1. Valença, Portugal
Okay, so this isn’t technically Spain, but Valença is a beautiful town located close to the Spanish-Portuguese border. The Minho River creates a natural separation of the two countries, but a quick car ride across the old international bridge takes visitors directly into the heart of Valença and into another world.
Valença is an ancient, walled city that dates back to Roman times, but it’s the city’s distinctive 12th century fortress is what makes it a popular spot for tourists who are already in neighboring Galicia. After a quick stop at the local tourism information office, visitors can stroll through the cobblestone walkways where charismatic cafés, lace shops and boutiques line the street. High up on the bastions of the old fort there are gorgeous panoramic views of the Minho and the surrounding countryside.
Valença is located about an hour drive southwest of Ourense, Spain along the A-52 and A-55 highways.
2. A Guarda
For those of you who can appreciate the simple joys in life (i.e. great seafood and ocean breeze) A Guarda is for you! The main feature of this town is the charming seaside promenade, but if you drive out of the center and up the mountain you can visit the Celtic ruins of Santa Tecla as well as the Santa Tecla Church. This wonder of archaeology is an ancient Celtic settlement that stands as a testament to Galicia’s Celtic roots. The ancient people of Galiza inhabited the area over 2,000 years ago and lived is Castros, or small, circular fortifications made of stone. They typically lived high on hilltops and communicated with other villages via bonfires and smoke signals. The ruins at the Santa Tecla settlement give visitors a deeper understanding into the lives of these simple, but industrious people. A model Castro has been erected to give a better idea of what they may have looked like.
A Guarda is located about an hour drive south of Vigo along the AP-9 and PO-552 highways.
The origins of Pontevedra date back over 2,000 years to the time when Galicia (at the time known as Gallaecia) was being integrated into the Roman Empire. The name Pontevedra alludes to two of the city’s distinctive features- its bridge (ponte) and its lush landscape (vedra.) The Ponte de Burgo still stands today over the Lerez River.
Pontevedra continued to thrive throughout the Medieval Ages as a trading hub and has since been a frequented stop on the Camino de Santiago (The Walk of St. James.) Pontevedra is now a bustling city full of university students, superb restaurants and captivating architecture. The ancient section of Pontevedra is a delight to explore on foot, as is the walkway along the marina. Pontevedra is near the heart of the Rías Baixas wine region, famous for its delicate Albariño variety. Wine tourism in the area is booming; other stops along the Rías Baixas route include Sanxenxo, Cambados and O Grove.
Pontevedra is located about a half-hour drive north of Vigo along the AP-9 highway.
On March 1, 1493, Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Pinta, arrived in the port of Baiona with the news of the discovery of America. It was the first news of the discovery to reach Europe and the event is celebrated every year in Baiona. The town boasts a scenic shoreline and an impressive fortress perched high above on the Monterreal Peninsula- the Parador de Baiona.
This remarkable 10th century Medieval castle fortress was intended to deter invaders. Baiona is the oldest port in Galicia and happens to be a strategic location because of its proximity to the Cies Islands and its coastal position in northern Spain. The Parador de Baiona features a luxury hotel within the castle walls, but non-guests are always welcomed to visit the castle. Walking along the perimeter will thrill you as you gain a bird’s eye view of Baiona and the open ocean surrounding it. Seagulls, pine trees and the ocean breeze add to the ambience. This is a must-see in Galicia!
Baiona is located a half-hour drive southwest of Vigo along the AP-9 and AG-57 highways.
This enchanting seaside town is best known for its distinctive promenade and attractive, galeria-style main street façade. This is the most attractive, and also the commercial, part of the town. Visitors who come to Muros for the first time will notice the hundreds of fishing boats and dinghies docked in the harbor.
Its tradition in fishing is not a new one; during the 15th century it was one of the largest seaports in Spain. But even before that Muros was inhabited as far back as 2500 BC during the Bronze Age. Straight off the promenade is the main plaza, enveloped in small town life- children playing, people reading newspapers and the local bar serving up ice-cold beer. Muros boasts an outdoor market twice a week. Interesting fact: the arched entrances to the shops along the main promenade were once designated as fish cleaning and selling stations. The fishermen who lived in the houses did not want to stink up their homes so they sold their catch, feet from the harbor, from these covered areas.
Muros is located about an hour and fifteen-minute drive west of Santiago de Compostela along the AC-550 highway.