Seafood Festival in Spain!
O GROVE – FIESTA DE MARISCO
Seafood lover’s read on as I’m about to reveal what is possibly one of Spain’s best kept secrets. Spaniards travel from every corner of the land; coach-loads of pensioners displaying childlike enthusiasm, wealthy couples with holiday residences on exclusive La Toja Island and trendy Madrid city dwellers join a large contingent of Gallegos but I have yet to encounter a foreigner at O Grove seafood fiesta (excepting myself obviously). This year’s XLIX Festival began on October 5 and lasts through to October 14.
Every October since 1963, this busy fishing village, located in the heart of the Galician Rias Baixas, has celebrated the now traditional Festa do Marisco. Stands offering an amazing array of locally and freshly caught seawater delicacies, prepared before your eyes by the villagers, are located in the extensive covered fish-market down by the quay where smart, long pine trestle tables are set up – no chairs unfortunately, you stand up but that’s part of the fun – with everyone standing side-by side from the humblest fisherman to the most sophisticated career woman getting down to the serious finger licking business of devouring oysters, clams, razor-fish, prawns, octopus, crab, ‘percebes’ and especially the O Grove mussels which the area is renowned for.
The steaming seafood rice, piled onto commemorative wooden plates and similar to paella, is delicious and the exquisite turbot is just out of this world. And all of this washed down with the local plonk, the crystal clear Ribeiro white wine or the aromatic Albariño D.O Rias Baixas, drunk out of plastic cups! The ‘lonja’ is open from 11.00/12.00 onwards. Decide what you fancy, mark it down on the form, hand it over to the girls on the central tills and for a fairly modest price you’ll be given vouchers to pick up your chosen delicacies at the corresponding booth under the archways. You can order a dish or two for aperitif or go the whole hog and make a banquet out of it. Most evenings folk groups play to add to the party atmosphere.
An international open air marine-themed sculpture competition takes place each year, and it’s amazing to see how the sculptors hewn works of art out of heavy slabs of local granite. The winning statue will join previous year’s masterpieces placed in the park or along the promenade.
Boat trips around the bay and out see the ‘bateas’ where the mussels are bred are very popular. Bring a raincoat, because although the weather is still quite mild showers are likely!
The O Grove peninsula is almost an island being joined to the mainland by a narrow strip of land bordering A Lanzada, a long, open sandy beach. Opposite, a marshland is revealed at low tide, a haven for bird watchers.
The thriving village itself is a favourite with holidaymakers and is bustling with shops, taverns and restaurants. The lengthy seafront is lined with seafood restaurants all displaying their wares in aquariums! Most offer a platter of seafood for two with a bottle of white wine as a special, so if you fancy dressing up and sitting down for a change you’ll be spoilt for choice. Don’t forget to try authentic ‘vino turbio’- a cloudy white wine which is sipped out of little bowls.
The bridge at the end of the promenade links to La Toja Island, a beautiful, thermal spa retreat boasting five star hotels, a casino and renowned golf course. It’s a hideaway for the seriously well-to-do and for famous sports personalities. A chapel with shell faced walls is an unusual feature. La Toja toiletries have been made from the local salts for centuries and there is a visitors’ centre where you can purchase soaps and skin creams.
A drive round the virtually undeveloped O Grove peninsula leads to deserted (in October at least), sandy bays such as Mexilloeira which are ideal for kicking your shoes off and paddling in the lapping, cool waters. The small, natural Bodeira lagoon lies hidden behind the sand dunes nearby. There are two or three hamlets, rural hotels and camping sites along the way round. In the centre tree-clad Mount Siradella rises and there is a nature interpretation centre at the top which can suggest suitable walks.
The vibrant green country side is picturesque, criss-crossed with rivers and dotted with vine groves which sparkle in the sun with rain drops. The Albariño wine route passes 30 bodegas. Inland there are monasteries and mysterious mountains, such as Mount Lobeira, which give rise to ancient legends of meigas (witches).
And if you get bored with O Grove, which is unlikely, or sick of seafood- a definite possibility believe me – there is a never ending possibility of fabulous places to visit in Pontevedra. The rambling old quarters of this historical provincial city is well preserved and many establishments are artistically refurbished inside by modern designers. The XVI century Santa Maria Cathedral where tragically drowned fishermen are buried is beautiful and emotively haunting.
The historical town of Tui, down by the Portuguese border, over hangs the River Miño and is worth a visit as is the Mount Aloia parkland in the same vicinity.
Cambados is a well kept small medieval coastal town where the nobility lives and the Parador hotel is located here in a XVII ‘Pazo’. The main square is backed by bodegas, churches, palaces, olde worlde cafes and gift shops.
is an incredible island reached by a long, low bridge. It has a tiny village with a seafront one side and a harbour with lots of brightly painted fishing boats the other. The remainder of the isle is protected land surrounding a myriad of tiny, shell shaped, sandy coves. Men can be seen ‘marisquando’, fishing in shallow waters for seafood while the women rake the shoreline for shellfish. Surprisingly the island’s market auctioning fish straight off the boats is thoroughly up-to-date and digitalized.
Galicia is renowned for excellent food besides fish and typical restaurants away from the coast offer succulent flame-grilled or roasted meats and a berry-red local wine.
There are many holiday resorts in the whole area, hotels, hostels, apartments and camping sites. If you want to enjoy the fiestas and drink the local wine too, I’d recommend staying in the centre of O Grove itself as little men in green lay in wait on the dark coastal road and flag down unsuspecting drivers, especially at the weekend.
Tourist Office 98 673 1415
5* Hotel Louxo La Toja 98 673 0200
1* Hotel Brisa del Mar 98 673 1836
4* Cambados Parador 98 654 2250
Restaurante El Combatiente 98 673 0741