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Trip Report The Mystery and Beauty of Galicia

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I recently spent a couple of weeks (separately) in the Galicia region of Spain. This region had been calling to me for some time. Ever since hearing it described by a young woman I was tutoring in an English immersion program in Spain, who was from the area. She described it as a green, wet area with beautiful coastal views, excellent locally produced white wines, and tons of fresh seafood (the region's specialty is pulpo or octopus, grilled and served warm on a wooden platter with olive oil and paprika).

I am a sucker for all wet, green areas that serve up great seafood and are on the coast. I've always been a fan of Northern Coasts vs. Southern Coasts. A hike along a windy green grassed cliff above crashing waves and the smell of salt and seafood in the air is my idea of heaven. Throw in a thriving local white wine industry (Rias Baixas region is spectacular for Albariño) and I'm already packing my bags.

Having been in the wine industry for 14 years, I'd drunk my share of Rias Baixas (pronounced Ree-ass Buyshass) Albariños. But I'd never thought about where the region was in relation to the rest of Spain. And how hard it might be to get to from the rest of Spain.

Google doesn't populate results that include Galicia unless you are specifically looking for Galicia (or one of the cities within it) so even during my research on regions of Spain to visit it hadn't really come up. If you aren't already looking to visit a place in Galicia or to do the Camino it likely won't come up on your radar.

And this is just what makes this region so magical and such a rarity in 2017 in Spain (the most visited European country in the world after France and the 3rd most visited country in the world).

Galicia is not a touristy region. At least not for Americans or the rest of the world beyond Spain and Portugal and the few random Brits that make their way over (having presumably figured out it's the only coastal area in which they won't fry themselves in too much sun and where everything costs 1/4 what it does at home).

The exception to Galicia's non-status as a must-visit region is, of course, the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage route that has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity over the past 30 years and sees 10s of thousands of tourists/pilgrims per year. The pilgrimage ends (as it did originally when religious pilgrims sought out to visit the remains of St. James that were rumored to have been buried there) in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

This keeps Santiago de Compostela on the map as a major destination (if one is already looking to do the Camino...) and thereby also some neighboring areas through which the Camino runs. But if you veer away from the Camino spots (and those are mainly only touristed in the summer or early Fall) you'll find a whole different side to Spain. One without the polish of more heavily touristed areas.

During my recent trip to Sanxenxo and Rias Baixas vineyards, Ribadeo, Rinlo, and Cathedral Beach and the Ribeira Sacra areas of Galicia I had an entirely new type of 'Spanish' experience. Not only were the lack of crowds, lack of easy-to-find accommodation and lack of functioning GPS (particularly in Ribeira Sacra) a big change but the fact that I was surrounded by an entirely different language most of the time (unless I was being served-because they could see I wasn't Galician so they'd speak Spanish) made it feel as if I was in a tiny country of it's own.

Gallego (Galician) is very similar to Portugese and of course being located so near to the country there are other similarities between the cultures as well. You'll also see more Portuguese tourists in Galicia than any other nationality. Though everyone in Galicia speaks Spanish as well (except a few very old people who have never left Galicia, didn't go to school, and only hear Spanish on television like my boyfriend's grandmother).

I really like the Gallego culture and diet as it's far more my speed than the more popular and well known areas of Spain. Gallegos move a little slower, have a simpler life (and simpler means less technologically advanced very often as well as less commercially focused due to primarily geographic and economic factors) and eat lots of seafood. They also drink more white wine than any other Spaniards I've met. In fact most Spaniard men I meet don't drink any white wine, nor do many of my Spanish women friends. They drink beer first, red wine if they are drinking wine, or a cocktail.

The exception to these trends are those who were raised in white wine focused regions like Galicia or Rueda. In Galicia more than 90% of wines produced are white. And therefore, the people drink white wine. It's the norm. This doesn't mean they don't also drink a lot of beer though. It's still the bevvie of choice for most men in Galicia (my bf included though he loves Galician white wines too) and of course, Estrella Galicia, one of Spains most popular and largest names in beer, is made in Galicia.

My first stop in Galicia was a small beach city called Sanxenxo. While not my top choice for the type of city I'd normally visit, I was invited by a Spanish friend (along with a group of others) to stay in her family's apartments there. It so happens that Sanxenxo is in Riax Baixas and thereby very close to some good vineyards.

I'll continue this post with Part 2

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