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Perched on the banks of the Miño river is one of the most magical places in Galicia. This place is the Ribeira Sacra. It is the perfect destination for travelers in search of tranquility and authenticity. Furthermore, it is a journey for the senses amid vineyards, monasteries and breathtaking viewpoints.
But the undisputed stars of the Ribeira Sacra landscape are the Sil canyons. There are few places more hidden than these natural deep canyons created along the banks of the river Sil. Additionally, for 35 kilometers their numerous curves mark the limits between the provinces of Lugo and Ourense.
For centuries, this peaceful place has been sheltered by a unique atmosphere. Today, its deep waters can be crossed on catamarans offering views of the sloping landscape and vineyards. Endless natural viewpoints hang over the river displaying the shapes created by the Sil.
Furthermore, you will find the largest concentration of Romanesque-style religious buildings in Europe. On these steep slopes, monks and hermits found the best place for a puritanical life in Spain during the early days of Christianity.
Over time, their simple settlements grew into convents and monasteries. A total of 85 monasteries have been documented in an area of just 165 square meters.
Ribeira Sacra Denomination of Origin Wine
In the Ribeira Sacra spirituality is in the air. It’s the perfect place to disconnect from the noise, enchant the retinas and satisfy the palate. However, these lands boast much more than architectural heritage.
The Ribeira Sacra is also known for its wine. This area has its own microclimate. It is milder than the continental-Atlantic climate that characterizes inland Galicia. These conditions favor local viticulture and other crops.
Grapes of the Ribeira Sacra D.O. are grown on its steep slopes. The landscape is marked by the well-known “socalcos”. These vineyards are located on mountain slopes that defy the verticality of the territory.
Therefore, harvesting can become a risky sport in which the harvesters sometimes use harnesses to work the land.
Some may consider it a crime to set foot on this land and not taste its delicious wines. These wines are part of one of the 5 wine designations of origin that have existed in Galicia since 1997.
Several wineries in the area offer visits and tastings where you can try the wine while enjoying unbeatable views.
Monastery of Santo Estevo
This monastery, built between the 12th and 18th centuries, is one of the most spectacular complexes in Galicia. In the heart of the Ribeira Sacra, it displays one of the best Galician Romanesque facades. An important example of Galician medieval art is the beautiful rose window of Santo Estevo.
The monastery was once so famous that nine bishops resigned their episcopal seats and chose this temple as a place of retreat.
During the 18th century, it was abandoned, bringing this prosperous place to ruin. However, in 2004 it was restored and became part of the Red de Paradores de Turismo de España. Although it is currently used as a hotel and restaurant there is no charge to enter its cloister and church.
Santa Cristina Monastery
This historic monastery, belonging to the Benedictine order, is surrounded by the nature of the Ribeira Sacra. It has two buildings, church and cloister, belonging entirely to the Romanesque and Renaissance style respectively.
It was one of the most important monasteries of the Ribeira Sacra during the Middle Ages. Today it is a charming place that captivates every traveler who enters its doors.
Viewpoint of Vilouxe
This natural viewpoint is the perfect place to observe the great meander of the river Sil. In addition, it’s impressive to see how its steep slopes rise up 600 meters.
Park your car at the entrance to the small village of Vilouxe. From there walk about 800 meters through an almost abandoned village to the viewpoint.
It is one of the most impressive viewpoints in the area. Here you can see the Sil zigzag like a blue ray between the cliffs. Be warned that there is no platform. Visitors simply approach the cliff to observe the wonderful views. A fear of heights is sure to make this a challenge.
Balcones de Madrid Viewpoint
This viewpoint is located very close to the center of Parada de Sil. This is a good place to stop for lunch as it has many restaurants.
Arguably the best-known viewpoint of the Ribeira Sacra, although not necessarily the most beautiful. It is built on huge stone structures where wooden railings separate visitors from the abyss.
In the past, women used to come to this place to say goodbye to their emigrant husbands. Many were artisans and sold their products at the festivals that were celebrated in Madrid. Hence its name.
The town of Castro Caldelas is in the heart of the Ribeira Sacra. It sits on a hill overlooking the banks of the small river Edo. Along its ascending streets are beautiful white galleries and emblazoned houses that reflect its medieval past.
To enter the old town you must cross the Plaza del Prado. Here you can taste the delicious bicas. This is a typical Galician dessert made with traditional ingredients resulting in something similar to sponge cake.
The iconic fortress dominates from the top of the old town. Climbing its walls you can see the whole town and its surroundings.
Monforte de Lemos
The best way to finish a route through the Ribeira Sacra is by visiting Monforte de Lemos. It is very close to the city of Ourense reached by endless curvy roads running through the canyons.
This city is the capital of the Ribeira Sacra and houses important monuments and museums. The arrival of the railroad made it the most important railway hub in Galicia. Furthermore, its medieval old town has Jewish influence with charming corners worth discovering.
The Old Bridge crosses the river Cabe and leads to the convent of Santa Clara. Inside is a museum of sacred art. On the banks of this river is also the Colegio de Nuestra Señora la Antigua, known as the Galician Escorial.
At the top of the Monte de San Vicente stands the castle of the city. It was formerly surrounded by a walled enclosure with defensive towers.
Finally, this unique place invites travelers to walk through lush forests, immerse themselves in the spirituality of the place, visit centuries-old monasteries and taste local wines.
The best way to explore this area is by driving the roads that wind along the riverbank. In spring and autumn, the endless vineyards are at their best. The landscape is tinged with beautiful colors.
Book This Trip
Start planning your picturesque vacation to Riberia Sacra Galicia today. Get prepared for your trip with insider tips on the best shops, hotel and VRBO options, local restaurant reviews and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
For more adventures in Spain, book some expert-led tours, unique activities and skip-the-line tickets to big attractions through GetYourGuide. Find more information and book your dates in advance here.
More helpful links:
- The Wine Route of the Ribeira Sacra (rutadelvinoribeirasacra.org)
- The Regulatory Council of Ribeira Sacra-Galicia-España.
- Ribeira Sacra | Where to Eat
- Parador de Santo Estevo | Paradores de Turismo
Author Bio: Based in France, Lucia Otero Medraño is Spanish with a master’s degree in travel journalism. She has worked in the tourism sector but her true passion is to live enriching experiences and discover amazing places around the world and write about them. In her spare time, she likes to enjoy her second passion, music.