The main street in the Galician town of Sand Andres de Teixido (Photo: Helen Bunting)
The forested, mountainous terrain of the Rías Altas region (High Estuaries in English) boasts some of Galicia’s most stunning scenery. Although it is less well-known outside of Europe as a tourist destination, Spain’s westernmost province is a special place. And nowhere is it more evident than here.
One of the main draws of the Rías Altas is San Andrés de Teixido (Santo André de Teixido in the Gallego dialect), an ancient religious site and hamlet. The sanctuary sits high on a cliff overlooking the sea, and still serves as a place of pilgrimage for faithful Gallegos (Galicians).
Three friends and I made the drive from the port town of Ferrol, stopping to admire the scenery along the way. Not far from San Andrés, we pulled over at the Vixia de Herbeira, a lookout point with some of the highest cliffs in Europe. Aside from the gale-force winds blowing in from the sea, the cliffs seem benign at first glance because they’re carpeted in meadows. But they’re actually over 600 meters high, or about 2,000 feet.
When we’d had our fill of the wind, we set off down the winding road to the sanctuary, visible from the cliff-top viewpoint. When we finally pulled into the small parking lot, it was late afternoon, and not many people were around. We passed souvenir stalls on the main road through town, admiring the wood carvings and little painted figurines on display.
The sanctuary itself is not very big or grand. But it has been a religious institution in some form or another for centuries, first as a pre-Christian site and then as a monastery.
We entered through the doors facing the sea and sat in the pews, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I noticed something near the altar I’d never seen before. Plastic body parts—hands, ears, feet, even a pair of breasts—were lined up on the floor. I asked my Galician friend about it, and she explained that pilgrims had left them there either to ask for the blessing or healing of a certain body part. Suddenly, the pair of breasts took on new and poignant meaning, as I thought of someone with breast cancer pleading for divine intervention.
After a while we moved back out into the afternoon light and sat on the old stone wall, contemplating the sea. Then my Galician friend led us down a path into a grove with an old fountain. It has three spouts, and the story goes that if you drink from all three, you’ll get married. So we all took turns (to uphold tradition, of course!).
Unfortunately, some kid with nothing better to do had written “no potable” (not potable) on the front of the fountain, but we ignored the warning. And no harm came to us...although we'll have to wait and see if the legend turns out to be true.
San Andrés de Teixido is about an hour from Ferrol and an hour and a half from A Coruña by car. From Ferrol, take the AC-862 to the AC-566, heading toward the AG-64. After about 30 km, take the AC-2204 on to San Andrés. From A Coruña, head to Ferrol via the E-1/AP-9 and continue on as before.