One of the pleasures of travel in Europe is that there is always a new region to discover. I have lost count of my visits to Spain, but my recent trip to the northwest still felt like a journey into the unknown. Coming out of the airport in Vigo after a 75-minute flight from Madrid, the air smelled bracingly of the pines and eucalyptus trees that cover the steep green hills of Galicia, a Celtic region that in some ways has more in common with Brittany or Ireland than it does with the rest of the country.
Parador de Baiona
To recover from the transatlantic flight, we had decided to spend a couple of days relaxing at the Parador de Baiona, located on a rocky promontory, 16 miles southwest of Vigo and a 40-minute drive from the Portuguese border. (Lisbon lies 290 miles to the south.) Spain’s paradors are government-run heritage hotels, chiefly housed within converted fortresses, convents and palaces. Although their quality is inconsistent, the chain seems to be in the midst of a revival, with rising standards of food and service. The 122-room Parador de Baiona is contained within the crenellated medieval walls of the Castelo de Monterreal. Our traditionally furnished Junior Suite came with caramel-colored parquet floors, a sofa with striped damask upholstery, framed paintings of flowers and a floor-to-ceiling window that offered a memorable view of breakers crashing on the rocky coastline. A well-lit bath provided double vanities on a gray granite counter and a combination shower and tub. Although we were perfectly comfortable, on a future occasion I would book one of the property’s three Unique rooms — 201, 242 or 323 — since they’re larger, more distinctively decorated and come with hydrojet tubs.
The property’s fine restaurant specializes in the seafood for which Galicia is renowned. Scallops, goose barnacles (percebes in Spanish, and a great local delicacy), octopus, lobster and spider crabs can all be found in the waters around the nearby Islas Cíes. Commonly available Atlantic fish include hake, monkfish, turbot and sea bass, the latter cooked with razor shell clams and turnip greens in a delicious dish known as lubina con navajas. The cuisine is well supported by the local Ribeiro and Albariño wines. During the summer, meals are also served on a spectacular terrace overlooking the yacht club. In search of variety, we drove 45 minutes north one evening to enjoy a superb dinner at chef Pepe Solla’s Casa Solla, on the outskirts of the small city of Pontevedra.