The inner seas
Monforte de Lemos-Cañones del Sil-Doade-Castro Caldelas-Mirador Cabezoas-Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil
The Ribeira Sacra area comprises the hinterland regions where the two most important water courses of Galicia meet: the Sil and the Miño. For the last few kilometers before it meets the Miño at Os Peares, the Sil flows along the border between the provinces of Lugo and Ourense, following a deep canyon, in some points as much as 500 meters deep, thus creating an impressive landscape quite out of the ordinary, a hallmark of this territory.
These potent natural landscapes were inhabited in the early days of Christianity by monks and hermits who led an ascetic life in search of silence and the privileged natural environment of these lands, and whom over time were to build magnificent monasteries. Hence the name Ribeira Sacra, for which there have been written witnesses since the 12th century.
Apart from its monasteries, this part of Galicia can boast a rich heritage in the form of castles, churches, pazos and bridges.
The river is navigable for a length of 40 kms which can be followed by cruising in a catamaran, a great way to enjoy some of the most secluded spots that are otherwise inaccessible, given the abruptness of the territory. At the heights of the Canyon there are abundant natural lookouts hanging over the river, ideal view points for the contemplation of a landscape of unusual beauty.
The vegetation of the ribera consists of forests of oak, chestnut and holm-oaks. On the cultivated areas, vineyards are most important, disposed in terraces or socalcos. Seen from the river they speak of a human effort to get the most out of these lands, the home of the wines commercialized under the Ribeira Sacra denomination of origin. The red Mencía grape is the most commonly grown, and it produces wines of a superior quality, aromatic and with a distinctive fruitiness. With a smaller production, the Godello varietal is grown to make white wines which accompany the fine trout fished in the area.
Monastery of Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil
Located on the very banks of the River Sil is the magnificent Monastery of Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil, a Benedictine monastery from the 6th century that has recently been rehabilitated as a hotel by the ‘Paradores’ chain. It features a notable Romanesque cloister, with alterations from the 16th century. In addition to the Romanesque style, its structure and decoration includes Gothic, Renaissance and baroque elements. It was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument in 1923.
The Cabezoas vantage point
One of the most impressive panoramic views of the Canyons of the Sil.
The location of Castro Caldelas is what is impressive, with the imposing castle on top of the hill, and the striking terraces on its slopes. Also interesting are the church of Santa Isabel and the Virgen de los Remedios Sanctuary.
Boat trip through the `inner seas´ of Galicia
A cruise on a catamaran down the Canyons of the Sil, with a duration of approximately an hour and a half, it crosses spots of great charm. The still waters and the Canyon’s rock formations are a grandiose spectacle for the senses.
The famous Santa Cristina de Ribas do Sil monastery can be seen high up from the boat. It is a 12th century church with an interesting Romanesque rose and 16th century cloister. It is said that from the apse of the church there used to be a tunnel leading outside. It is also said that if one walks through the hollow chestnut trees in the vicinity, called ‘caracochas,’ one is cured of ‘tangaraño’, that is, rickets. It probably does a good job with more modern ailments as well.
Another enclave the boat passes by is known as the Balcones de Madrid. On the banks there are small piers used by the local wine producers to transport grapes during the harvest season.
Thousands of stories and legends surround these impressive parts, but among them all there is one reminiscent of the classics that may be particularly surprising: The god Jupiter, struck by the beauty of the lands of Galicia, in order to possess them, crossed them with a river, the Miño. His wife Juno had no intention of sharing him with a stranger, so she had the idea of inflicting a wound across the face of Galicia so Jupiter would eventually reject her. That wound, the wonderful Canyons of the Sil, can have a vertical fall of as much as 300 m in some parts of its course.
Here is the largest extension of cultivated grapes of the Amandi varietal, included in the denomination of origin ‘Ribeira Sacra’. The tour includes a visit to a wine cellar and a sampling of these excellent Galician wines.
Monforte de Lemos
Considered as the gate to the Ribeira Sacra, Monforte, a medieval town, owns a rich heritage represented by monasteries, castles, palaces, convents and bridges, making of it an absolute must. Especially worth mentioning are the monastery of San Vicente do Pino, the Torre del Homenaje and the scattered remains of the Palace of the Counts of Lemos.
The Monfortean medieval heritage is completed by the walls, towers and streets of its old town, such as Rúa da Cadea Vella, Rúa dos Fornos or Rúa do Burato, with an abundance of emblazoned houses. On these rúas there was in the final years of the Middle Ages an important Jewish community, the largest in Galicia together with that of Ribadavia, which made a fundamental contribution to the town’s commercial life.
Also to be mentioned is the Puente Viejo, of Roman origin – although in its present shape it dates from the 16th century - the Franciscanas Descalzas convent – also known as that of the Clarisas, the home of one of the most important museums of sacred art in Spain – and the Colegio Nuestra Señora de la Antigua, an impressive Renaissance building known as ‘the little Galician Escorial’. In its museum there are several paintings by El Greco.
As a curiosity, the narrowest house in all Spain is in Monforte. It is 1,50 m wide and four storeys high, plus a ground floor.