The port of Vigo in north-west Spain is a highly attractive city and offers some of the country's best seafood and wine
The Galicia region of north-west Spain was literally touched by the hand of God, according to legend. His five fingers gave the area its highly unusual estuaries, called Rias, which give the area its beautiful coastline, abundant fishing and fantastic views. The legend is that God worked so hard on creating the world he rested his right hand on the region, and his fingers pushed the earth into the sea creating the Rias. It’s a nice story.
Galicians are just as proud of their region as Catalonians, and similarly have their own language. It’s very different to other regions of Spain, which makes it fascinating for the British visitor. The region was invaded by the Visigoths and the Vikings, but the really distinctive difference is it has a big Celtic influence. That’s why the football team is called Real Club Celta. They even have their own version of the bagpipes, still played in street marches and festivals, but they are black instead of tartan – enhancing the impression of a cat being squeezed to death.
Vigo is the place to head, with its large port area and airport, and from here it’s easy to explore the gorgeous countryside around. Vigo itself is well worth spending some time in though. Sir Francis Drake had two battles with Spanish ships, and there is even a tale of him sinking a ship which was laden with gold and silver and which still lies under the water somewhere. No maritime town is complete without a sunken treasure story.
Another famous visitor was French writer Jules Verne, who was fascinated enough to write 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and set the second chapter in the bay of Vigo. There is a statue of a rather exhausted-looking Verne sitting on top of an octopus right on the waterfront.
A walk along the front is recommended, as it features an elegant park with lots of statues, and some lovely examples of the architectural mix of Vigo. There are several examples of Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings, and the sailing club is a classic piece of modernism – it looks like a ship that has docked rather than a building on dry land.
A great location to stay is the Hotel Ciudad de Vigo. It's right by the waterfront and a five-minute walk in the other direction into town. It has big breakfasts and internet access but no pool.
Shopping and eating
If you wander away from the waterfront and up the hill towards the old castle you’ll find some decent shopping. Vigo is well known to be cheaper than other towns in Spain, and all the major high street brands are here, along with some really good delicatessens. Apparently, if you mention Galicia to a Spaniard, the first thought will be food. The seafood is especially good, and coupled with the locally-produced wine, Albarino, you can eat to a very high standard much cheaper than in Madrid or Barcelona. A good example is Maruja Limon (Victoria nº 4, Vigo, Ponetevdra, tel. 986 47 34 06, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Here you can enjoy a tasting menu featuring local seafood, mushrooms and meat, all presented in a highly modern haute cuisine style and with plenty of Albarino to wash it down.
If that’s too modern for you and you fancy a more old-school place that you might remember from trips to Spain in the 1970s then Marisqueria Bahia is the place for you (La Piedra calle de las ostras, : 986 44 96 56, E-mail: email@example.com, www.marisqueriabahia.com). This has a giant sculpture of an octopus smashing through the ceiling, fishing nets and huge tanks filled with lobster and crab. It may look old-school but the prices are keen and the food as fresh as can be. You get huge plates of winkles, crab, langoustines and prawns which you’re encouraged to tear into with your fingers. Great fun.
Right at the end of the main shopping street is the Modern Art Gallery MARCO (Principe 54, 36202 Vigo, 986113900, www.marcovigo.com), which is well worth a look. Previously a prison, it has been converted into a spacious interior, softened by wooden floors and subtle lighting. The rooms are curved and the pieces by local artists have plenty of room to breathe. There’s also a small bookshop, attractively modern café and it’s free and open until 9pm on weekdays.
North and south of Vigo
When you’ve had enough of Vigo, it’s time to explore the areas to the north and south of the town. Head south and you will hit the pretty town of Baiona, or you can go on a boat out to the Islas Cies (Cies Islands), a preserved natural habitat with some truly sublime beaches. There are even more treasures if you head north. After crossing the Ponte de Rande bridge – as spectacular as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – you pass vineyards and forests until you reach El Grove.
En route you might notice dark squares floating in the estuary and wonder what they are – here by the Ria de Arousa is the answer. For a bargain €13 you can go out into the estuary on a boat (Acquavision, Estación de autobuses en puerto del Grove, 34 986 73 12 46; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.acquavision.com) and see some of the 3,000-plus rafts floating in the water. These hang ropes under them on which mussels, oysters and scallops are grown. It takes 18 months to grow a mussel, and just one rope can weigh half a ton when they are ripe. The mussels are then served on board.
Afterwards, descend to look at the seabed from the glass-bottomed boat. Our viewing was interrupted by an unexpected visitor; a dolphin has taken up residence in the bay, and seems to enjoy chasing boats. Christened Gaspar, experts believe he is a military-trained dolphin as he spurns the company of other dolphins, preferring humans, and is especially fascinated by the propeller of a boat. It was a rare treat to spend 20 minutes watching Gaspar – you might get lucky and see him too.