We left the eerie, misty sea in Boiro, heading south and east to our last large city in Spain, at least for a while. After an hour or so of wide, empty country roads, through vineyards and tiered orchards, we arrived on the outskirts of Ourense. As we’ve often found, we again encountered difficulty finding a suitable Benny-sized parking space.
On our second loop, we finally found a very nice parallel spot on a wide back street and gratefully parked up neatly by the kerb. From here we walked along the nearby riverside path to an old Roman stone bridge, then turned left into centre of town, passing through a grassy play park filled with excited and screaming kids from a nearby school. We zigzagged through busy, active streets lined with locals to locate the central quarter, hosting the main elevated sight of the Catedral-Basílica de San Martiño.
Following a city walk tour from a leaflet picked up in passing from a friendly tourist office, we began a self-guided tour of the nearby key buildings in the Historic District. There were few people in this area of town which is no doubt normally so full of tourists the locals choose to avoid it. This clear October morning there was only us.
The height of the buildings forming the tight-knit streets provided much needed cool, shaded areas, with the sun back out in full force this morning. The heat still penetrated so we walked slowly, and this gave more opportunity to absorb and consider each defining space as we passed.
We followed the dictated route in reverse, beginning from the tall stone fountains of Alameda square, passed the impressive interior of the Pazo Oca-Valladares to the grand facade of the Igrexa de Santa Eufemia, a 17th century Baroque temple originally built as a Jesuit school. Along with the complexity and detail of the work, the asymmetry of the facade was quite striking as the second tower was never completed, perhaps due to the Jesuit expulsion from Spain in the 18th century.
After the cathedral, we wandered through Praza do Tigo, leading to the the tree-lined and ornately symmetrical Praza da Magdalena, to the Igrexa de Santa Maria Nai, only mere metres away from the other prominent churches. This was the site of the original cathedral of Ourense, dating from the 4th century, set on the south east corner of Plaza Maior. The original building was destroyed by Muslim invaders in 716 BCE, rebuilt as a Romanesque chapel in the 11th century, before being demolished and rebuilt again in the 18th century in its current formalised Baroque incarnation, complete with marble columns and matching bell towers.
The city’s highlight for us was the hot spring baths, with water at a temperature of 67 degC constantly spilling and steaming its way out of the overspill wells. They were closed when we visited but still looked inviting. The reconstruction of the ancient bathing pool, with changing rooms and neatly terraced landscaped gardens behind, has been very nicely integrated into the grounds of a block of modern apartments, hopefully ensuring its continued use and maintenance, along with creating a overall sense of shared ownership.
Overall, the city carried a more Italian feel throughout, than that of the typical Spanish towns we’d visited previously. Whether this was the Roman bridge, the close proximity of all the churches, the intricate stonework facades, or the enjoyable sunny weather, we’re not quite sure. But this distinctive Italian vibe was a definite feature of our visit here.
O Mundil – Day 1
We then proceeded south west of the city, to our chosen overnight spot near the Portuguese border, a commercial aire located in tiny hillside villages adjacent to an equestrian centre.
We arrived to find we were the only motorhome and for the grand sum of €10, to be paid into an honesty box when leaving, we could plug into their electric, access free wifi inside Benny and enjoy exclusive use of the shower and toilet block. We passed a very pleasant evening eating outdoors, even though the nights are becoming chilly, watching the deep red sun set over the trees of the nearby hills, lighting up the clouds just for us.
O Mundil – Day 2
We had a slow and lazy morning, enjoying the stillness and quiet of our little corner of the world. Aaron had a new haircut from his new hairdresser. We were adopted by a local dog, who came close and just lay down in the shade of our motorhome and looked longingly at us, as if we were the only company he’d had in weeks.
By lunchtime the sun had broken through again and began the process of heating the air; until then it had a real morning chill. We enjoyed an al fresco lunch then decided to explore a little locally by foot. We headed downhill on dusty chalk fire tracks in the pine forests, enjoying the smells and noises of the forest. We could see rolling hills with managed forests in all directions, but no people around. We dropped down to meet the river at Pont Nova, an imaginative name, and crossed over to join a riverside walk.
This turned out to be one of the most beautiful river walks we could recall; the colours of the interestingly gnarled trees, the narrow well-worn stone pathway, the calm reflections on the meandering water – all combined to create a very gentle, lovely walk. All along the water looked very inviting, varying from a shallow flow to deep pools. Too inviting. As we’d not seen or passed anyone on our hour long walk so far, we decided on a skinny dip. We located a suitable entry point, ensuring we could safely get back out again, and stripped and dived in. The cold water was an instant shock, like an ice bath, so the swim was rather brief, but very refreshing. We dried off in the sun on the riverbank before re-dressing and headed back along the same pretty stretch.
On our return we walked past our campsite, instead heading further up the road to the local village of Nogueiro to check out the possibility of them having a shop. They did.
The local old village centre was like being dropped back in 19th century Ireland; a shambolic, run-down, falling apart buildings of unfinished timbers, with old rusting agricultural equipment strewn around hay-covered cobbled yards. It was a stark contrast to the modern commerce on the main street, adjacent to the through road. We were passed by an old wooden cart heavily laden with recently picked grapes, towed by a dirty quod bike rather than a horse, with a small girl and several cats hitching a ride on the back, legs dangling. That scene summed up the distinctive rural feel of the whole area, and capped off our explore. In all, our walk was just shy of 10km; an excellent afternoon.
O Mundil – Day 3
As before, we had a very chilly morning with the sky grey and overcast. This day took even longer to warm up than the previous, so we relaxed until the cloud burned off and the sun returned. After a leisurely lunch at 1.30pm, the sun was finally warming up, so we decided on a local explore by cycle. We headed past the local village again, then on north west on small local roads through small, pretty villages, with pine wood forests and pretty rolling hill views in between. Our cycle took us to the nearby village of Castelle and we had a quick look in the church at the top of a small cobbled street. We got quite surprised by the very loud bell ringing out just as we approached.
After the village, we had quite a bit of an uphill drag, on empty roads; a solid climb for six kilometres, not majorly challenging as it was at a consistent gradient, but enough to keep us honest. It was a lovely cycle, only 19km in total, but it was really good to have a bit of activity on what we had designated as a down day. It was a welcome treat to spend three days in the same place, and we had a cycle, walk and a swim (of sorts) – bliss.