Although I don’t have the exact numbers, I would venture to guess that most of the travelers to Spain hit at least one of the big four: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and/or the incredible Andulacia Region. However, although these Spanish destinations are certainly well worth a visit, the country actually has quite a number of hidden gems that many tourists don’t get to see. Of course, some of these places are a little harder to get to, but if you like to road trip, Spain has some fantastic options for off-the-beaten path travel.
Take the Galicia region, for instance. This northwestern area of Spain certainly isn’t a secret due to the famed El Camino de Santiago. However, the area right below the region’s capital city, Santiago del Compostela, is one of Spain’s most beautiful and unexplored areas: Las Rias Bajas (Lower Rias).
The Lower Rias are four estuarine inlets that start at the southern end of Galicia and run along the Atlantic Coast until meeting the Portuguese border. Starting at Santiago de Compostela and traveling south down the “rias”, you’ll find an incredible landscape of small beach inlets, fishing village, culinary excellence and an incredibly lush and green side of Spain that tends to surprise even the most seasoned of travelers.
Starting Point: Cape Finisterre
Cape Finisterre is about a one and a half hour drive to the west of Santiago de Compostela. For many years, it was thought to be the western most part of Europe. For road trippers starting out from Santiago, it’s well worth the drive just to see the glorious sunset from the top of Monte Facho, the very top tip of the cape. Once you’re ready to hit the road, the lower rias start just below Finisterre so just head south on the coast on your way towards some spectacular and off-the-beaten-path parts of Spain.
Traveling south, there are a number of options to stop for the night. As we drove down the coast, we choose to take the coastal road and stop at the fishing village of Corcubión. Although there isn’t a lot of specific things to see in this quaint little area, it did make for a great stop to stay the night once we left Finisterre.
From Corcubion, we made our way to Combarro, another small fishing village that is known for its Horreos, antique structures that were built to protect food and keep out little critters. This part of Spain is known for its seafood and although a lot of time has passed since we visited, I can still clearly remember the seafood paella I had here on an outdoor terrace overlooking the fishermen’s boats. Simply divine!
Baiona and the Cies Islands
Baiona was one of the most memorable parts of our Galician road trip. Although it’s also pretty small, we took a break from driving for a few days and just relaxed in this peaceful town. Well, I should say that we didn’t just relax, we relaxed on the Cies Islands, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The Cies Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Vigo and are registered as a Nature Reserve. The exquisite islands are highly protected by the government and thanks to its protected natural state, the islands are repeatedly featured those best beaches in the world list.
In order to get to the islands from Baiona, visitors can take a 40- minute ferry that leaves a few times a day. However, be warned that the early bird gets the worm in this situation because the local government limits the number of visitors to the islands. Once they meet that number, the ferry will stop running and you’ll have to wait until the next day to go. So, get up really early and hightail it to the port!
Once you’re on the islands, there is only one combo bar/restaurant/supermarket and little else. People may camp on the islands with prior reservations and everyone that visits the island must bring their trash back to the port. Of course, the beaches are gorgeous, but there are also quite a few hiking trails for active travelers. It’s a 7 km hike to the Faro de Cies, the lighthouse at the highest point of the islands.
Once you’ve toasted your buns and stretched your legs on the beautiful beaches of the Cies, depending on time, road trippers can continue down the coastline through Viana do Castelo and La Guarda, which are just a few minutes from the Portuguese border. There, you can exchange your Spanish mariscos and Albariño for Portuguese Bacalhau and Vinho Verde and just keep on driving south!
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