As with most places, the different areas within Galicia really are markedly different, and if you are planning to buy a property here it’s a good idea to decide which of the variety of areas on offer best suits your needs.
One essential tip is that if you want decent facilities and transport links in a town then make sure you look for a house in a town which has a Concello sited in it, as this always goes together with shops, medical facilities and transport links.
This is a very brief guide to Galicia’s main areas and towns:
The Rias Altas
The Rias Altas covers the stretch of coast from Ferrol north and east to Ribadeo, on the north coast border with Asturias.
The main towns along this stretch of coast are all sufficiently far away from the cities to mean that, with year round populations between about 2000 and 8000 people they have their own identities and facilities.
Between the towns the it rapidly becomes quite mountainous going inland and along the coast the landscape is liberally dotted with houses, eucalyptus plantations and excellent sandy beaches.
The major towns along this stretch of coast are:
Built alongside the small cliffs of a beautiful river mouth, Ribadeo is big enough, isolated enough and well enough connected by the Cantabrian motorway to have a large supermarket and other superstores. It also has the stunning As Catedrais beach nearby.
At the other end of a well populated strip of flat land running between it and Ribadeo, Foz sits at a sandy river mouth with the mountains rising inland to Mondonedo to the south. Like Ribadeo, it is also connected by the Cantabrian motorway and has excellent beaches nearby, but it is a bit smaller and doesn’t have quite as good a range of shops as Ribadeo.
Tucked into its north facing ria with high hills inland to the south, and with the huge aluminium smelting plant of San Cibrao fortunately hidden by the intervening hill, Viveiro is one of the largest and also, by virtue of its remoteness and poor transport links, most self contained coastal towns in northern Galicia. It has a good range of shops and services, a large marina and a casino, plus of course an array of very good beaches in the vicinity.
O Vicedo, O Barquiero, Bares & Espasante
Although not major towns by any stretch of the imagination, these small towns need to be mentioned because of their stunning locations amongst the north coast beaches and also their sense of self sufficiency coming from being about as far as it’s possible to get from the cities.
Sitting on the east side of a large, muddy ria with the impressive Capelada hills across the water, Ortigueira has traditionally benefitted from being the centre for government services and facilities for the immediate area but in recent years it has suffered population decline and this is apparent in the feel of the town. It hosts a large, free, annual Celtic music festival and also has an unusually high number of north European immigrants in the vicinity attracted by high availability of low priced and interesting housing in a beautiful and remote setting, and by an English speaking estate agency that was located there during the last economic boom.
Carino is an old fishing town with the stunning backdrop of the Capelada, but a lot of its fishing business has moved to Cedeira and it is another town that seems to be in decline.
Tucked into the north side of one of the most beautiful and protected rias in northern Galicia, Cedeira has good facilities and more of an air of growth, community and optimism than most of the Rias Altas towns. It well known in Spain and increasingly internationally for its seafood, has a spectacular firework display each August to mark the end of its fiesta, and also benefits from some of Europe’s better surfing beaches to the south. To its north is the Capelada range of hills, which features Europe’s highest sea cliffs at 620m and offers excellent hiking and trail biking.
Sited by a vast golden beach that has excellent surf and also awe inspiring storm waves in winter, Valdovino is in a beautiful situation but, probably due to its proximity to Ferrol it has very poor shops and services and frankly feels more like a large collection of houses than a town.
Inland from the Rias Altas
Heading inland (south) from the Rias Altas coast you quickly get in amongst remote feeling hills and valleys that are scattered with farmhouses but still feel quite wild and remote.
The major towns in this area are:
Set in a stunning valley, Mondonedo is a historically important town that is likely to become better known due to the now completed section of the Catabrian coast motorway that passes by it. It’s centre features architecture that displays its history and traditional wealth and is centred around a cathedral, where one of the major northern routes of the Camino passes.
Like Mondonedo, Vilalba was once the main town in its area and has a long and fairly affluent history. Probably due to it’s being much closer to Lugo, however, it doesn’t feel as self contained as Mondonedo and frankly isn’t as nice, displaying more Galician industrial sprawl than charm.
Completing this list of towns in increasing order of horribleness comes As Pontes de Garcia Rodriguez. Dominated by the vast chimney of an enormous coal burning power station, this town has some money in it but really not a lot else to make it in any way attractive. The future may, however, be a little brighter – a few years ago the enormous mine closed down and was flooded to make a lake, and it has the national park of Fragas de Eume nearby. So who knows…
The A Coruna – Ferrol coast
A Coruna is one of Spain’s major ports, and Ferrol is home to the Spanish navy. Although quite close as the crow flies, these two cities are some 50km apart by road because of the need to go round the ria de Betanzos.
This ria is a large, shallow, very sheltered stretch of coastline with excellent and also unusually warm water beaches that is home to a number of towns with a large tourism economy and also a high percentage of holiday villas owned mostly by people in A Coruna, Ferrol and Madrid.
A Coruna’s history dates back several millennia and its most famous monument is a giant Roman lighthouse, the Torre de Hercules, which now sits in a very nicely laid out park.
The city itself sits on a narrow peninsula that provides a nice but also surprisingly dangerous beach on one side and a large natural harbour on the other.
As with nearly all of Galicia, the historically wealthy city of A Coruna became very run down during the dictatorship, but significant investment and some successful industry, notably Inditex, in the last few decades has seen the city become richer, more international and be very nicely redeveloped in some places.
It looks likely that this trend will continue as the city has a vibrancy and health about it. A Coruna has excellent facilities and shopping, a direct motorway and mostly completed AVE train link to Madrid, and a rapidly expanding international airport.
Ferrol, on the other hand, hasn’t really gone anywhere fast since the advent of democracy in Spain and suffers from very high unemployment, which is not likely to change any time soon as the Spanish navy, which is based in the city, and the city’s remaining shipbuilding facilities continue to make cuts.
Whilst it now has good road transport links and a very good range of large out of town hypermarkets, DIY and electrical shops, the centre isn’t really attractive and it’s not in all honesty a place you would hurry back to.
The stretch of coast inbetween the two cities runs mostly around the ria de Betanzos and combines much of the best that Galicia has to offer.
Transport links are very good, typically 20-40 minutes to the airport by road and regular train and bus services. The cities are nearby and yet far enough away to not spoil the sense of space and tranquillity that much of Galicia can provide. The beaches are beautiful, safe and many have the top EU blue flag status, and the water is also much warmer than on the more exposed Atlantic beaches to the north and west.
A little way inland is the stunning national park of Fragas de Eume in which the traditional forest has been maintained around throughout a giant river gorge that also features some dramatic old monasteries perched on crags and the like.
The other principal towns in this area are:
A nice town with a big marina and a huge curving beach, although its facilities are a little below average for the area and it is somewhat further away from A Coruna and the airport. At its eastern end is the charming little harbour town of Redes.
A great beach and some excellent houses sitting on south facing hills with stunning views that is let down by the extreme ugliness of what little town centre there is.
The reason Cabanas such a poor town centre is that it sits just over the river from Pontedeume, which has a beautiful, ancient centre that hasn’t fallen victim to Spanish style redevelopment, making it a rare find in Galicia. Pontedeume has good facilities and shops and also, and again this is very rare in a country where the car is king, has a large pedestrianized centre full of pavement cafes and fish restaurants. 5km inland is the Fragas de Eume national park and the Atlantic coast motorway and Ferrol – A Coruna rail and bus services pass by it providing excellent transport links.
Mino, including Perbes to the north, is a small town that has surprisingly good facilities including a golf course (and accompanying horrible giant half built town expansion) built during the heady days of the early 2000s property boom. Its two beaches are truly superb and have been tastefully developed with wooden boardwalks and tree planting, and the town has a good range of bars and restaurants. With a mainline railway station and direct access to the Atlantic coast motorway, it has excellent transport connections.
Once upon a time the ria de Betanzos used to go to Betanzos and it was an extremely important town in the area, but silt deposits from the river have silted the Ria up and left Betanzos as a fishing town that now finds itself inland. It has a historic centre that has been nicely restored in some places, but its outskirts are something of a mess of cheap and insensitive industrial development and urban decay. Although, as a town of longstanding importance in the area, it has good facilities, the loss of its ria seems to have brought a loss of prestige that it hasn’t yet been able to address.
20 minutes from A Coruna and 15 from the airport, Sada is well into exclusive holiday villa territory, as reflected by the housing stock and the large marina. Offering a nice array of restaurants and bars and a nicely maintained park running alongside its nice but slightly muddy beach, Sada smells a little more of money than most of Galicia.
Santa Cruz / Santa Cristina / Oleiros
Sitting across the river estuary from A Coruna are Santa Cruz, Santa Cristina and Oleiros. Their sea views, beaches and hills scattered with expensive villas and higher standard modern developments make them feel a little like San Francisco, although that comparison stops soon after you finish with topography.
With A Coruna less than 10 minutes away by car or bus it offers a pretty ideal combination of detached houses within easy reach of a major city and also great beaches and green space (and good schools and public amenities too). Unsurprisingly, however, this hasn’t gone unnoticed and this area is the most sought after non-city zone of A Coruna province.
The Costa del Muerte
The cheerfully titled “Coast of Death” starts to the west of A Coruna and is a stretch of coast formed by the massif that splits north and south Galicia coming down to meet the sea.
This coastline is, once you leave A Coruna behind, really quite sparsely populated, and the reason for this is that its topography and exposure to the Atlantic make for quite a harsh environment in comparison to that found immediately to the north and south.
Transport links were also historically poor, and although (in the crazy years) construction started be a motorway linking this coastal stretch to A Coruna the money ran out to leave a motorway as far as Carballo and a strip of groundworks that finally peters out in a field near Vimianzo.
Town by town:
Arteixo is really the industrial sprawl on the west side of A Coruna and is dominated by an enormous refinery and a colossal new harbour that is so big it’s probably visible from the moon. You can say that it has good transport links to nicer places.
A little way inland from the coast and served by a new motorway, it would be nice to be able to say something nice about Carballo here but although I don’t know of anything specifically wrong with it (Spanish town ugliness aside) I’m at a loss as to what that could be.
Sticking to the coast, the first notable town to the west of Arteixo is Malpica. This town doesn’t really have good facilities but the way it huddles on its tiny promontory of land with beach on one side and harbour on the other, like a dwarf version of A Coruna, makes it notable and rather cool. In the winter I expect it’s literally cool.
Like Malpica this town combines being small and remote with having not very good facilities. That said it does sit in a beautiful setting where a river meets the sea in whirl of bleached white sand.
Although also remote, isolated and with minimal facilities (and a surprising amount of large industrial sheds in prominent places), Camarinas benefits from a large hill sheltering it from the worst excesses of the Atlantic weather and has beautiful views across a small, sheltered ria to the south and east.
Sheltered is not a word that can be applied to Muxia, which is a brightly coloured little town perched on what must be one of the most exposed Atlantic promontories in all of Galicia, which is saying something. It has beautiful views of the surrounding topography and wild beaches that let you know just how remote and isolated you are. What differentiates Muxia is that many people view it as the natural end of the Camino de Santiago, and thus a year round (mostly in summer though) stream of pilgrims trudge to its church, built on the rocks of the Atlantic coast (and blown up by lightning in the storms of early 2014).
This translates as end of the earth, which it does feel like even though this small town sits on the inland side of a hill. It vies with Muxia for being the most remote feeling coastal town in Galicia.
Breaking the trend of rather faded, isolated Costa del Muerte towns with poor facilities, Cee’s whole centre and even its beach has been redeveloped to a very high standard and it is a small town with very good facilities including a large hospital. The likely differentiator is a large bequest left by Fernando Blanco to establish a progressive education centre in the town in the late nineteenth century, and which continues today. Cee sits at the end of a sheltered valley that protects it from the Atlantic extremes, but close by is some extremely dramatic natural scenery including the giant waterfall of the river Xallas’ estuary.
Once you arrive in Muros you start to leave the Costa del Muerte behind and the financial and architectural influence of the more prosperous belt of land leading to Santiago de Compostela starts to become visible. Muros is a nice little town built on a hillside around a harbour and facing east across a sheltered ria.
Noia is a nice town that also benefits from being Santiago de Compostela’s nearest harbour. Noia has good scenery, facilities and transport connections and has been developed nicely and with a good amount of money over the past few decades. The one thing it does lack, unusually for Galicia, is a decent beach.
We’re really sorry, but this is as far as the galiciaproperty areas within Galicia guide has got as of April 2015. More information will be added here soon.