It is time to move on down towards the Portuguese border, past the town of Cambados, with its 11th century church and square, and a group of Spanish tourists with guide.
This is a charming town, which boasts the official title of Most Noble Town, and the guide books boast about the white wine that is made locally. The town certainly does have a kind of stateliness in its architecture, and obviously boasts an important past.
A festival is held on the first Sunday in August based around the Albariño wine. The grape is noted for its distinctive aroma, very similar to that of Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Petit Manseng, suggesting apricot and peach. The wine produced is unusually light, and generally high in acidity, with alcohol levels of 11.5-12.5%.The thick skins and large number of pips in the grapes can cause residual bitterness.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Albariño vines could be found growing around the trunks of poplar trees and in bushes along the outside margins of a field. When grown in a vineyard, the vines need to be wire trained with large canopies to accommodate the 30 to 40 buds per vine that is typical.
We stayed the night in a small town overlooking one of the rias. The next day we drove down to Santiago de Compostella to look at what lay at the end of one of the most famous pilgrimages of the middle ages.
I have been obsessed with the road to Santiago for years, and have always wanted to make the pilgrimage. Well, there it is. I have mixed feelings about it all, but most of my feelings are not sympathetic. What I see is something that is now irrelevant of course. Only a few people today care about the bones of one of the disciples of Christ, if they are his bones, which is highly unlikely. They were dug up from an old Roman graveyard after about 800 years. But what one sees is a vast church burocracy in stone.
The actual cathedral is in a poor state. The colors that were on the stone are no more. There is no stained glass. The stonework is not dressed. However, the main altarpiece and its immediate surrounds are covered in gold leaf and silver. The whole place reeks of wealth and power. But I dont see any spirituality anywhere. I look at the altarpiece and remember that Christ was born in a shed amongst the cow-shit, and find it impossible to reconcile that with what is before me. There is something fundamentally obscene about it all. It is not so much impressive, as oppressive.
Just to the east of the city is a more intriguing church. I dont usually go out of my way to look at churches, but this one is a trifle odd. It is the Colegiata de Santa Maria la Real de Sar.
The Sar is a small stream that winds a mainly hidden way around the city. I had to ask several people where the place was. Somehow I expected it to be a quaint little village church, but nothing in Santiago is as it seems. Santiago is the patron saint of Spain. The bones of one of Christ’s disciples are supposed to buried in the city. This is the end of a great medieval trail. The church infrastructure is massive. Despite all this the place is a sleepy little country town, much smaller than I’d expected, with a small industrial estate that also looked rather sleepy.
The church is sitting in the middle of a car park. There it is squat and absurdly massive because it is supported in all directions by huge buttresses that seem to take up more room, and more stone, than the actual church. On one side is a charming colonnade. Inside is a simple nave with three aisles, and here is the intriguing bit: the church has been built deliberately askew.
I walked back outside and looked at the buttresses. It was all rather strange. Some of the walls seemed to be perfectly vertical, other parts of the walls were leaning seriously askew.
Back inside I stood just inside the door and looked down the nave. The whole church is ridiculously massive. It is built as though someone had to get rid of a heck of a lot of stone. For a small area of worship the height of the church is more than one would expect, and the columns reaching up are deliberately built angled out towards the side aisles. It is all most odd.
There were no tourists. Julie and I had the place to ourselves. I guess virtually no-one knows about the place. But it is worth a visit for the curious.
By dark we make it to Ponteareas, which is close to the Portuguese border. All the restaurants are shut. Apparently they dont open till nine o’clock. However, we had passed one on the way in called Casa Pino that appeared to be open, so we double back.
The menu looks daunting. I order two starters, and wonder if that will be enough. I want to have local specialities so I start with a plate of mussels followed by gambas. A plate of mussels with chopped peppers and tomato is placed in the middle of the table. This is just an appetizer. It is quickly followed by empanadillas (pasties) containing tomato and squid.
The plate of mussels is supposed to be a starter. It contains 20 or 30 of them. And they are huge. I have never eaten such large fat ones before. They are cooked in a delicious sauce, which I spoon up with the shells.
I am beginning to flag by the time the second starter turns up. It is a plate containing about a dozen enormous prawns. I order more wine. I am drinking a rather fine house white.
The price of the meal comes to £16, or thereabouts. I think I am going to have to move down here. I lean back in my chair thinking what a wonderful world it is. When it comes to the bill I find to my horror that they dont accept cards. Apparently that is not a problem, I can come back tomorrow and pay. There are obviously no tourists in this part of the world. How nice.
When I pass by a year later I naturally call in. Sometimes that can be a mistake, but not on this occasion. I shall be returning many more times. This is a very special part of Spain.
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