Maggie Beer On Foot in Spain
By Nancy L Frey, 6 November 2018
“One of the great trips of our lives was 7 days on the Camino with guides Nancy Frey and Jose Placer of ‘On Foot in Spain’ from Porto to Santiago de Compostela.”---Maggie Beer**
It’s not every day that we have the pleasure of traveling with a “living national treasure of Australia” as one friend of Maggie Beer’s described her to me. For those of you who are not Australian and are unfamiliar with Maggie, she is a beloved food author, producer, cook and television personality with a career spanning five decades. I have to admit feeling some trepidation before the tour began about whether we’d be able to meet the expectations of someone of such renown! I didn’t need to worry though because one of the many things that I came to love about Maggie is her down-to-earth vibrancy and joie de vivre – an approach to life that imbues everything that she does. Maggie is truly a life force with an energy that fills a room and that stimulates joy and pleasure with those who are in her company.
(Photo Credit: Laurence Clemens)
Jose and I planned this trip for the Australian journalist and food producer Dee Nolan (and friends) with whom we had collaborated previously when she wrote her magnificent ‘green book’ – The Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – describing her journey to Compostela with beautiful prose and stunning photography (by Earl Carter). Dee wanted to return to the Camino, this time on the Camino Portuguese, with friends including Maggie. We customized our Camino Portuguese tour and added a few of special food and wine experiences due to the group’s special interests. We met in Porto, Portugal and had a fabulous week sharing our love and knowledge of these regions and the Camino with the group.
One of the comments I appreciate in Maggie’s newsletter is…”it was a never ending journey of discovery for me in so many ways.” I wrote in the opening paragraph of our 2018 Year in Review article that guiding people to discovery is one of the gifts of what we do. And Maggie’s (and the group in general) enthusiasm for every experience presented to her made it a delight to introduce her to this beautiful corner of the world. Whether it was relishing mouth-watering clams and grilled sea bass at a seafood restaurant in Matosinhos, walking along the Galician shore, or accompanying her into the kitchen of another restaurant in Guimaraes to meet the staff and look in the pots, or watching three generations of locals participating in the wine harvest, or enjoying the olive brine to the last drop at the Michelin- restaurant, or swooning over goose barnacles, razor clams and steamed mussels in Baiona washed down with the local Albariño wine, or sharing with her Jose’s grandmother’s empanada recipe at lunch – being with Maggie was just plain fun.
As on all our journeys along the Camino, one of the elements most appreciated by the group was also the joy of walking on beautiful trails and having the opportunity to share and reflect on life – where we’ve been and where we are going. In the end it comes down to the beauty and fulfillment that one finds in the most elemental parts of good living – sharing friendship, food, exercise, wine and laughter.
**Maggie gave me permission to share parts of the text of her newsletter relevant to the tour and here is part of her narrative from her October 2018 article entitled “Maggie’s Food Reflections from Europe”. She explains the trip in great detail and with enthusiasm! To receive her full newsletter text, please sign up through Maggie’s Food Club:
Maggie’s Food Reflections in Europe
(selections relevant to her experience with On Foot in Spain)
One of the great trips of our lives that was 7 days on the Camino with guides Nancy Frey and Jose Placer of ‘On Foot in Spain’ from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. Some background is needed here in that my great friend Dee Nolan who has written two wonderful books on the Camino had researched her books with the help of Nancy and Jose on many walks of the Camino. I had long wanted to be part of the trips undertaken with Dee and friends to walk but wasn’t sure I could manage it physically and if you saw the photograph of Colin and I the evening at the end of the walk you can see it all in our faces….the thrill of the achievement of finishing the walk is palpable.
It happened that it was very unseasonable weather conditions between 28 and 31C on all but the last day at the end of September but I not only managed, I revelled in it. There was so much that contributed to this being so special; the organisation of ‘On Foot’ with Nancy and Jose pulling together so many aspects to give us such an unforgettable experience; and that was by taking into account our love of food and making that a huge highlight every day from the wonderful picnics Jose prepared for us each lunchtime sharing with us the specialty of the area we had just been walking through; the stories of the history of the Camino, Nancy having done her Phd on the very subject but always with the most fascinating knowledge delivered in such a way that brought the journey so alive to us.
…. so there were nine of us along with Nancy and Jose all bound by friendships of one very special couple so firm new friends made and lots of great shared experience of our lives as we walked and much hilarity at the table each night. Nancy and Jose’s knowledge of the foods of the region added so much to our adventure always organising whatever was most special and significant each night and other than one spectacular lunch at a One star restaurant Culler de Pau with chef Javier Olleros, a treat for us almost at the end of the walk – such great psychology that; an exceptional meal all of it recorded in my food diary and all with the marriage of history; tradition with an edge that made it so exciting and relevant to today in a sophisticated way yet still so of the region.
The meals at night were often so simple; so seafood dominated yet with the specialties of northern Portugal I suspect unseen anywhere else and the same in Gallicia….. it was a never ending journey of discovery for me in so many ways. And then there were the random acts of kindness that blew us away. Such as an elderly lady in a village we walked through; so small there was no bar or shop to be seen yet having so obviously heard three of us coming she picked three bunches of grapes from her garden washed them and simply handed them to us with a smile; such giving that gave us such joy and such camaraderie with everyone we encountered.
So many food experiences from our first day in Porto waiting for the rest of the group with a dish of clams simply served with the cooking juices, garlic and parsley; or sea bass in a salt casing cooked in a hot pan and flamed with great theatre. A seafood porridge; full of mussels, scamp and razor clams in a tomato broth with the juices again from cooking with fresh coriander, EVOO and stale bread and ‘making’ the porridge by the waiter stirring at the table. The first night of the trip we were bussed to Matosinhos, a town by the sea, and ate at Restaurant Casa Serrao where the grilling of the fish was done on an outside charcoal barbecue; lines of these outside kitchens taking over the street; the smoke bellowing over the street long which was where the most perfect sardines caught that morning as whole fish with just EVOO were cooked; then the largest sea bream I had encountered; gutted and opened up to cook on the grill; the amazing caramelisation of the skin and the sides and cooked again to perfection. Such plenty on the table as we dissected the fish off the bone to begin with but then a few of us attacked the bones and the cheek and every bit of it so succulent I definitely ate more than I needed and the meal was nothing short of unbelievable yet so incredibly simple.
Jose’s picnic lunches every day were so different; so moorish and sustaining…. I devoured every taste and learnt so much of the traditions that resonate with my climate back home. Each picnic could have been a food diary all in itself but so much else to share.
Then just to choose one more example of why the food was such a stand out I need to tell you of the dinner in the town of Guimaraes in northern Portugal. Restaurante Florencio. Firstly a caldo verde soup served for all that I was smart enough to only have a few mouthfuls as I could see how the table was set. So much more food to come; The biggest plates of baccala a’broa; baked cod with beans and potatoes; cod being such an important fish through Portugal this one fresh; a huge serve that would really have been enough for the whole meal that we tackled with gusto; and then the next platters appeared; this time of roasted veal; beautifully cooked and falling off the bone; again with potatoes and beans as they were what is in season. I was in my element and so excited with every taste that I was asked whether I would like to go into the kitchen; an opportunity I jumped at. There was a huge kitchen and as they proudly showed me around I saw a pot on the stove that looked interesting; they explained it was a pigs stomach stuffed with pork and would I like a piece; (in fact it looked a little like haggis); of course I said yes and then returned to the table expecting a small piece to taste. With the generosity we found everywhere we went through Portugal and Gallicia they had taken the boiled meat and deep fried it so it was beautifully burnished and presented it sliced on a platter to the whole table. To the slight distress of my travel companions as we’d already eaten so much and after which I was banned from visiting kitchens! And that wasn’t the end of the meal small pastries; a crema Portuguese and a deep golden pudding from the region made in a mould a little like a large crème caramel just with egg yolks and incredibly rich. The whole spirit of generosity and pride was wonderful to absorb; the building had originally been his grandparents and had been a wine cellar and he was very proud of the family heritage and the family still involved. Such a special night and indicative of one experience after another during our seven magical days.
I’ll share just one more with you as I am limited by time and space. The town of Baiona having crossed the border into Spain we walked along the rugged Gallician coastline so beautiful even through a heavy mist. I have to admit we were not sleeping rough; that night we stayed at a Parador in the 16th century Monterreal Castle. …..So to dinner at Restaurante O Mosquito in this small town Nancy had chosen 7 simple dishes for us to share; 10 of us at the table; platters both ends and as ever such generosity. Racones are larger tapas to share with friends and of course all Gallician specialties served with incredibly good Albarino wines. A platter of goose barnacles; a platter of padrone peppers simply fried in EVOO with sea salt biggest fat mussels ever so full of flavour; totally unadorned and perfect. Razor clams Navajas; barbecued till goldon; delicate; thin and sooooooooo sweet; soooooo fresh. Clams again in a sauce of pimento evoo garlic and parsley and then a tortilla Espagnola; the traditional potato and egg cooked in the pan. I almost forgot the Octopus Gallega; boiled, sliced with just EVOO, sea salt and some paprika. A feast yet again.
So many unexpected and wonderful experiences of food; wine music and tranquility walking through the beautiful countryside and finishing at the Cathedral and experiencing the Pilgrams Mass; all of it totally unforgettable. A special mention must be made of Pedro Araujo the main wine advisor at Quinta Do Ameal a fantastic winery and wonderful place to stay, great wines such a beautiful property.
|Tour No.||Tour Name||Dates||Price||No. Days/Nights||Spaces Available
|Tour 1||Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars||5-11 April 2019||2425€||7||1 Space Available|
|Tour 2||Camino de Santiago: On Glory Roads||8-18 May 2019||3475€||11||Sold Out!|
|Tour 3||Camino de Santiago: On Glory Roads||5-15 June 2019||3475€||11||2 Spaces Available|
|Tour 4||Camino Portuguese: Porto area to Santiago||2-8 July 2019||2275€||7||4 Space Available|
|Tour 5||Galicia: Food & Wine Journey||5-11 Sept 2019||2675€||7||3 Space Available|
|Tour 6||Camino de Santiago: On Glory Roads||25 Sept-5 Oct||3475€||11||Sold Out!|
To book a tour, please click here.
|Tour No.||Tour Name||Dates||Price||No. Days/Nights||Spaces Available
|Tour 1||Hiking Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars||15-21 Jan 2018||2325€||7||SOLD OUT!|
|Tour 2||Camino de Santiago (Pamplona to Santiago)||2-12 May 2018||3475€||11||SOLD OUT!|
|Tour 3||Camino de Santiago (Pamplona to Santiago)||6-16 June 2018||3475€||11||SOLD OUT!|
|Tour 4||Galicia: Hiking From Sea to Mountain||3-10 July 2018||1975€||8||3 Spaces Available|
|Tour 5||Galicia: Food & Wine Journey||3-9 Sept 2018||2625€||7||1 Space Available|
To book a tour, please click here.
Author: Nancy L. Frey, PhD Date: June 2004
Publication: Spanish Magazine, No. 5, pp. 16-26
Article Title in Publication: Coastal Corner
Galicia: A view from my room
By Nancy L. Frey, PhD
I live in a little Galician fishing village on the northern shore of the Ría de Arousa, one of the Galicia’s highly scenic tidal estuaries (called rías). From my window Galicia spreads out before me. In the harbour, the small red wooden dornas are haphazardly moored, moved only by the tides. Retired fishermen stroll up and down the boat ramps and head off to the local bar for an afternoon of intense card playing. On the port’s new side blue and white iron hulled fishing boats prepare to head off for another night in the open Atlantic. Making their way through a maze of rocky shallows and islands, small fishing boats, with a flock of seagulls in hot pursuit, return to port further inland passing a natural breakwater that separates the powerful ocean from the tranquil estuary where hundreds of mussel platforms serve as incubator for one of Galicia’s many seafood delicacies. Endlessly rolling green mountains gently rise out of the water and continue in folds as far as the eye can see. Dense forests hide the Megalithic burial chambers and Iron Age settlements found littering the mountaintops and hillsides. A few scattered villages, white amidst a sea of green, sprinkle the upper reaches while lower down a patchwork quilt of worked fields separated by stone fences and stands of trees surround the numerous towns clinging closely to the shoreline.
Galicia forms the northwest end of Green Spain – the name typically given to the wet, verdant, temperate and highly scenic band of hilly countryside that faces the Atlantic along Spain’s northern shore and includes Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. Three of Galicia’s four provinces (Lugo, A Coruña and Pontevedra) face the sea with vast inland extensions while landlocked Ourense shares an undulating border along the great Río Miño with Portugal to the south. Galego, one of Spain´s four official languages, is spoken throughout the region especially the rural areas. Despite the economic boom which swept across Spain since the 1970s, Galicia still retains a strong hold on its traditional roots - an economy tied to the sea, its rich grazing lands, and small scale agriculture in a rocky, unforgiving countryside. Unlike the Basque Country further east, which industrialized quickly and rapidly in the 19th century, Galicia continues to surprise for its lack of visible industry outside of the few urban centres. Widows dressed in black still usher cows along the busy secondary roads. Only 30 years ago Galicians in the eastern sierras stopped living in pallozas, round thatch-roofed dwellings, as they had since pre-Roman times. And, since at least the 13th century, the ubiquitous rectangular hórreos (granaries), topped with cross and phallic pyramid for fertility, have kept the winter’s store safe from rain and rodents. It is precisely this anachronistic rural quality that contributes to the allure of Galicia.
In Iberia Michener calls Galicia the ‘granite land’ and comments on the large of percentage of arable land occupied by stone walls. While exaggerated, due to the vagaries of geography, history, agricultural practices, and inheritance norms the dispersion of Galician villages is striking. When crossing Spain’s centre you typically drive through extensive fields of cultivated cereals and then reach a compact village wrapped around a prominent church. Not in Galicia. Galicia has some 32, 400 settlements – cities, towns, villages (pueblos), hamlets (aldeas) and even places (lugares) of two or three houses – each surrounded by small family plots, pasturelands, rough gorse and broom ridden hills and woods. While its total extension (some 29,000 sq km) accounts for only 6% of Spain’s whole territory, the number of settlements accounts for 48% of Spain’s villages, towns, etc! Land reform changed this pattern to some extent (that´s why you´ll see strange rectangular plots here and there).
I see this curious dispersion clearly from my window where many small ports hug the Arousa estuary’s long shore. Most Galicians live along the coast. Of Galicia’s seven major urban centres, four are coastal: A Coruña, Ferrol, Pontevedra, and Vigo. Only A Coruña and Vigo manage to reach 250,000 souls. A Coruña thrives as a major shipping port, province capitol, and cultural centre with excellent museums, the oldest Roman lighthouse in Europe and the expansive Riazor beach integrated into the urban landscape. A walk down A Coruña´s picturesque waterfront Avenida da Marina reveals Galicia´s best example of multi-paned, enclosed galerías or sunrooms – it’s a virtual wall of glass. Vigo maintains Galicia´s largest fishing fleet as well as the Citroen car plant giving it a busy, industrial feel. Head down to its historical quarter, though, and you´ll find outstanding seafood in the small bars on its Rúa Pescadería (Fish Market Street). The rest of the population concentrates in inland Ourense and Lugo. Finally, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia’s capital and important university town since the 15th century, has historically been the region’s religious and cultural heart. It’s the one town not to miss if you visit Galicia.
Compostela has attracted pilgrims and travellers since the 9th century when a local religious hermit discovered the remains of Santiago (known in English as the Apostle James, the Greater). News of the discovery quickly spread and soon faithful came in masses from all points of the Christian world creating the network of medieval pilgrimage roads known as the Caminos de Santiago. The pilgrimage’s popularity put Galicia irrevocably on the European map and was in large part the source of the region’s medieval splendour leaving the countryside filled with innumerable churches, monasteries and masterpieces of art and architecture in the villages and towns through which the pilgrimage ways pass. The pilgrimage reaches its apex of splendour in the Apostle’s city and on the sublime Praza do Obradoiro where the great powers that have influenced the city over the centuries all find a place: the Romanesque cathedral with its soaring Baroque façade; the magnificent 15th century Reís Católicos hotel founded by the monarchs Isabel and Ferdindand as a pilgrims’ hospice; the imposing neo-Classical Raxoi palace cum modern-day city hall; and the university’s Colegio San Xerome with its well-carved neo-Romanesque portal. Listen on the plaza (and down the historical quarter’s beautiful arcaded streets alive with outdoor cafés) and you´ll hear local street musicians playing the gaita (the Galician bagpipe) and benefiting from the acoustics provided by the arch of the Archbishop´s Palace. Music fans will enjoy the Galician folk groups Milladoiro and Luar na Lubre as well as bagpipers, Carlos Núñez and Susana Seivane. Many of the instruments played by these groups can be found in the Cathedral´s masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture, the Pórtico da Gloria, in which the 24 Wise Men strum, blow and animatedly usher souls to heaven.
Looking south from my window, part of Galicia´s 1200km of rugged, indented coastline fringed by 50 islands, greets my eye. From the sky the Galician coast appears to be a piano keyboard with the rías separating the high mountains. The coast is typically divided into three parts: the densely populated and highly touristic Rías Baixas (Lower Estuaries); the most rural and undeveloped Costa da Morte (meaning Death Coast); and the Rías Altas (Upper Estuaries) which have the best surfing waves, Spain’s highest cliffs and share the border with Asturias. The crown jewel of the Rías Baixas recently became Galicia’s first national park (Spain’s fourteenth) - the Atlantic Islands National Park - founded in 2002 and composed of the Cíes, Sálvora and Ons islands. Most prized is the Cíes archipelago easily accessed by ferry in summer from Vigo or the summer resort town of Baiona. Known for their blinding white sand beaches, crystalline waters, great walking trails, and abundance of rare flora and fauna, two of its islands are connected by a sandy isthmus and stone walkway.
The Death Coast, named for its treacherous waters and shipwrecks, is home to Fisterra (or Finisterre in Spanish), the medieval end of the earth. In the untidy fishing port, sardines, brought fresh off the boat on ice, are grilled to perfection at one of the small bars. In the port’s roundabout, there’s a granite monument depicting a man holding a windowpane and a suitcase. He gives testimony to the long and sad history of Galician emigration in which 1.5 million Galegos have packed their bags and sought their fortune elsewhere since the 1880s. Galician handicrafts are kept alive in the nearby 14th century Vimianzo castle. All summer long basket weavers, potters (from the nearby pottery town of Buño), linen weavers, wooden shoe cobblers, lace makers and jet artisans are busy at work.
Along the Rías Altas a must stop is the Praia das Catedrais (Cathedrals Beach) during low tide when the ocean reveals a series of natural arches and caves. At San Andrés de Teixido, located on a steep cliff and one of Galicia’s most curious shrines, pilgrims leave wax body parts in hopes of a miraculous cure. As true of all the Galician mountains, semi-wild horses range here.
Annual round-ups (known locally as the Rapa das Bestas) are held all over Galicia and form part of the hugely popular cycle of fiestas or celebrations. Galicians have a knack of turning anything into a motive for a fiesta whether it be food (everything from pigs’ ears and barnacles to octopus and the delicious local green pepper Pimientos de Padrón), saints’ days (the most famous is the vibrant 25 July celebration of James in Santiago), historical incidents (a Viking attack in Catoira has been recreated since 1961), political protest, music (the International Celtic Music Festival in Ortigueira) or a traditional holiday such as Carnival (those of southern Ourense province take the cake especially Laza village). If you hear canon fire at any time, especially the summer, don´t be alarmed as that´s the Galician way of letting you know the fiesta has begun. My favourite fiesta comes up in July when seaports shut down to celebrate their patroness, the Virxe do Carme (Our Lady of Carmen). In Muros, her statue is processed out of the church to the port where fishing boats, decked out with flowers and brightly coloured streamers, await to accompany her in a circuit around the harbour as she blesses the sea. Fishermen on the boats throw floral wreaths to the ocean in her honour.
Life in the little port below my window is always a feast for the eyes. Gone are the days when the village beach reached the front doors of the fishermen’s houses and the dornas were sailed and achingly rowed in the rías. But, what hasn’t changed since time immemorial is Galicia´s fame as a seafood mecca. Each day I watch the white fibre-glass boats, painted bright red on the inside and powered by out-board motors, zip out to the nearby islands working Spain´s richest and oldest sea beds in search of tasty crustaceans, molluscs and cephalopods: almejas or clams (razor shell, wedge, carpet shell), berberechos or cockles, mejillón or mussels, ostras or oysters, vieira or scallops, zamburiñas - a delicious, petite scallop, erizos or sea urchins, crabs (diminuitive nécoras, robust buey or ox crab and the highly prized centollo or spider crab) as well as bogavante and langosta European and spiny lobster, chopo or cuttlefish, calamar or squid, and pulpo or octopus. Right now it’s percebe (goose barnacle) season. These succulent, finger-sized (and rather grotesque looking) crustaceans grab a huge price at the fish market and are usually ordered by the gram in restaurants. The clam and cockles season preceded the barnacle. To get clams men stand in their small boats for hours on end combing the seafloor while women work the estuaries at low tide bringing in cockles by the bucketful (sometimes carried on their heads!). In Santiago de Compostela the restaurants (there are at least 25 in about 50 metres of street) along the Rúa do Franco, such as O 42, display their tasty offerings in refrigerated window cases and let you hand pick your lobster or crab from the bubbling aquariums.
Archaeological evidence indicates that hunters and gatherers worked the rich tidal estuaries since at least 15,000BC digging up and scraping off the rocks delicious morsels-of-the-sea long before people were being buried in the fascinating megalithic (4000 to 3000BC) burial tombs (called dolmens) found preserved and scattered around the western half of Galicia or living in the nearly 5000 fortified villages (castros) inhabited by warrior Iron Age peoples (1800BC to 200AD), including the Celts, which completely cover the Galician territory. The mountain-top Castro de Santa Tegra looking down on A Guarda and Portugal as well as the impressive seaside Castro de Baroña are both worth a visit.
Galician seafood’s great fame is partly due to the simplicity of preparation. Forget about specialty stores or adapting recipes. Mussels and barnacles are steamed with water, salt and laurel leaf. Cuttlefish are floured, fried and served with a squeeze of lemon. Octopus (pulpo a la gallega) is boiled in huge copper pots, cut with scissors onto round wooden plates, drizzled with olive oil, and seasoned with marine salt and sweet and spicy red pepper (pimentón). Outstanding fresh fish (hake, monkfish, sea bream, sole and bass just to name a few) are typically grilled, served a la gallega (with olive oil seasoned with garlic and paprika), a la romana (egg battered and fried), or, the fisherman’s classic, caldeirada (a mixture of fishes and potatoes slowly stewed). If you want to take a taste of the sea home, the canned seafood produced here is also outstanding. Look for Luís Escurís Batalla’s excellent hand-packed products.
With this seafood cornucopia it’s easy to forget about Galicia’s inland offerings. Hearty pork dishes to kill any hunger reign: lacón con grelos (pork shoulder with greens), cocido (every pig part imaginable and chorizo sausage slowly boiled and served on heaping platters with cabbage), caldo gallego (broth soup with greens and potatoes). Empanadas (using both wheat and corn flour) are delicious meat pies filled with just about anything - outstanding local veal, tuna, cod with raisins, clams, or octupus. Galicia’s four cow’s milk cheeses, especially the creamy breast-shaped tetilla and smoked San Simón varieties, are not to be missed. Galicia also produces excellent white Ribeiro wines in the warmer, southern climes along the Río Miño and notable white Albariño wines in the Rías Baixas.
If I look out the back window, it could be anywhere in Galicia´s interior. Small garden plots divided by granite stone walls and planted with corn, potatoes and long leafy greens make a chaotic yet beautiful quilt of tilled fields. I see fig, lemon and laurel trees as well as two kinds of willow (one used to fashion baskets) along the brook. There are also stands of oak and fragrant pine and eucalyptus trees - the latter planted extensively (and to the detriment of the environment) for paper and pressboard. Ornamental gardens have excellent examples of magnolias, camellias, hydrangeas and rhododendrons – species all brought at the end of the 19th century and planted in the gardens of rich return emigrants and wealthy local families in their huge manor homes called pazos. Missing from the scene are chestnuts. The best examples are in my favourite lost corner of Galicia: the Serra de Courel mountain range which lies just south of the Cebreiro mountain pass in Lugo province. Great groves still thrive producing outstanding sweet chestnuts. Some of these nuts wind up roasting on Madrid´s streets in winter. Until the 18th century chestnuts were the major carbohydrate – and thrown into stews, boiled, eaten raw, roasted - before the easily cultivated potato became a dietary mainstay. In some regions of Galicia, potatoes are called castañas de terra (earth chestnuts).
Heading up Lugo province is an old Roman city founded in a sacred forest once dedicated to Lug, a pagan god. Lugo’s claim to fame is its intact 3rd century Roman wall ringing its historical quarter. Named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, walking along the top of its 1.2mile perimeter gives a voyeur’s view into the chaotic city and its magnificent cathedral, dilapidated historical quarter, elegant 18th century avenues, private school yards, open fields, huge magnolias and the quirky evolution of slate (the province’s dime a dozen building material) tiles used to roof houses! Romans came to conquer these prized Galician lands once rich in gold, tin and silver. They ended up exploiting not only the gold and molluscs but also its thermal waters. Down by the Río Miño remnants of Roman thermal baths exist alongside the modern spa, Balneario de Lugo, where the water emerges at 43.8 degrees Celsius
If I listen, rather than look out my window, I hear another element of Galician reality: the cement mixer’s whir, the clanking of chains on huge mobile cranes and the sound of hammers busy at work. Next door an elegant 40-apartment, granite-faced complex quickly went up taking the place of rundown port buildings. Construction and real estate speculation are two very popular activities especially on the coast and the outskirts and bedroom communities of the major cities. Unfortunately, uncontrolled building has resulted in cases of unappealing urban sprawl and rural development with little aesthetic uniformity. Nonetheless, a wide array of properties from new and used coastal apartments and chalets (modern, usually, second homes) to 18th century pazos to chunks of undeveloped property (finca in the country and solar in the city) to run-down rural stone cottages and stunning multi-story houses in the centre of the region’s numerous historical quarters are waiting for either massive restoration or gentle fixing up. If you are looking for an affordable, run-down property in the boonies then head to the hills of Lugo or Ourense province where entire abandoned hamlets are for sale. The restoration of farmhouses, pazos and other buildings of historical import into rustic lodgings and elegant hotels, called turismo rural, has been a major thrust of the tourism industry. The Galician government provides grants to restore historical properties intended for this type of tourism. The website www.turgalicia.es lists all of these lodgings. Thirty minutes east of Santiago, find the elegant Pazo de Andeade and enjoy its peaceful ample gardens and outstanding kitchen.
Spain´s expanding economy of the 1990s provoked a building craze and explosion in the real estate market all over the country. In comparison to the rest of Spain, Galicia continues to be a good place to buy: the average price of used property in Spain in 2003 as a whole was 1330 Euros per sq m whereas in Galicia it was 852 Euros per sq m. In 2003 the price of second-hand property rose 17% on the national level while in Galicia it only rose 5%, the lowest in Spain.
To help facilitate the sale of property inmobiliarias (real estate offices) abound. Many of these companies have websites and display properties with photographs to facilitate your research. For example, the website www.tusinmobiliarias.com has listings all over the region and branch offices in Santiago, A Coruña, Pontevedra, and Vigo and publishes a free monthly newspaper with property listings. The more ample bi-weekly publication, Galicia Inmobiliaria, is available in kiosks for 1 Euro.
When buying an old house or undeveloped property be sure to check very carefully that what you are being sold corresponds with the paperwork documenting the property and that construction is permitted. Many properties, especially country fincas, have never been registered in the local registry and may only be documented through a will. A Galician law enacted in January 2003 regulates uncontrolled building to maintain an aesthetic norm outside city limits and in rural areas. In some instances, real estate agents have kept properties on the market that at one time were legal but are no longer according to the new regulations. The town hall in which the property is located can assist you.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that I can’t enjoy the view from my window every day. Galicia is green for a reason and when the waves turn white and the winds and clouds threaten from the southwest, I know it’s time to batten down the hatches and enjoy a steaming bowl of caldo gallego inside while the winter storm roars on.
In the June 2004 issue (No. 5, pp 16-26) of the English lifestyle and property magazine Spanish Magazine, Nancy published the following article about living in Galicia. The magazine is now out of print and so we are making the article available here. I was asked to describe the region as a non-native resident as well as provide hints to prospective residents (thus the focus on the housing industry and property market at the end). At the time we lived in the small fishing village of Aguiño (Ribeira, A Coruña) at the very tip of the Ría de Arousa.
Here is a scan of the original magazine article. To make it easier to read, I’ve included a printable version of the text at the end. When I received the magazine with my article, I got a huge surprise when I discovered that the editorial staff at Spanish Magazine had not used my carefully written photo descriptions and instead had made up there own! Thus there is at least one grevious error: On page 24, on the left hand side, there are three small photos of Galician architectural elements. The top and the bottom are stone houses and the third, in the middle, is an horreo – the typical Galician corn cribs that are elevated on stone pillars and rectangular to prevent the dried corn from going bad and getting eaten by rodents. The photo description says:
Typical stone built gallego houses, some of the most rustic being built on stilts.
The description implies that this corn crib is a dwelling! Galicia does have rustic charm but that’s taking it a bit too far! Boy, was that embarrassing! Unfortunately, the magazine never rectified their mistake nor offered an explanation. By the way, the beautiful photos all came from Galicia’s tourism agency – TurGalicia (also not credited by the magazine much to my chagrin!).
Enjoy the article and come visit us some time here!
Food Notes: Pear & Plum Jam with Port and Mint
By Nancy L. Frey, 15 Sept 2015
In August Jose and I picked crates of fruit at his mother’s ancestral home in Melón, Ourense, Galicia. We decided to make jam. I looked on-line for a pectin-free recipe and came across a great site called Northwest Edible Life (www.nwedible.com) where we found exactly what we were looking for. We made a delicious jam following her basic jam recipe that we’d like to share with you.
We’ve included before, during and after shots of the jam. We used 1kg each of Stanley prune plums and Dr Jules Guyot or Limonera pears. The Stanley plums are an European variety with a much funnier and descriptive name in Spanish - cojones de obispo (bishop’s balls) due to their shape and color (Roman Catholic bishops wear purple robes). Who Stanley was or what his nether parts looked like, I don’t know! The sweet and juicy Limonera is ideal when ripe.
We macerated the fruit with sugar for 18 hours and then slowly simmered until soft. For extra flavor and a bit of “zing,” as the recipe author suggests, we added Tawny Port wine we picked up in Porto, Portugal on our Camino in Portugal tour last July. For our dry zing we used peppermint from my herb garden where I grow both medicinal and culinary herbs. The zings are subtle yet add noticeable and delicious undertones that allow the plum and pear to shine and resonate. Enjoy this idea!
"Aside from marrying my husband and having my son, this was the greatest thing I have ever done. Everything I hoped for, and more, happened. Please know to what a great extent you enhanced my life…"
Cynthia, Portland, Oregon, USA,
Camino de Santiago, 2003
I have done so much raving on to people about how wonderful On Foot in Spain & particularly Nancy & Jose were, that they should never need to advertise. It was all such a special experience as evidenced by our reaction as we walked into the Santiago Square – still gives me goosebumps….Nancy & Jose – you are absolute legends….”.
Bron & Michael, Vermont, VIC, Australia
May 2017, Camino de Santiago
Sam, Jose and Nancy on Portugal tour by client B. Cameron
WHO WE ARE: YOUR OWNER-GUIDES - NANCY & JOSE
Receiving feedback like the above testimonials, written 14 years apart, fills us (Nancy & Jose) with a tremendous sense of fulfillment. Our primary goal on our trips is to help facilitate the engagement of our travelers with something meaningful within themselves or the rich landscapes and experiences within which they are immersed. Being a part of someone’s potentially transformative experience is a great honor and privilege. Jose and I both have a great passion for and knowledge of Spain, where we live (Galicia), the Camino de Santiago and it is a pleasure to share this with those who accompany us.
Both Nancy and Jose have always held both walking and learning close to their hearts. Their paths crossed while Nancy was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on the Camino de Santiago in the hamlet of Roncesvalles (Navarre) and Jose was just beginning a 450-mile/780KM walk across Spain. Their paths rejoined a month later in Santiago de Compostela and since then have not diverged.
Together they co-authored the chapters on Galicia, Cordillera Cantabrica (Picos de Europa) and the Camino de Santiago for Lonely Planet’s Walking in Spain (1999 and 2003 and Hiking in Spain, 2010) and co-authored Lonely Planet's 1st edition of Walking in Scotland (2001). Nancy and Jose started On Foot In Spain Walking & Hiking Educational Adventures in 1999. They have three children, Jacob (2 Feb 1999) Marina (05 Dec 2003) and Sam (27 Nov 2006), and live on the Galician coast.
Nancy L. Frey, PhD
Nancy on top of Mt. Dana, Yosemite circa 1978
Nancy’s love of hiking grew from annual summer trips to Yosemite led by a Dad who always knew the name of every tree and who reveled in leading his children to inspirational points. Thus it wasn’t too surprising that when she selected her subject material for her doctoral dissertation in cultural anthropology (UC Berkeley) one very attractive element of it was the prospect of traversing the north of Spain on foot.
Since her first walk in 1993, Nancy has walked the Camino de Santiago numerous times and cycled it as well. In her book on the modern day journey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998), Nancy brings to life the contemporary way by discussing pilgrims' motivations, mishaps and discoveries while walking as well as providing insights into why the route is so popular today.
In the late 1990s Nancy lectured for ElderHostel and the Smithsonian Institution on their educational tours in Spain, Portugal and France. She also taught a course on the Camino de Santiago at the University of Santiago. Nancy is currently researching the impact of the internet and mobile technologies on the pilgrimage experience and on being a pilgrim. Her website Walking to Presence is dedicated to sharing her research and insights on pilgrimage in the Internet Age and to helping travelers to reflectively engage more fully with their travel experiences.
One of Nancy’s favorite roles on tour is bringing to life the history and culture of the places we visit through a wide range of stories and consistently receives very positive feedback for how she conveys her knowledge. To learn more about this facet of the On Foot experience, read The Story Teller. In this photo, taken by client F. Fehr, Nancy has just told the group about the history of the special mountain village O Cebreiro and explained how and why the yellow arrows were invented.
In her free time she enjoys reading, swimming, kayaking, tending her flower garden and her hens as well as cooking savory pies and tarts.
Jose Daniel Placer
A native of Santiago de Compostela, Jose received his law degree from the University of Santiago and then made a 180 degree turn away from being a lawyer and back to his real passion: children and the outdoors. He has taught outdoor education and coached soccer, basketball and volleyball. He runs the children’s theater program for the local school where he writes and directs the plays.
With Europe as his backyard, Jose has hiked extensively both within and beyond Spain since he was a teenager. Despite having enjoyed the Italian Dolomites, and hiking in the Alps while studying law at the University of Passau in Germany, his favorite stomping ground continues to be Spain’s Picos de Europa.
Jose’s picnics have received tremendous praise over the years. When not on tour Jose lovingly tends his fruit orchard and garden and enjoys experimenting with new recipes from our own harvest.
Jose especially enjoys writing short stories, carpentry, restoring furniture, working his garden, kayaking and mountain biking.
ON FOOT PHILOSOPHY
Each time we set out on a trail we go with the idea that to walk is to learn. Slowing down to the rhythm of your feet inevitably brings more to your immediate attention and consequently allows for greater speculation and wonder. We abide and live by the slow travel, slow experience movement as an enriching way to experience a new culture.
On our journeys into northern Spain’s exceptionally beautiful back roads we want to give you the opportunity to challenge yourself physically (without overdoing) and at the same time pique your curiosity by pointing out the not so obvious as well as providing insights into the wonders of the everyday. In this photo, taken by traveler J. Laskall, she captured Jose demonstrating the usage of the Spanish botijo, glass wine holder, traditionally used by field workers.
Art, architecture, anthropology, folklore, history, Spanish fiestas, cuisine - we interlace them all into each day of your tour. Our carefully designed walks, combining charming accommodations in rural inns, monasteries, and hotels with the finest in local cuisine, will immerse you in the riches of northern Spain’s cultural life and landscapes.
ON FOOT FAMILY
After nearly 20 years of running On Foot in Spain, our family has grown up with the business. Nancy wrote a four-part series highlighting the challenges and joys of having their family grow up with On Foot in Spain as a constant presence. Over the years we have developed very special friendships with travelers from around the world who have joined us on 3, 4, 5 and even 6 trips! We feel very blessed indeed to have created a huge network of the On Foot Family around the world. Thank you to all of you who have made it possible. Please see our group photo gallery to enjoy the experiences of our some our 1500 clients on 160 tours in the last 18 seasons.
To read about the On Foot Family story, please read here.
Find out more about On Foot in Spain......contact us at
Galicia is Spain’s seafood mecca. This unique, gourmet tour brings you into close contact with the production and enjoyment of Galicia’s foods and wines.
It’s been another great year thanks to all of you who make On Foot in Spain possible! Putting together our own 2013 On Foot “Year in Review” has brought back wonderful memories of amazing luck with rain seeming to be all around us except on top of us in both April and October, unbelievable wildflowers in June along the Camino, the richness of harvest time in Portugal and the stunning views in the Basque Country and Galicia that fill the heart and soul. One of the things I love about leading On Foot in Spain tours is that I am constantly taken back and reminded of what is most important in life: friendship and caring about one another, beauty found in nature, the thrill of knowing and challenging one’s body, the appreciation of the simple pleasures in life.
Memories flood into my mind of these simple pleasures from this last season – swimming in the cold, refreshing mountain waters of the Lor River in Galicia; eating one of Jose’s picnics after a long walk; leading people over a hill where I know a glorious view awaits them; getting to take my shoes off to walk down pristine Traba beach and watching the others ahead of me doing the same; foraging on blue berries, blackberries, grapes, apples and all the other gifts of the Camino; sharing some of these moments with Sam and watching him absorb it all like a sponge; hearing the storks from their weighty nests high upon the church towers; gorging on cherries in June in the Bierzo valley; milking sheep and tasting the fresh milk; listening to people’s stories and sharing my own…
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words so here is a collection of images from 2013 that we hope you will enjoy.
Nancy & Jose