When you think of a Spanish holiday, your mind probably goes straight to tasting tapas in Barcelona, the sun-drenched Costa Del Sol or the idyllic beaches of the Canary Islands. However, the country has much more to offer than sun and Sangria. Whether you want to skip the swarms of bikini-clad tourists or just discover something you haven’t seen before, the region of Rías Baixas, on the west coast just above the Portuguese border, is a great option.
An area that people from all over Spain visit for its incredible wine and food offerings, as well as its lush, beautiful landscape, here’s four reasons why it’s time to discover this part of Spain.
Rías Baixas is characterised by minifundismo, the many farmers that grow produce on small parcels of land, with over 21,000 plots of vines in the small region. Land was traditionally divided between all a family’s sons rather than just given to the eldest, and so led to these small plots. Today, the area is known for its many small wine producers, growing grapes on traditional pergola systems that only allow hand picking. Many are still family run businesses, producing modest batches of wine where the quality of each is guaranteed. Most are happy to organise tours and tastings so you can learn more both about the wines and the area that produced them. Pazo Baión, Adegas Valmiñor, Lagar Bodegas and Lagar De Cervera all offer tastings, but check the Rías Baixas wine route for a full list.
The food of the region is dictated by the produce that is widely available there. With its proximity to the Atlantic, seafood is a speciality. Favourites include pulpo Gallego, known all over Spain it’s octopus served with olive oil, salt and smoked paprika, and you’ll also encounter all kinds of shellfish you will never see in Ireland. Try percebes, a Galician barnacle that looks like a little claw, as well as razor clams, cockles and mussels.
Another speciality is Galician beef, which is allowed to graze for up to 15 years longer than normal beef cows, which makes it rich and fatty, with a wonderful flavour. Vegetables are widely farmed, and those you find in markets are usually locally grown, often by local people on whatever amount of land they have. For something to bring home, the region is famous for its high-quality canned fish – entire shops are devoted to these products. Be prepared to pay more than you would for your average tin of tuna but it’ll be worth it for the incredible flavour packed within.
With both mountains and sea in close proximity, Rías Baixas is perfect for the outdoor exploring. What’s more, the milder climate than most of the rest of Spain means that it’s beautiful and green, more like Ireland than the dusty, dry south of the country. While the sunshine isn’t always guaranteed, even cloudy days give mild temperatures, perfect whether you’re walking, going on a boat trip, or simply sipping wine and wandering around vineyards.
The main reason that people visit the area, Rías Baixas has a strong tradition of producing quality wine, and it would be rude not to sample some while you’re there. The region produces almost exclusively Albariño, its indigenous grape that has adapted to the mild climate there, and produces a fruity, floral white wine. Some producers also grow Caiño Blanco, Treixadura and Loureira, which are often blended with Albariño.
Pontevedra, with its well-preserved old town, and Santiago de Compostela are both in the vicinity, so there’s plenty to visit for a taste of local history. The latter is famous as the end point of the historic pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, and its cathedral is well worth a visit, as well as the many surrounding buildings. Get a local guide for some incredible facts and stories and take in the stunning architectural sights.
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