In the past few weeks we have enjoyed many walks in the area of Panton in the heart of the Ribeira Sacra region of Galicia. An area rich with vineyards terraced up impossibly steep mountains (400-500 m high) on both sides of the Rio Mino and Rio Sil. Ribeira Sacra means Holy River bank, I am confident in confirming the region is sacred and the crown jewel of Galicia.
This wine making area dates back over 2000 years to early Christian times, where hermits and then monks settled in the vicinity. In Australia, we wouldn’t even consider walking up these steep slopes, let alone building our home with a vineyard. Here, the first terraces were carved out of rock by the Romans’ slaves and the grapes were carried up these steep terraces twice per day. Following the expulsion of Islamic invaders in the 15th century, monasteries gave renewed energy to wine production, encouraging people to re-settle here. Apparently, wine was made especially for the Pope. The combination of the native Mencia grape, slate and granite soils, and the micro-climates within the gorge, produce the right conditions for the distinctive and smooth red wines, unique to Galicia. We can confirm that they are the best red wines we have tasted anywhere in the world……….perhaps a little too easy to drink!
Traditionally, the wine is served in a ceramic jug, so to make our experience more authentic we managed to get completely lost in a maze of back country lanes to eventually find Gundivos Ceramica, who still manufacture traditional Galician pottery. We loved the ceramics as much as the wine, so our luggage has just become three kg heavier. The experience inspired another still life painting for my exhibition in September.
You will see after watching the video below about Gustivos Ceramica, why we just had to go……so will you. The narration is in Galego, a beautiful depiction of the property and surrounding area and the life of a potter. They are purists, making their own clay, climbing into a large pit for firing and a finishing blaze of fire for the final aesthetics.
Another day we decided to explore further up the river near the town of Pesqueiras, where we were in search of the Monastery Santo Estevo, but were distracted by this ‘picture perfect’ scene on the Rio Mino. We wandered down amongst the endless terraces of grapes passing gorgeous little homes, some of which were nearly swallowed up by their vineyard with only their roof tiles emerging. Eventually we crossed an old Roman bridge to the other side of the river and thought we must be close to the Monastery so we may as well walk from here. After no sign of any such structure, we sensibly back tracked and walked further down the same side of the river to the small village of Belesar.
Our thoughts were about lunch, so it seemed logical to walk to the nearest village. What?? No bars or cafes? Well that was a first in our experience of Galicia. We were so hungry and inspired by the spectacular scenery, the last hour uphill of the four hour walk back to our car didn’t hurt at all….ha ha. We then drove to the 12th century Monastery Santo Estevo which was mysteriously hidden in the forest.
When we first arrived in Galicia towards the end of April, we started to see the first sign of Spring with a few leaves sprouting from these ancient vines. It is difficult to believe that two months later, the vines are straining from the huge abundance of grapes plumping up ready for the picking. Being able to stay in Galicia for seven months has enabled us to witness almost every season and the changes in nature and agriculture. I know that I will not want to experience a Galician Winter because I don’t own enough clothes……….I think 7 layers in Spring was enough.
MAGOSTO: CHESTNUT FESTIVAL
Unfortunately we will not be here in November, when the Galicians celebrate the new wines of their harvest alongside the star of their traditional Magosto festival, the chestnut. There are many areas of Galicia where we have walked and noticed entire forests of Chestnut trees.
They have distinctive long flowers like yellow ribbons and some of the trees being so ancient, have trunks over one metre in diameter. It appears in some areas, they have been substantially lopped in recent years but have come back with a vengeance and can still have the strength to hold thick branches with a completely hollow trunk.
The Magosto festival (roasting of chestnuts) in Galicia was originally a pagan one of fertility, where the fire represented the sun and the earth was the God of fertility. Magosto is now celebrated at home or in parks, however the Celts traditionally held theirs on a mountain in a clearing of the forest.
When I have travelled in Asia, I have loved the aroma of roasting chestnuts but never tried them. I have previously heard about the chestnut jam made in Galicia and have been searching since we arrived. Finally I found ‘creme de castanas’ in the local supermarket which tastes like a hazelnut butter………..delicious on hot toast! Well worth the wait.
GOODBYE TO TANQUIAN ORGANIC FARM
The month went very quickly staying at Tanqian Organic Farm in Ferreira de Panton. We had some very funny moments here. Apart from the donkeys chanting with us during yoga, my other favourite moment was during our daily walk into town for our chocolate supply. On our return down a narrow bend, a few goats came leaping up the road at us like gazelles out for their daily exercise. They had cut loose from their 90+ year old owners who could barely walk and were busy waving their sticks at them. In Europe we have noticed that age does not stop anyone here; people just keep on doing what they have always done until they can’t walk anymore. It’s fantastic to see. Much to our surprise, within 30 seconds the lady had her goats back inside the gate again………..
Very sad to leave the Ribeira Sacra and everybody at Tanquian farm, most of all I will miss Jungo