Hiking in Galicia: Fragas do Eume

Luckily,people´s tastes in what they expect from a holiday are different. If walking,cycling,hiking and just being close to nature is your passion,you have definitely come to the right place in Galicia.

The north-western province of Spain offers a lot of the great outdoors but nothing better or more impressive than the vast Nature Park of Fragas do Eume,stretching from the Atlantic Coast 65 km from La Coruna inland.

Fragas is the Galician word for natural woodland and that´s the essence of this nature paradise. It comprises 9000 ha of temperate Atlantic rainforest,the only one in  Europe. A valley formed by 80km of the river Eume which empties into the Atlantic at Pontedeume, the dense vegetation consists of oaks and ferns together with an array of different and rare plants,birds and wildlife.

A quiet part of the river Eume/Galicia

The virginal forest is inhabited by only about 500 people which gives you all the peace and quiet you may require. But never fear,you won´t be abandoned in the wilderness because several well marked hiking paths lead either along the river or up into the rockier parts.Along the way you can admire the ´jungle´, the river, lakes, waterfalls, a reservoir and two medieval monasteries,Caaveiro and Monfero.

In March 2012 a devastating fire broke out and destroyed approx. 1000 ha of the forest. Luckily the area around Caaveiro has not been affected and elsewhere, reforestation is well under way.

The nature park forms a triangle with the most eastern access point in the town of Pontedeume. From there take the AC-114 to Ombre and on to Caaveiro which is right in the centre of the park.

Pontedeume, starting point to Fragas do Eume

At a distance of 36km from the big and buzzing city of La Coruna, Pontedeume is the picture book example  of small town Galician life and well worth to spend a day or two before venturing into Fragas do Eume.

The dominating feature is the river Eume which broadens before emptying into the Atlantic. The ocean is so far away, that it can´t even be seen from Pontedeume. Although it is a coastal town it feels much more like a river town,with pretty house spread along the river bank and the old town climbing up to Monte Breamo in the back.

The Bridge

Two landmarks will catch your eye immediately. One is the arched bridge over the river with a small port on the town side. The bridge as you see it today only dates from 1863. The original bridge, built between 1374 and 1380 was a massive 850 m long structure with 68 arches, 2 towers, a chapel and a hospital for pilgrims actually on the bridge. How this monument came to perish is not known and the only original remnant is a carving of a wild boar which stands on one end.

Bridge of Pontedeume/Galicia

A legend,about how the devil was foiled surrounds the bridge and the fact that one brick is missing.

Tower of Andrade

Near the town side of the bridge stands the other landmark, the Tower of Andrade. This is all that´s left from a huge medieval castle. The tower contains a small museum and,very important, is the seat of the Tourist Information Office. Here you can get maps of all the hiking paths in Fragas do Eume,  updated information and book a guided tour to the monastery of Caaveiro, advisable during the summer months when this part of Galicia is very popular with Spanish and foreign tourists alike.

Tower of Andrade Pontedeume/Galicia

Remember, that the tourist office is closed during siesta time, i.e. 2pm to 5pm.

Old Town

Walking up the steep and narrow cobbled streets towards the old town you come upon remnants of the ancient city wall, the towering church of Santiago and, bordered by the town hall on one side, the central square. Try to come to Pontedeume on a Saturday, because it´s market day and the square is packed with stalls selling everything from food to clothes to artefacts,among them, of course because this is Galicia,witches.

Market square Pontedeume/Galicia

The many small restaurants along the arcades set out their outdoors tables and benches and serve Galicia´s great speciality: pulpo galego. It´s squid, boiled in huge copper pots, then cut up with scissors,sprinkled with vinegar and chilli powder and served with crusty bread. A treat not to be missed.

Hiking trails in Fragas do Eume

Once you leave Pontedeume and have headed for Ombre and then  reach Caaveiro you have to park your car. From there you can either walk up to the monastery or, in the summer months, take a tourist bus which will drive you there. As the monastery is in the heart of the park, it´s also the starting point for several routes of a variety of difficulties.

Rainforest do Eume/Galicia

You may want to take the Senda do Ventureiro which follows the river upstream and very close to the water. Another trail, called Senda dos Encomendeiros leads in the same direction, but further away from the water. Both trails are not too difficult to negotiate, but bear in mind that you are in unspoilt nature territory and wear sturdy shoes. Bring also snacks  and water because there isn´t much by way of catering along the routes.

Hike to As Neves

A third,longer trail, called Ruta do Medievo leads uphill to the village of As Neves and takes a few hours depending on how fast you walk. You can also drive to As Neves and do the hike in reverse,downhill.

Most difficult: As Pontes

For a more challenging hike head to As Pontes. Then follow a trail along the river and the reservoir called Embalse da Ribeira. You´ll have to do some climbing as you have to cross Mount Fontardino at 665m above sea level. This part of the park has less vegetation and more rocks but the views over the reservoir are splendid.

For an overview of the area and the various locations mentioned  as well as a map visit: www.verdenorte.com/parque-natural-de-las-fragas-do-eume.

Which ever route you choose, you will not easily forget the images of this magic forest. Having covered two points of the triangle, i.e.Pontedeume and As Pontes, you should not leave without visiting the more southern point.

Monastery of Monfero

Monfero is also a lovely village dominated by the monastery which was first built in the 12th century by King Alfonso VII. It underwent a total reformation in the 18th century which explains the present baroque architecture. Outstanding is the facade with its checker  board features. Inside are tombs of the noble Andrade family and the courtyard is surrounded by the cells of the Cistercians monks who used to live here. Saints and colourful religious images adorn the interior hall.

Monastery of Monfero/Galicia

There are plans to convert part of the monastery into a 5star spa and hotel.

After combining hikes through  the marvels of a rain forest with  medieval monasteries you might want to head back to either Pontedeume or on  for a quick visit of  La Coruna`s interesting sights.