There is an inner emotion when a place feels right. It's like walking into a house, as you enter and walk around you know that this is the right place for you.
As we arrive in northern Spain after five weeks in Portugal it feels like we have arrived home. As nice as Portugal is, and as great a time as we had, when we arrive in Spain it's like the energy has been increased after being flat for a while.
Santiago de Compostela is in the north of Spain, it's the capital of Galicia. The region is separated from the rest of Spain by high mountains which give it a very different feel to other regions of the country. The countryside and coastlines in the area are reminiscent of the UK, France or other parts of northern Europe.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela stands in the centre of the city and is surrounded by four squares. The twin towers on the front of the cathedral are 74 metres tall and can be seen for miles around.
As we tour around Galicia we notice that it has its own unique style of architecture that we have not seen elsewhere in Spain. Some of the buildings have galerias built on to the front upper floors. These are enclosed balconies adding a real distinctive style while protecting from the cool winters.
The region around Santiago is unlike other regions of Spain, it is very green with lots of pine and other trees, rolling hills and vineyards. Some of the coastline is very rugged as around the Rias Baixas area but there are also beautiful bays and beaches.
Santiago is a great city to discover by foot, Mark, a friend from London, joined us, luckily he loves to walk as much as we do. We certainly upped our steps with him, averaging about 25K per day. This enabled us to hit the tapas bars at night without feeling too guilty!
Later in the week Marks friend Pedro joined us. We were all invited to dinner by a friend of Pedro. This turned out to be the most stunning way to spend a summer evening. Traditional local foods and wines were served as we sat and chatted with the Spanish family in their beautiful waterside home overlooking the water as the sun set. Luckily they all spoke very good English, much better than our Spanish, "Yo soy un hombre" can only get you so far!
We have noticed throughout Spain how families come together to celebrate food and wine over lunch or dinner with all age groups taking part, chatting, laughing and all eating the same foods, no burger and chips with ketchup or ipads here! It was yet another highlight for us on our trip.
Harry Potter Bar
The nightlife in Santiago has really surprised us. We really did not expect to see bars filled with locals and travellers each night providing a buzzing atmosphere throughout the small lanes of the old town. A brochure from the tourist offices states that there's over 1,000 restaurants and bars here.
Our trusty Lonely Planet guide has led us to some amazing locations and venues on this trip. In Santiago the O Filandron tapas bar is recommended. The advice is to squeeze past the cheese shop counter into the thin, cellar-like bar area behind, where you'll receive exceedingly generous free tapas when purchasing drinks.
As we entered the bar area, Lloyd said it was like being in a Harry Potter film, we'd found platform 9 3/4! Our €15 bottle of Albarino came with two plates of hams, cheeses and Galician bread from the shop. The friendly locals were out having a late "Tuesday" evening, drinking, chatting and singing. We spoke with some of them and were advised to visit the Rias Baixas coastline.
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route leading to the cathedral at Santiago. The longest trail into France is 790KM, there are also several other trails from various European cities. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and walkers take these routes each year.
We decided to add a few Fitbit steps by taking part in the Camino walk, well a small part of it. We followed the yellow arrows and shell shapes that mark the route and walked the last 5KM from the point where the walkers get their first glimpse of the cathedrals spires.
A large monument marks the 5KM point, here walkers have left items they have carried with them along the walk including shoes, sticks or rocks. Some of the rocks have been written on with the name of the walker or a message they want to pass on.
For a long time the French were the main pilgrims and settlers on the Camino route. With them they brought a large French influence on the food of the area. This can be seen in the crepes, custards and quiche like tarts are seen here.
The Catholic Church has also had a big influence on Spanish food, they were given land by the king. Peasants worked on the land maintaining the vegetable and herb gardens of the monasteries. It's believed that there was a time when you had to be a bishop, monk or a cow to eat well in Galicia.
One of the sculptures at the cathedral is of Queen Esther. It is said that Esther's stone breasts were originally much larger until a bishop demanded that they be reduced in size. The locals responded by creating the Galician cone shaped cheese in Esther's honour.
Galicia is famous for the little green Padron peppers, these were brought to the area by Monks when returning from Mexico. These are small mild green peppers that are served fried and sprinkled with sea salt, they are really delicious. However, it can be a game of Russian roulette as approximately 10% of the peppers can be hot.
Another speciality in Santiago is the empanada de atun, these are tuna pies which can be served hot or cold. There are lots of different kinds of empanada on sale with various meats, cheeses and fish making up the fillings.
Dining a the market
As well as being a produce market the Santiago market also has an area of tapas bars. We ate here one night trying the tuna with guacamole, prawns with sofrita, and fillet steak with jalapenos. These were all served wrapped in crepes, part of the French food influence in the region. Being at the market the food is so fresh with so many flavours being prepared by the chef in the background.
Pulpo a la feria is a boiled octopus dish that is blooming delicious. We hadn't eaten too much octopus before Galicia, but here it's hard to resist. This dish is very simple and made with just paprika and olive oil. We also tried another octopus dish with the local breast cheese on top, it too was so tender and really good.
Octopus is such a large part of the lifestyle in Galica that some of the towns have festivals to celebrate it. We stumbled upon a festival on one of our walks around Santiago. This included a brass band playing and characters wearing papier-mache masks dancing around with the locals.
The Rias Baixas is an area of breathtaking beauty with estuaries and fjords, it also produces some of the best wine in Spain. Albarino is a white wine that is thought to be a Riesling clone brought to the area from the Rhine and Moselle Valleys by monks in the 12 century. The monks certainly knew how to eat and drink. Cheers!
Asta luego Santiago
With each day that passes our love of Spain deepens and Santiago has added to that feeling. This town and region is a place that we will definitely return to. It's right up our boulevard.
We now continue across the north of the country, next stop Leon.