Pontevedra: a hub for pilgrims and seafood fans
Less fêted than its Galician neighbours, Pontevedra is still an intriguing place.
MADRID - Far from the Mediterranean coastline lies another Spanish shore where the views are not blocked by rows of terraced villas and fishing villages are not a construct for tourists but places where people still haul mackerel out of the water.
The entire region of Galicia could be defined by its relationship with the sea, which has always provided food and a sense of identity to the people living in a part of the world that reminds many foreigners of rainy Ireland rather than sunny Spain (and indeed, the land has Celtic origins).
A particular geographic feature of Galicia is its rías or estuaries, known as Rías Altas and Rías Baixas in the local language. Fishing is a major activity in them, and the entire coastline where they are located is renowned for the quality and quantity of its catch.
Spaniards are often seen hopping from village to village in search of the next platter of shrimp, spider crabs, prawns, barnacles and razor shells in what could be described as nothing other than "seafood tourism".
But it's not all about the seafood - or even about the octopus, another Galician specialty served fresh everywhere, or about the little green Padrón peppers which may or may not be hot, or about the white Albariño or Ribeiro wines that are traditionally served in chilled white porcelain cups.
Galicia also offers culture and a promise of spirituality to the many people who still undertake the famous medieval pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago, which reaches the holy city of Santiago de Compostela from as far as France.
There is another, lesser route to the city coming up from Portugal, and one of the towns it crosses is Pontevedra, the capital of the same-name province that lies at the mouth of the Ría de Pontevedra.
Although it has never been able to compete with Santiago and A Coruña for power of attraction, the city nevertheless contains several significant historical landmarks that, like many other stone buildings in Galicia, have been stained black through the wear and tear of centuries of rain.
The Zona Monumental, or old part of the city, has become mostly off-limits to cars and the winding streets lead to squares that are just as likely to contain a church as a café.
Just four kilometres out of Pontevedra is Poio, a stunning enclave with a monastery dating back at least to the 10th century. Originally inhabited by Benedictine monks, it played a major role in a region with monasteries to spare;
Galicia was in fact a hotbed of monastic activity in Spain, no doubt fuelled in part through contemplation of the peaceful, wooded landscape once full of oak - although a lot of it has since given way to eucalyptus forests that feed the paper industry.
[El Pais / Susana Urra / Expatica]
Photos credit: Freecat, WordRidden, J.A.1975
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