Galicia Spain’s Hidden Paradise

When people from outside Spain are asked if they know Galicia, the answer is invariably negative. Why is it, that this part of Spain is so popular with Spanish tourists, yet remains relatively unknown for foreigners who visit the peninsula. The easy answer could be the weather. The Costas of the Mediterranean , and the Andalusian coast have always been popular with sun-seeking tourists from all over Europe. The sun is guaranteed, but the beaches can be very overcrowded, and not very clean. Many are private, and also full of expensive sunbeds and parasols. At least you know what you are going to get, and the local councils plough a lot of money into attracting tourists. This last point could be the reason that the region remains unknown outside of Spain.

Galicia vs Northern Spain

Many Spaniards from the centre of Spain, who spend most of the year far from the coast in arid lands, love Galicia. They love it’s greenery, it’s unspoiled beaches, it´s locally produced food, and above all it’s tranquility. And also the love it’s weather. Other parts of northern Spain , such as Asturias and Cantabria can compete with Galicia on some fronts. However, their weather is unreliable, and this reduces their appeal for tourists who like the sun. Galicia has much more guaranteed days of sun a year, and thus the domestic tourists come flocking.

Opening up Galicia

As Galicia has always felt that it has enough tourists fro it’s own country, over the years it has been a little slow to advertise itself abroad. Many ex-gallegos whose families left Galicia during Franco’s rule, also flood back in the summer months. However, with some old style economy such as agriculture and fishing declining, tourism is stepping in to fill the gap. Oddly enough, the huge upgrade to the airport in Porto has helped Galicia. It’s southern entry point in Tui is just an hour’s drive from the airport. Porto serves almost 75 different destinations, and the budget airlines have really upped their flight volumes. Galicia has been quick to take advantage of this, and the regional government have supported the tourist industry.

TurGalicia was launched in 2010 to coincide with the Xacobeo Galicia celebrations, and has been a huge success. Foreign visitor numbers have swelled , many due to the Camino de Santiago, but also as the TurGalicia has visited many overseas holiday fairs.

Many of the tourists come to experience that balance of sun-seeking, and the culture of the region. And obviously the gastronomy . And now, a growing part of this tourism is outdoor sports. Surfing has grown in popularity, as has trail running and hiking. Galicia’s mountains providing the perfect environment for these pastimes. And now cycling holidays ares slowly beginning to grow in their popularity, as the abundance of mountains, coast and safe riding conditions appeal to cyclists. Cycling Galicia is in a perfect spot to attract these new tourists, and open up this paradise even more.

Tourism in Galicia

Galicia remains one of the hidden gems of Spain. Galician tourism is becoming an important factor to the economy.  The Spanish know all about it, and they love to come here on their holidays. The population that lives in what is known as the interior particularly relish Galicia. Much of Spain, particularly the central and southern parts are arid and dry. And in the summer can be quite unbearable, as temperatures hit 40 Celsius. Thus Galicia, with its coast, mountains, and unlimited greenery is very appealing for anybody thinking of cycling tours in Spain.

Due to its history, Galicia has experienced a lot of emigration in the last 75 years. However, like salmon, these displaced Gallegos love to come home for their holidays, providing a boost for Galician tourism.  In July and August, Galicia seems to fill up with Swiss registered cars. Switzerland was the favourite European destination for Galician emigres over the last 50 years. Its political neutrality being very popular. South America too, particularly Uruguay and Mexico have a large Gallego population. In August, successful Mexican businessman with Gallego roots flock to Galicia, leaving their private planes at Vigo airport. They create a tourist attraction, as small crowds gather to watch them arrive. They bring their big fancy cars in transport planes, and head to Avión, where they have huge summer houses. The fiesta in Avión is a lavish affair, paid for by the emigres, and full of Mexican culture.

In northern Portugal, we see the same summer influx of emigres, but this time from France. Portugal until the early 70´s was a military dictatorship under Salazar, and many fled. Portugal has a long history of furniture, clothes and shoe manufacture. These skills were taken abroad by the emigres and found a willing home in France. And these people flood back to their routes in July and August, boosting Galician tourism and the local economy. These ex-pat Portuguese also have a huge affinity to Galicia, due to the historical cultural ties. Also, the beach lovers prefer Galicia. The coastal geography presents much better beaches, warmer water, and less dangerous. This appeals greatly to those with younger families.

In the last 10 years, Galician tourism has seen an upturn, including those with no roots in the region. The Camino de Santiago is more popular every year, and visits by the Vuelta de España have also boosted tourism. Galicia remains however unspoilt by tourism. The “ley de la costa”, which prevents development on the coastline has prevented huge hotels going up. Galicians value their land, and its outstanding beauty. That will never be sacrificed, and thus Galicia will always keep its natural charm. Come and see for yourself. You will fall in love with it.

Volta de Portugal passing close to Galicia

The 80th Volta a Portugal has just concluded in the town of Fafe, just an hour’s drive from the Galician border. This year, Gallegos were very fortunate to see a total of four stages, all easily accessible from Galicia. The heat was not as extreme as for the early part of the race, where the mercury hit 44 degrees Celsius. This caused the great spectacle of firemen in every town hosing down the peloton as it passed through. Social media loved those images.

As the Volta a Portugal  reached the north, the dominant Portuguese team, that of W52 FC Porto were in prime position in the race for the yellow jersey. Their Spanish captain Raul Alarcon won the two mountain stages with commanding performances. He held a fifty-two second advantage over local hero Joni Brandao from Sporting Tavira, heading into the rest day on Tuesday. The points jersey was an inter-team battle with Vicente de Mateos and Luis Mendonca form the AVILUDO Louletano team separated by just seven points. The dual stage winner, the Italian sprinter Riccardo Stacchiotti was lurking just ten points further back.

Second week

The second week of the Volta a Portugal really separated the stronger teams. W52 Porto propelled their leader Alarcon to another stage win, giving him a clean sweep of the mountain stages. Their strength in depth was too much for the other teams. Vicente de Mateos grabbed two stage wins to lock up the points jersey, and third place on the podium. His final win in the time trial, leaving him just nine seconds away from Joni Brandao. So, Portugal took second step on the final podium.

Thoughts on the Volta

It was a truly brutal tour, fast paced, high temperatures, and very challenging terrain. When interviewed by the Spanish website Sprint Final, the three most experienced riders gave their verdict. On the final day of the Volta, Nathan Earle, Rinaldo Nocentini and Sergio Paulinho all said the same. The Volta a Portugal is the hardest race of the year by far. Relentless up and down terrain, and never a minute without somebody accelerating. This year four pro-continental teams competed versus the Portuguese. Hopefully in future, there will be more.

Heat and Riding

Most of Europe has been sweltering this week in temperatures never witnessed. The heat has been unbearable. When the hot weather makes it to the first item on Spanish television news, you know it must be hot. And it was hot. Galicia is not known for these extreme temperatures, particularly because of the cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean. This time it was different. In Tui, where Cycling Galicia is based, the mercury hit 42.5 degrees Celsius, making a bike ride quite uncomfortable.Although these temperatures were unprecedented, when the thermometer hits 35 degrees plus, a ride is still possible. However, some rules need to be followed when cycling in such heat.

Hydration in the Heat

Hydration is key, and although there are plenty of natural water fountains in Galicia, other places are not so lucky. Iso thermic bidones are a very good idea for the hot weather. They are generally larger than normal water bottles but keeping that liquid cool can be vital in hot weather. The heat can turn water into a hot drink in fifteen minutes. Drink a good amount before you leave in the morning. The rule of thumb is to drink an entire bidon every 30-40 minutes in hot weather. Do not wait until you are thirsty, as that is too late. Sip regularly, rather than half a bidon very 20 minutes. Eating is also very important. Try to take food that won’t atrophy in the heat. No chocolate-based bars, or gummy type sweets. Good hard cereal bars are excellent, as are bananas.

Sun Protection

Always wear sunscreen. Never ever go out riding on a hot day without it. Apply it particularly to the back of the neck and the face. A bandana or cap is also a good idea, to prevent sweat from rolling into the eyes. Even if you are not comfortable with sunglasses, use them, as again, eye damage is possible if you plan to spend 4 to 5 hours in the saddle. Insect repellent too is good idea and focus on behind your knees and inside your elbows, where the softer skin is.

A lot of this is common sense. However, riding in hot weather can be very dangerous if you are not prepared properly. So don’t leave home without following these basic rules. Enjoy the ride.