of Castile (she of Reconquista fame) subdued the local nobles and took Galicia for herself. That, and a stubborn resistance to being subsumed by another culture, might explain why Galego is still widely spoken alongside Spanish. Galicia gained ‘autonomous region’ status during the Republic in 1931, but Galician culture and language were crushed by Franco’s fascists. Ironically, Franco was himself from Galicia.
Galicia remained poor and underdeveloped under the Franco dictatorship, exploited for its natural resources – fish and hydroelectric power. Galician’s voted with their feet and moved to South America and other European countries. Since all political parties were banned, this was as close as people came to a political choice. Forty-four years after Franco’s death that legacy still remains. Despite advances, Galicia still has the feel of a backwater.
We arrived in Cambados, a historic port town that was once three medieval villages, after a long drive from the Ribeira Sacra. It was late-morning as we checked into the Pazo A Capitana, a 15th century manor house that has large gardens, vineyards and fruit trees. The vineyards provide the raw product for the delicious Albariño wines that are made on site. You’re given a complimentary bottle when you check in – best drunk sat in the courtyard next to the fountain.
It was tempting to spend the day sampling wine, but it was lunch and Galician seafood is some of the best in the world. We hadn’t done our research on Cambados, and went towards the Santo Tome harbour hoping to find a few restaurants. We’d left it slightly too late and most places were closing. The workaday place that was open served up a fairly disappointing lunch. To compensate, we saw some historic buildings with scallop shells cemented into their walls.
We walked off lunch along the seafront, and finally discovered the beautiful Praza de Fefiñáns, a square with a 16th century palace and a 15th century church. Around this area we discovered a maze of streets filled with bars and restaurants. We’d struck Galician seafood gold.