Along the Galician coast the sea enters straight into the lives of its people, who meet at the beach, on the cliffs, in the port or at the fish market.

They let it enter their houses, their churches, their streets and they even let it reach their tables. To become aware of this, how about spending a whole day following the salty trail of the Atlantic through the cities, towns and fishing villages of the Rías Baixas? We will travel along one of the most winding coastal outlines that you have ever seen. And we will stop to admire the powerful fishermen's guild of Pontevedra, the unique marine character of Combarro and the seafood strength of O Grove and Cambados.

Pontevedra

The call of the winding coastline of the Rías Baixas will wake us early. An early start is essential to take full advantage of our journey as sailors on dry land. We can set off on this adventure on our own or signing up for a professional guided tour. In addition to experiencing it, this option will enable us to interpret it.

We propose starting in Pontevedra. Observing its most marine side will be our first inspiring challenge. We begin by crossing the bridge Ponte de A Barca, heading for the old town, which the people of Pontevedra can rightly boast is one of Galicia's most well preserved.

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The fishermen's guild sponsored the construction of the Basilica of Santa María a Maior in the 16th century

In the square known as Praza Alonso de Fonseca is where we find evidence that, in spite of its appearance, Pontevedra was born and was devoted to the sea. When looking at the Basílica de Santa María La Maior we become aware of the wealth and importance of its fishermen's guild, a group of professionals of the sea, which sponsored its construction in the 16th century. It was possible thanks to the extraordinary income from sardine fishing using enclosure gear in the Rías Baixas.

Its main facade represents one of the best examples of plateresque style of Galicia. On the iconography of its staircase look out for a quite unusual image: a Saint Jerome with glasses. We will then wander around the streets Tristán de Montenegro, Álvar Páez, Formigueira or San Martiño, among other picturesque rúas (streets) in the neighbourhood of A Moreira, the city's most marine suburb.

If you fancy a coffee or even a hearty breakfast, try the bars located in many of the beautiful squares, such as the Praza da Leña, A Verdura, or A Ferrería. You will feel like a local, for if something distinguishes the people of Pontevedra it is the good use they make of these public meeting places.

Combarro

We leave the vertex of the ria de Pontevedra and take road PO-308, towards O Grove, to reach the north side of the ria. After approximately a ten-minute drive we stop at the village of Combarro, which offers good examples of marine architecture.

The itinerary that we propose aims at completing the perfect triangle that is created here out of stone, granary ("hórreo") and stone cross ("cruceiro").

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The pathway of the "cruceiros"

We set off from the Praza de San Roque square, in the town's old quarter, where we find two of the many "cruceiros", or stone crosses, that will accompany us throughout the journey. The main one in the centre of the square joins, on their respective sides, Christ on the Cross with Our Lady of Socorro, which carries a stick to scare away the devil. The most unusual feature of the stone crosses of Combarro is that if we look in the same direction that Christ is facing we look in-land, and if we do the same with Our Lady we look out at sea.

In this square we get the feeling that we are in a town carved out of the rock that goes down towards the ria. We can even see how the houses of the fishermen take advantage of the granite massif for their foundations. From the square we go down to the street known as A Rúa, the old quarter's main street, where we can marvel at the seaside architecture, the houses standing so close to each other, with porches and balconies decorated with stone, iron or wooden balustrades. The downward slope to the sea forces us to take the stairs carved out of the rock.

The coast of Combarro is characterized by its rows of thirty stone granaries

We continue to the beach of Padrón, that offers us a breathtaking panoramic view of the coastline of Combarro, that is unique in the world because of its rows of thirty raised stone granaries, right by the sea. Dizzy by the smell of saltpetre, we can take in the architecture of these special stone structures, often combined with painted wood.

The granaries stand on stone pilasters to keep moisture out, for sailors used them to dry fish and store corn, potatoes and other products that they brought in boats from the other side of the ria, where they owned farmland, as this side of the shore is mountainous and less suitable for farming. We will be captivated by their appearance, especially when they are decorated with plants, with the painting peeling off due to the abrasiveness of the sea breeze, or with small tufts of grass growing on their rooftops.

Walking down the Rúa do Mar we will find that many of its houses accommodate taverns and restaurants. So after the walk it might be the ideal moment to taste the first tapa (appetizer) of the morning, before going back to our path. And finally we say farewell to Combarro, after experiencing life in a typical fishing village, characterized by its bustling activity. It is common to see fishing boats coming and going, women gathering shellfish at low tide or mending nets.

O Grove

We now head towards O Grove, along the same road, following the winding part of the Galician coastline. To get an idea of its extremely winding outline, if we could stretch it, its perimeter would measure over one thousand kilometres, reaching all the way down to Almería. 

Along the way we can observe its rounded interior geography and we will be surprised to see, among its towering granite houses, smaller or larger areas of albariño grape trellises and other varieties under the Rías Baixas Denomination of Origin, that produces the famous wines.

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We will sail along one of the world's largest shellfish banks

Upon arriving in O Grove we head towards its port to live our first marine experience. Going on board catamaran with a glass floor or on a sailboat we can sail through one of the world's largest shellfish banks.

Here, in the heart of the ria of Arousa, more than half of the 3,000 shellfish beds that exist in the Galician rias are gathered. They are wooden platforms that float on the sea for the breeding of mussels, oysters and scallops. On a journey that lasts about an hour and a half we can experience on site the day-to-day work of seamen, right by shellfish beds. We will see them handling the thick ropes that the bivalves cling to, cleaning them of algae, parasites, and untangling them. When they draw them out, which is not an easy task, for they can weigh more than 300 kilograms, we will see how they are full of shellfish. The seamen themselves will explain to us the growth stage that the molluscs are currently at, as well as their breeding process.

With the saltpetre on our face we return to the port with bagfuls of knowledge about a trade that supports most of the families of the area. In the nearby restaurants they offer all that we just saw in the sea only a while ago, in addition to the clams harvested on the beaches and other crustaceans and fish from the ria. The menus and prices are usually displayed at the entrance, making it easier for us to choose. A walk along the seafront promenade, with views of the ria, towards the bridge over the island of A Toxa, is an excellent dessert.

Cambados

We head to Cambados along the PO-550, where we arrive in a little over half an hour. In addition to being the capital of the Albariño wine and a stately town, its marine character is likewise stamped in its genes.

A quiet walk around the most marine neighbourhood

To verify this, wandering along the streets of the neighbourhood of San Tomé is a must. Some streets are so narrow that when you stretch out your arms you can touch the houses on both sides. It is also not unusual for us to smell the aromas from their kitchens. Sometimes we can also smell the paint that sailors use to paint their houses, which is the same one they use for their boats and that gives the neighbourhood its lively colours. Here we can visit the Casa do Pescador, a quaint museum with examples of sailor life.

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The women shellfish gatherers will guide us through the fish market

If you prefer a more active option, we can delve into the fish market, located in the more industrial quarter of the town, in the port of Tragove. We can plan the visit so that the shellfish gatherers  who go there to market their products can guide us. In this way we can participate in the whole process, from its selection, weighing labelling to the frantic bidding.

The perfect farewell will be enjoying a glass of Albariño wine in the high-class neighbourhood of Fefiñáns, accompanied by tapas or a dinner menu, with the same seafood that we saw being handled at the fish market.

Arriba