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Trip Report Weekend in Galicia -- Sil River Gorge

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On my recent trip to Lisbon, I had a Thursday-Sunday free weekend. Original plans were to spend a couple of days near the Sil River, and then drive over to see RibeiraSacra at his lovely Casa Rural on the Minho. But at the last minute my husband had to head home to the US, and I realized I could turn this trip into a walking trip and pack in more romanesque than my romanesque-weary husband would have liked. I already had cheap reservations for Friday and Saturday in the Parador Santo Estevo. 75 euros a night. Staff told me that every year in early January they offer a lot of cheap rates because the parador is closed January and half of February, and the specials jumpstart the new season. This past January, I got an email from a friend telling me to take a look at the rates for this parador. So keep an eye out, it is a pretty amazing spot. So here is what I did

Thursday, I was able to leave Lisbon around 2 pm and drove up to Celanova, a long drive, and through a snow storm! No real accumulation where I was driving, but you could see a lot of snow in the mountains the next day (this was around March 24). Hotel Celanova, a recently re-opened two star hotel, clean and basic, very nice, run by nice people. 35 E includes breakfast. Right in center near main square and monastery. Book directly with them, and not

Friday -- after breakfast in hotel, drove to Santa Comba de Bande, 7C visigothic, south of Celanova, where Maricel let me in (You can find her phone number easily on line, she lives in the hamlet and is very flexible). Amazing. She gets nothing from the Xunta, so my 10 euro tip wasn't worth much for her. but it seemed reasonable to me. From there I went to Aquis Querquennis, a Roman military encampment, located on the way back to Celanova. Very interesting, 2 euros for interpretative center and access to the camp, the "mansion," and the thermal baths (about 8 people, mainly Portuguese, were taking baths in the hot springs. From there I drove back to Celanova to take the 12:30 tour of the monastery. Beautiful baroque altarpiece, visit to the 10C mozarabic chapel.

Drove to Allariz for walk around and some lunch. I have to say I was amazed at the level of life activity in Allariz, it is one small Galician city that seems to be doing well. It has the requisite romanesque church and romanesque bridge, with a castle ruin at the top of the hill. At 4:30 I met Manuel, with Xeitura (a company he and two of his friends started to take people to cultural sites in the area), in Santa Mariña de Aguas Santas. We had an amazing 3 hours. First to the big romanesque church, with an astonishing capital or two. Big square church, kind of reminded me of the Santo Estevo on the MInho, next to Riberasacra's house. Then we walked down to the "fornos" where the legend of Santa Mariña has an important part. The "fornos" were supposedly the underground ovens where she was martyred, but historical research suggests that it's more likely that these chambers were a pre-Roman sauna. But Miguel was very good about telling me the religious legend, the archaeological explanation, etc. From the fornos (which are underneath an incomplete romanesque church), we walked to the Castro, a celtic hill fort, huge in its expanse. Many of the excavated ruins came above my waist, which is pretty unusual for this kind of ruins. From there we walked on, to the Roman ruins nearby. Recently discovered, they think this was some sort of granary/garden/home, and not anything religious. The walking around was very nice, it was just a great day. All for 25 euros, but I did give him an extra 10. I highly recommend contacting this group,, they are serious and dedicated to the area´s cultural patrimony. Two historians and one archaeologist, or vice versa, but they are really hoping to be able to stay in Allariz and make a living. It was delightful.

After leaving Manuel, I had to drive to the parador, which was a bit challenging, even with my GPS that kept sending me off on narrow residential roads, but I got there by 7:45. I had a salad in the cafetería with my amigos welcome glass of wine, and then to bed after a chance to sit and contemplate the different cloisters (my favorite being the oldest one, but unfortunately most of the romanesque is gone).

Saturday, I was on the road by 9:00, after coffee and yoghurt in my room (brought my electric coil, which I take every year when I walk one camino or another). First stop was San Pedro de Rocas, a Romanesque church built into the rocks and then used as tombs, many anthropomorphic shapes in the lower levels. I walked a great 9 km circle, which involved seeing a peto de ánimas, one of those old stone structures where people used to deposit alms for the souls in Purgatory. After visiting the church, I drove to Parada de Sil and the church of Santa Cristina. WOW, this is a lovely place, down in a little woods near the river clinging to the side of the mountain. Another Romanesque, beautiful entrance to the cloister, then a bigger church adjacent. Just an idyllic setting.

Because there was an orienteering race going on, no cars were allowed into Parada de Sil, so my walking plans around there were going to have to change. So I drove past Parada de Sil and found a trailhead that was about 3 km from the Balcons de Madrid. Lovely lovely walk out to the view point, through a couple of hamlets and lots of forest. The views from the two different miradors are just amazing, looking down onto the Sil River gorge.

From there I drove back slowly to the parador, stopping at 3 or 4 miradores along the river. One view was lovelier than the next, it was very nice. When I got back to the parador, with many hours of daylight left, I decided to walk on a well marked trail up to the hamlet of Pombar, about 2.5 km up from the parador, and then back down. More gorgeous views. Through lots of lovely woods, and I was accompanied by a black dog the whole way there.

I decided to head to the nearby (5 km) small town of Luintra to buy some supper fixings, which I later ate in one of the commons rooms of the parador. On my way into town I took a turnoff for the neolithic tombs. I couldn't really distinguish them from other piles of rocks, which is frequently my dilemma. But driving beyond and taking a turnoff for some miradores was a brilliant idea, it turned out. Just lovely and it gave me another hour of walking in beautiful countryside!

Then into Luintra, just in time for the 8:30 closing time, where the woman in the little store made me a chorio and cheese sandwich, bought a tomato and a very sweet red pepper. Amazing day, absolutely amazing.

Sunday, to break up the monotony of the drive back to Lisbon, I decided to stop to visit the ruins at Conímbriga, which I hadn’t visited in at least ten years. Very nice detour, well worth the two hours and 2.5 euros. I ran into a Danish pilgrim walking the Camino Portugues who coincidentally had emailed me the night before about some details in Rabaçal (I have an online guidebook to the Lisbon to Santiago Caminho). I knew he would be walking from Rabaçal on Sunday, but had no idea that we would meet!!!! (And by the way, if you are into Roman ruins, the villa at Rabaçal is a nice excavation with some excellent mosaics). It was a nice way to end the weekend, and I got back to Lisbon in early evening, in time for dinner at my go-to restaurant near the Marriott, Carvoeiro da Palma. It's one of the few places in the area open Sunday evenings.

This is not a highly traveled part of Spain, but it is chock full of amazing things to do, at least if you like antiquity and natural beauty!