Life revolves almost entirely around the sea in the Spanish port city of Vigo and the locals are blessed with what many say is the best seafood on earth.
The exceptionally high quality of the fish and shellfish is a result of coastal upwelling phenomenon, which makes the waters extremely rich in nutrients.
Add to the mix the region’s world-class wines and food-focused lifestyle and you’ve got the makings of a perfect gastronomic getaway.
Here’s how to chow down in Vigo, just like the locals.
Red-roofed and charmingly rustic, Vigo’s “Casco Vello” (old town) smells of the sea and is the perfect place to ease yourself into the local way of life.
Find a terrace in the sun, order a drink and nibble on the free tapas that are still customary in this charming part of Spain.
Whether it’s a little bowl of olives, a few slivers of cheese or a wedge of tortilla, this is the perfect way to get warmed up for lunch and/or dinner.
With its cooler climes and Atlantic breeze, Galicia’s Rías Baixas wine region is renowned for producing some of finest wines in Europe.
Thick-skinned and Atlantic-brave, Albariño grapes are the most common here, producing crisp whites with subtle hints of citrus and fruit that make it absolutely perfect for pairing with fish and seafood.
And as I discovered for myself, Galicia’s other regions of Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei have come a long way in recent years, with refined red wines that rival anything from the neighbouring Rioja region.
Where to go: Wine is an essential part of the lifestyle in Vigo so you won’t have to go far to find it.
But for a special taste of what the best local vineyards are up to, I thoroughly recommend the trendy Taberna Baiuca for a wine-paired lunch or dinner.
Owner Cesar is incredibly welcoming and, because he’s close friends with the local wine producers, he’ll make sure you drink the very best of the best.
And the food, too — creative twists on traditional Galician cuisine — is nothing short of sublime.
Every morning of the week, the local oyster farmers transport their goods directly from the oyster beds out in the estuary to the open-air market on Rúa da Pescadería, or “Oyster Street” as it’s better known.
Here, knife wielding matrons stand at granite stalls, shucking and lemon-drizzling the freshest oysters you’ll ever put in your mouth.
Do as the locals do and enjoy your half-shelled sensations with a glass of wine on one of the terraces — you pay the bar owners for your drinks and your oyster-lady for your oysters. Now that’s what I call breakfast!
Take part in one of Bluscus’ cultural “marinero tours” and experience Vigo’s thriving fishing industry from a local’s perspective.
Tours start with a fun boat trip across the bay — keep your eyes peeled for dolphins! — to the Cangas fish market, where you can see, touch and even taste the local fishermen’s daily catch.
On my particular visit I stroked a live nécora (the region’s famous “velvet” crabs – and they really do feel like velvet!), ate a live shrimp and witnessed the all-important fish auction.
From here, your guide will take you to the nearby fish markets, before moving on to a bar or restaurant to taste it for yourself. A full cycle experience, from fishing boat to your plate.
Tucked away next to the bustling shipbuilding yards and trundling fish trawlers, Bouzas is the old fishermen’s quarter and is said to be the best place to eat fresh and affordable seafood in Vigo.
Where to Go: For an authentic sailor’s dining experience, it simply has to be Bar Nisio, a small restaurant located in what is basically an old fisherman’s house.
The walls are covered in vintage Vigo football paraphernalia and curling photos that show the place hasn’t changed in many, many decades.
Every dish is cooked to perfection, grandma-style, but I particularly recommend the calamares en su tinta (calamari served in its ink) and their take on the must-eat Galician dish of pulpo a la gallega (Galician octopus with coarse salt and paprika).
And whatever you do, don’t miss the house special arroz con bogavante (lobster rice), which is heartwarmingly rich and delicious. Order the vino de la casa (house wine) and you’ll be treated to a giant clay jug of gluggable Albariño white wine.
For a more contemporary take on Galician gastronomy served in a romantic setting, head to the chic-but-cosy Patouro Bar & Grill.
The menu changes on a regular basis, “depending on whatever is freshest at the market,” as I was explained, with sensational tapas dishes ranging from clams and mussels to zingy ceviche, proper Iberian jamón and perfectly grilled meats.
Don’t leave without trying one of the creative cocktails!
Flights to Spain
- Ben Holbrook