For my birthday this year, we decided to take a road trip through Galicia, Asturias’s neighboring autonomous community to the west. I did not know a lot about Galicia before we left other than 1) it rains a lot there (even more than in Asturias), 2) the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route ends there, and 3) it has great seafood, pulpo (octopus) in particular. My hair colorist was just telling me that he hates seafood but loves pulpo, “Me encanta pulpo,” he said. With the largest coastline in Spain, bordered both by the Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian Sea, Galicia has plenty of access to fresh seafood and every Spaniard we’ve talked with about Galicia has said how wonderful the food is there. If that weren’t enough, they also make great wine. I love Galicia.
We rented a car for the trip for the first time since being in Spain, and were excited at having the ability to go to places the bus or train cannot easily reach. We actually did a practice run with the car two days prior and took a lovely day trip to Cantabria (Phil wrote about it here). Phil never learned to drive a manual and I had never driven a six-speed before so after finally figuring out how to get into reverse, we were off and running with no problem.
We left Gijón at 5:30 and enjoyed beautiful views from the road until the sun went down. Out of a bus window, one can catch glimpses of the countryside but being in the drivers seat, I was able to fully enjoy the glorious rolling green hills and views of the Cantabrian Sea, eyes wide and mouth agape (all while driving safely and responsibly, I should add). As we neared the city of Lugo, we climbed a bit in elevation, as noted by the road signs, but could not see the mountains in the dark.
We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Balneario de Lugo – Termas Romanas, a little before 8pm. The hotel sits atop the old Roman baths of Lugo and on the banks of the Río Miño. They have a small museum dedicated to the termas romanas under the hotel and a spa offering a variety of services incorporating the healing waters of the ancient hot springs. In fact, they had a promotion that included an overnight stay, breakfast, and an hour and a half thermal circuit incorporating four spa services. Bathing in the same thermal waters as the Romans did is pretty darn cool, and if they have healing powers, what a bonus!
Something I had not thought of when booking the hotel was the fact that natural hot springs smell like sulfur aaaaaand the hotel sits atop of the natural hot springs and well, the hotel smelled like sulfur. Oh well, no problem. I went to high school in a town in mid-Missouri that had sulfur smelling water and believe you me, there were no healing properties to it.
The hotel felt like one of those places that used to be very swanky but is no longer in it’s prime, clean and in good shape, just a bit dated. The reception staff were very nice and helped us make our spa appointment for the next day. They would bring us chanclas (flip flops) and robes in the morning; we just needed to put on our bathing suits and flip flop our way on down to the reception desk. Bathing suit? Damn! I forgot my bathing suit. Luckily there was a Carrefour (basically Spain’s Walmart) less than five minutes away. We could run there in the morning and grab a suit. Phew.
As we exited the elevator to our room, motion sensor lights came on to reveal a large sitting area with ten 70+-year-olds relaxing on the chairs and couches. It was a little startling and we offered a quick “Hola” before heading down the hallway to our room. Had those folks just been sitting quietly in the dark before we arrived? As we rounded the corner towards our room, I noticed how wide the hallways were. That, in addition to all of the sitting areas, and the way in which our room was decorated made me say to Phil, “I think we’re staying in an assisted living facility.” We both chuckled a bit but having worked in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, I know a geriatric residential setting when I see one. What the heck was going on here?
From our room, we took in the beautiful view of the Roman bridge over the Miño river, and set out to find food. Given that we were in a mountainous region, we did not escape climbing (escalar, escalar) our way into town. Phil did a quick search of nearby restaurants and found a well rated burger place. I was tired and a burger sounded great. I decided my Galician seafood feast could wait for another day.
It was significantly colder in Lugo than in Gijon and when we arrived at the restaurant; it was in the low forties. We had, however, just made a long walk and steep climb, so were keen to sit outside. We had coats on and the tables were situated under a large awning, so the periodic misting rain was no problem. The La Urbana Burger Bar had very friendly and quick service which is not necessarily the norm for Spain. It was nice to be a bit catered to after our drive and climb. The waiter even offered unsolicited recommendations which were much appreciated. Phil had the Italian burger with salami, mozzarella arugula, marinara, and balsamic and I the Urbana Piamonte which had tomato jam, crispy onions, smoked bacon, and gorgonzola. We each had a beer to wash it down and it was perfection. We were quite full and decided against desert until the waiter recommended the blueberry cheesecake with Oreo crust. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so we ordered one to share. It came in a cute little jar and was heavenly.
We took a slightly different route back to the hotel after dinner and passed the city center and Roman wall so, of course, had to check it out. Lugo’s city center is entirely enclosed by two kilometres of Roman wall which is still intact. In fact, one can walk around the entire city center on top of the wall. It is very cool and a real must see if you’re in Galicia, en mi opinion.
As we returned to the hotel, we could see a large group of older adults in the cafe/bar area enjoying refreshments, singing and dancing with a few folks who appeared to be younger, employees of the “hotel.” “This is definitely an assisted living facility!”, I screeched to Phil.
The next morning, I pulled up the hotel’s website as I thought I’d seen something about a senior discount when booking and I needed to know what was up with all of the old people. Upon further review, I discovered they offer two week packages to “pensioners” which includes daily spa treatments under the supervision of the spa doctor. It all made sense. I wasn’t crazy. There were a lot of old people staying there and it is kind of like a residential living center.
After my internet sleuthing, we had breakfast in the cafe. We were lucky to score a table as it was relatively full. We were the youngest people there by at least 30 years. They offered a number of choices and we each had toast with butter and jam, fresh pears, orange juice, and coffee. As we left, Phil pointed out that one of the tables close to us also had a plate of sliced ham and cheese and said we should get that the follow morning.
After breakfast, we were off to buy a bathing suit. Unfortunately, there were no bathing suits to be found so a black sports bra and black pair of polyblend undies would have to suffice. Close enough.
We were back at the reception desk in our robes and chanclas at 11am sharp. The young woman working handed me a slip of paper and advised us to go downstairs and give it to the woman in the spa. I did and shortly thereafter, another woman lead us down a stone hallway with tiny rooms. We disrobed and de-masked in one room and were taken to another. This one had a shower in it. It looked like a semi-circular, cylindrical metal cage. One stepped into it and hundreds of tiny jets of water tickled and massaged the body. It went roughly from the armpits to the knees. I took my turn in the shower as the woman led Phil into the room across the hall. After about ten minutes, we switched rooms. In my new room, the woman sat with a large hose and proceeded to spray me down, like a prisoner or a zoo animal. As soon as the warm water hit my joints and she strategically used the water to massage the body, those thoughts melted away. It felt amazing.
Next we were off to the large thermal pool. There were individual metal railings on the pool’s edge that one could hold on to and face forward or backward as underwater jets messaged the body. Eyes closed, turning forward and back as felt good, we relaxed in the healing waters, straight up Cocoon-ing with the older folks.
After exiting the pool, the young attendant handed me a small packet wrapped in plastic. I asked her to repeat what she’d said as I didn’t understand. I still wasn’t exactly sure but I thought she indicated I could go into the locker room and put my wet “suit” in it. I motioned to my suit and then the bag and she replied “exactamente.” I went into the locker room, showered, then opened the little packet to get what I assumed was a small bag. It was not. It was a pair of paper underwear. Confused, I put them on and assumed the last treatment must be some sort of message. I put my robe on over them and stepped out of the locker room as I heard Phil call my name. At the door of the men’s locker room he asked, “did you put that thing on that they gave you? I thought she was giving me an extra mask.” I responded that I did and he disappeared back into the locker room. He emerged directly and we were ushered to a dark room with soothing music. They had what looked like fancy lawn chairs covered in sheets. The woman indicated we should take our robes off and sit down under the top sheet. We did and she left the room for a few minutes then returned with orange juice and this glorious mentholated lotion that she rubbed our legs down with. Another woman came in and put a heavy, weighted (it reminded me of the lead apron they put over you for ex-rays), warm-something-wonderful on our backs. We sat in silence and were completely and totally relaxed. It was fantastic.
After our spa treatment, it was time to eat! In search of pulpo we went. We were glad to find a restaurant called A Lareira. After a half hour walk and all of the spa-ing, I was really hungry. I proceeded to order the pulpo, fried calamare, and corquettes. The waitress stopped me, mid-order and indicated I was ordering too much food and that if I was still hungry after what she brought, we could always order more. I appreciated that and sat back and waited for the delights to come. She returned with a bottle of white wine, bread, un montón (heap) of pulpo, boiled potatoes, pimientos de Padrón, and a plate of croquettes.
The pulpo did not disappoint. It has a very meaty texture like lobster and the flavor, to me, was a bit like delicious, salty pork. It was dusted with a spicy paprika. The croquettes were amazing and unlike any others we’ve had. Some were filled with a squid ink béchamel, the other with traditional jamon and béchamel, and the third with something that tasted like lobster bisque. It was all excellent.
After lunch, we were off to see the Roman wall in the light of day. It is incredible that it is essentially all intact and you can take a stroll on it.
The next morning we grabbed breakfast in the hotel cafe again before viewing the small Roman baths museum in the hotel, and hitting the road. The waitress started listing our various breakfast options. I again ordered juice, coffee, fruit, and toast with butter and jam. Phil said, “I thought we were going to get ham and cheese?” to which I responded, “I liked my toast and jam yesterday.” He then told the waitress that he wanted the same thing I ordered AND ham and cheese. She then asked us if we also wanted her to bring bizcocho as well. We said yes even though we had no idea what it was because well, we like food. We figured it sounded like biscuit and biscotti and we like both of those things so why not. She returned with a plate of yellow cake that was delightful and tasted like a cross between sponge cake and pound cake. She then brought us everything else we ordered, including a large plate of ham and cheese. I realized that when the waitress was listing off breakfast items, she was telling us everything they had. We didn’t have to choose. We could have it all. I could have toast and jam AND ham and cheese. I wasn’t taking more than my share. I wasn’t asking for extra. It was all included and all I had to do was ask for it.
Often we impose limits on ourselves based on false perceptions or assumptions. We don’t ask for or seek out all we really want because we like what we have just fine. We can’t see beyond our current circumstances or limitations because we don’t look. We do not even know to look. I’m glad that Phil reminds me to look. Load up on the good stuff. There’s a long road yet to travel. All you have to do is ask for it.
Part 2 coming soon! Below is a photo dump from our day trip El Capricho de Gaudí in Cantabria and pit stop in Ribadesella that Phil wrote about. Enjoy!