Why the rain in Spain really doesn't matter

Until recently, Galicia's wild, wet reputation kept the British away. But a budget airline is changing all that. Matthew Beard reports

It's a glorious evening in Galicia. The sun shimmers on the Atlantic as our three-year-old son runs in and out of the sea - it's 7pm, past his bedtime, but he's in his naked element. Sitting on the rocks drinking wine, it would be stretching a point to say we have hit upon an "undiscovered" part of Spain, but we are certainly experiencing a different kind of holiday from those usually associated with the Spanish costas.

It's a glorious evening in Galicia. The sun shimmers on the Atlantic as our three-year-old son runs in and out of the sea - it's 7pm, past his bedtime, but he's in his naked element. Sitting on the rocks drinking wine, it would be stretching a point to say we have hit upon an "undiscovered" part of Spain, but we are certainly experiencing a different kind of holiday from those usually associated with the Spanish costas.

Galicia sits snug in the north-west corner of the country, just above Portugal. It is green and, it has to be admitted, often wet. We arrived by plane in the capital, the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela with its awesome cathedral. But we are heading south to Pontevedra, at the foot of the Ria de Vigo. The estuaries, known as Rias Bajas, are fjord-like, creating a jagged coast reminiscent of Cornwall and western Ireland. As we pass through fishing villages we are treated to tantalising glimpses of golden beaches and intimate coves.

The waters are sheltered and calm, ideal for swimming and sailing, and seafood, for which Galicia is famed. There are mussel beds everywhere, and bountiful supplies of cockles, oysters, scallops and spider crab. And you certainly get a lot of seafood for your euro.

On this hazy afternoon, the beaches are busy with locals, but we discover that during the week they are often virtually empty. When the sun does shine and you're in a hill-top restaurant, overlooking a bay, eating some of the finest seafood you've ever tasted, you wonder if someone might be missing a trick. Ninety per cent of tourists in Galicia are from Spain. But the British are coming: Ryanair has just added Santiago de Compostela to its route map from Stansted, and this year it plans to fly in visitors from a handful of other airports.

Our villa is set back from the road on a small hill, surrounded by colourful, well-tended gardens. Spacious rooms with heavily shuttered windows provide a cool retreat. The dark-wood furniture, rich fabrics and religious artefacts give a traditional feel. But a lot of thought has also been given to practicalities - a carport to keep the sun off the motor in summer, and gadgets and conveniences from DVD to dishwasher. We have a swimming pool and a covered terrace for al fresco dining, with views of the estuary and the occasional passing trawler.

Steps lead to the beach, Playa d'Aguete. It's a typical example of those that dot the rias - a small, sandy bay, with rocks and trees on either side sheltering the sand. At the weekend, Spanish families flock here, some taking sailing lessons, others just driving up to admire the view and check out the skies - Galicians are as obsessed with the weather as the British.

Five minutes' drive from our villa lies Marin, a small town with a big naval college. We idle away Sunday morning drinking coffee in the square, as a band on a makeshift stage strikes up Eurovision-style Latino melodies. Families pass by, decked out in their morning-mass best: stiff check shirts and shorts with braces, the little girls immaculate in pink-icing dresses. Our son is quite a contrast in his surfer-boy T-shirt and baggy jeans.

We eat a relatively inexpensive yet delicious late lunch of langoustines, sea bass and Albarino wine, and introduce our little one to tortilla Espanola under the pseudonym "chip pie". It goes down a treat. Then Sanxenxo beckons. More like a Mediterranean resort, with longer stretches of sand, good amenities and some larger tourist hotels, it enjoys the best climate in the region. Yet it's still populated mainly by the Spanish. At Crucero de Hio, at the tip of the estuary, we discover a contrasting rugged coastline akin to north Cornwall's. It's windy and exposed, exhilarating yet almost deserted.

We wake one morning to a blur of rain which breaks our lazy routine of beaches, long boozy lunches, and more beaches. We head for Vigo, near the Portuguese border. Dominated by its huge harbour and naval history, the city is the economic centre of the region, known mainly for shipping and football. It's a working city not high on charm. The main square is dominated by high-rise buildings and you have to climb to enjoy good views.

Instead we head for the dockside and feast on paella cooked in squid ink, named "Prestige" - a black-humoured reference to the disaster of 2002 when a tanker of that name spilt an 8km long oil slick on to the shores, devastating the environment and the livelihoods of fishermen. It has taken years to clear up the damage, but the only evidence that we see is a few black streaks on some of the rocks. The mammoth liner Arcadia weighs anchor nearby and the passengers spill out on to the dock to stretch their legs. For the first time in a week, we are hearing English voices.

Give Me The Facts

How to get there

Iberia (0870 609 0500; www.iberia.com) flies from Heathrow to Santiago de Compostela from £140 return.

Where to stay

Matthew Beard travelled as a guest of Vintage Travel (0845 344 0420; www.vintagetravel.co.uk). It offers seven nights at La Torre in d'Aguete near Marin from £895 to £2,495. It can also arrange flights with Iberia and car hire, which costs from £160 per week.

Further information

Spanish National Tourist Office (020-7486 8077; www.tourspain.co.uk) and www.turgalicia.es.

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