Forever chasing vineyards- Ribeira Sacra

October 26, 2015

Whenever I scoured Pinterest for travel inspiration in Galicia, the one image that would flood the page was that of the immense canyons and sprawling vineyards of Ribeira Sacra. Not only this, but almost every Galician I've spoken to recommends going here. Yesterday, we had the pleasure of visiting this truly breathtaking region thanks to our lovely Spanish friends, who acted as our personal chauffeurs and tour guides.

Ribeira Sacra is a region in Galicia which compromises the lands of which are bathed by the River Miño (which runs through the centre of Ourense) and the River Sil. The rivers both meet in this area, and run through an uncommon and impressive canyon. When I say impressive, I mean that I didn't realise places in the world could be so beautiful. The canyon, which was formed millions of years ago and is 500m deep in some places, separates the provinces of Ourense and Lugo. The area is decorated with gentle slopes and high plateaus which are an effect of the natural erosion. These gentle slopes in turn are adorned with chestnut trees, oak trees and vineyards. Chestnuts are ubiquitous here, with the locals enjoying roasted chestnuts as a traditional snack. 
It felt like being in China... 

Having spent two months living in the middle of vineyards, I didn't think I'd be arsed about seeing another again. The vineyards on these hills are spectacular, rambling perpendicularly over stone stairs of which were carved by the Romans. Rather cleverly, the step-cline surface allows an even distribution of rain water to all vines so that none are left thirsty. For me, it's very reminiscent of Chinese rice farms. The wine here is supposed to taste particularly delicious- it's supposedly Obama's favourite and if it's good enough for the President, then I'm sure I can get on board with that. When we visited, the area had been recently kissed by Autumn with scarlet, auburn and terracotta adorning the landscapes. (Even if these photos don't show it.)


Not only is this area home to grapes and chestnuts, there are eighteen monasteries scattered around the mountains. At the beginning of the Christian Era, monks settled here, over time building flourishing monasteries and creating works of art, culture and material progress of which spread slowly across the whole of Galicia. Ribeira Sacra translates as Sacred Riverbank in English- direct link to the thriving religious population of the area. Whilst the vines were originally planted by the Romans, the Monks replanted them, creating the ones we see today. Of the eighteen monasteries, we visited the largest and most famous- Santo Estebo de Ribas de Sil. Whilst it houses a hotel today, it was an incredibly important centre of power not only in terms of religion- for centuries it was in charge of imparting justice and appointing scribes and customs officials.

Ribeira Sacra did indeed take my breath away, but another highlight of the trip was the people who took us. Martín and Daniel, our Spanish friends were amazing. Galician people have a strong reputation for being hospitable and incredibly friendly and these guys definitely held that up. Although their driving skills are questionable- they need to learn not to accelerate into the bends, especially on the top of mountains- they showed and told us things we'd never had known nor could've read in a guide book. For example, Daniel showed us that if you shout into the canyon, it takes about five seconds for it to return and you can hear it passing through the whole valley. It was just incredible. I also think here is an appropriate time to express my appreciation to Martín for learning how to say 'Derby' properly and naming his car after my home town. He's so cute. (He asked me to write that.)
This seriously looks like a green screen!
As cheesy and cliché as this sounds, being in Ourense has me walking down the street smiling. I've never felt so at home in another city, nor comfortable. There's a new wonder to see every day and I'm so grateful to have been placed in a town pocketed away from the hoards of tourists. We celebrated our one month anniversary on Saturday, and I can honestly say I'm having the time of my life here. I'm sorry that I've gone all wanderlust on you, I'm going to end it here before I start telling you that I'm off to Bali or somewhere to find myself.

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