On Wednesday May 1st, school was canceled to celebrate the Day of Labor, celebrated in most countries of the world as the International Day of the worker. On Tuesday evening, one of my favorite teacher friends from school, Chelo, messaged me asking if I would like to join her and her husband Tito for a picnic at the beach in Sanxenxo on Wednesday.
Although I was excited for a day to relax at home, I said yes because Chelo is a very fun guide and this was my only chance to go to Sanxenxo without renting a car. I did not realize that I would be gifted with a tour of the REGION and be gone for close to 10 hours.
Chelo picked me up on Wednesday morning, and then we went to pick up Tito who had made a coffee run. Tito drove on the highway from Ourense to Pontevedra, before switching to smaller roads that would take us along the entire coast of the Ría de Pontevedra. I was in the back seat and got a little nauseous from all the curvy roads and fast driving; I kept this to myself because I knew the day was just beginning.
The first stop after passing Pontevedra was to Combarro, a tiny town with equally tiny beaches and little tourist shops. We walked through the whole city and along a small port in about 10-15 minutes and then returned to the car. At this point in the day, I thought that Sanxenxo was our destination and that we would be returning to Ourense after eating lunch there…
Chelo and Tito have an apartment in Sanxenxo, and they came to open up the apartment and air it out before the summer. When we arrived in Sanxenxo, we went to check on their apartment and open all the windows. I thought that we would be spending time there and going to the beach in the city for our picnic, but Chelo had grander plans.
Chelo had Tito take us to our next excursion while the apartment breathed in some fresh air. Tito was the best chauffeur we could have asked for and continuously dropped us off and would wait for us at the end of our route.
Sanxenxo is considered one of the most desirable places to have a beach house in Galicia. As you can see below, the water is blue, green, turquoise. If the Atlantic wasn’t so dang cold, it would be just like Hawaii minus the coconuts. A lot of my students go here for weekends or summer, or the neighboring city of Portonovo which is more affordable.
While we were strolling along the marina, Chelo made sure to point out Amancio Ortega’s yacht.
Amancio Ortega is the owner of Inditex Fashion Group that includes Zara, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Oysho, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, and Uteriqüe.
He is one of the ten richest people in the world; at one point, he even passed Bill Gates for the number one spot. He is currently ranked sixth after Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bernard Arnault, and Carlos Slim Helu. Ortega lives in A Coruña, which has a marina, yet he keeps his yacht in Sanxenxo.
Chelo and I strolled past the marina, along the beach, and into some adorable shops before Tito came to pick us up and onto the next destination.
Fonte Ermida Da Lanzada
Along the road to our lunch picnic, we stopped at a hermitage near the Beach Lanzada. This beach is open to the Atlantic, instead of facing an estuary like the other beaches. For this reason, this beach is known as a surfing spot in Galicia. The wind was wild, but the turquoise water was worth it.
Illa Da Toxa – La Toja
Next up, Tito dropped Chelo and me off at a historic soap store on the Island of Toxa (Galician). The products of Toja (Spanish) are known for their quality all around Spain.
Toxa is the most expensive and exclusive place to own a summer home on the ocean in Galicia. While driving past the golf course, the five star hotel, and shooting range, extremely modern homes face the water owned by the fashion designers of Galicia like Adolfo Dominguez, Bimba y Lola, and Purificación Garcia (these three labels are owned by siblings from Ourense), I was stunned that this type of wealth is hidden in this small town. A lot of the people who own homes in La Toxa are from Madrid, and fly in for weekends at the beach.
This little island is very touristy with 3 hotels and 2 casinos. Above is a photo of traditional Galician dress for tourists to take photos with. The island has no beaches, but it very near to the huge surfing beach Lanzada and many other secluded and beautiful beaches.
Ermita da Toxa
The scallop shell represents the Camino de Santiago, religious pilgrims coming from all over to the Cathedral of Santiago. This little hermitage is covered in the scallop shell, relating both to its proximity to the coast and to the Camino.
Picnic at San Vicente do Grove
After many stops along the way, we arrived at our picnic destination: San Vicente do Grove. Chelo had packed lunch for all of us: egg salad sandwiches, fresh strawberries, white chocolate covered rice cakes, pickles, coca cola, and yogurt. After eating lunch, my stomach finally calmed down. With so much movement, I was a little anxious about the plan, but finally felt like I could relax.
After eating lunch, Chelo and I laid in the sun reading, while Tito napped after a short dip in the icy water.
I made sure to put sunblock on my face and shoulders, and wore my hat and jacket while reading to not burn. I underestimated the strength of the sun on my legs. By the end of the day my calves were burnt to a crisp, hot to the touch, but the rest of my body was without much color. The Galician sun really is stronger than what I am used to in Nebraska. I underestimate it daily when I go on runs, walks, or even short trips to the grocery store.
Paseo de Pedras Negras
Following lunch, Chelo and I walked on a boardwalk around the rocky coast. Tito, our fantastic chauffeur, met us at the end of the boardwalk.
At this point in the day, we had stopped at SIX beachside cities, passing more on the way. We stopped at SEVEN beaches, of course seeing many more from the car as well. And we had enjoyed our picnic, sunbathed, strolled, checked on the apartment, and our chauffeur had gotten in a swim and a nap.
I thought we must have been headed back to Ourense at this point, but not yet. Chelo told me she had a surprise for me (more like 3 surprises!)
Mosteiro de Santa María da Armenteira
We stopped at a small village with a monastery, walked through the cathedral, courtyards, and corridors. Chelo saw me yawning and asked me if I was tired. I admitted that I was. Little did I know, our next excursion was in a different country!!
Chelo insisted that we go to Portugal so that I could see a bridge and have a pastry. I sat in the front seat from San Vicente to Valença, a city on the border of Spain and Portugal, directly across the river from Tui in Spain. On this part of the drive, I watched Tito turn from chauffeur to race car driver, he too was getting tired and ready to return to Ourense.
We arrived to Valença, a medieval fortress city, on Wednesday afternoon during a weekly flea market. We walked through the crowded streets, full of Spaniards who cross over to Portugal for cheap linens.
We explored the fortresses tunnels and found the best viewpoint over the River Miño (Minho, Portuguese), the same river that flows through Ourense.
Tito and Chelo were wonderful guides. They showed me so much of Galicia (and Northern Portugal) in one day, mostly places that I would have never traveled on my own.
Within the walled city, there were still many decorations leftover from Easter, with flowers and statues of Christ.
Our final stop was to find some of the cream pastries that Portugal is famous for. We ordered a variety of toasts, flakey breads, and heavy creams. Everything was delicious, but almost a little nauseatingly sweet and heavy.
Finally we crossed back over into Spain, and I held my breath as Tito zipped in and out through traffic all the way back to Ourense. I’m not sure what it is about Galician roads, the curves, the different unit of measurement for speed (100 km/hr seems fast but it is only 62 mi/hr), or all the compact cars, but I have always felt really uncomfortable as a passenger on Galician highways and miss my midsized CRV.
Sunburnt & Well Traveled
As the sun was going down (the sun goes down 10:00 p.m.), Chelo and Tito dropped me off at my apartment in Ourense. My calves were badly sunburnt and my body was exhausted. I took a quick shower and collapsed into a sleep coma.
I am so grateful to Chelo and Tito for taking me on an excursion around Galicia that I would not have been able to do on my own, without a rental car. Chelo and Tito are both a quarter century older than I, yet I was the one who could not keep up!! They reminded me what it is like to explore from dawn til dusk!
This was my last excursion around Galicia. I feel so lucky to live in this stunning religion. I am truly enchanted by the people and the landscapes surrounding me here.
Thank you for reading along about my exciting and exhausting day traveling from Ourense to Sanxenxo and Portugal! Until next time, Ciao!!