For those of you living in the south of England, you will already know about Vigo. You will swear that it is a parish formed in 2000, and a modern rural village built in the mid-20th century. The village lies on top of the North Downs and its name comes from the pub on the main road. The name commemorates the Battle of Vigo Bay, a sea battle during the War of the Spanish Succession. Which leads me seamlessly onto the gastronomic delights of the eponymous Galician town which one hopes will now have a warmer relationship with its English visitors. These 21st-century guests come with friendly intentions.
Vigo in Galicia has a long history and the name comes from the Latin word Vicus meaning a small civilian settlement outside a Roman fort. During the 1st century AD the Romans completed their predictable romanisation, that occupation lasting almost six hundred years.
By the 16th century the town had more than 800 inhabitants, but plague and pirates decimated the population. In 1585 and 1589 Sir Francis Drake (known as just Francis Drake in this neck of the woods) launched raids.
In 1702 the celebrated Battle of Vigo took place, and a couple of decades later the city was temporarily seized by an English fleet as the Spanish fleet, which had departed from Vigo, had attempted to invade Scotland in support of the Jacobites. In 1778 Spain’s Charles III ended the monopoly of the ports authorized to trade with America, allowing Vigo to become an important anchorage, with the city growing rapidly in the 19th century. Many factories of salted seafood products opened, which brought wealth to the town.
Vigo is a real town, and it also has all the amenities and infrastructure that any self-respecting tourist would want. Its Blue Flag beaches are pristine and it even has some islands that are reached by a daily boat service – visitors are limited in number to maintain the natural environment of this National Park. But there are those days, even in Spain, when there might be a spot or two of rain. This isn’t the Costa Brava and you wouldn’t be visiting Vigo if that was what you wanted. You are a discerning and cultured traveller, after all, looking for the unadulterated Spain. Perhaps a little retail therapy will be in order.
This is a working town with very few tourist shops selling plastic souvenirs. However, if you are on the lookout for some designer clothes then you will be spoilt for choice. If shoes or luggage are more your bag then there will be shops beckoning to you – lots of high-end boutiques offering both Spanish and international brands. You will be glad you came even if your bank manager isn’t. You will find prices here to be generally lower than in France, so bring an extra suitcase.
So you have shopped till you have nearly dropped. You will find a café for a coffee and consider some cultural activities. The kids will love El Castro which is Vigo’s main city park. It is an oasis from the traffic, and has magnificent views across town to the estuary. One can watch the huge cruise ships arriving and the small ferries crossing to the islands. The remains of the Celtic settlement on top of the hill will fire the imagination of the younger members of your party.
The Castrelos Manor House Museum is elegant and charming. This was a home till it was handed to the city by the last surviving members of the family. Located in the 17th-century Castrelos pazo, the museum has a magnificent façade and is considered one of Vigo’s most beautiful buildings. It was restored at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries and is surrounded by beautiful gardens with 18th-century fountains and ponds. One can visit an exhibition of archaeological remains found in the region, as well as a stunning collection of portraits and other paintings from Galicia, including a Goya. The Manor has striking terraced gardens that will be a magnet for any lover of plants and trees. They are landscaped in different classic styles including a formal French garden.
An outdoor activity for all the family could be a visit to the sea and the famous Cambados shellfish beds, where you can watch the mariscadoras (shellfish gatherers) at work. You will be given wellingtons so that you can walk out onto the sand with the ladies and you will learn about the different types of cockles.
At the end of the visit, you will be offered a small net containing shells so in future you will be able to recognise the difference in crustacea when they arrive on your plate. If you are lucky you might be invited to sit on the nets with the net menders (rederas) and find out more about their working lives.
Yes, the food may well be the reason you choose this coast for a holiday, so my next article will give you some suggestions for a diverse collection of restaurants which delight both tourist and local alike.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018