By Cat Gaa
If you were to ask a Spaniard what regional characteristics I best embodied, it would be a clear Andalusia. I exaggerate, love both beaches and mountains, speak a crisp andalú and relish in a sevillano springtime.
But my heart almost, almost belongs in another place in Spain: the Northwest corner tucked far into misty valleys, with finger-like fjords and an extreme love for shellfish. Galicia is only topped by Southern Spain, but Galicia to the ruddy-faced fisherman who speak in a singsong language and the teenagers with mohawks is more than pulpo and percebes, surfing and Santiago (though that’s a great introduction).
When my boyfriend was sent on a two-week course to Galicia this Spring, I jumped at the chance to show him the beauty of simplicity there, share my favorite tapas bars, and stand in the glory of Praza do Obradoiro with him. As I work during July in A Coruña, an ancient city nestled on a mushroom-shaped peninsula, it’s the region where I’ve lived the longest outside of Andalucía. The pulpo (octopus) and percebes (barnacles)? My diet during July. I tried surfing here for the first time and have come to love the region like my own. Here are a few of my favorite things about Spain‘s untamed Galician region.
In being perched at the top of a peninsula, it’s kind of your duty to hold down the where-land-meets-water fort. Galicia has more than 1600 km of coastline which gives way to the powerful Rias Altas y Baixas Mountains. Galicia’s coasts are home to many of Europe’s blue flag beaches, known for their water quality. I’ve spent many afternoons laying on the rocky beaches of the Orzán and Riazor in Coruña, and looking across to the world’s oldest working lighthouse, the Torre de Hércules.
Locals claim that the Islas Ciès, an archipellageo off the coast of Vigo, have some of the most pristine beaches in the world. It’s not only protected as a national park with a thriving flock of seagulls (sorry, couldn’t resist), but the Guardian UK recently heralded it as the World’s Most Beautiful Beach.
The Food and Drink
Galicia’s landscape lends perfectly to the regional gastronomy. The coastline and rivers produce some of Spain’s finest seafood and white wines. Polbo a feira (Galician octopus), empanada gallega (puff pastry with tuna) and percebes (barnacles) turn up on nearly every menu, and they’re best washed down with a taza, or saucer, of white wine. Albariño wine is crisp and clear, while Ribeiro tends to have slightly more body. What’s more, one of Spain’s most beloved beers, Estrella Galicia, is on tap in most bars and served with peanuts or the locally fabricated Bonilla la Vista potato chips.
Tip: in A Coruña, Bar La Bombilla gives you cheap milanesa pork loins and croquettes (C/ Torreiro, 6) and my pick in Santiago de Compostela is O Gato Negro (Rúa de Raiña, s/n).
A college friend of mine once told me his grandparents were from Galicia. As I shrieked with joy, I asked him to imitate his intonation. The gallegos have a cheery, singsong-y way of communicating. As one of Spain’s five official languages, it’s taught in schools and newspapers publish this hybrid of Castillian Spanish and Portuguese.
While I can’t claim to be an expert, Galego speakers generally swap j for x, force de, of, and los and las, the, together to form dos and das and add the diminutive iño. Who can really resist a bright boas días and a poquiño of Galician charm, anyway?
The Simplicity of Life
Galicians seem to fall in the same categories when all is said and done, and there are universal truths about them as a people: traditional, steadfastly religious, hard-working, cheerful. A gallego takes pleasure from the simple smell of salt in the air, a good albariño wine, and a walk along the port at the end of a long, hearty meal. Some of Spain’s most well-known sons come from this small corner – General Francisco Franco, writer Manuel Rivas, Inditex founder and billionaire Amancio Ortego, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy are all galegos by birth, not to mention the scores that come from Galician roots.
But me, I feel refreshed when I spend time in Galicia – full of life, full of light energy, well-fed on mariscos and white wine. The best of life is in Galicia, from the feeling of sand between your toes to hearty laughs while munching on potato chips.
Upon receiving an offer to work at a radio news broadcast center in Chicago, Cat Gaa turned it down and turned up at the Consulate of Spain. Five years and a daily craving for Cruzcampo later, she writes by night at Sunshine and Siestas about Sevilla – toros, tapas and just about everything else – while wrangling kids by day.