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Ribeira Sacra – Sil Canyons: The Inland Seas
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Ribeira Sacra – Sil Canyons: The Inland Seas

Duration: Full-day tour

Itinerary: Monforte – Sil Canyons - Castro Caldelas - Mirador Cabezoas - Sto. Estevo de Ribas de Sil.

Description: During its final kilometres before reaching the Miño, the River Sil flows through a deep canyon, creating a unique and impressive landscape. At the beginning of Christianity, monks and hermits came here and began building important monasteries, which led to the area being called Ribeira Sacra. You can go down the river in a catamaran, enabling you to enjoy places otherwise inaccessible due to the difficult terrain. Contemplated from the river, the terraced vineyards reflect man’s efforts to make the most of this land, which produces “Ribeira Sacra” wine –Mencía is the most common variety of red grape cultivated here and Godello, the most common variety of white grape. The trip includes a stop in Monforte de Lemos.

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 metres 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 who over time were to build magnificent monasteries. Hence the name 'Ribeira Sacra,' for which there have been written testimonies 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. In the cultivated areas, vineyards are most important, arranged in terraces or 'socalcos.' Seen from the river they speak of human efforts 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 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.

Castro Caldelas

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 along the `inner seas´ of Galicia

A cruise on a catamaran down the Canyons of the Sil, it crosses spots of great charm. The still waters and the Canyon’s rock formations are a grandiose spectacle for the senses. Small docks on the banks are used by local winemakers to transport grapers during the harvest season.

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 among the hollow chestnut trees in the vicinity, called ‘caracochas,’ one is cured of ‘tangaraño,’ i.e. 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 gateway to the Ribeira Sacra, Monforte -a medieval town- owns a rich heritage represented by monasteries, castles, 'pazos,' convents, and bridges, making 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. 

Monforte's medieval heritage is completed by the walls, the 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. In 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.


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Ribeira Sacra – Sil Canyons: The Inland Seas
Ribeira Sacra – Sil Canyons: The Inland Seas