ABOUT GALICIA

CONTENTS

Intro

Geography

Politics

History

Language

People and Culture

Relevant Web Sites

Some Bits of Galician History from Richard Ford

Some Odd Facts about Galicia

Some Random Statistics

FAQS

Glossary

George Borrow on Santiago and St James

Comparable English Myths

INTRO

In truth, Galicia is almost nobody’s idea of Spain. For a start, it’s as green as anything you’ll find in Britain or Ireland. And just as beautiful. In addition, it has wonderful seafood, great wines and spectacular beaches. Plus fjords, mountains, immense forests, dozens of rivers, awesome valleys and architectural wonders aplenty. Oh yes, and a lot more sun. 

Located up in the north west corner of Spain – above Portugal – Galicia is separated from the rest of the country by extensive mountain ranges on all sides. To the south, though, only the river Miño separates it from Portugal. For hundreds of years Galicians looked west for the solutions to their problems – to the New World – rather than to the rest of Spain. In its turn, Spain regarded Galicia as a poor – and not-too-bright – relative and treated it rather shabbily. Until recently, the roads through the mountains were less than adequate and the journey from say, Vigo, to Madrid took 10 to 12 hours. With the opening of the A52 and A6 autopistas, this can now be done in less than 5 hours. Possibly even 4 if you drive at the sort of (illegal) speeds which used to be quite commonplace on Spanish motorways 

So things have now changed and Galicia is an increasingly popular destination for those Spaniards (and a few smart foreigners) who don’t want the heat of the Andalucian, Murcian or Valencian summer but do want the scenic beauty and culinary delights in which Galicia abounds. As a result, while Galicia still lags behind the rest of Spain in most things, along the coast at least it has a flourishing economy. Most impressively, this tourism-driven development of the last 15 to 20 years has not turned the coast into a replica of the high-rise concrete hells of other Spanish costas. It is still a place in which you can enjoy Spain at its simplest and its best. And where any foreigners you bump into are likely to be looking for the same things as you – beauty, serenity, culture and good living. Not packed beaches and restaurants which open at 5, close at 7 and serve only local variants of British ‘staples’. If this is what you want, stop reading now; you are wasting your time. Galicia is decidedly not for you.

If, on the other hand, Galicia sounds as if it might be what you are looking for, then read on.

For those with other specific queries, there is a FAQ section at the end of this page.

Towards the end of this page on Galicia there’s a Glossary of words you may come across elsewhere, especially if you read my Guide to Pontevedra on this site. Some of the words are Gallego versions of place names and common geographical terms. The Spanish equivalent is given to reduce/increase your confusion.

Geography

As already noted, Galicia is Spain’s north west corner. Actually, it is Europe’s western-most region. West and north it faces the sea. East, it faces the mountains shared with Asturias and Castile y Leon. And south, it faces Portugal. In effect, it’s somewhat hemmed in. In large part, this has determined its history and its alienation from the rest of Spain. 

Like much of Spain, Galicia had a mountainous interior. Its coastline is perhaps the most spectacular in the peninsula, featuring many fjords and numerous outstanding beaches. For the purists, there are ‘1,200km of winding coastline, 750 beaches and 275km of fine, white sand’. 

Politics

Briefly, Galicia is one of Spain’s 17 Autonomous Communities. It has four provinces:- 

Lugo  Capital – Lugo
La Coruña              – Santiago de Compostela
Pontevedra               – Pontevedra
Ourense              – Ourense

Responsibility for managing the Community is delegated to the Xunta (Junta) of Galicia, which sits in Santiago and is headed up by the ageing Manuel Fraga, who was one of Franco’s ministers in his last administration of the early to mid 70s. Needless to say, he belongs to the right-of-centre party, Partido Popular, which he actually founded after Franco’s much-awaited departure. 

Galicia long had the status of a ‘kingdom’ but lost it in the 1830s. In 1936 it was on the verge of getting the same degree of independence as that already granted by the central government to both Catalunia and the Basque Country when the Civil War broke out and put the kibosh on that. It does have a ‘nationalist’ element but this is nowhere near as strong and as active as similar movements in Catalunia and, especially, the Basque Country. Terrorist activities, for example, are unknown. By and large, nationalist policies and gestures are the preserve of local councils. Whether this will change as and when Fraga goes and, perhaps, the PP lose power is anyone’s guess. 

History

An Englishman more famous among Spaniards than Brits – Gerald Brenan – wrote something along the lines (I think) that the history of a people is a history of its land law.

In Spain, the greatest contrast is between the vast estates of Andalucia and the microscopic plots of rural Galicia. The latifundia and the minifundia. Whereas the former are enough to provide owners who never visit them with a lifestyle beyond the imagination, the latter are frequently just about enough to provide a hard-working peasant family with sufficient to live off. Needless to say, there is no place for modern machinery, which would be both difficult and thoroughly uneconomic to use on tiny plots, many of them clinging to the hillside. Ox-drawn carts can still be seen in the interior. As can the circular stone houses which until recently were shared by both humans and animals. 

These small plots are the result of constant division and sub-division on death, there being no law of primogeniture in Galicia. They also reflect the inability of landowners to enlarge their holdings by moving north, south, east or west. It’s hard to plough in the Atlantic, the Bay of Biscay, barren mountains or a foreign country. As a result – as John Hooper puts it – ‘Galicia’s agriculture is woefully backward. What you see in Galicia today is not far removed from strip-farming in the Middle Ages’. 

Galicia has had its fair share of invasions – the Celts around 600BC, the Romans around 50AD, the Visigoths around 400AD, the Normans during the Middle Ages and the French in 1808. Then, of course, she was ‘visited’ from time to time by Francis Drake in the 16th. century. Interestingly, though, the region was largely unaffected by the occupation of Spain by the Moors from the 8th. century onwards. True, the Arabian hordes sacked Santiago de Compostela in 977 but they didn’t hang around much after that, perhaps finding the mountains and the winter rains too much to bear. Galicians like to see the Celtic legacy as being the most enduring but spoilsport sceptics insist that this is a 19th century invention of nationalists in search of an identity different from that of any in the rest of Spain. Nonetheless, disregarding the Latin legacy on the language, the cultural message that Galicia now sends out is one of strong Celtic connections. Like Ireland but with sun. As yet, though, the Galicians haven’t managed to turn their country into one huge theme park. Or to convince a gullible international public that Galicia is the best place to go to learn Spanish, while savouring the local ‘crack’.

Language

In Galicia, more than 80% of the people speak Galician well, though nearly all of them will also speak Castellano (which is what they call Spanish) and may even choose to use it most of the time. Galician is known as Galego in the local language and Gallego in Castellano. 

It is a major faux pas to refer to Galego as a dialect of Spanish since it isn’t. It is one of the five Iberian languages into which Latin transmuted itself. The other four are Spanish (Castellano), Catalan, Asturian and Portuguese. In addition, there is, of course, Basque, which bears no relation to either any of these or to Latin. Truth to tell, Portuguese developed from Galego, the original language having spread south before it was standardised in Lisbon. Even now, the people of Galicia and north Portugal can understand each other reasonably well. 

In a nice touch, Franco banned the use of Galician in public despite having been born in Ferrol in north Galicia. Perhaps he had a repressive father who shouted at him in the local tongue. 

People and Culture

The are c.3 million people in Galicia and they are widely dispersed. 

The Galicians are well aware that they have a reputation for being not just backward and conservative but also mistrustful, cunning and dishonest. In fact, the word ‘galleguismo’ is used in the rest of Spain to mean ‘ambiguous. They are also aware that they are the butt of many jokes, as the Irish are to the English. Of course, the main factor behind all of this has simply been the poverty of Galicia. When Spain itself was still pretty poor in the 1960s, Galicia was even poorer. And now that Spain is up there with the rest of Europe and still motoring, Galicia still seems relatively worse off. Mainly because it is. Things certainly are cheaper here, though there are naturally pockets of great wealth and it is not too hard to find expensive places and things in and on which to spend your surplus cash. If you must. 

As for the cunning and the dishonesty, suffice to say that it isn’t any more in evidence than it is in any of the other six countries in which I have lived. And I very much doubt that it is greater than in any other part of Spain. Like so much to do with Galicia, it ranks as folklore now. 

Galicia is home to numerous myths and superstitions. Its root cause is probably centuries of poverty but who can really say. The mist on the mountains may well have been a factor. Here’s a few samples, starting with the two that have brought millions of people to Santiago since the 11th century and led to a vast pilgrimage industry which is now almost as strong as ever. 

  • The apostle St. James (Santo Iago) came to Galicia to spread the gospel after the death of Christ
  • The body of St. James was brought back to Galicia (by a magic boat, as it happens) in the first century AD. It was then lost for a while (c. 750 years) but found just in time, in 813, to provide a rallying point for the Christian troops fending off the Islamic raiders. In fact, St. James actually put in an appearance on the battlefield and was seen to be slashing off the heads of Moors with great abandon. This bloody scene is now captured in various ways, most notably in the form of colourful little statuettes that can be bought in Santiago. A cathedral was built on the spot where his remains had so fortuitously turned up. [An aside – I have recently been reminded that England has not one but two similar magical stories. Details in the Appendix for those interested]
  • The city of Pontevedra was found by Teucrus, the half-brother of Ajax, who wandered west after the end of the Trojan War.
  • Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) was born in Pontevedra. I like this one best
  • One of Cristopher Columbus’s ships – the Santa Maria – was built in the naval yards of Pontevedra and originally called La Gallega. This one might just be true
  • The mythical town of Valverde is submerged in the Carregal lagoon, near Corrubedo in Pontevedra
  • Ireland was colonised in Celtic times by followers of the great Galician leader, Breogán. Hence the close Celtic connection.

By about 250BC, the Celts had spread from central Europe to the British Isles in the north and to the Atlantic coast of Iberia in the west. Whatever they left behind in Spain, it didn’t include any vocabulary. There is nothing like Gaelic, Welsh or Breton spoken either in Galicia or anywhere else in Spain. Nonetheless the Galicians like to think of themselves as having deep Celtic roots and affinities with Ireland, in particular. In fact, another local myth is that Galicia was ‘colonised’ by settlers from Ireland and Scotland in the 3rd century BC. This, of course, would make the Galicians different from the rest of Spain. Whatever the validity of this belief, there is no gainsaying that the Galicians both love singing rather morbid songs and enjoy listening to bagpipe music. More impressively, they have a long literary tradition in their own language. Indeed, one of their most famous writers was a Nobel Prize winner. 

As for superstitions – legends of werewolves persist and witches, goblins and fairies continue to feature in the lives of many. Most visibly, fortune-telling is a widespread activity in Galicia. Its most modern form is TV phone-in programmes which allow gullible souls to see and hear the Tarot cards being read while their phone bills rack up offscreen. 

Whether Celtic or not, the Galicians certainly do uphold one Spanish tradition – they throw fiestas whenever they can. During the summer months, there is bound to one somewhere near wherever you are, on whatever day. Many of these have a gastronomic theme and provide an excellent excuse to imbibe, if you are sad enough to need one. 

Relevant web sites

Most of these are in Spanish but the ones in English should bring an occasional smile to your face. 

 Tur Galiciaturgalicia.es
 The Spanish Tourist Officetourspain.es   and  turespana.com
Galinorgalinor.es/galicia
The Galician Xunta/Junta sitexunta.es
Directory/Guidegaliciaonline.es
 The Rias Baixas Tourist Organisation
 
riasbaixas.org
 Directory/Guidegalice.net
Guide of the Cost de la Muerte area
 
costameiga.com
 
Directory/Guide
 
aparadanta.com
 
Guide from the Diputation of La Coruna
 
dicoruna.es
 
Directory/Guide
 
galiciacity.com
 
Directory/Guide
 
galiciadigital.com
 
Directory/Guide
 
guiadelmundo.com
 
Guide from the Pontevedra town council, also in English
 
concellodepontevedra.es
 
Guide to a coastal town/region on the Morrazo peninsula
 
bueu.com
 

The site of the Rias Baixas Tourist Organisation is said to have more than 1300 pictures and descriptions of 250 monuments, 194 beaches and 150 fiestas. Plus details of 623 places in which you can stay and 1050 bars, cafés and restaurants. This should be enough for anybody. The information is organised in separate guides for each of 62 municipalities, together with a ‘magazine’ covering cultural activities. All this is only available only in Spanish but, as I have said elsewhere, you can always ask Google to give you a machine-driven translation. If nothing else, this is good for a few laughs.

The Galician radio and TV channel also has a site [crtvg.es] which contains – among other things – several live webcams dotted around Galicia, including various tourist spots. You can  navigate this site in English. The camera for Pontevedra is actually situated on a radio mast close to my house in the hills. So the view it gives of the town is simliar to the one I have from my sitting room, except that mine is much higher and wider and includes the mountainous backdrop to the city. Not to mention the sky. I should stress that my house is not a tourist spot. 

Some bits of Galician history (from Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain)

Astonishing though this may seem, the mountainous zone stretching along the Pyrenees and westward through Cantabria into Galicia was probably more densely populated in the tenth century than ever before or since 

In 997, the Moors – under Almanzor – sacked the city of Santiago de Compostela and carried off the bells of the church of St James [Sant Iago] to Córdoba. There they remained until the Christian conqueror of Córdoba, king Fernando III of Castile, sent them back to Compostela in 1236. 

Slavery was the lot of many Muslims who fell into Christian hands, just as it was of many Christians who fell into Muslim hands. Muslim prisoners-of-war were employed as slave labour on the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the twelfth century. 

Some odd facts about Galicia

  • The founder of Zara comes from here. His is now the largest business enterprise in the Community
  • Fidel Castro is of Galician origin. Not bad, eh? Franco and Castro.
  • So many Galicians emigrated to Argentina that the word for Spanish there is ‘Gallego’
  • When they meet each other, Galicians often say ‘Goodbye’ (‘Hasta luego/loguiño’) rather than ‘Hello’. This doesn’t help their image with other Spaniards, with whom it reinforces the belief that they are a strange, unfriendly and uncommunicative people. Like the English, perhaps.
  • Other Spaniards also accuse Galicians of always answering a question with another question, usually ‘Why do you want to know?’. This has never been my experience. But why do you ask?
  • During the second half of the 19th century and well into the 20th, close British links were established and maintained with Galicia via the regular use of the estuary of the river Arousa by the British navy for fleet manoeuvres. This was a big event for the locals and all the stops were pulled out on these occasions. One of the things the Brits brought to Galicia was soccer. In fact, the first soccer team established in Spain belonged to Vilagarcia, on the Galician coast. Needless to say, they soon became good enough to beat the British naval team. Perhaps this is why they stopped coming in the 1930s.
  • On the Galician coast – at Camelle – there used to live a German recluse who had built a home out of rock on the shore and who lived in it, rather bearded and pretty naked. You can see a picture of him in El Mundoof 15 December 2002. He called himself ‘Man’ and would let you look round his ‘museum’ for a token fee. Sadly, he died very shortly after the first oil hit the coast after the tanker spillage of November 2002.
  • Also on the coast, between Camelle and Cabo Vilán, there is a little ‘English cemetery’. Buried here are the victims of a shipwreck in the late 19th century.

Some random statistics that may interest someone

Note: These date from the early 2000s and need updating. I’ll do this one day . . .

  • Galicia’s GDP in 2002 was €9500, up from 8800 in 2001. This was just under 75% of the EU average, having risen from 73 % in 2001. This worries some people as, if the GDP exceeds 75%, then Galicia ceases to qualify as an ‘Objective 1’ area. These are the ones which receive most money from the central coffers.
  • In 2002, Galicia’s economy was superior to that of 7 of the 10 new members who will join the EU in 2004. This is bad news as the EU ‘trough’ will not be enlarged and so Galicia’s share of it will fall.
  • Salaries in Galicia are 15% below the national average
  • 60% of Galician families are said to find it hard to get to the end of the month, and the next pay cheque
  • 73% of Galician ‘young people’ [18-35] still live with their parents. This is even higher than the national average of 65%. No wonder they can afford to own [and crash] the high-powered cars they favour. And to equip them with spectacular front and rear spoilers.
  • Unemployment  is higher than the Spanish average.
  • Internet usage is below the Spanish average.
  • Housing costs are cheaper than almost anywhere else in Spain. Please see the FAQ section below for more details.
  • Crime statistics are well down the national list of regions. The worst are Spain’s possessions [decidedly not ‘colonies’] in northern Africa, followed by the Balearic Islands, the east coast and then Madrid.
  • Galicia has 3 airports – in La Coruña, Santiago and Vigo. Only Santiago has an appreciable number of international flights but these come mostly from major airports such as Heathrow in London. Further down the west coast – in Oporto in Portugal – there is an airport which is larger than any of these 3 and which receives flights from provincial cities such as Manchester. Oporto is connected to Galicia by a motorway (autopista) which is virtually empty.
  • In 2002, 4.4 million tourists are said to have visited Galicia, 35,000 (0.8%) more than in 2001. Despite the oil disaster of winter 2002, the number of visitors rose in 2003, though the number of overnight stays strangely reduced. Thisyear – 2004 – is a Holy Year, which always increases tourism for Santiago in particular. Spanish tourists made up 85% of the 2002 total.
  • Car insurance is higher than the Spanish average. Various theories are put forward for this.
  • Pontevedra province ranks high in terms of car licence suspensions. This may have bearing on the previous statistic, even if it merely results from zealous law enforcement
  • 62% of male drivers aged 18 to 25 had an accident in 2002. A mere 42% of women drivers achieved this. Again, various factors have been suggested, e. g. the weather and the high incidence of commuting in the community. None of these appear to have anything to do with bad driving.
  • Galicia does very well in terms of penile dysfunction. Only 12% of Gallegos suffer from this, compared with the national average of 20% and a high of 31% in the community of Valencia. There is no indication of how hard this information is; there may well be a problem here of data dysfunction.
  • Rural tourism is growing rapidly. Galicia now has more than 400 establishments catering for those with bucolic tastes. There is an excellent brochure available from Turgalicia which provides details of what is on offer from most of these – ´Galicia 2004 – Turismo Rural´. This is in English as well as Gallego, Spanish, French and German.
  • At the other end of the scale, there are 9 paradors in the community and this will soon rise to 11. The most sumptuous of these is probably the hotel of the Reyos Católicos next to the cathedral in Santiago. And the most magnificently located, the parador in Baiona. From the latter you can easily imagine the British warships strung out in blockade of the coast. But don’t get carried away and mention Francis Drake when you go in for dinner.
  • Galicia has 3,000 berths for ´sporting boats´ along its 1,700 kilometre coast. As the devlopment of ´turismo nàutico´ is a top priority, these can only increase. In fact, the target is 9,000 berths. The term for this is ‘minifundio’.
  • Parcels of land here are 5 times smaller than in Spain as a whole. In other words, one twentieth. As a result, Galicia has 33% of the total number of plots in the country and 21% of owners.
  • There are 214,000 empty properties in Galicia, the second highest total in Spain. Many of these must be holiday homes, I guess.
  • There are said to be 8,000 prostitutes in Galicia. They are calculated to average two tricks [pases, or tickets, in Spanish] at 60 Euros each per day and thus to cost the tax people almost 350m Euros in lost taxable income. It doesn’t seem to be an exhausting life but I guess there are variations.
  • Of the 1.3M foreign residents in Spain, 30,400 of them (2.5%) live in Galicia. Pontevedra province has 12,250 of these and A Coruña 8,750. Ourense kicks in with 5,800 and Lugo with only 3,600. Another report has said that Galicia has 53,800 of the 2.7M foreigners living in Spain. Or 2.0%
  • Getting very specific, in early 2003 the city of Pontevedra had 2175 foreign inhabitants. 246 of these were from the EU and 1929 from South America and Africa. Of these, origins ranked as follows:-           Columbia          522
              Argentina          229
              Ecuador            225
              Morrocco         137
              Brazil                131
              Venezuela         105
              Senegal               98
              Uruguay              80
              Cuba                   71
    The 2003 total of 2175 is up from 1143 in 2001, an increase of 90%. Some 40% of the non-EU residents are thought to lack papers.
  • The divorce rate in 2003 reached 50%, a 6% increase.
  • Galicia is slowly losing its population, especially in the interior. Since 1986, there has been a net loss of about 10,000 people a year. This is despite the arrival of ‘immigrants’ and returning emigrants. The main reason is that the death rate is higher than the birth rate, though departure from the land certainly plays a role. Mr. Fraga has said that more ‘immigrants’ is not the answer. He is assumed to be referring to people from North Africa, rather than Brits who want to sink money into the local economy. A couple of specific statistics:-                                                  – since 1986, the rural population has decreased by 22% 
    – in the last 6 years, land under cultivation has decreased by 35%

FAQ

What is the weather like in Galicia?

This is actually rather a tough question to answer- mainly because what you will need by way of assurance depends on whether you are thinking of coming for a holiday or to live here. 

If you are thinking of coming for a holiday, the answer is quite simple and brief – the weather is good to very good between May and September. There will be plenty of sun and temperatures will be in the 20’s most days. There may well be some rain but this will rarely last for more than a day or two. This is particularly true if you take your holiday in the lower half of Galicia, especially in the Rias Baixas. Or along the banks of the river Miño.

If you are thinking of coming to live here, then things get more complex. By way of a prelude, here are some facts:- 
– Galicia is on the north west coast of Spain. It has both a maritime and an Atlantic climate. 
– The prevailing winds come up from the south west and arrive after crossing a great deal of water 
– For these reasons, the weather is variable outside the more reliable summer months. I am writing this in the middle weeks of March and the weather  has been spectacular for two weeks, with sun all day and temperatures up to 25C, but next week could well be grey and even wet. In fact, it probably will be. […it was.]
– Galicia is beautifully verdant. You don’t get this without water falling on the land. 
– Whereas Galicia gets much less rain that Manchester UK during the summer months, it gets almost three times its rain during the winter. Overall, Galicia gets twice as much annual rain as Manchester. For details, seehttp://www.worldclimate.com plus the data I have set out below.
– Once you move in from the coast the land quickly starts to become mountainous. The weather inland is colder in winter and hotter in summer than it is on the coast. There is a ski resort near Ourense. See below for the winter rain statistics, which show that there is, at least, less rain in the interior during these 3 months.
– When the north wind blows in the winter, night-time temperatures can fall towards zero even on the coast, though snow and ice are unknown there. To compensate for this, the days are gloriously sunny. Otherwise, when the wind is from the south west, the winter days are cloudy or wet and the daytime temperatures are around 15 degrees and the night-time temperatures around 9 or 10. 
– There are significant differences between the rain and sun figures as between one part of Galicia and another. To complicate matters even further, within the drier southern half of Galicia there are pockets of even better weather which the locals regularly refer to as microclimates. So, La Coruña is less sunny and much more windy than further south; and Santiago is cloudier and wetter than Pontevedra or Vigo. And, beyond Vigo towards Portugal, there is a microclimate around Bayona and Nigrán, which the locals will tell you is much better than anywhere else in Galicia. There is another microclimate around Sanxenxo and a third around Salnés.Wine is grown in abundance in both of the latter areas. 
– You should bear all this in mind if you are thinking of buying a house that doesn’t have central heating, especially if you plan to live in the mountains. What looks fabulous in high summer can get pretty [OK, very] damp in the winter. Some of the valleys are notorious for winter mists.

As for statistics, here are some approximate annual figures from a colleague who has monitored the weather (amongst other things) for many years:-   

           Town/City                      Hours of sun          Litres of rain per sq. metre
Vigo25001300
Pontevedra23001600
Santiago20002000
La Coruna16002200

Or, if you are planning to visit Santiago, here’s a more relevant table of averages over the last 30 years:-

 Daily tempMax tempMin tempDays with rain
January7.310.93.718.2
February7.811.64.017.3
March9.013.54.516.6
April10.315.05.615.8
May12.617.57.715.6
June15.821.210.49.6
July18.123.912.46.4
August18.223.912.47.4
September17.022.411.710.1
October13.618.19.214.7
November9.813.66.016.6
December7.911.34.516.7

The statistics for towns in the Rias Baixas are better than these for Santiago, as shown in the Vigo table. So, Santiago has 165 days of rain, against 130 in Vigo. Bayona, Nigrán, Selnés and Tomiño, for example, would be better still. 
 

As if to demonstrate the futility of talking averages, as of 27 March 2004 I can record that we have had almost 8 weeks now of sunny, dry weather. This is in sharp contrast to my first winter of 2000/1, when it rained virtually non-stop from end October to some time in May. Then the rainfall was double the average, whereas this winter it has been around half and we are heading, incredibly, for a draught. Next winter? Who the hell knows.

For those who want to know the possibly-less-than useful averages for winter rainfall in the various cities of Galicia, here they are – in litres. Winter in Spain is always 21 December to 21 March:-

A Coruña
 
Santiago
 
Pontevedra
 
Vigo
 
Lugo
 
Ourense
 
357
 
750
 
565
 
759
 
333
 
295

Is there a list of places to stay in Galicia?

Yes. The Galician tourist organisation – Turgalicia – publishes a wide range of guides and these include a Guide to Hotel, Pension and Camping Accommodation and, as I have mentioned, a Guide to Turismo Rural Accommodation. Both of these have English and Spanish translations of the Galician text. 

If you are planning to be in the Rias Baixas and are looking for a very pleasant and convenient place from which to tour the area along the Spanish-Portuguese border – and perhaps down into north Portugal – then I recommend O Buxo. This casa rural is signposted from the main road from Tui to La Guardia and can be reached within only 5-10 minutes of either Tui or the N550. This guest house is owned and run by a very charming and efficient lady  – Esperanza Hierro – and is listed as number 358 in the Pontevedra section of the 2003 guide to rural accommodation. The email address of the  house is – obuxo@hotmail.com. You can also get information from the Turgalicia website – www. turgalicia..es

What are the sea temperatures like?

The English Speaking Society of Pontevedra has an in-house expert who has measured the temperature daily – during the summer at least – for many years. This he has done at a beach (Arenas) near the major resort of Sanxenxo (Sanjenjo) but I guess there won’t be too much differentiation along the coast. 

     Summer – range of 15-23C, with an average of 19C. Once in 35 years the temperature has reached 25C but I think we can ignore this 

     Winter – range of 12-18C

What are the prices of summer properties?

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of properties are rented to Spanish tourists and these tend to book for a month at a time, either mid-July to mid-August or for the whole of August. If you want to book something for only two weeks, then you are better off going through a travel agent in your country of origin. 

Prices naturally vary according to:- 
– The fashionability of the location – La Toxa and Sanxenxo (‘La Marbella Gallega’) are premium places, for example. 
– The month – July is cheaper than August 
– The distance from the sea – The properties nearest the sea are said to be in the ‘primera linéa’, the ‘first line’. 
– Whether the furniture is new or not 

Are there any international schools in Galicia?

The International Schools Directory’, available from the European Council of International Schools, should provide up-to-date information. 

I know that there is one in Santiago – Chester College – and there may be one in La Coruña. Chester College has its own website – chestercollege.org 

There are private schools such as Los Sauces and SEC Atlantico and these claim to give a high proportion of their lessons in English. However, I have not found anyone who regards this claim as credible. From what I have been told, private schools here are not comparable with British private schools. There are a number of reasons why one might send one’s children to one but academic excellence does not appear to be among these 

What can you tell us about local schools?

For a general overview of education in Spain, see the relevant bits in John Hooper’s book, ‘The Modern Spaniards’.

Primary schools offer 25 hours of teaching a week and this normally means 5 mornings a week from 9 to 2 or 2.30. In secondary schools, the total is 30 hours a week and this is given via a split day. The morning session is 9 to 2 or 2.30 and the afternoon session is 4 to 6 or 6.30.

‘Subvencional’ [or concertada] schools are ex-religious schools where the parents pay a contribution. Hours are similar.

There are private schools in most large towns and cities. These do not have the reputation for educational excellence of private schools in the UK, for instance, but they do offer a degree of social cachet. And possibly better discipline.

40% of teaching must be done in Galician. This naturally includes lessons in the language itself, to ensure the children can make sense of the balance of the 40%.

Is it possible to receive UK TV channels?

Yes, it is possible to receive BBC, ITV and Sky programmes from the Astra2 satellites, plus dozens of other free channels. All depends on the size of your dish. And these days you have streaming options-

What are the golf facilities in Galicia?

Take a look at an article in Golf International Approach of September or October 2003.

What brought you to Galicia?

Accident, really. Or Fate, if you like. My second wife, who was English, had married a Spaniard and had lived in both O Grove and Pontevedra. After we had visited friends of hers and I had stumbled on the numerous charms of the place, Galicia more or less chose itself as the place for a holiday/retirement home. I did try North Portugal but decided that, pretty as it was, it was – shall we say – quieter than Spain. Previous to all this, I had been one of the millions of Brits who had been utterly ignorant of the verdant nature of the northern third of Spain.

GLOSSARY

The column on the left contains Gallego names and words you may come across. The italicised word in the right column is the Spanish word you will find in your dictionary. And on some maps.

A                                         Feminine ‘the’ in Gallego (= La
A rapa das bestas                The round-up of wild horses for mane and tail docking 
Al paso                                On foot 
Alameda                               Promenade. In Pontevedra,  it is opposite the town hall. And is the site of the August fairground 
Albariño                               The grape which gives the (white) wine its name 
Alta                                      High(er) 
Amandi                                 A very pleasant red wine from the Ribera Sagrada area, east of Ourense 
Arribada de Carabela Pinta   Arrival of the ‘Pinta’ galleon [Columbus’ ship] 
Autopista                              Motorway, with charges 
Autovia                                 Motorway, free 
Ayuntamiento                        The town hall, in Praza España 
Bajas                                    Low(er) 
Balneario                              A town with thermal baths 
Baroque                               ‘Florid style of late Renaissance architecture, common in the 18th century’ 
Barrio                                   Quarter. Suburb. 
Biblioteca                              Library 
Bodega                                 Inn, wine cellar 
Bruxa                                    Bruja. Witch 
Cañon                                   Canyon 
Carnaval                                Carnival 
Carretera                               Road 
Casa                                      House 
Casco antiguo                        The old quarter 
Castro                                    Fortified village, normally on a hill top 
Centro comercial                    Shopping mall 
Churrasquería                        A restaurant specialising in grilled/barbecued dishes 
Corrida                                  Set of 6 bullfights, usually from 7 to 9pm 
Costa da morte                      Costa de la muerte. The coast of death 
Dolmen                                  French name for ‘cromlech’ – flat stones on upright stones. Prehistoric 
Dos giras                               Two tours 
Entierro de Ravachol              The burning and burial of Ravachol – a large effigy of a parrot. Don’t ask. 
Estrada                                  Road 
Eventos                                  Events 
Farmácia                                Pharmacy, Chemists 
Feria                                       Feira. Fair or exhibition [ground] 
Galiza                                     Galicia 
Gaita                                      Galician bagpipe 
Galerias                                  Balconies framed by windows, for sitting in during the rain 
Gothic                                    12-15th century architecture of western Europe. Main feature is pointed arches. 
Guia                                       Guide 
Hórreo                                   The little grain stores on legs that look like tiny chapels. The rings at the top of the legs are to stop rodents climbing up 
Meixa                                     Meiga. Witch. 
Mercado                                 Market 
Mirador                                  Look-out point 
Mosteiro                                 Monastero. Monastery 
Movida                                   The (nocturnal) ‘action’ 
Municipal                                Municipal! 
Neoclassical                            Late 18th to mid 19th century. Based on Roman and Greek architectural styles 
O                                            Masculine ‘the’ in Gallego (= ‘El’) 
Pais                                        ‘Country’. Any wine given this title should be approached with great caution. And a strong throat. 
Parador                                   Mansion. Usually old. Now one of the government’s imposing hotel chain 
Parque                                     Park 
Pasado                                    ‘Walking’ 
Pazo                                        Mansion 
Peña                                        A group of (heavily drinking) bullfight fans. Or opponents. 
Peregrina                                 Pilgrim, wanderer 
Petroglifo                                 Petroglyph. Rock carving 
Platteresque                             Like silverwork. Plata is Spanish for silver 
Playa fluvial                              Beach along the bank of a river 
Portico                                     Gateway 
Praia                                        Playa. Beach 
Praza                                       Plaza. Square 
Recinto ferial                            Fair/exhibition grounds 
Ria                                           Estuary/fjord 
Rias baixas                               Rias Bajas.  The ‘lower estuaries of the NW coast, near Vigo and Pontevedra. Pronounced ‘ree-ass bye-shass’ and ‘ree-ass                                                             ba-hass’ 
Ribeiro                                     The grape which gives its  name to this white wine from the Ourense area 
Río                                           River 
Romanesque                             Built in the Roman style that predominated before the Gothic period began in the mid-12th century. Thick walls, simple vaults. 
Romería                                    Religious procession – usually of the Virgin Mary; often down to the sea 
Ruta                                          Route 
Sanxenxo                                  Sanjenjo. Pronounced ‘sanshensho’ and ‘sankhenkho’ 
Tres Reyes Magos                    The Three Kings/Wise Men. The feast of the Epiphany on 6 Jan. 
Turismo                                     The local tourist information office 
Viaxa                                        ‘Viaje’. Tour, trip, voyage 
Virxen                                       ‘Virgen‘. Virgin 
Xaobeo/a                                  Jacobeo/a. Associated with Saint Jacob/Sant Iago 
Xunta                                       ‘Junta‘. Ruling body 
Zona monumental                      Zone of monuments. The old quarter

GEORGE BORROW’S VIEW OF SANTIAGO [‘ST. JAMES’] IN THE EARLY 1830s

Saint James stands on a pleasant level amidst mountains:  the most extraordinary of these is a conical hill, called the Pico Sacro, or Sacred Peak, connected with which are many wonderful legends.  A beautiful old town is Saint James, containing about twenty thousand inhabitants.  Time has been when, with the single exception of Rome, it was the most celebrated resort of pilgrims in the world; its cathedral being said to contain the bones of Saint James the elder, the child of the thunder, who, according to the legend of the Romish church, first preached the Gospel in Spain.  Its glory, however, as a place of pilgrimage is rapidly passing away.

The cathedral, though a work of various periods, and exhibiting various styles of architecture, is a majestic venerable pile, in every respect calculated to excite awe and admiration; indeed, it is almost impossible to walk its long dusky aisles, and hear the solemn music and the noble chanting, and inhale the incense of the mighty censers, which are at times swung so high by machinery as to smite the vaulted roof, whilst gigantic tapers glitter here and there amongst the gloom, from the shrine of many a saint, before which the worshippers are kneeling, breathing forth their prayers and petitions for help, love, and mercy, and entertain a doubt that we are treading the floor of a house where God delighteth to dwell. Yet the Lord is distant from that house; he hears not, he sees not, or if he do, it is with anger.  What availeth that solemn music, that noble chanting, that incense of sweet savour?  What availeth kneeling before that grand altar of silver, surmounted by that figure with its silver hat and breast-plate, the emblem of one who, though an apostle and confessor, was at best an unprofitable servant?  What availeth hoping for remission of sin by trusting in the merits of one who possessed none, or by paying homage to others who were born and nurtured in sin, and who alone, by the exercise of a lively faith granted from above, could hope to preserve themselves from the wrath of the Almighty?

Rise from your knees, ye children of Compostella, or if ye bend, let it be to the Almighty alone, and no longer on the eve of your patron’s day address him in the following strain, however sublime it may sound:

“Thou shield of that faith which in Spain we revere,

Thou scourge of each foeman who dares to draw near;

Whom the Son of that God who the elements tames,

Called child of the thunder, immortal Saint James!

“From the blessed asylum of glory intense,

Upon us thy sovereign influence dispense;

And list to the praises our gratitude aims

To offer up worthily, mighty Saint James.

“To thee fervent thanks Spain shall ever outpour;

In thy name though she glory, she glories yet more

In thy thrice-hallowed corse, which the sanctuary claims

Of high Compostella, O, blessed Saint James.

“When heathen impiety, loathsome and dread,

With a chaos of darkness our Spain overspread,

Thou wast the first light which dispell’d with its flames

The hell-born obscurity, glorious Saint James!

“And when terrible wars had nigh wasted our force,

All bright ‘midst the battle we saw thee on horse,

Fierce scattering the hosts, whom their fury proclaims

To be warriors of Islam, victorious Saint James.

“Beneath thy direction, stretch’d prone at thy feet,

With hearts low and humble, this day we intreat

Thou wilt strengthen the hope which enlivens our frames,

The hope of thy favour and presence, Saint James.

“Then praise to the Son and the Father above,

And to that Holy Spirit which springs from their love;

To that bright emanation whose vividness shames

The sun’s burst of splendour, and praise to Saint James.”


Appendix: Comparable English Myths

In AD61, St. Philip sent Joseph of Arimethaea – he who had laid Christ in his tomb – to spread the gospel in England. Joseph took with him several missionaries and the chalice used at the Last Supper, full of Christ’s blood from the cross. And in Glastonbury they built possibly the first ever above-ground Christian church. For centuries, Glastonbury was the English Jerusalem and one of the holiest places on earth. Pilgrims came from all corners of the earth to collect a sprig of the Holy Thorn Bush so that it could later be interred alongside them. Here were buried the remains of various saints and of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. And here, in the wondrous mineral water spring, still lies hidden the Holy Grail.

When Nazareth fell into the hands of the infidels, the monks at a small shrine in Walsingham announced that, fortuitously for them, the Mother of God had left Palestine and moved to Walsingham. The shrine at this place, they said, was actually the Sancta Casa from Nazareth. So the pilgrims duly came, to see – amongst other things – the Virgin’s milk and one of St Peter’s fingers. And still they come, both Catholic and Protestant.

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