Ria is the Galician word for a coastal estuary, or long narrow tidal inlet and is generally translated more simply to bay because this term describes what a ria looks like rather than what it is. The rias in Galicia are split into the rias altas and rias baixas, corresponding to the upper and lower bays and the region is famous, not just for these rias, but for the seafood they produce and harvest.
The larger rias in Galicia include those of Vigo, Pontevedra, Arousa, Muros y Noia, Corcubion, Lires, Camarinas, Ares y Betanzos, Cedeira and Ortigueira and it is this proliferation of bays that no doubt led to Galicia’s sea based economy.
The reason for Galicia’s seafood notoriety, particularly in respect of shellfish, is the unique flavour that results from the out flowing rivers that create these rias and it is claimed that their cockles, mussels, octopus and squid have a taste that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.
The price of shellfish harvested in Galicia is almost double that of the rest of Spain and all of the region’s oceanic produce is highly sought after.
There are a number of regional specialities that are more popular in Galicia than the rest of Spain and these include goose barnacles and octopus.
Aside from the fish producing qualities of the rias, they also result in Galicia’s mantle as Spain’s most beach friendly region with more miles of coastline and square yards of sand than any of the other Spanish principalities.
Galicia has many large and well catered for beaches, but it is the smaller, quieter and frequently hidden spots that really show off Galicia and the area commonly known as green Spain. Another feature of the rias is the sheltered nature that some of these beaches possess, many having more in common with an enclosed lagoon than the typical sea facing beaches most are familiar with.
Other than geographically, there is no important distinction between the rias baixas and the rias altas. Both sets of ria have beaches and those around the big cities of la Coruna, Pontevedra and Vigo see the greatest number of tourists and sun bathers.
Sea temperatures off Galicia are generally cool. This is the one major drawback of Galicia’s beaches as it is the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean ocean that engulfs the region.
The best beaches
La Coruna, Pontevedra and Lugo all share the Galician coastline and all have numerous beaches, but it is perhaps the provinces of la Coruna and Pontevedra that have, not just the greatest number of beaches, but also the best weather in which to enjoy them.
Pontevedra has a slightly warmer climate than la Coruna with the city of Vigo enjoying its own much hotter micro-climate. The temperatures in Lugo are considerably cooler than southern galicia and, although a good summer’s day can get warm, the winter months can sometimes see freezing weather.
The areas around and south of la Coruna are particularly good and the beaches in the locality of Pontevedra and Vigo city are also very popular in summer. The beaches close to Portugals border enjoy some of the best weather and these are popular with the Spanish.