Tui-Valença do Minho (Portugal)-A Guarda-Santa Tegra-Oia-Baiona
‘Portugal is the lover and Galicia the loved’, goes one local folk saying. The ties between the two countries, separated by the vigorous Miño river, are what is highlighted during the first part of the itinerary of an excursion that is a joy from both the monumental point of view and that of natural scenery. It also leaves enough time for shopping at a commercial enclave of historical and artistic relevance: the fortress of Valença do Minho. These are aristocratic lands covered with vineyards, frontier lands with vantage points looking from one to the other country and fortresses built for defence.
In Galician lands, the tour goes through the area known as Baixo Miño (Lower Miño), located at the southwestern end of the province of Pontevedra, and owes its name, landscape and character to the presence of the Miño river, the most important of all Galician river courses. The river also marks the boundary between Spain and Portugal. The district is a harmonious combination of three diferent kinds of landscape: the sea, the hills and the river.
From the summit of Monte de Santa Tegra the whole coastline can be observed, this also being the area object of this trip, beginning from the north, by the Ría de Vigo and the Cíes Islands, and finishing southward, beyond the Miño river, in Portugese lands. The mountain of Tui, the Aloia, together with the Miño estuary itself is one of the most precious spots from an environmental point of view. Both Monte de Santa Tegra and the Aloia, with their strategic location, are ideal natural vantage points offering wonderful views of the area, which is also enriched by a varied architectural catalog with examples from every age, from the prehistoric castro of Monte Santa Tegra, to the medieval acropolis of Tui, and including the timeless seaport of A Guarda, the monastery of Santa María de Oia, and ‘La Real’ (the royal) Baiona.
As a result of both devoted care and good natural conditions, the local wines, and those of O Rosal in particular, have achieved an international reputation, as part of the denomination of origin ‘Rías Baixas’. They are the perfect companion to the area’s gastronomic delicacies, a rich variety of products from both river and sea.
Right upon the border with Portugal, from which only the river Miño separates it, Tui is a Cathedral and fortress surrounded by churches and granite houses, many of them emblazoned or with arches from the 15th and 16th centuries, arranged along stone-paved streets of a medieval design. Its old town is built exclusively in stone, preserving some sections of the ancient wall. It is a fascinating place, with streets that fall towards the river and with small squarelets with enclosed balconies looking upon the neighboring country. The old town of Tui, declared in its entirety to be of historical and artistic value, is surprising not for its beauty only, but also for its serenity.
The most usual itinerary starts at the Cathedral and then descends by Misericordia street, where we will be encountered by the chapel consecrated to San Telmo (1769-1803), patron saint of Tui, the sole example of the Portugese baroque architectural style in Galicia, built upon the foundations of the house where this Dominican saint died in the 13th century. It continues through Cuerpo Santo street to then go up through the Pasadizo de las Monjas (Passageway of the Nuns) and visit the Convento de las Encerradas, nuns of the order of Saint Clare, which stands out for its large proportions, the solidity of its structure and its barred windows. Here some exquisite almond biscuits can be bought, unique for coming in the shape of fish, a reference to a local folk tale.
The town’s spectacular riverbank location, facing the sister fortress of Valença do Minho in Portugal, accounts for its frontier character as one of the seven capitals of the old kingdom of Galicia which once suffered the attacks of both Norsemen and Arabs. There is also the old International Iron Bridge, attributed to the famous French engineer Eiffel. Tui is also on the course of the pilgrim’s road known as Camino Portugués, which leads to Santiago de Compostela.
Thanks to its being near the sea, the gastronomic treats of Tui include a rich variety of seafood, but owe even more to the products of the river Miño, among which angulas (baby eels) and lamprey should feature. Tui, which belongs to the‘Rías Baixas’ denomination of origin, accompanies its dishes with exquisite white Albariño wines.
Portugal: Valença do Minho
The Fortress of Valença do Minho is the counterpart of that of Tui on the opposite bank of the river, now on Portuguese soil. It is, however, less solid and secluded, more luminous, and its Portuguese character is also apparent in its stone pavement, different from the Galician, and in the whiteness of its buildings, many of them decorated with an element that is most typical of Portuguese architecture: tiles. Valença is scattered with small churches and niches of a baroque style. Years back, this charming and colorful historical and artistic enclave was a shopping Mecca to which the Spanish would flock in order to buy articles, especially textiles, at excellent prices. Today it is still a beautiful Grand Bazaar, with a wider range of products available and an also wider price range, since prices have tended to come closer to what could be expected in Spain.
Back in Spain, the route continues to A Guarda. A sign to the right points to the Monte Aloia Natural Park, equipped with an interpretation center. These facilities offer guides for the different trekking routes crossing the park, information about the local wildlife and everything necessary to learn more about the Park’s environmental treasures. There is the possibility of guided visits. The Park also has tables for picnics, leisure zones, safe zones for barbecues, and so forth, but there is also a restaurant next to the hermitage of San Xulián.
Further ahead is O Rosal, a territory that enjoys ideal weather and conditions for the winemaking craft. The road is flanked by a great number of vineyards, most of them growing Albariño grapes. The wines of O Rosal are included within the Rías Baixas denomination of origin, together with those of Albariño and el Condado.
Monte Santa Tegra and A Guarda
Not far from O Rosal is A Guarda, one of Galicia’s most charming municipalities. The Atlantic Ocean, the estuary of the Miño river and Monte Santa Tegra together conform an extraordinary setting of both environmental and historical wealth, to which the excellence of its cuisine must also be added as an attraction of the highest order.
From the town the monte de Santa Tegra can be reached, with privileged vantage points over the mouth of the Miño, facing south, and over the fishing town which has just been crossed, facing north. Santa Tegra, which is crossed by paths, is enriched by the presence of glyphs carved on stone from the Bronze Age, and there is also the castro, a reconstructed Galaico-Roman -‘Celtic’- village which is spectacular for its location, declared a National Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest. Its important archaeological remains justify the existence of a museum, with exhibits that range from the Paleolithic Age to Roman times, also considered Monumento Histórico-Artístico. The mountain has also a small chapel, two Via Cruces, one of them ornamental, and also two restaurants.
Santa María de Oia monastery
This tour leaves from A Guarda for Baiona, always bordering the coast along road known as ‘Rompeolas’ (the breakwater) so that a splendid landscape is guaranteed all the way.
Halfway through (15 km approximately) stands the monastery of Santa María de Oia (12th century), which is now being refurbished for its use as a spa. The monastery is spectacular for its location, completely facing the Ocean, which makes it perhaps the only monastery so unmistakably linked to the sea.
Virgen de la Roca
Once Cape Silleiro has been left behind, the ‘Virgin of the Rock’ is reached, a stone and white marble statue of large dimensions (15 m high) which looks upon the sea from a height of 100 m. Financed by a popular subscription, and carved by the famous architect Antonio Palacios –who benefited from the collaboration on the face and hands of the great Valencian sculptor Mariano Benlliure-, the statue’s mantle springs from the rock itself of the hill called Sansón. A minimal and vertiginous spiral stairway ascends through its interior and leads to the boat held by the Virgin, a balcony from which Baiona can be seen, as well as the peninsula where the fortress of Monterreal stands, and the Cíes islands in all their splendor.
Baiona, with its surname ‘la Real’ by virtue of the royal sea trade privileges which it was granted during the Middle Ages, is a tourist town par excellence. This beautiful seaport is known best of all for the castle of Monterreal, an ancient fortress which is now a Parador Nacional de Turismo named ‘Conde de Gondomar’, for its Romanesque collegiate church of the 13th century and for being the port where the caravel La Pinta returned to after Columbus’s first voyage of discovery, one of the three ships that sailed for America for the first time.
Baiona has become one of the most important ports for sailing in the whole Iberian Peninsula. Its port gives shelter to a large number of vessels, adding to its colorful look, and is the base for the Príncipe de Asturias regatta, which takes place towards the end of August.
From Baiona it’s back to Santiago. From the highway, there is a magnificent view of the ría and city of Vigo.