Spain’s most mysterious regions: La Ribeira Sacra
One of Spain’s most mysterious regions, Ribeira Sacra is home to spectacular gorges and rivers, ancient monasteries and some of the country’s best views.
Straddling the provinces of Lugo and Ourense in the middle of Galicia sits, one of Spain’s least known and most mysterious areas. Its rivers, Miño and Sil, which meet at the region’s heart, mould the landscape, gouging out vast canyons and vertiginous valleys. Thick green forests frame these rivers and hide medieval monasteries, whose presence gives the area a sort of hushed spirituality.
The valley slopes are lined with centuries-old terraced grapevines. To visit the Ribeira Sacra is to visit a different Spain, a quieter, greener country, and a world away from its crowded Mediterranean beaches too.
Eighteen monasteries hide in the Ribeira Sacra’s steep, forested escarpments. One of them is the famous 10th-century monastery of Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil, which sits on the confluence of the Miño and Sil rivers. Perhaps its most impressive feature is the cloisters, each of which has a different architectural style.
Nearby is Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil (open to all). Enveloped by trees and shrubs, this 10th-century monastery sits in the forest like an abandoned fairytale. The mixture of renaissance, gothic and Romanesque styles, cast in ancient grey stone, and lost in the mysterious silence of the forest, is something worth seeing.
Perhaps the oldest monastery in the area is San Pedro de Rocas. Thought to have been founded in the sixth century and excavated from the surrounding rock, San Pedro is said to be one of the oldest known Christian temples.
The Sil Canyon
This gorge stretches for 50km across the region. Its scabrous walls rise, in some parts, 500 metres from the river below, and are packed with olives trees and grapevines. It is, without doubt, one of the most impressive places in Galicia, and Spain. If you enjoy panoramas, head to the town of Parada de Sil, where you will be able to see the Balcones de Madrid, the most rugged and precipitous part of the gorge. If you are looking for a different perspective, the canyon can be explored by boat: from pleasure cruise to kayak.