The Ribeira Sacra region comprises the lands bathed by the Rivers Sil and Miño, in the area of inland Galicia where these two rivers meet. In the last few kilometres before it flows into the River Miño, at the hamlet of Os Peares, the River Sil runs along the border between the provinces of Lugo and Ourense through a deep canyon, thus creating an uncommon and impressive landscape that is the area's seal of identity

It was here in these lands, in either bucolic or rugged sites, that monks and hermits came to lead an ascetic life at the beginning of the Christian era. These settlements, with the passing of time, became flourishing monasteries from where art, culture and material progress spread out to all of Galicia. Hence the name of Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Riverbank), from which there is written evidence since the 12th century.

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The most important monastery is that of Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil, a centre of power not only in terms of religion, as for centuries its Abbot was in charge of imparting justice and appointing scribes and customs officials.

As a legacy of the last 1,500 years, this part of Galicia contains a rich heritage that includes castles, churches, "pazos" (manor houses) and bridges. Its historical wealth also includes archaeological remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as others that demonstrate the presence of the Roman legions in this point of the Roman Empire's western frontier.

The Ribeira Sacra's relief is comprised of high plateaus and mountains with gentle slopes, due to erosion, that give way abruptly to the waters of the River Sil. The result is a canyon, formed millions of years ago, that is up to 500 m deep in some places. Due to the construction of several reservoirs, the river is navigable along a 40-km stretch. Catamaran cruises, one of the tourist attractions in the area, provide the opportunity to visit the most secluded corners, which would otherwise be inaccessible due to the difficult terrain. At the top of the canyon there are numerous natural viewpoints that "hang" over the river, making them ideal places to contemplate an unusually beautiful landscape.

The active tourism activities available go from trekking to rappel or canyon descent, as well as others such as paragliding, or routes on horseback or mountain bike.

The riverbank vegetation is comprised mainly of oak, chestnut, birch and alder trees, as well as broom, gorse and heath; the colours of the landscape changing according to nature's rhythm as one season gives way to another. Vines constitute the main crop cultivated in this region and are set out on terrace and often mixed with cypress trees. The region's wines, the ideal complement for its renowned gastronomy, are marketed under the Ribeira Sacra designation of origin.

The singular relief of these lands make them a privileged setting for all types of outdoor activities; and let's not forget about the nearby Cabeza de Manzaneda Ski Resort. For the less daring, there is a wide range of traditional festivals and cultural events, sometimes held in castles and monasteries.
 

Route

The route we propose is of low difficulty. It uses a car as back-up and includes short journeys on foot. It is suitable for everyone and ideal to do as a family. The estimated duration is four days. The time distribution should be taken just as an example, as it can be varied according to preference.

Day 1

We will spend the first day of our route in Monforte de Lemos, a town in the province of Lugo considered to be the gateway to the Ribeira Sacra region. Monforte has a vast cultural heritage composed of monasteries, castles, palaces, convents and bridges, all of which make it a place not to be missed by travellers who appreciate art and history.

Terra de Lemos (Land of Lemos) extends over a fertile plain, crossed by the River Cabe and dominated by the San Vicente Mount, the heart of Monforte. The designation "Lemos" comes from Lemavos, the name of a Pre-Roman civilisation – probably of Celtic origin – and whose presence in the area is evidenced by numerous archaeological remains. As both the Romans and the Suevians did in later centuries, the "Lemavos" chose this area to settle, due to its strategic location. The geographers of the time referred to this settlement as Castro Dactonium ("castro" = Celtic settlement). At other times, the name of Monte Forti, direct precedent of the current toponym Monforte, was also used.

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In the 8th century, the already christianised Castro Dactonium was destroyed by the Arabs. Over its remains, the San Vicente do Pino Monastery was later built, from which the mediaeval town of Monforte de Lemos grew as a large agricultural and cattle market. Together with the Torre da Homenaxe (Keep) and the Pazo dos Condes de Lemos (Palace of the Counts of Lemos), the monastery is a part of the San Vicente do Pino monumental complex, the perfect point to begin our visit to the town.

Only a few remains are left today of what the Pazo dos Condes de Lemos, lords of these lands, once was. In its golden age, its rooms were used both to exercise fearsome power and to hold sumptuous feasts. Its walls were hung with Flemish tapestries and works by Titian, El Greco and Raphael. Its archives contained important documents of what was one of the most important lineages of the times. In 1672, a fire reduced everything to ashes.

A herdanza medieval de Monforte de Lemos complétase coas murallas e as súas torres. O seu trazado é irregular, circunstancia que se atribúe a que foron construídas en diferentes etapas. O recinto ten tres saídas: a porta da Cadea Vella, a da Alcazaba e a Nova, na que se pode apreciar o emblema dos Condes gravado en mármore. Algúns tramos foron restaurados hai algúns anos.

Monforte de Lemos's mediaeval heritage is rounded off by the walls and their towers, which are laid out in an irregular form, due, it is thought, to the fact that they were built in several stages. The walls have three gates: the Cadea Vella (Old Chain), the Alcazaba (Citadel) and the Nova (New Gate), this last bearing the emblem of the Counts carved in marble. Some sections were restored a few years ago.

A few metres from the wall, we find some of the most representative streets of the old quarter, such as Rua da Cadea Vella, Rua dos Fornos or Rua do Burato. As we walk through them, we can admire some of the numerous emblazoned houses to be found in Monforte de Lemos, such as those of the Ribadeneira and Quiroga families. In the final years of the Middle Ages, a large community of Jews (the most important one in Galicia, together with that of Ribadavia) settled in these streets and squares, which greatly contributed to boosting trade in the town

We continue on our journey, crossing the Puente Viejo (Old Bridge) over the River Cabe. This bridge is of Roman origin, but its present form dates back to the 16th century. It comprises six semicircular arches and some Medieval decorative elements can be distinguished. Next, we visit the Convent of the Barefoot Franciscan Nuns, also called the Clarisas Convent. More than the building's architecture, its attraction lies in the sacred art museum it houses, one of the most important ones in Spain.
Continuing along the course of the River Cabe, we come to the School of Nosa Señora da Antiga, an important building known as "the little Galician Escorial". The museum in this Renaissance building holds several works by El Greco.

To the historical-artistic heritage of Monforte de Lemos one must add the A Régoa church, formerly called San Jacinto Convent, which is located in the old quarter. Of particular interest are its main altar and its organ, one of the best in Galicia and which is still in perfect condition, despite being over three hundred years old. Other interesting monuments are the Shrine to San Lázaro, the Picos Bridge, the Dos Condes Park and the Pazo de Tor (manor house). To visit the latter we need to travel 8 km along the Escairón road. This manor house dates from the 9th century and is in excellent condition. It contains a library with over 8,000 volumes, as wells as arms, damask curtains, jewels and antique furnitur..

A curiosity worth mentioning is that this village has the narrowest house in Spain, registered as such in the Guinness Book of Records. It measures 1.50 m in width by 20 m in depth and has a ground floor and four storeys. 

Day 2

After visiting the places of interest in Monforte de Lemos, we leave on the C-533 road towards the town of Escairón, which we will reach after travelling 13.8 km. Continuing on until arriving at the CRG-22.

From the village of Belesar we can take a catamarán trip around the Os Peares Reservoir and down the River Miño. The round trip takes about two hours. Keep in mind that, while in spring and summer the catamaran makes regular trips, in the autumn and winter their activity is limited to pre-arranged excursions: for more information on catamarans in INLUDES, Tel: 982 260 196 www.lugoterra.com/rutas_fluviais

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From Belesar, we return to the CRG-22 road and head towards Monforte de Lemos. A short distance away we take the first turnoff to the left, which, after going under the CRG-22 and following the directions given, will take us to the small village of Buxán. Leaving Buxán behind, to the left we will see the San Paio de Diomondi church, which dates back to the 12th century. We continue our route and go past the villages of Lamaquebrada and Ferreira. We reach Eiré and stop off to see the San Miguel de Eiré church, one of the most peculiar Galician Romanesque buildings of the 12th century. To visit the inside, we have to contact the tourist office in O Castro de Ferreira (Pantón), Tel: 982 456 377/005. Calling this same number, one can arrange to visit to the Romanesque churches of San Fiz de Cangas and Santo Estevo de Atán.

After travelling 4.3 km we reach O Castro de Ferreira, capital of the municipality of Pantón, where there are some very interesting buildings to be seen. Its civil architecture monuments include the building at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square) and the Maside Pazo (manor house), although the latter is a private home and cannot be visited.

As regards religious architecture, a visit to the Bernardine Nuns Monastery is a must. Located on the outskirts of the village, its most singular feature is that is the only one in Galicia to have been occupied continuously and solely by women, since its foundation. The church and the cloister can be visited daily from 10 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 6 pm. At the caretaker's office we can purchase home-produced macaroons made by the nuns themselves.

From O Castro de Ferreira we take the N-120 road towards Ourense. Once on the road, we take a turnoff to the left which will take us to San Fiz de Cangas. After the visit we backtrack to take the N-120 towards Ourense.

But stop off a few kilometres on to visit the San Estevo de Atán church. Back again on the N-120, we travel towards Os Peares. From this last point we will follow the signs that take us to San Vicente de Pombeiro, travelling a stretch on a narrow road where we should drive cautiously. It is worth taking time to visit the San Vicente de Pombeiro church, located in a beautiful spot over the River Sil. Despite the fact that it is normally closed, looking through the large window cut into one of the side doors for this purpose, we will be able to get quite a good view of the inside.

Once we have visited the Romanesque religious architecture on the banks of the Rivers Miño and Sil, we journey on to the town of Os Peares, where the second day of our itinerary ends.
 

Day 3

The morning of our third day begins by leaving the town of Os Peares, where the waters of the Rivers Miño and Sil merge. Crossing the old bridge over the Sil, we will continue climbing alongside the river to the Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil Reservoir. Our road follows the river channel and enters its canyon. We drive up the hill and a row of trees parallel to the water. The railway track runs along the other side of the river bank. In the riverbank lands we will be able to see the terraces built to cultivate the grapes from which the A Ribeira Sacra wines are made.

We leave the floodgates of the San Pedro Dam on the left 2.2 km from Os Peares. A sign warns that the road is private property. A few kilometres further on we come to the Santo Estevo Reservoir, which we will also skirt. After 12.7 km from Os Peares, we will find a detour to the left. The sign reads: "Embarcadoiro de Santo Estevo 1 km". This is the boarding point for a catamaran that runs between San Estevo and Abeleda, located a few kilometres upriver, and back. Another route goes from Santo Estevo to San Fiz and back. When the reservoir was built, 80% of San Fiz was flooded. In the summer months, when the water level drops to its lowest, the remains of the old settlement can be seen.

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There is another, longer route that takes us 24 km downriver from Abeleda. It turns back very close to the floodgates, at a place known as Os Chancís, where there is a pier carved out of rock. This trip takes three hours and can be enjoyed all year round. The catamaran sails at 11:30 am and at 4 pm. It should be taken into account that with regard to all these trips, some of them only leave if there is a minimum of fifteen passengers. The trips can be booked beforehand. More information: Travel Pardo (Ourense) Tel: 988 210 460 and Hemisferios Viajes (Lugo) Tel.: 982 254 545.

Our catamarán journey will take us through some sites with great charm. The tranquil waters and the rocky canyon formations merge together to create impressive views. Up in the heights we will be able to see the Santa Cristina Monastery and we will pass close to the site known as Os Balcóns de Madrid (Balconies of Madrid). On the river banks there are small piers used by the area's wine-growers to transport the grapes after the harvest. In some cases, the exit towards the reservoir is the only one there is. We finalise our morning's journey enjoying these magnificent landscapes.

The afternoon route for the third day in the Ribeira Sacra begins at the Santo Estevo pier. From its turnoff we continue along the road that brought us from Os Peares, towards Loureiro and Luintra. After four km we come to a crossroads. If we turn to the left we will come to the Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil Monastery and the site known as Os Balcóns de Madrid. On the other hand, the fork to the right will take us to Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil Monastery.

We propose first of all to visit Santa Cristina, so we turn to the left. At the village of Caxide we find a curious bell tower made of cast iron. We reach Parada de Sil 13.8 km from the crossroads. The Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil Monastery is 4.5 km ahead; we take a detour to the left of this hamlet. After the visit we retrace the road and return to the road. A few metres ahead, on the left, we will see the sign that indicates how to get to Os Balcóns de Madrid. From this point we have magnificent views over the River Sil. We will enjoy the unique beauty of the landscape created by the walls of the Sil Canyon as it closes in the waters of the reservoir.

Following the road linking Parada de Sil with A Teixeira and O Castro de Caldelas, we find the canyon of the River Mao. The Mao meets the Sil River at Barxacova and here there begins a route of quite unique characteristics. A spectacular wooden bridge built at a considerable height above the rugged terrain along the riverbanks invites us to enjoy the scenery. The walk runs largely at the height of the treetops through a forest of oak, chestnut, arbutus and laurel trees. We recommend that you do not to miss this experience, as this route has a very different appeal to that of the other hiking trails in the Ribeira Sacra.

We turn back and go, once again through Parada de Sil, Caxide and Loureiro, towards Luintra. On the way we will go past the turnoff to the Santo Estevo pier (where the catamaran sails from). The Santo Estevo recreation area is located 2.4 km from this turnoff, on the right-hand side of the road. It has a tourist information office close by. Here we will take the road that branches off to the right, and 3.5 km further on we will reach the Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil Monastery, restored in recent years as one of the most attractive establishments in the network of state-run hotels.

We return to the main road and continue our journey towards Luintra, capital of the municipality of Nogueira de Ramuín, situated at a distance of 5 km. This municipality is popularly known as the place of origin of the "afiadores e paragüeiros" (knife sharpeners and umbrella repairers). We arrive to the hamlet's centre, where there is a roundabout. Here, we will turn to the left, towards Loña do Monte, a town situated 6 km away. A few kilometres after the village we will see three almost identical rocky formations which indicate that we are nearing the San Pedro de Rocas (St. Peter of the Rocks) Monastery, our last stop of the day. We enter a lush conifer forest and the signs lead us to the monastery after travelling 5 km.

 

Day 4

The final day of our route through the Ribeira Sacra begins in the surroundings of the San Pedro de Rocas Monastery, our last stop on the previous day. Once on the road we turn to the left and a few kilometres further along we will run into the C-536 road, where we continue towards Esgos (to the left). Two kilometres on the other side of this town we find the Alto do Couso (Couso Hill), situated at an altitude of 701 m. We come to a crossroads 5.6 km from Esgos. Here, we turn left to get to Xunqueira de Espadanedo, where we will visit the Santa María Monastery.

Continuing our journey, about 6 km from Xunqueira, we reach the Alto do Rodicio (Rodicio Hill), at an altitude of 950 m. Continuing on a further 6 km down the road, we reach Vilariño Frío, where we can stop to visit the bridge. It is of Roman origin, though it has elements from much later periods. We must bear in mind that we will have to walk 400 m to reach the bridge. In winter it is quite common to find large amounts of water in the area.

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Vilariño Frío is but 1 km from Leboreiro. In the latter village we will turn to the right to go towards Montederramo, which is 5 km away, where we will visit the Santa María Monastery, currently used as a school. Some zones are private, but most of them can be visited in a guided tour.

From Montederramo, we continue on the road that runs along the side of the monastery. After 2.7 km we take a turnoff to the left, following the signs to Marrubio and O Castro de Caldelas. The Marrubia stone cross and the Santo Antón Chapel are just 1 km away from the turnoff. After this break we go back along the same route and on to Castro de Caldelas, situated about 16 km away, where we will visit the castle, the Santa Isabel Church and the Shrine to the Virxe dos Remedios (Virgin of the Remedies).

We leave O Castro de Caldelas and take the road that goes to A Teixeira. This toponym means "yew forest", a tree considered sacred by the Celts. To the left, after 2 km, we will be able to see the ruins of the San Paio de Abeleda Monastery. We will also be able to see the terraces where the Amandi vines are grown, located on the opposite bank of the River Sil, in the Lugo side of the Ribeira Sacra region. Finally, to end our day and this route through la Ribeira Sacra, we make our way back to Monforte de Lemos (situated 25 km from O Castro de Caldelas) along the OU-601, a route that crosses the River Minho through a landscape of great beauty.

 

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