With their tropical island vibes, crystal-clear waters and powder-soft ivory sands, it’s no surprise that the Romans called the Cíes Islands ‘The Islands of the Gods’. What’s more surprising is that these paradise hideaways are located off the coast of Vigo in Galicia, northern Spain, just a quick flight away from the UK.
And the surprises don’t stop there! Here are a few interesting things you probably didn’t know about these blissful Spanish islands.
The Cies Islands are home to a total of nine idyllic beaches and secluded little coves, but the most famous beach is unquestionably Praia das Rodas. This long stretch of pure white sand is bordered by rolling sand dunes and kissed by the gentle lull of crystalline waters, leaving no doubt as to why the locals refer to it as their “Caribbean beach”. It reached international levels of stardom in 2007, when The Guardian named it as “The best beach in the world”. But don’t worry, the islands are part of the Galician Atlantic Islands National Park, which means their natural beauty is protected by law.
The Cies Islands act as an Atlantic Ocean gateway to the estuary of Vigo, which made them highly attractive to Barbary and English pirates. Deciding the islands would be perfect for storing their loot and plotting their perilous plans of plunder, they forced the monks that inhabited the islands to move out and declared them as their own. In fact, parts of Jules Verne’s classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea are inspired by the Battle of Vigo Bay, which saw Spanish treasure ships sinking in the waters near the islands. Some say the treasure is still there.
There are four designated hiking routes, all of which are clearly sign-posted and extremely easy to follow. The best route however, in my humble opinion, is the 7 km Monte Faro (lighthouse) route, which takes you though menthol-scented forests of eucalyptus trees, the aroma of which grows more intense as they bask in the sun. There’s also the Los Niños Lake to stop and photograph and two bird watching observatories, which offer sweeping views across the more rugged, Atlantic-facing cliffs on the western stretch. The grand finale of the hike is the elevated lighthouse viewing point, where you can indulge in breathtaking vistas across the islands and out to sea — the perfect place to stop for your picnic.
Aside from seagulls, you’ll also spot around 400 pairs of Iberian guillemots, a bird species that’s now almost extinct, as well as larger birds of prey, greedy pelicans and busy woodpeckers.
The extremely low levels of light pollution makes the islands perfect for stargazing and they’re sprinkled with stardust on a nightly basis. As if you needed another reason to camp overnight! Which reminds me…
Located just a stone’s throw from the beach and shaded by a canopy of fragrant pine and eucalyptus trees is one of the most idyllic campsites you’ll ever stay at. Pitches must be booked in advance — online or at the ferry port in Vigo — but prices are surprisingly low considering how exclusive it is. Either take your own tent or rent one once you get there. Full details and prices available on the official website.
Everyone knows about the campsite restaurant, but not many visitors find the secluded little restaurant that over-looks Rodas Beach (follow the sign that says, “Comida y bebidas” – drinks and food). A team of busy waiters run (literally) in an out of a small building, delivering plates of fresh fish and seafood tapas to the lucky guest that manage to discover this sunny terrace over-looking the sea. They also have a good stock of Galicia’s delicious Albariño wines and refreshing beers, the perfect way to cool down on the beach.
- Ben Holbrook