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Thoughts from Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21 June 2020
21 June 2020 @ 09:32

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  

As we all enter The New Normality, today I'm just posting this terrific article of weeks ago, by Annie Bennett of the Telegraph . . ., which I wholeheartedly endorse. My addenda follow it:-

20 reasons why we'll all return to Spain when this is finally over.

1. To do a pilgrimage 
A lot of us are going to come out of this feeling thankful for a lot of things and might feel like undertaking the challenge of a pilgrimage to process it all. It doesn’t have to be 500 miles across Spain to Santiago de Compostela – you can just do manageable chunks and there are lots of other possible routes too. I once spent a week walking through the wilds of Extremadura along the Vía de la Plata – the old Roman road that scores the country from north to south – with a pack of rescue dogs. Don’t ask. 

2. The fiestas
It is nigh on impossible to be in Spain for more than 10 minutes without hearing some sort of procession or festivity going on around the corner, particularly if you are in Andalucia. Drums, trumpets, a bit of wailing – you know the drill. Soon the band hoves into view, often followed by a figure of Christ or the Virgin atop an elaborate float. It might be Easter, Whitsun, the Assumption or the veneration of a local saint but you don’t have to be even vaguely religious to get merrily carried away with the whole thing. 

3. The long lunches 
I actually mean long, boozy lunches of course. Lunches that roll on until 6 or 7 in the evening, only petering out as people slump into siestas on sun-loungers and hammocks. Or sometimes never actually end at all and just slide into dinner. A paella in the countryside or by the beach is a good way to go about this, with jugs of tinto de verano (red wine, lemonade and ice), with the odd gin and tonic to punctuate proceedings. 

4. The Alhambra
Gazing at the Alhambra palace in Granada from the Albaicín hill opposite, glowing gold as the sun sets over the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, is something you will never forget. If you’re looking for a romantic setting for a special moment, look no further. I find a glass or two of rosé intensifies the drama of the experience. But get inside too and wander through the courtyards and gardens for the full sensual onslaught.

5. Jamón
I mean, come on. While we can obviously have a platter of marbled magenta jamón ibérico in the UK – at least we will be able to when the bars reopen – but it’s never quite the same and therefore counts as a good enough reason to travel to Spain. A few slivers with a glass of wine – I’m thinking a velvety Ribera del Duero right now, possibly in Salamanca on a crisp winter’s day –  is so simple but so utterly delicious. 

6. The Gaudí architecture 
Seaweed, warriors, bones, petals, dragons... just a few of the random things Antoni Gaudí somehow managed to conjure up out of stone, wood, iron and tiles. As we’re all planning future trips, put 2026 on your calendars for a Barcelona jaunt, as it’s the year the Sagrada Familia cathedral is scheduled to be completed and is also the centenary of the great architect’s death. Beyond the Catalan capital, you can see buildings by him in León and Astorga as well as in Comillas in Cantabria.  

7. To go somewhere new
You may have been to Spain dozens of times, but there’s always somewhere else to discover. I’ve got my map out and see that I could do with a mooch around the province of Palencia in the north, as I haven’t been there for decades and it doesn’t often pop up on the travel pages, even though they’ve got tons of Romanesque churches, and even wolves. 

8. White hilltop villages
I know they’re a bit of a cliché but who can resist the lure of a pueblo blanco? There you are, pootling along a winding country lane in Andalucia, when you round a bend and a village comes into view, like sticky sugarcubes stuck onto the hillside. As you approach, there may well be a donkey or two, several sleepy dogs and three old men sitting on a bench (this last one is an obligatory requirement in all pueblos I believe). There will be a bar with a few plastic tables outside under umbrellas too. You want to go right now, don’t you? I know I do. 

9. Paradors
Staying in Paradors is one of my favourite ways to explore Spain, as you are soaking up history and culture even while having your breakfast. Some are former monasteries and convents, some are castles and others palaces. Some are modern buildings but in spectacular locations, such as the new Parador de Costa da Morte by a splendid beach in Muxía in Galicia, which should have opened this Easter but is ready to welcome guests the minute restrictions are lifted. I’m also planning a return visit to the Parador de Jaén, on the crest of a hill overlooking this undervisited city, which has just emerged from a revamp and would be great for an autumn weekend break. 

10. The fast trains
We were already going off flying, so having a bit of time on our hands gives us the chance to look at how easy it is to travel by train. You can get to Spain from the UK in a day and then plan a route using the 2,000 miles of high-speed train tracks. The journey across the country from Valencia to Seville takes just four hours, which you can while away by gazing out of the window at orange groves, vineyards, the plains of La Mancha and hilltop castles. Have a look here or here for tickets and information.

11. The slow trains
If you’re in no rush to get from A to B – or would prefer to avoid cities – you can also trundle around on less swish trains that stop every five minutes. The FEVE narrow-gauge network, for example, travels slowly along the coast of northern Spain from Bilbao to Ferrol in Galicia, with panoramic views of the green hills of Cantabria, the Picos de Europa mountains and the fabulous beaches of the Rías Altas. If it sounds a bit too basic for you, consider taking the Transcantábrico, a lavishly refurbished vintage train.

12. Social distancing without even trying
Two metres? Don’t make me laugh. In some parts of Spain you’d be lucky to see another soul within a 20-mile radius. In the middle of nowhere, between Madrid and Valencia, the Montes Universales in the vast Aragón region is the least populated corner of Spain, if you really want to get away from it all. 

13. All that wine
There is always another wine region to discover in Spain and talking to passionate producers while tramping through a vineyard never fails to lift the spirits. Safe in the knowledge that before long you will be tasting the stuff, obviously. You can follow wine routes all over the country, maybe driving from La Rioja to the Ribera del Duero region through bucolic landscapes of rolling hills. See here for more ideas.

14. The prawns
While cooped up indoors, I’ve been thinking a lot about prawns. Well, not just the prawns, the whole experience really. That box of fabulously red La Santa ones that I scoffed standing up at the Lanzarote food festival last November. Those juicy Sòller ones by the sea in Mallorca. A single enormous one at Quique Dacosta’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Denia. A platter of sweet, firm langostino prawns devoured by the mouth of the Guadalquivir river in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. That bag of pallid frozen specimens in my freezer just isn’t cutting it, obviously. 

15. The beaches
I bet this is what a lot of you are dreaming about, being back on your favourite beach, plunging into the sea and lolling on a sunbed without a care in the world. You might be thinking about kiteboarding on the Costa de la Luz on the Atlantic, surfing on the Costa Trasmiera in Cantabria, kayaking on the Costa Tropical or diving in the pristine water of Cabo de Gata in Andalucia. Or, more likely – in my case at least – just sitting gazing at the horizon on the Costa del Sol with a cold beer or a cocktail. 

16. Tapas in Seville 
If things seem a bit flat right now, just let your mind drift to the glorious exuberance of the Andalucian capital. Yes, there you are, in a traditional tiled tavern, with a glistening glass of sherry and a little dish of something absurdly tasty. You might want to pour yourself some sherry right now at home just to get into the swing. 

17. The nightlife
In Spain, going out out, rolling back to your home or hotel at dawn, is not the domain solely of the young, the cool or the hot. As it is perfectly normal for dinner to go on until well after midnight, it’s often three o’clock in the morning when the dancing starts. Just go with the flow; it really doesn’t matter how old you are or what you’re wearing.   

18. The art
From cave art in Cantabria and Asturias to funky galleries in Barcelona, Bilbao and Malaga, Spain is one of the best countries in the world for art lovers. You could spend weeks just in the Prado in Madrid, looking at paintings by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, before strolling down the road to the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía museums to see mindboggling works by Dalí, Miró and Picasso. Right now, I’m looking online at the soothing seaside paintings by Joaquín Sorolla from Valencia at regular intervals. 

19. Aperitivos
Not being able to meet for an afternoon beer or a glass of wine is what my Madrid friends are missing more than anything. Me too. My body is so attuned to this civilised custom that I swear an inner alarm goes off at aperitivo time (about 1pm in Spain), wherever I am. 
20. The mountains
I can’t wait to get my hiking boots out of the cupboard to spend a few days walking in the mountains. The Alpujarras in the Sierra Nevada, with views across to Africa on a clear day, always take my breath away – but maybe that’s more to do with the seriously steep slopes and the shape I’m in. The Somiedo Natural Park in Asturias is also high on my list for places to return to, with its limestone peaks and glacial lakes, not to mention the brown bears that roam the alpine landscape. Don’t worry, they keep themselves to themselves – most of the time.  

My addenda

  • I've done 15 caminos of 3-15 days. Don't imagine I'll ever do the whole thing.
  • I especially endorse the bit on Jamón in Salamanca - my favourite city - in a particular tapas bar.
  • My longest Spanish lunch ended around 11pm
  • Coincidentally, I'm planning a trip to the Palencia area.
  • I won't be visiting the parador in Muxía; it's modern.
  • I've been on the Bullet train in Japan but not yet on Spain's AVE. I agree the normal trains are excellent, and I loved the FEVE rides I've taken.
  • Sadly, I've not yet had the prawns she cites, but am defrosting some smaller ones for a curry today.
  • I don't do beaches, but am happy to sit looking at one with a glass of Godello in hand.
  • I've said a couple of times I won't be going back to Sevilla, regardless of its attractions. Possibly a mistake. Will reconsider.
  • Nightlife is a thing of my past. Though late dinners are unavoidable, if you have Spanish friends, who think eating before 10pm is decidedly odd.
  • Aperitivo Time at 13.00 follows Coffee Time at 11.00. Which tells you a lot.
  • I still have to visit the Alpujarras. One of many, many things still to enjoy in Spain. It takes a lifetime.

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

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