3 September 2021

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza 

Maybe our weather ain’t so bad . . . Having avoided the blazing heat of elsewhere in Spain last month, we’re now escaping the torrential rains and floods of NE and central Spain. Mustn’t grumble, as we Brits say

The Camino Portugués this year here in Galicia:-

– May saw 4,300 ‘pilgrims’ arriving in Santiago and getting their Compostelas.

– In July and August, up to 2,000 passengers a day did so.

– The Xunta’s goal is 140,000 pilgrims in this 1st year of the 2-year Xacobeo[Holy ‘Year’]. Somewhat down on 2019 and on original expectations for the year.

– The end-September total was expected to reach 100,000.

– 73% of pilgrims are of Spanish origin this year, way above the norm..

For the truly interested, below are bits of a (long) report on this summer’s tourism business in Galicia, particularly in our ‘Marbella of the the North’, Sanxenxo. As regards foreigners. They’ve been missed. Travel conditions are complicated. There are still many countries that require quarantine on return, so, of course, it is very noticeable that pilgrims from Germany are not coming, and from the other side of the Atlantic, travelling to Europe is also complicated. This is a bit surprising as, earlier in the year, both Madrid and the Balearics were said to be swarming with Teutons. Where there’s more heat and less rain, I guess.

How times change 1: Long before he sent the Armada on its doomed voyage to the UK, Philip II of Spain was, as the husband of Queen Mary, also king of England. Albeit for only 4 years. After Mary’s death, he courted her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth 1 – not because he really fancied her but because his Catholic faith demanded he carry out this labour of non-love ‘in the service of God’. In this, he was unsuccessful, of course, but I don’t suppose God cared either way.

How times change 2. I looked into a large Vigo church last weekend. The notice on the door said it currently has a limited maximum capacity of 350 folk. There was a Mass on at 6pm and I counted only 13 in the pews. Plus the officiating priest, of course. Did God care, I wonder.

Spain’s judiciary is famously right-of-centre. The judicial corpus is supposed to be renewed every 5 years but the PP party has stymied this for quite some time now, fearing – no doubt – liberal dilution under the socialist PSOE currently in power. And so we can arrive at the situation where a Madrid street has had its name changed back to that of José Millán Astraya – a feared and brutal military leader who was close to Franco. The court also ruled that the name of the Blue Division, a unit of Spanish volunteers who fought for Nazi Germany during the Second World War, should be restored to another street. Cue uproar in Madrid.

María’s Not So Fast: Setting up classes

The EU

Has the EU really vaccinated 70% of adults against coronavirus? asks Politico here. Adding the point that: The irony is that the highly infectious Delta variant now spreading rapidly across Europe cares little about the arbitrary 70% figure. With Delta able to infect fully vaccinated people and reproduce at a higher rate, the concept of a threshold for herd immunity may no longer hold at all — even though the vaccines remain highly effective at preventing serious disease and deaths.

 The USA

Storm Ida’s devastation . . . So much for Kat Kerr and her legion of faith-full – but stupid – Weather Warriors. I guess it’s a question of that uncaring God again.  

Quote of the Day 

The leader of the PP right-of-centre party: We are very conscious that Spain is a united country but also plural. Who’d argue with that?

Finally  . . .

I wrote the other day about sights which literally take your breath away. By coincidence, I read last night that this is called Stendhal’s syndrome: Being overcome by beauty.

Note: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here


How Covid changed summer tourism in the Ria de Pontevedra.

The sector is struggling to adjust to the health conditions imposed by the pandemic.

This summer Pontevedra and all the surrounding municipalities, whether coastal or inland, are packed to the rafters. The second Covid summer is very different from 2020, but it’s also very different from before the pandemic. How has tourism changed?

The sector in the region and especially Sanxenxo has weathered the storm better than other major destinations in Spain. The closing of borders in 2020, the thousand and one contradictory regulations from one country to another and the scarce supply of flights all combined to reduce the presence of foreigners to a minimum. Sanxenxo, with its family-oriented tourism and its focus on Spaniards, experienced a smaller decline than expected due to the absence of the Portuguese, its main foreign market. 

The first summer season of the Covid era had a timid start, because it came from a strict confinement in Spain, but the image of security projected by the tourist capital of the Rías Baixas made it a good summer, if the context is taken into account. Hotel occupancy I estimated  at 50% in June and 65% in August 2020. This year the figures have grown exponentially and July climbed to 77% hotel occupancy, while August is expected to return to almost normal pre-Covid levels.

The vast majority of municipalities throughout the region made an effort to provide their beaches with emergency measures to make them safe. A new profession was created, of an ephemeral nature because it no longer exists: beach usher.  

More hygienic sunbathing

From the first summer of the Covid era, concern about the hygienic conditions of public toilets has survived. This is not to say the toilets were not clean before the pandemic. However, Covid has led to more frequent disinfection of beach toilets and to a more accurate replenishment of lifeguard posts, sanitary equipment and mobile toilets.

Another thing that is here to stay, although people’s compliance varies greatly, is the use of face masks. They are not necessary when going into the water, but they are necessary when walking along the shore when there is an influx of people on the beach and it is not possible to keep a social distance. Outside the sand, on promenades such as Silgar or Baltar, the Local Police patrol the area, warning and fining people who do not cover their mouth and nose, because in these areas it is impossible to walk respecting the recommended separation.

Compared to last summer, in the current summer season the beaches are closed at night. Violators are subject to fines. Police and Guardia Civil controls have also been increased to prevent on-street binge drinking. It is a forbidden practice, before and after the pandemic, but many people turned a blind eye to that.

In addition to the beaches, tourism in the Covid era has also changed the hotel and catering industry. Here the regulations vary in many ways from council to council, and from week to week, depending on how each municipality is classified in the level of incidence of the pandemic and the decisions taken by the Administrations. Indoor seating capacities are more restricted than those of the terraces. In some municipalities, the surface areas authorised for terraces have been extended especially for premises that had hardly any outdoor seating and had few possibilities for indoor seating. The hotel and catering sector feels mistreated by the Administrations, due to the sanitary requirements and the constant changes that are produced by these regulations.

Sit-down concerts

The 2020 festivities were all cancelled, both as a precaution and because there were no vaccinations. The festivities returned this summer, with the offer increasing as vaccination progressed. However, there are no regular concerts or open-air dances with thousands and thousands of people crowding the squares. For now, and this seems to be the trend until the end of the pandemic, music events are limited in capacity and the public sits in fixed places and sings with masks on.

For its part, the incidence of Covid has impacted on the flow of pilgrims on the Camino Portugués. Covid has changed the way of walking the Portuguese route in this Xacobean Holy] Year. Last summer there were hardly any pilgrims. This year, the hostels, which operated then at a third of its capacity, can already open with half of the beds available. However, pilgrims are mainly Spanish with some Portuguese, when normally the route would be a small babel. The reason lies in the difficulties of travelling from many European countries and the quarantines that pilgrims have to keep on returning home.


President of CETS:  

– This year have there been many more visitors than in the summer of 2020.

– Yes, last year many people didn’t come because they were afraid, not of Sanxenxo but in general because everything was so recent. Now all those people have returned to Sanxenxo. The work of the private tourism sector has to be recognised. It may seem that this is very easy, but it is not. The sector has been able to catch up with the new situation.

– How has it had to change the way it operates?

– There has been a strict application of health and cleanliness protocols, something that was already being done well, but which now needs more attention, as well as the issue of capacity, both in hotels and restaurants.

– What is the profile of this summer’s tourists?

– Basically it is the same as usual. It is family and national tourism and above all people who travel in their own vehicles. In the end, national tourists are the majority. There was a small upturn in Portuguese tourism, but we still haven’t reached the levels we were at before the pandemic.

– Is the Xacobeo[Holy Year] in any way noticeable?

. The Holy Year has has a knock-on effect for the whole of Galicia and as Sanxenxo is in Galicia. So, in the end, yes. But it’s clear that the real beneficiary of the Xacobeo is Santiago.

– What do you think will be the tourist balance of this August in Sanxenxo?

– We had a forecast of around 80% but I am sure that we will be above that figure.

– What do you expect for September?

– So far it is going well. We estimate 60%, especially in the first fortnight, but logically we are going to depend a lot on the weather, although July was not as good as expected and in the end it worked out well.

The president of Amigos del Camino Portugués: 

– How has the Camino changed with covid?

– First, the way of travelling because people come with much more caution. In the hostel you can no longer sleep in the place or how you want. Before, you arrived at the hostel as a pilgrim and if there was no room, you slept anywhere. Now you can no longer sleep anywhere or in any way. There are also many pilgrims who already warn that they are vaccinated and have to always wear a mask. The way of relating to each other has changed. Before there was a lot of hugging and now it has been eliminated. In terms of behaviour.

-What about the infrastructure of the Camino?

– The physical Camino has not changed. On the contrary, it is good because it is a place where you can walk freely without problems of overcrowding. The only point of the route where you can find a lot of people is when you get to the albergues, but people are not allowed to crowd. Just think that we had a maximum capacity of 30% and in a hostel like ours in Pontevedra we were left with 28 beds. We had a surplus hostel on all sides and it was also noticeable in the atmosphere. In addition, we had to limit the number of bathrooms and showers so that there would be no problems when it came to cleaning up or when people had to coincide with each other.

– What about foreigners?

– They’ve been missed. Travel conditions are complicated. There are still many countries that ask for a quarantine to return, so of course it is very noticeable that pilgrims do not come from Germany and from the other side of the Atlantic, travelling to Europe is also complicated.