Every coast is salty. But northwest Spain’s Galician coastline seems the saltiest of all: its landscape licked into shape by the churning, whirling waves, its cuisine at one with the sea and its architecture, history and general attitude shaped by the way that surf reaches the shore.
This is a place to experience the real side of Spain, away from tower blocks, fake paella and concrete-edged, crowded hotel pools.
Overdeveloped resorts, you know who you are.
And it's an ideal spot for a self-drive holiday. Without further ado, here's how to plan a Galicia road trip. Your itinerary for Northern Spain.
In Galicia, the curves and swerves of the coastline resemble the fused sutures of the skull: intricate, delicate and yet immensely strong.
Few regions in the world are like this, the closest one to mention would be Ireland’s wild Atlantic way. In fact, should you set sail without a sail from that part of Ireland, Galicia is where you would wash up, as many monks did centuries and centuries ago.
With short flights from London and a car and sat nav on board, it’s easy to wiggle your way along the coast from La Coruña to Santiago de Compostela and enjoy an authentic Spain that few visitors get to see.
I cheated, a little, in this case. Heading off with a guide, a driver and a couple of good friends, this plan left me with more time to gaze through the windows, to stand on the clifftops and to track down some churros.
The fields may be green, the weather changeable, but some of the sweetest parts of Spanish culture still, of course, remain.
Galicia’s distinctive landscape, a mix of lakes, valleys, soft-sand beaches and ferocious, raging-black cliffs, results from a blip in geography.
Like most places, valleys developed as the rivers ran into the sea. Years ago, when the sea levels rose, cutting off Britain, the coastline of Galicia flooded. The sea flowed inland across the rivers, creating marshy, wide rias you can still see today.
It’s these rias that explain the extended, Loch Ness monster-like bridges.
And it’s these rias that explain the high quality, ubiquitous seafood.
It’s Galicia’s coastline that creates its lighthouse trail: from black and white and candy-striped red right to the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Roman lighthouse in La Coruña.
In short, and much as I hate the overused term, a road trip along Galicia’s coastline provides a real taste of the real Spain. And yes, everything we experience is real, no matter where we are.
But. Well. You know what I mean…
The Sleeping Chestnut is a treehouse for grown-ups in Galicia.
As we pulled up outside El Castaño Dormilón, I’ll admit, my hopes were not that high.
A stone brick house on an unmarked road; trees crammed tight, their canopies like clouds.
I’d be lying if I didn’t briefly consider using those infamous words: Bates Motel.
How wrong a girl can be.
Inside this former village school, the rooms were awash with white and light. My suite at the top of the house bore skylights that seemed to reach and kiss the trees.
The name El Castaño Dormilón means sleeping chestnut, a term referring to the local saying and also the heavy presence of wood in this restored place of childhood learning.
It’s a rare place that can successfully marry minimalist chic with gnarly wooden beams, but owners Mónica and Alex pull it off and with aplomb.
They’re friendly and welcoming, yet know when to step back and allow their guests some privacy.
Mónica used to work in the arts magazine trade in Barcelona, on the other side of the coast, perhaps explaining her eye for artistic detail. A bold splash of colour here, a scroll of poetry there.
Rooms have different themes and colours, although all look as though they belong. The white suite on the top floor has a dressing area, desk and free wifi, jacuzzi jet bathroom with transparent walls to the rest of the room. Beyond the skylights, normal windows open up into the trees, creating the idea, I’m sure, that this is a luxury treehouse for grown-ups.
A Smegg kettle and teacups provide a morning pick-up before taking the lift downstairs.
The open spaces downstairs seem designed for reading, eating, or quiet contemplation.
Mónica and Alex serve up traditional Galician seafood: crusty bread and lemon-zested shellfish.
They also have a wonderful approach to dietary restrictions, a rare pleasure these days in the world of travel.
Flights take around two hours from either London Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted to La Coruña, Santiago de Compostela or Vigo. Find more about travel to Galicia here.
I also received a complimentary ticket from the Heathrow Express to connect from my Cardiff – London Paddington train to the airport. The Heathrow Express has changed a lot since I used to live in London: it’s now possible to get tickets for as little as £5.50 if you book in advance.
Disclosure: I travelled to Galicia, Spain as part of a project between Captivate and the Spanish Tourist Board. As ever, as always I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise I lose the will to even enjoy my churros. Life is just too short.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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