Sophisticated Santiago de Compostela is easily Spain’s finest small city.
With its lush green parks, wide open plazas, and delightfully cobbled streets, I had the time of my life when I visited for a two-day whirlwind vacation.
Let me reveal to you the holy secrets that make beautiful Compostela such a sensual extravaganza.
About Santiago de Compostela
Nestled in the Galicia region of north-west Spain, Santiago de Compostela is the reputed site of the remains of Jesus’ disciple the Apostle James – in fact, ‘Santiago’ derives from his Latin name Sanctus Iacobus.
When James’s remains were miraculously discovered, a shrine, and then a Cathedral, was built and a pilgrimage established, attracting thousands of faithful wanderers for centuries.
This was how the holy city of Compostela came to be born.
Know affectionately as a ‘big village’ by the 100,000 locals (40,000 of whom are students who never want to leave), the city of Compostela is far milder and wetter than most of arid Spain.
Thanks to the nearby mountains, average summer temperatures tend to go no higher than 25 (75), making Santiago the perfect place to chill out during the baking-hot season.
The jovial populace, who often speak their native Galician language, will welcome you with open arms and promise you the experience of a lifetime.
Experiencing Santiago de Compostela
My first port of call was the Zona Vella (Old Town), a UNESCO World Heritage site loaded with Medieval arches, Baroque monuments and dizzy, winding streets paved with granite.
I gazed my fill at the ornate churches, ancient University buildings and fascinating museums.
And I happily noticed lots of interesting little shops, cafes and restaurants on my pleasant stroll around the historic center.
As I came to the Praza de Obradoiro square and sat down for a well-earned coffee, I was stunned to see the scale of the surrounding Cathedral that dominates the old town.
The structure is Romanesque with some Baroque and Gothic additions. Its porch is mesmerizing and the rooftop is the perfect place to take in the city’s extraordinary mountainous backdrop.
Green Compostela has plenty of parks to explore, the biggest of which is the grand Alameda.
But I spent more time at the smaller Bonaval Park, which architect Alvaro Siza recreated from the site’s original Dominican cemetery.
Not only could I relax under a mighty oak tree with a dusty old book, but I also found time to explore both the Galician Contemporary Art Centre and Museum of the Galician People.
I have never felt more sophisticated in my life!
Later in the evening I sampled some of Compostela’s energetic nightlife with a walk on the Rua do Franco, known as the wine trail.
The street is lined with dozens of pubs and restaurants, replete with friendly patrons of all ages.
I entered one cosy little tavern where the waiter brought me snacks of tortillas, fish and croquettes with every drink I ordered.
And even though I barely had room left, at the suggestion of two friendly ladies, I ordered a plate of the famous local Octopus – when in Rome!
A Divine City
The small city of Santiago is an unbelievably gorgeous architectural paradise.
If I could go back there right now, I wouldn’t hesitate for a single second.
Thinking about it thrills me and makes me realize what I am missing.
Take my advice and see Europe’s most beautiful hidden-gem as soon as you can!