The area surrounding Cambados is considered one of the best in the world for growing the grapes that eventually become Albariño wine. Here and there, small plots of vines are suspended over the ground on stone pergolas made of the same granite that makes the soils of the Rías Baixas perfect for viticulture. The vines have to be raised above the ground to ensure they receive an even amount of sunlight, and for the breeze to flow beneath to stop mildew in this rainy region.
Cambados is the capital of Albariño country, with many small producers making wines that you’ll rarely see outside of this region. It explains why this delightful small town is a popular base from which to explore the Galician coast. As a result it has a plethora of fantastic restaurants and bodegas serving up local seafood – scallops, mussels, clams, fish and octopus – all washed down with a cold glass of Albariño. For centuries this area’s economy has been underpinned by fishing.
It’s not only good wine and seafood that attracts visitors though, Cambados has a long and storied history. Old streets lined by sturdy stone buildings, palaces, grand houses and historic churches, give a glimpse of the former prosperity of the town when it was still three distinct medieval villages: Fefiñáns, Cambados and Santo Tome. All three of which were home to aristocratic families, owners of much of the land in the area. It was only in the 19th century that the villages were merged.
The main avenue in the town runs from the Convento de San Francisco to the splendid Praza de Fefiñáns, the town’s main square with its prettiest church and home to the grand palace, Pazo de Fefiñáns. Dating from the 16th century, and expanded over the centuries, the palace belonged to the Viscount de Fefiñanes before it came into the possession of the Figueroa family in the 18th century. It’s remained in the family ever since. Today it’s known for quality Albariño wines.
We wandered up the Calle Real, past an imposing 17th century palace that’s now the town’s parador, and into a network of small, higgledy-piggledy streets filled with charm and former sailor’s cottages. Cambados isn’t a big place and we were soon outside the Church of San Benito in the main square. Go much beyond this and you’ll find yourself in the midst of vineyards. We decided to do the next best thing and settled down in the shade of a tree and had a glass of Albariño.
After a reasonable amount of people watching, we popped into the church with its big statues of someone (St. Benedict?), menacing modern-day visitors with a large wooden club. We’d have gone on a tour of the palace but the next one was the following day, so made our way back to the most southerly of the three original villages, Santo Tome. Here there are views across the bay from the small, sandy island of San Sadurniño.
The tightly packed streets of this part of town were virtually deserted, despite it being still within the tourist season. We made our way towards one of the most evocative sights in the town, the ruined church of Santa Mariña Dozo, which also happens to be next to the wine museum. The 15th century church was abandoned in the 19th century and has fallen into disrepair. The roof has collapsed but the stonework still stands and the cemetery is still in use.
It’s all very picturesque, even if it’s surprising to find a church dedicated to the town’s patron saint in such poor repair. In the morning we’d be heading north to the Costa da Morte, or the Coast of Death. It seemed as good a reason as any to enjoy a sunset along the Cambados waterfront, followed by delicious seafood and, you guessed it, a glass of Albariño.