Galicia is a patchwork of landscapes, where an endless number of places of natural interest unfold. There are several reasons for this: first of all, the wide strip of coast and continental areas; secondly, the great variations in altitude; thirdly, the contrasts in climate which give rise to biogeographic differences, and lastly, its lengthy history throughout which men and women have toiled, completely changing the landscape. The contrast between the coast and the interior is, without a doubt, an important element, which enables us to understand the natural diversity of Galicia. The length of the Galician coasts with their sinuous profile full of inlets and outlets, owing to the interconnection of rías, bays, coves, points and capes, comprise strikingly varied spaces. Cliffs rise up along the coast, at varying altitudes, beaches, lagoons and dune systems unfold, opposite which are set, like brushstrokes in stone, islands and islets.
ISLAS ATLÁNTICAS NATIONAL PAR
Since the year 2002, Galicia has comprised Spain’s thirteenth national park: the Maritime Terrestrial National Park of the Islas Atlánticas in Galicia, containing the Cíes, Ons and Sálvora archipelagos and the island of Cortegada, with 7,138 maritime hectares and 1,195 land hectares.
The Sálvora archipelago has a surface area of 2,557 hectares, the Ons archipelago, further south, has over 2,600 hectares, with the islands of Ons and Onza and neighbouring islets; Cortegada has 43.8 land hectares; while the Cíes archipelago, with Montefaro, Monteagudo, San Martiño and nearby islets, exceeds 3,091 hectares of protected surface area.
It is a domain of sea-birds such as the European shag, Caspain gull and the common murre. Its sea beds are a genuine undersea park, with over 200 species of algae and crustaceans. Cortegada contains one of the largest laurel forests in Europe.
NATURAL PARKS IN GALICIA
Galicia is home to six natural parks that enjoy the special protection of the Autonomous Community: Fragas do Eume, Corrubedo and the Lagoons of Carregal and Vixán, in the province of A Coruña; Monte do Invernadeiro, Serra da Enciña da Lastra and Baixa Limia-Serra do Xurés; in the province of Ourense; and Islas Cíes and Monte Aloia, in Pontevedra.
Fragas do Eume: This natural park, located in the valley of the Eume river, boasts 9,126 hectares and is one of the most interesting examples of an Atlantic forest in the Galician Community. Flora: ash trees, chestnut, birch, willows, maple, hazelnut and laurel trees. At some points in the woods, near the water courses that come rushing down the hillsides, there are ferns which are relicts from the Tertiary Age. There is an interesting monastery, Caaveiro, within the domains of the park.
Corrubedo and the Lagoons of Carregal and Vixán: With an extension of 1,000 hectares, the most striking feature of the interior of this area is the immense expanse of sand. Parallel to the coast is a magnificent complex of dunes. Some of these dunes have been colonised by vegetation, but the largest one, is still in operation. This is what is known as a living dune, the only existing example on the Galician coast. Behind this group, we find a number of marshes and lagoons, such as Carregal, which is open to the sea, and Vixán, located to the south. The park also houses the dolmen de Axeitos.
Montes do Invernadeiro: This is one of the most characteristic mountainous areas in Galicia – an ideal place to observe the bio geographic transition between the Mediterranean and the Euro Siberian world. It is also possible to see the work the glaciers have wrought in the formation of the land. This area is located in the south-eastern zones of the province of Ourense, in the municipalities of Vilariño de Conso and Castrelo do Val. It has an area of 5,722 hectares. The interesting glacial cirque do Figueiro shelters a magnificent woods of holly and protected fauna such as: roe deer, wolves, bucks, deer, and the grey dormouse.
Baixa Limia-Serra do Xurés: This park is located in the municipalities of Entrimo, Lobios and Muiños, in the south-west of the province of Ourense, and is bounded by the Peneda-Gêres National Park, in Portugal. It has an area of 20,920 hectares, and offers, on one side, a view of the vast valley of the Limia River and its tributaries, and, on the other side, of the Serra do Xurés. A large portion of the park land has an altitude of over 1,000 meters, and reaches 1,556 in A Nevosa. There are striking granite formations and vestiges of glacier activity with deep set valleys where the rivers Caldo, Vilameá and Homen flow. A large group of glacier moraine can be found at different altitudes. The area also boasts hot springs and important remains of the Roman colonisation.
Serra da Enciña da Lastra: Located in the Orense council of Rubiá, in the Valdeorras district, to the east of the province, it has a surface area of 3,151.67 hectares. The only karst landscape in the Community of Galicia, it also comprises Galicia’s largest Mediterranean forest – cork oaks, holm oaks, almond and olive trees. In contrast to the granite, predominant in the soil of Galicia and to the slate, predominant in Valdeorras, the terrain here is calciferous, giving rise to the formation of grottos, numbering 20 all over the park.
Monte Aloia: With a maximum altitude of 631 meters and an area of 746 hectares, it was the first area to be declared a natural park in Galicia. Inside the park, there are valuable archaeological remains, among which we may cite the modelled granite shapes. This park offers breathtaking panoramic views over the Miño river valley. The flora is comprised of pine trees, cypresses, larch, locust trees, spruce, cork trees, chestnut, birch and holly. Municipality of Tui.
OTHER NATURAL AREAS IN GALICIA
Ría del Eo: A natural area under general protection. ZEPA Zone. Located in the municipalities of Ribadeo and Trabada, the importance of this area in terms of nature has led to its being declared a Bird Sanctuary (ZEPA).
Estuario del Sor: Straddling the provinces of A Coruña and Lugo, it is a protected natural area.
Estaca de Bares: A Natural Area of National Interest, it is located between the rías of O Barqueiro and Ortigueira, and is the northernmost point of the Iberian peninsula. From this cape, where there is a bird observatory, it is possible to witness the migration of many species of seabirds from the end of August until mid-September in the summer, and in winter, in the month of January. Municipality of Mañón (A Coruña).
Ría de Ortigueira and Ladrido: Located in the Municipalities of Ortigueira and Cariño, in the province of A Coruña, this is a natural area under general protection. The ría, which is wide and open, is skirted by the Serra da Capelada, to the west, and the Serra da Faladoira, to the east. The southern area is dominated by marsh. The banks of the ría give rise to stunning cliffs, one of the most outstanding being Cabo Ortegal, facing the group of islets known as Os Aguillóns.
The Lagoon of Valdoviño: A natural area under general protection. RAMSAR Zone. Located in the Municipality of Valdoviño in A Coruña, about 18 kilometers north of the city of Ferrol. Known as Laguna Frouxeira, this lagoon is located on the coast in a valley of the Aviño river and is 1,600 meters long by 500 meters wide by 1.50 meters deep. It is surrounded by dunes having a number of different herbaceous species. Among the most important fauna it attracts are the anatid birds in winter.
The Lagoon of Doniños: This lagoon is located in the Municipality of Ferrol, northwest of the city. It is set in a deep valley skirted by steep hill slopes and rugged sea cliffs along the coastal area. The banks of the lagoon are home to several species of aquatic plants. In terms of fauna, there is an abundance of birds such as the European coot, grebe, and mallard.
The Lagoon and Sands of Baldaio: This area is located in the Municipality of Carballo in the province of A Coruña. At one time it was the most important wetlands in Galicia and is a spot of great interest in terms of nature and landscape. There are native plant species and a wealth of wintering bird species.
The Lagoon of Traba: This lagoon is located in the Municipality of Laxe, on the Costa da Morte. It runs along a wide stretch of coastal plain, enclosed by a vast barrier of sand which has given rise to the formation of enormous dunes. This geographical sector also has a wide range of cliff formations. The interior boasts the granite massif of Traba, consisting of a great variety of rock formations.
Cabo Vilán: Located in the Municipality of Camariñas in the province of A Coruña, this cape has the shape of a jetty that juts out into the sea and is skirted by breathtaking cliffs, making for magnificent scenery. There have been sightings of murres, the tridactyl gull, and in greater numbers, the herring gull. Not far from the cape we find the mythical places of the Costa da Morte: the Cementerio de los ingleses and the natural area of the Ensenada de Trece, with magnificent sandy stretches and dunes that rise up to form the renowned Monte branco.
Monte Pindo, the Mouth of the Xallas River and the Sands of Carnota: This area is located in the Municipalities of Dumbría and Carnota, in the province of A Coruña, between the rías of Corcubión and the peninsula of Monte Louro. Monte Pindo stands out over the landscape with its solid round shape, reaching an altitude of 612 meters in A Moa. The Xallas river crosses its northern sector. To the south-east lies the vast sandy stretch of Carnota which extends from Caldebarcos, to the north, and Lira, to the south. This wind-beaten area is dominated by rock, flowing rivers and seawater. The lower course of the Xallas river is a veritable symphony of geometric shapes hewn in granite. This river flows into the cove of Ézaro.
Monte Louro and the Lagoon of As Xafras: Located in the Municipality Muros, in the northern sector of the ría de Muros y Noia. At the foot of Monte Louro lies the Lagoon of Xafras on one side, which is an area surrounded by a barrier of sand, where large dune formations have cut off the pass to the waters of the Longarelo river. The dunes are home to plant species that have adapted to the dry conditions. Nesting birds are abundant between May and July.
Sierra de O Barbanza: Located in theMunicipalities of Porto do Son, Ribeira, A Pobra do Caramiñal and Boiro, betweenthe ría of Muros y Noia to the north, and the ría de Arousa to the south. A site of national interest, the Sierra de O Barbanza has an altitude of 624 meters. It consists of an elevated block of hills, which, thanks to its location, offers a spectacular view of the two rías. The lookout point of A Curota is located on its south-eastern vertex. It provides a panoramic view of the ría de Arousa in all its splendour, as well as the lagoondune complex of Corrubedo.
The Intertidal Complex of Umia-O Grove, A Lanzada and Punta Carreirón: A Natural Area under General Protection. ZEPA Zone and RAMSAR Zone. Located at the mouth of the Umia river, in the Salnés peninsula, province of Pontevedra, on the southern stretch of the ría de Arousa. The area consists of several units: the intertidal zone, which forms a semicircle where there are number of small islands and keys, such as Tourís, Marma, A Toxa and Toxa pequena; the lagoon of Bodeira; Punta Carreirón, where rocky cliffs abound; and the large expanse of sand of A Lanzada.
The Lagoons of A Terra Chá: Located in the Municipalities of Cospeito, Castro de Rei and Rábade. Among the many lagoons we find the lagoon of Cospeito, a Natural Area under General Protection in addition to the lagoa de Pumar and the charcas de Rábade. The lagoon of Cospeito holds a wealth of seabirds such as the mallard, pochard, grey heron, lapwing and the golden plover.
Sierra de Os Ancares: These mountains run through the Lugo districts of As Nogais, Becerreá, Navia de Suar-na and Pedrafita do Cebreiro. Several of their peaks exceed 1,800 meters in height. Thanks to the variety of its flora, which still preserves autochthonous plants, Sierra de Os Ancares is the habitat and refuge of an enormously interesting fauna; some species enjoy special protection, such as the capercalllie, these forests forming the western end of their distribution zone. In the Os Ancares National Reserve, covering an area of 7,977 hectares, a broad spectrum of Birds and mammals live alongside each other. Many survive thanks to the shelter of the holly groves, the only trees that keep their leaves and their fruit all year round.
Sierra de O Courel: From a geological point of view, O Courel is the most complete of Galicia’s sierras. Lake A Lucenza is a fine example of the past existence of glaciers in the region. The two climatic tendencies, Euro-Siberian and Mediterranean, which come together here, and the contours of peaks and sheltered valleys, give rise to a surprising variety of lush plantlife: meadows covered in oaks, yews, beeches, hazels, hollies and many other species. As in Os Ancares, the forests of O Courel are home to a wealth of fauna, and its rivers (Lor or Soldon, among others), are famous for their splendid trout. O Courel also offers unique ethnological interest, its villages little clusters of houses, in classic closed constructions, with their typical brown walls and wide-eaved, slate rooves.
Trevinca massif: Wild and little-visited, the Trevinca Massif stands between the provinces of Ourense, Zamora and Leon. Trevinca represents the domain of high mountain tundra. It comprises the natural districts of Sanabria, La Cabrera (in Zamora and Lebn), and, in Ourense, O Bolo and Valdeorras. Topped by summits that exceed 2,000 meters, the roof of Galicia is Pena Trevinca with 2,124 meters. The O Eixe and Sequndera Sierras are the least populated areas in Galicia. Other places of interest are the small Serpiente and Ocelo Lakes, the autochthonous forests at the bottom of some valleys, or the so-called Teixedal de Casaio, probably the finest yew forest in Southern Europe.
Waterfall and fraga del Río Toxa: Located in Pazos-Silleda (Pontevedra). The waterfall, known as the fervenza do Toxa is located at the point where this river joins the Deza river. The water rushes out from a crag in the middle of the damp woods (fraga). Nearby lies the monastery of Carboeiro, a Romanesque structure set in a beautiful spot. From here there is a path that runs along the riverbanks leading to the recreational area of A Carixa, near the town of Merza.
The Canyon of the Bibei: Municipalities of O Bolo, Manzaneda, Larouco and Pobra de Trives, in the province of Ourense. The wealth and variety of landscapes is certainly the most distinguishing feature of the canyon of the Bibei river. In addition to the mark made by the men and women who have toiled there for centuries, a key role is played by the peculiar climatic conditions, which explain not only the numerous vineyards, but also the Mediterranean species which grow there, such as the olive tree.
Biosphere reserves in Galicia: Terras do Miño (Lugo), Ancares lucenses and montes de Cervantes, Navia, and Becerreá (Lugo), Área de Allariz (Ourense) and Río Eo, Oscos and Terras de Burón (Lugo).
Natural monuments in Galicia: As Catedrais Beach (Lugo), Costa do Dexo (A Coruña), Fraga de Catasós (Pontevedra), Souto da Retorta (Lugo), Souto de Rozabales (Ourense), Pena Corneira (Ourense) and Carballa da Rocha (Pontevedra).