Ribeira Sacra, land of monasteries
Welcome to the Ribeira Sacra, an area in inland Galicia which is home to spectacular natural features such as the canyon of the Sil river –the mark of identity of the region– and a valuable artistic heritage. Here you'll find a dozen medieval monasteries to remind you of this region's importance in the Middle Ages. A genuine journey back through history.
The Sil River forms a natural boundary between the provinces of Ourense and Lugo, in the heart of the region of Galicia in northern Spain. You'll marvel at its rugged landscapes, dominated by vineyards, mountains and the waters of the Sil River where it joins the Miño. This section of the river –about 200 kilometres long– is home to the Ribeira Sacra, an area of churches and shrines, mostly in the Romanesque style, as well as palaces and monasteries. We recommend you leave around four days to explore the region. Did you know that this is home to Spain's oldest Christian parishes? 1,500 years ago, congregations of monks and hermits settled here, and for centuries devoted themselves to meditation and reflection. This peace and harmony lives on to this day in the region's villages and medieval monasteries. Some are now abandoned, but are well worth visiting as their walls have been witnesses to the passing of time. The damp, moss and vegetation impart an air of mystery.
They are reached by means of forest tracks and country roads running through lush forests. Of particular note is the monastery at San Esteban de Ribas de Sil, located to the north of the village of Nogueira de Ramuín: besides being the largest in the Ribeira Sacra, it is now a luxurious Parador Hotel. In the same village you'll find the monastery of Santa Cristina, where you can stroll around its cloister and surroundings and soak up the magical atmosphere. Get your camera ready because very close by are some of the region's most famous viewing points: the Balcones de Madrid. From this natural terrace you can see the immensity of the Sil River canyon, with gorges up to 500 metres deep. The views are spectacular. Once here, we recommend an attractive excursion: exploring this section of the river (40 navigable kilometres) by catamaran. There are routes of differing durations. The longest, which takes approximately three hours and can be done at any time of year, runs from Abeleda to Os Chancís, 24 kilometres downstream. There are also shorter routes, such as the one departing from the San Esteban pier to Abeleda, one to San Fiz, and the boat that heads down the Miño River to the Os Peares reservoir, from the village of Belesar.
Galicia is full of pleasant surprises. From the magic and tradition of its inland territories to its spectacular coastline along the famous Costa da Morte, monuments such as the Tower of Hercules which have received the UNESCO World Heritage designation, and unique cities such as Santiago de Compostela.
Your journey in the Ribeira Sacra might continue with a visit to Montederramo and the Santa María monastery, now a school. You can also visit Tarreirigo, where you'll find San Pedro de Rocas, a chapel carved straight out of the rock, and considered the oldest monastery in Galicia. Another option is to go to Ferreira, home to the convent of Las Madres Bernardas , the only convent in Galicia occupied by nuns since its foundation until the present day. Or else you could opt to experience all the charm of San Paio de Abelada, now in ruins, or Xunqueira de Espadañedo. To finish the route, come and visit Monforte de Lemos, an interesting medieval town.
These are just a few of the possibilities on offer in the region. Before you go, make sure you sample the region's exquisite gastronomy and, if you have time, take a relaxing bath at one of the spa resorts to be found around the province of Ourense. The tourist offices will be happy to help you plan your stay. This is the Ribeira Sacra region, the setting for stories and legends.
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