After leaving the city of Lugo, we headed to Ribeira Sacra. An area known for it’s wild beauty, breath taking vistas, and vineyards planted on the steep slopes of the valleys and canyons of the rivers Sil and Miño.
Our drive into the mountains was equal parts beautiful and terrifying, with narrow roads, blind curves, and huge drop-offs with small, or often, no guard rails. I was glad to be driving the manual transmission as we climbed and descended though I was not as glad to be driving the manual transmission when I had to parallel park between two cars on the side of a damn mountain or navigate an impossibly tight turn that was a real three-point situation, again, on the side of a damn mountain! Our good friend, Diana, who lives in Gijón, told me after we returned that she intentionally did not tell me about the mountain driving because she did not want to make me nervous. Good looking out, cause I am certainly glad she didn’t; I had to do it either way and best not to worry too much ahead of time.
We could not check into our accommodations until 4:30pm so decided to check out one of the many monasteries in the area, Santo Estevo. Like the Convento de San Macos we visited in León, the Monastery of Santo Estevo has been converted into a luxury hotel by the Parador Hotel chain. Parador is a state run, luxury Spanish hotel chain that was established in 1928 as a means to promote tourism in the country. All of their hotels are located in adapted castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings.
After walking around the monastery and grabbing a coffee in the hotel bar, we were back on the road, weaving and climbing through the breathtaking mountains. I pulled over at one of the periodic gravel pull-offs to take in a particularly gorgeous view and Phil noticed a sign for Mirador de Vilouxe pointing down a steep incline across the road. We still had time time to kill before our hotel opened so we figured, why not take a look. And what a look it was.
We parked our car as indicated ,near a small chapel and proceeded on foot through the town, following arrows and feet that had been spray painted on the ground, leading the way to the lookout point. Holy Moly. The views of the river Sil were truly awesome. We were up so high that being even near-ish (like eight feet back) to the edge of the cliff made me a little nervous. Ok, very nervous. It was totally worth the mild initial anxiety to stand, hand-in-hand with Phil and breath in the fresh air and take in the spectacular, wild, nature around us.
Our alojamiento rural (rural accomodations) near the town of Parada de Sil, Hotel Olar de Rabacallos, was down many winding roads, near the edge of the Sil river. It was carved perfectly into the hill in a truly stunning setting. We had a serene view of the river from our room and could see the many terraced vineyards all over the steep river banks. The hotel proprietor who greeted us was warm and welcoming. She showed us a well worn map of the area and pointed out different attractions that might interest us. We took a photo and thanked her, inquired about breakfast the next morning, and headed up to our room to relax for a bit before meeting up with a friend from our intercambio (language exchange) meetup group for dinner in Ourense, an hour’s drive west.
The next morning, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of coffee, juice, toast from really, really good homemade bread, butter, jam, ham and cheese, and bizcocho (dense, yellow sponge cake). We enjoyed an extra cup of coffee outside, overlooking the Sil, respira el aire. We took a quick walk down to the water’s edge before packing up to hit the road toward our final stop of Santiago de Compostela. Even with the scary mountain driving, I would definitely go back to Ribeira Sacra. Kayaking the river Sil in spring or summer would be a dream.
As we climbed up the mountain from the river’s edge, we just kept on climbing. Up, up higher than we’d ever been with views so beautiful I couldn’t look away other than to pray and stare at the winding road, of course. As we rounded a big corner, we passed a small look out area and pulled over onto the gravel. From there, we saw one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen with both feet planted on the ground. We stood together, looking down on the clouds.
We made one more monastery stop before leaving the area. The Monastary San Pedro de Rocas, the oldest monastic complex in Galicia, built in the 6th century. It was a very happening spot late on a Sunday morning. They had a cute, little museum (with bathrooms!) that talked about the monks’ wine making. The large, outdoor structures (stone steps and magnificent archways) were more impressive than the building itself.
Just as the monastery was becoming overly crowded, we hopped back in the car, Santiago de Compostela bound.
Stay tuned for more about Santiago de Compostela!