You don’t have to be religious to walk the old pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela in the north of Spain. With hostels that charge about five Euros a night at every 20km or so, following in the footsteps of this more than 1000-year-long tradition won’t break the bank. The Camino Portugues is a less crowded alternative to the main route coming from France. It follows old Roman roads through vineyards and ancient oak forests, past beautiful rias (as the coastal inlets here are called) and historical towns such as Barcelos and Pontevedra. The 295km from Porto can be covered in about a fortnight.
This 'gastronomic space' is in fact on the tiny side - only 12 people can squeezed in to sit on high chairs round the narrow and high table. The sense of exclusivity is quickly confirmed when food and wine arrives. The tasting menu has so many small courses that I lost count, the wines are from small producers and excellent matches for the food. Courses are 'announced' on the discreet flat screens at either end of the table. The price is around €40 per person all included, which must count as one of the great bargains in this city.
It is tucked behind the main market of the old city on a back street. The market itself is closed at night.
Mercado de Santiago de Compostela
Rua de Ameas
+33 981 576 145
Google map: bit.ly/bOOjp8
The As Artes, tucked away by the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in Spanish Galicia, is the perfect city B&B, right at the heart of one of Europe’s most beguiling destinations. The seven bedrooms are prettily decorated, breakfast is substantial but leisurely, and the whole atmosphere is charming. Crucially, the beds are comfortable, the showers impressive, while the rooms - with obligatory wooden shutters - are well lit, spacious and quiet. To quote from the website, “the zones of leisure are sufficiently remote, which guarantees a calm rest.” The cathedral, in the Plaza do Obradoiro, is the final destination on a 1000 year old pilgrim’s route which stretches from France. Afternoon tea at the nearby five star Parador is the perfect spot to observe pilgrims limping past, some with donkeys. When I was there, Stephen Hawkins came trundling across the cobbles, due to lecture at the University. There is enough to explore for days amongst the medieval squares, convents and cloisters. The Museo do Pobo Galego is well worth a visit for its unusual double-spiral staircase alone.
Then, after an evening’s tapas-grazing, it’s much nicer to wander back to this intimate B&B than an anonymous hotel cell -and far cheaper.
Trav. de Dos Puertas 2, 15707 Santiago de Compostela
As a former student of the local university, I had been many times to the cathedral but being up on the roof showed me a lot of things I didn't know about the cathedral.
They will take you to the cathedral stone roofs (don't wear high heels!), where you get great views of the old city.
€10 for 30-45 minutes, everyday 10am to 2 pm, 4pm-8pm. Booking recommended (especially in summer), entry via Pazo de Xelmirez, Praza do Obraodiro.
Santiago is a university city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the destination of an important pilgrimage route. It has an impressive cathedral where, if you stay for pilgrims mass, you may be lucky enough to see an enormous incense burner (botafumero), swung dangerously low over people's heads during the service.
Like most Spanish cities, the nightlife is good here and anyone who feels brave can do the Paris-Dakar bar crawl - having a drink in each bar between 'Paris' and 'Dakar'. Try the local white wine, especially from Rías Baixas region, which is excellent. In some bars I remember wine being served in saucers, which seems a little abstemious on reflection, but you can always go nuts afterwards with the Basque digestif 'Patxaran'. This is a rather too-easy-to-drink sloe and anise spirit - a headache is guaranteed.
Regarding the weather, rain wear is essential here and don't skimp on quality or you'll find you spend most of your trip drying off in cafes then getting drenched again. In fact, to keep out the kind of torrents you'll face anywhere on the north coast of Spain, I'd recommend waterproofs and an umbrella. Spanish people will tell you that they feel sorry for you living in a country like the UK where it rains all the time. If only they knew! England is a desert compared to Galicia and Asturias. Go anyway though, but be prepared!
Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. a good link with info and further links is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_de_Compostela
Yes, it's in every guide book, and yes it's expensive, but it's the most beautiful hotel I've stayed in. It's a wonderful building organised around four courtyards. It has been immaculately restored and furnished. The staff clearly take pride in this flagship of the Parador chain, and the service is cool but impeccable. Food is good. Beds are comfortable. It is located on one of the finest squares in Europe, and there is even a terrace to watch the sunset.
Praza de Obradoira, Santiago de Compostela.
I was worried that a previous reader had said 'Do not go to this restaurant'. I disregarded that tip and went anyway. It was expensive - our set menu was €62 - but every course was superb, apart from the gazpacho, which was merely excellent. This was precision cooking at a very high level.
Some high points: prawn in a cheese soup as an amuse gueule, clam with an albariño and onion sauce, coffee with an amazingly light almond biscuit. A reasonably-priced wine list, featuring local Galician wines - though we chose a rather expensive, but superb, Albariño. In brief, an outstanding restaurant in a region of good food.
Avenida Rosalía de Castro 24, Santiago de Compostela
A much praised (in the guides) Galician restaurant with a Michelin star. Deperately snooty. Desperately contrived. We should have been suspicious because we walked in and got a table without a reservation. Both other tables were visitors like us. Neither the food nor the service lived up to the star rating (not our first visit to a starred place.) Tasteless Croquetas de Mariscos (we had better in a small bar in Padron the following day for a fraction of the cost.) Pointless sugar flourishes, adding nothing. Appalling unhelpful and begrudging service of courses in the wrong order. Freezing cold cheese platter - explained to us by the chef herself "the Spanish don't eat cheese so we have to keep it in the fridge..." What???? Chef (in civvies) and waiter (with blocked nose - hay fever or a cold?) pacing the floor impatiently throughout the meal - not helpfully, but as if desperate for us to be out of the way - and this was before we had indicated we were not entirely delighted. If you have money to spend on good food, go somewhere else.
Rosalía de Castro, 24 - 15706 Tel.no.: 981 594 100
This Celtic international festival takes place every year in the north west of Spain. It is in Ortigueira, A Coruña, close to Santiago de Compostela.
This year the festival will be held from 5-8 July. There is free camping and it's close to a beach. There are thousands of people who attend this festival. It is incredible and very enjoyable. Most people are young and they go in groups.
If you want to hear Celtic music come here.
It is a little known area of Galicia. Some great young wines are grown there. Loads of old historical monuments ranging from the Celtic through to the middle ages. Land is similar in feel as Ireland.
Next time you get that flight with Ryanair to Santiago de Compostela. Leave the city behind you and visit the countryside. I would recommend the area known as the Ribeira Sacra (holy river banks). Great wines, food and a very peaceful countryside, which looks and feel ancient. They say there are Celtic connections between Galicia and Ireland.
A stay at Casa Santo Estevo is a great central location for this visit. Located near to the Rio Mino it is easy to travel to Lugo, Ourense, Monforte de Lemos plus the Ribeira Sacra. The house is run by expats, from the U.K. and The Netherlands, so language will not be so much of a problem!
The food is out of this world, mainly local receipts but with some from other parts of the world too. Look at the website for the house. Not only is there information about the property but the area around too. I had a great time there letting time wash past me.
This day is a celebration of the patron Saint of Spain (St James). It features fantastic fireworks, parades and a televised mass from Santiago's world-renowned cathedral. It is a national holiday in Spain so it can get very busy, but it all adds to the atmosphere of the day.
The Dia de Santiago is held on 25 July in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia.
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