Semana Santa. Holy Week. In Spain, the week leading up to and including Easter Sunday is the most important religious time of the year for the whole country. With my Spanish language school closed and nearly everyone off on holiday, I decided to make my way to a region in the North of Spain, an area I had yet to visit but that was highest on my list – Galicia.
I decided to split the 4 day weekend into part city break / part nature immersion (which is often essential after spending so much time in a capital city). I had been dying to explore Santiago de Compostela but wanted to soak in the freshness of the mountains and forests. So, I divided my trip into 2 nights at a lovely B&B in the city and 2 nights of camping in the wilderness. As usual, it never turns out the way I intend.
– Santiago de Compostela –
I started by staying at the stylish Hotel Atalaia B&B located right at the end of the old part of the city. I live for family owned, hole-in-the-wall, boutique hotels and B&Bs. A great boutique hotel doesn’t need to be expensive to have the customer service and small touches that make an experience that much better. This b&b has very trendy decor, friendly and helpful staff, the typical modern amenities that you often need, plus a café on the bottom floor. It’s location is perfectly situated with a nearby parking garage (and a discount of just 10€ a day when staying at the b&b), cafés and restaurants, a 5 minute walk to all the major sites, but just enough away from the very center that you don’t feel overwhelmed by tourists or noise pollution.
Food & Drink
Santiago de Compostela prides itself on a few tasty treats, but the principal industry of the entire region of Galicia is fishing and it’s considered the seafood capital of Spain. The signature dish of Galicia is Pulpo a la Feira, octopus that is tenderized, boiled and cooked with olive oil and paprika, and typically served on a wooden plate. My visit to the restaurant Mamá Peixe was incredible from the wine and perfectly cooked pulpo (octopus) to the fresh fish and postres (deserts).
– Ourense –
As I mentioned earlier, my plans rarely go according to… well, plan. Possibly because I rarely plan very much of my trips at all? Regardless, after a full day of wandering the aged alleyways, lounging in the restaurant terraces, and observing the “pilgrims” arriving from their Camino de Santiago (a famous traditional multi-day trek to the city from various other cities near and far), the weather turned and camping seemed disastrous. The forecast looked grim for the next day and setting up a tent in the rain was not appealing in the slightest.
I scratched camping with a heavy heart and instead, opted for Pazo Barbeirón – a remote and antique church-turned-hotel situated well off the grid in the mountains. Needless to say, it was a fantastic experience. The owner clearly loves his hotel, his job, his visitors, and generally serving others. He gives his guests a detailed tour of the building and a customized welcome packet including the guests’ name on the front and a detailed breakdown of the grounds and nearby activities. The weather was clearly playing a prank and returned to sunny skies. We (my boyfriend and I) spent two days walking the trails, visiting local bodegas, napping in hammocks under the trees, and practicing our Spanish with other guests over some beers and Trivial Pursuit.
Now, I’m a firm believer in making at least one unplanned stop on a road-trip. On this trip, it was a stop at a tiny village – As Ermitas – built into the side of a mountain. The town was directly on the route we chose; but seeing the gorgeous church jutting out of the side of the rock called for me to stop and check it out. The climb was a bit rough, but arriving at the top just as the bells tolled for Easter mass was well worth it. My first visit to the North of Spain was a perfect spring weekend.