The Ribeira Sacra could be defined as one of inland Galicia’s best-kept secrets. This area is formed of 21 municipalities in the south of Lugo province and the north of Ourense province, bound together by the rivers Miño, Sil and Cabe.
The south-west of the province of Lugo is home to one of the river Miño’s most iconic areas. Over time, due to erosion and geological movement, the river Miño has gradually cut a deep course through this area.
Depending on their orientation, the slopes of the Miño are used for growing vines, alternating with deciduous forests and pine plantations. As in other neighbouring areas, wine production has always been greatly important here. In each vineyard, we can discover small stone wine cellars, which store the delicious wines produced here. With the arrival of autumn, the colours of these forests and vineyards create a truly beautiful landscape.
But some of the treasures on the Banks of the Miño are under the water: there are a good number of villages which were flooded after Belesar and Os Peares reservoirs were built. In some cases, these villages’ most important buildings were transported uphill, stone by stone, for their preservation.
We can explore almost all the spots in this area in a variety of ways, either by car, on foot or on a relaxed catamaran ride which allows us to admire the canyon from within.
Between the provinces of Lugo and Ourense, and at an altitude of over two hundred metres, we can find the final stretch of the river Sil. On its sides, and along a stretch of more than 35 kilometres, two vertical walls rise up over the water, reaching a height of almost five hundred metres at some points. These slopes guide the river round wide bends and meanders, offering some of Galicia’s most magical spots.
Although, after reading this, the place may seem inhospitable and untapped, that could not be further from the truth. This area has been worked since before the Romans arrived; however, it must be said that they were the first to undertake the hard task of tending the vines on the Canyon’s slopes. Hundreds of years later, hermit monks in search of a quiet, isolated backdrop for prayer settled on these hillsides. This subsequently led to the founding of great monasteries, in addition to vine-growing and the production of top-quality wines. Wine has always been this region’s main economic driving force, but why tend vines on such steep, hard-to-reach terrain? The answer lies in the special characteristics of these hillsides, for example, their gradient and orientation and the area’s micro-climate, which create the ideal conditions for producing high-quality wines.
But it is not only humans that have realised the wonders offered by this Canyon: both flora and fauna also take advantage of this privileged environment. Here, the freshest, most rugged areas of these valleys are ideal spots for oak and chestnut trees to grow between huge granite rocks, whilst species such as cork oaks or strawberry trees flourish in gentler, more sheltered conditions. This blend of Atlantic and Mediterranean species in one single area is an example of this valley’s characteristic micro-climate. It is also home to animals such as large birds of prey, which are highly discerning in their choice of habitat.
Moreover, this extreme relief is also used and maximised for producing hydraulic energy, proof of which are the numerous reservoirs along the Canyon which make the waters of the Sil navigable as they flow gently downstream. In fact, one of the best ways to explore the Sil Canyon is, without a doubt, on board one of the catamarans which sail along it.
This area, which to this day continues to be as spectacular as it is fertile, attracted monastic communities from the origins of Christianity onwards. These groups came in search of an area to favour ascetic, hermit life. Life in this region began to revolve around their monasteries, with their rights over the land, organisation of crops – particularly grapes – and the collection of taxes.
And thus began an important historical period, with monastic culture established on the steep banks of the Sil and Miño and resulting heritage sites which still exist today. Churches of outstanding beauty, such as San Paio de Diomondi, Santo Estevo de Atán, San Miguel de Eiré and San Fiz de Cangas, are just some of the many examples to be explored in this area.
The Ribeira Sacra is one of the oldest D.Os in Galicia. With more than 2,000 years of history, this natural space boasts a rich biodiversity and the largest concentration of Romanesque churches in Europe. Thus, the history of the vine in the area is closely related to the monastic life. Indeed, it was the monks who perfected the cultivation techniques in the Ribeira Sacra, without forgetting to take care of the spectacular landscape in which they worked.
It is well known that the wines of the area have been and are closely linked to the Camino de Santiago: both internationally known Camino Francés (through the sub-area Ribeiras de Miño, in the Lugo municipalities of Paradela and Portomarín), as well as the so-called Camino de Santiago Winter, in which the subzones of Quiroga, Amandi and Chantada are located. We find ourselves, in this way, with crops in terraces in the surplus of the old hermitages and monasteries that gave name to the territory, in which the pilgrims have the privilege of walking through the paving of an authentic Roman road for several kilometers.
After many years of effort, the wine that was once exported to Rome itself, was born its Origin Denomination: the Ribeira Sacra was authorized by an order from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Forestry of the Xunta de Galicia, September 3 of 1996, being appointed by the order of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Forestry of the Xunta de Galicia, of May 30, 1995, a Regulatory Council that controls and protects the different types of wine authorized and guarantees its quality, taking charge of Promote the product in the market and protect its name.
We hope you will leave the Ribeira Sacra with your soul at peace after travelling through its magical mountains and hillsides, where untamed nature and faith live side by side in perfect harmony. Whether you follow the banks of the River Miño or take a water-borne journey through the canyons of the River Sil, you’ll come across places that are impossible to reach from land, where veritable treasures from the Middle Ages are just waiting to be discovered amongst the terraced vineyards; the Ribeira Sacra is the closest you can get to Paradise on this earth.