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Spanish Secrets: Men Of The Mountains

"In this quiet, cool, almost intimidating gorge, faces in the rock, formed by centuries of weathering, stare at the passing boat...'' Craig Briggs goes on a dramatic river trip in a fjord-like valley in Galicia.

My dad’s recent visit to Galicia afforded us the opportunity to take him and his friend Clare, on the spectacular river Sil boat trip. It’s one of those, “must-do” tourist excursions we encourage all our visitors to take.

We left the nearby town of Monforte de Lemos heading towards the mountain village of Castro Caldelas.

The road climbs gradually at first, passing impressive new houses on either side. After a while the assent steepens, winding its way upward through the hills to the tiny village of Doade. Here the road begins its descent.

And what a descent!

To the left, perched on the summit of the fjord-like river valley, is the bodega “Regina Viarum”.

For those with a little time to spare, don’t be deterred by its palatial grandeur. Do call in. The manager is a very pleasant and hospitable gentleman and will take great delight in showing you the production plant.

Impressive as it may be, the real reason for calling is located on the first floor.

Here you’ll find a large room designed specifically for wine tasting. Next to this is a spacious and comfortable lounge, where the less serious tasters amongst us, can relax in amiable surroundings and enjoy a bottle of this very fine wine.

If you’re lucky, you might also be offered various delicious and locally produced liqueurs.

If there isn’t time outbound, you can always call on the way back.

From here, over 2,500 feet above the valley floor, the descent is breath-taking. The road narrows and falls steeply. 360 degree bends allow the narrow road to descend at an alarming rate, winding its way through acres of terraced vineyards. At this time of year the vine leaves give the steep slopes a lush green covering.

Unlike this manufactured landscape, the far side of the valley is natural, with rocky outcrops, constantly changing scree slopes, and both evergreen and deciduous forests.

After a few minutes and a fair-ground style descent, you’ll find yourself at the river’s edge. A short narrow bridge crosses the river where the modern double-decker river boat is waiting for embarkation.

Although the boat comfortably seats 90, and completes the tour three times daily, it’s essential to book. On this occasion we’d booked through the helpful tourist information office in Monforte de Lemos.

The boat leaves the pontoon quay, gliding effortlessly through the calm dark water. From here one has a much better appreciation of the enormous scale of this fjord-like gorge.

The wide, slow moving river meanders gently through the gorge. Eagles soar above the boat, scouring the valley sides for their prey. Along its course, vineyard terracing rises from the river’s edge thousands of feet to the mountain summit.

An hour into the voyage the scenery dramatically changes. The valley sides narrow and the vibrant green vegetation is replaced with fractured and splintered rock.

In this quiet, cool, almost intimidating gorge, faces in the rock, formed by centuries of weathering, stare at the passing boat. Like guardians of a national treasure, these sombre old men of the mountains, allow safe passage through their domain.

Soon the valley opens out once more, and the river widens allowing the boat to turn and head upstream. Although the route is exactly the same, travelling in the opposite direction gives a whole new perspective to the journey.

After a round trip of almost two hours, at a meagre cost of only ten euros, the boat comes to a halt and the passengers disembark. This short trip perfectly illustrates the beauty and magnificence of this province of Galicia.

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