Plan a Trip to This Lesser-Known Corner of Spain for World-Class Wine and Seafood

Find out why wine insiders love going to Galicia.


Relatively few Americans visit Galicia, the Northwest corner of Spain’s Atlantic coast, but the area has long been a favorite of sommeliers and other wine insiders. People who go find green hills, world-class wineries, heaps of shellfish, and a distinct Gallego culture. Galicia’s microclimates and differing soil types mean five distinct denominaciónes de origen — from the sandy soils and coastal breezes of Rías Baixas to the verdant, steeply terraced vineyards of inland Ribeira Sacra. Godello, Mencía, and the lesser known Treixadura and Espadeiro grapes are grown and vinified into remarkable wines whose minerality, sunny complexity, and diversity may remind you of those found nearby in Portugal. Yes, thousands of pilgrims and tourists walk the Caminos towards Santiago de Compostela each year, but the glimpse they get is what Spaniards already know — Galicia as a vacation destination is worth the easy trip for the Albariño alone. 

Just as beloved as the wine in this region is the local food, especially seafood. Dozens of varieties of mollusks and crustaceans take shelter from icy Atlantic waters in the protected rías (estuaries) on Galicia’s northern and western coasts. Browse the Mercado de Abastos in Santiago to see an incredible array of live crabs, octopus, clams, finfish and, in season, percebes, the stunning gooseneck barnacle harvested by fisherman who free dive into the water to pry them off boulders at the bottom of the ocean.

Water rushes everywhere in Galicia, powering flour mills, irrigating grapevines, greening hillsides, and watering cattle. Locals and pilgrims visit natural thermal springs along the Minho river in Ourense. Visitors to Balneario enjoy a couple of hours splashing in the indoor and outdoor pools and saunas at the Palacio de Agua spa, which was renovated in Spring 2020. They also book treatments like the Celtic Circuit, a five-step multi-temperature progression of therapeutic baths. Either treatment is a perfect way to refresh before a walk in the nearby woods or villages or a Pontevedra winery visit.

Galicia has perhaps more in common with Portugal than the rest of Spain; they share a border and coastline, and the Galician language is something of a mix of the two. The region also retains a Celtic vibe from its history as a 5th and 6th century BC settlement, which is why you may hear a gaita (the Gallego bagpipe) in a local tavern or on a village street corner. Here are some suggestions for your visit.


Getting There 

Fly to Santiago de Compostela from Madrid or take the new high speed Renfe train with two to three direct daily departures. The ride is scenic and takes less than four hours at speeds up to 150 miles per hour. You can also drive in from Porto in less than three hours.

Where To Stay

Casa Beatnik opened in May 2022 as a stylish, bohemian oasis just a 20-minute drive south of the historic town of Santiago de Compostela. The hotel is owned by Dani Alonso, the owner of Bonhomme Hospitality, a Chicago-based restaurant group known for its Mediterranean restaurants like Beatnik and Porto. Alonso, whose parents are native Gallegos, bought the pazo, which sits in a working Alabariño vineyard. Fans of his Chicago restaurants can expect some of his signature over-the-top design touches at the bright pink hotel whose aesthetic he says is inspired by Morocco, France and Italy, including handmade Beni shag rugs from Morocco and Murano glass chandeliers. 

While you’re on site, grab a cocktail (the patio features a retractable glass roof), loll by the red-tiled saltwater pool, stroll under the trellised pergolas, and check out the Krygys yurts. Take a spa treatment or yoga session, then compare recent vintages from the vineyard. The sumptuous property features two restaurants. Beatnik, with a lounge-y indoor/outdoor vibe and global cuisine, features pristine seafood with fresh aguachiles and ceviches or Moroccan-style pastilla stuffed with braised and spiced poultry. Tribú, a fine-dining spot with 6 tables, offers a tasting menu of local proteins and hyper-fresh produce from Santi Pemán’s nearby farm, Finca de los Cuervos

Where To Shop

Visit the numerous coastal fishing villages in the west for postcard views of fishing boats, backed up by marisquerias and pulperías offering platefuls of the local shellfish and octopus, respectively. You’ll want to bring an extra bag for seafood souvenirs — the world’s best conservas are canned here. Tour the factory at Los Peperetes in O Carril for a deep dive into canning history and tradition before picking up a few tinned treasures to take home.

Sargadelos has been producing porcelain tableware in Galicia since 1806. Visit this famed shop to pick up pieces featuring striking geometric patterns, many in their signature blue hue.

Workers at O Muíño de Cuíña have been milling grain continuously for more than 100 years. Visit the water-powered stone mill to see the milling in action and purchase local wheat, rye, spelt, or rye flour. Be sure to schedule extra time to tour the lovely grounds, where locals walk dogs on the hillside. 


Where To Eat and Drink

In a whitewashed house with a sunny waterfront patio, O Loxe Mareiro offers a local tasting menu in its open kitchen, featuring the best of the estuary at their front door. A parade of raw seafood (cockles, razor clams, almejas, zamburiñas, which are the local scallops) starts you off, then small plates of  anchovies, sardines, octopus, and finfish join in. 

Pepe Vieira just earned its second Michelin star in November 2022. But don’t worry that the experience will be formal or stuffy; in Galicia, the servers wear sneakers and so can you. Chef Xosé  Cannas and team gives their all, from rías views to sparkling hyper-local seafood served with an avant garde sense of humor — your sashimi may be presented on a roasted fish head, while your salad is served with a rubber spatula to scrape up the vinaigrette and your cheese course is just pretending to be cheese. Make a day of the stunning drive to get here; experience the exquisite lunch tasting menu, leave time to admire the kitchen garden and the contemporary architecture. 

At O Balado, Marta Fernández and Roberto Filgueira open their farmhouse and cozy hearth (wave to the sheep, donkeys and chickens that live on the grounds on your way in) to serve traditional Galician cuisine like rustic bread with house butter, crab croquetas, and simply roasted meats in an exquisite, comfortable setting. 

Lagüiña lieux-dit, a wine bar in a stone house tucked into a vineyard-studded hill, offers comforting specialties like chistorras (a Basque sausage), pulpo, and roast lamb, plus local cheeses, and sparklingly fresh fish pulled from the nearby sea. The food is matched to a wine list befitting its co-owner, Eduardo Camiña Ucha, a former head sommelier at Mugaritz.

What To Drink Before You Go 

Looking to try a taste of Galicia at home? Wine production in Galicia focuses on native grapes, both white and red, from old vines and tiny vineyards and microclimates, in a variety of soils from granite to sand. “The appellation of Ribeiro showcases a variety of white grape varietals including the mainstay Treixadura, along with Torrontés, Godello, Albariño, Loureiro, Lado and Caíño Blanco,” says Craig Perman, owner of the wine shop Perman Wine Selections and the wine bar Le Midi in Chicago and a frequent visitor. “Grapes have been grown here since the Middle Ages.” He suggests two wines to start your Galician education.

 2020 Do Ferreiro Albariño

“Over 175 different vineyard plots are used to produce this bottle,” Perman says. “The vineyards are farmed sustainably and there is no trickery in the winery, with natural yeasts to start fermentation and several months of aging on its lees. The aromas and flavors are incredibly evocative of the Atlantic Ocean, and there is no better pairing with the freshest of shellfish, oysters, hake, or goose barnacles. [This is] one of my all-time favorite wines from anywhere, and the Méndez family also happen to be some of the nicest people you will ever meet.”

 2019 Viña Meín "O Gran Meín" Ribeiro Blanco 

“There are times when you visit a vineyard that you are overwhelmed by a sense of history,” Perman notes. “Such is the case with Viña Meín, whose beautifully terraced vineyards are located close to the Cistercian monastery of San Clodio.” Winemaker Laura Montero Rodil produces this deeply mineral blend, “with a mixture of stone fruit and citrus, and a texture that offers some mid-palate weight, but also an underlying freshness and elegance.”

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