The Spanish paradise you’ve never heard of

Talking about the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park means to talk about paradise. The archipelagos of the Cíes Islands, Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada make up a cluster of beautiful landscapes and stories that go back to ancient times. Some of them include legends which add a mythological touch that seems to always come hand in hand with Galicia. Above all, people crave the peace and calm of its delightful beaches. In fact, one of its beaches has been more than once declared as the best beach in the world. However, these lines do not intend to go in that direction, but to rescue a lesser-known paradise in this cluster: the Sálvora Island, a secret corner that proves, once more, that there are still countless spots in Spain we are yet to discover.

Discovering the unknown

The lighthouse of the Sálvora Island

The lighthouse of the Sálvora Island. | Shutterstock

Sálvora is the largest island in the archipelago it shares its name with, which also includes smaller islets like Noro. The beauty of this place can be perfectly admired from the peninsula od O Grove, where the sunsets of San Vicente do Mar let us enjoy the delicate shapes of Sálvora Island, and the shades of the golden star as it sinks into the ocean on the Galician coast. But we have already discussed the matter of the best sunsets in Spain, or the ones we find in places such as Porto do Son. This is just another example.

Currently, Sálvora Island is the only one we can visit in the archipelago. It belongs to the province of A Coruña, in the estuary of Arousa, and it is the only island in the national park which resides outside the domain of Pontevedra. It was used as a refuge for pirates between the 16th and 18th centuries, a time where they existed outside the fiction and posed a significant threat. Before that, Vikings, Saracens, and other wanderers of the sea used it as an operation base. It belonged to the Church till the 16th century, and then it became property of the Mariño family in the early 17th century. Some people still call the island by that name, and they even believe that those who share said surname carry with them this old legend.

It became part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park in 2001, which belongs to the Xunta, the regional government of Galicia, since 2008. It was only a decade ago that they made it ready to welcome visitors, always following the restrictions necessary to preserve such a precious land.

All the possibilities of the Sálvora Island

Old stone houses on the Sálvora Island

Old houses on the Sálvora Island. | Shutterstock

The main attraction of the Sálvora Island concerns the freedom one will find there, always bearing in mind the landscape should be treated with utmost respect. Said freedom comes from the wild nature of the island, where one can simply walk and explore the land feeling that everything remains the same as it used to centuries ago. Of course, the landscape has changed throughout the years, but there are still visible traces from the past there, like a feeling of timeless authenticity. In fact, the island does not provide any modern services. There are not even bins there, so we must collect our own waste and take them back to the peninsula with us. One of the key ideas regarding our visit to the island is to leave it exactly as we found it, leaving no evidence of human activities.

However, as we have already mentioned, time does not go unnoticed on this island. For instance, it has been uninhabited since the end of the last century. The only settlement we may visit there is the ruins of an old village. The past of Sálvora can be observed in the different buildings that compose it.

An old building on the island as seen from the sea

Old pazo of the Sálvora Island. | Shutterstock

The old factory for drying and curing fish still stands there. It was built at the end of the 18th century by the Otero family, an important name in the area. It went through a drastic transformation in the middle of the 20th century, and the family turned into a pazo, a traditional Galician residence. Nowadays, it is a museum displaying the history of the area. There we can learn about interesting events like the worst shipwreck that has ever happened on the coast of Galicia: the shipwreck of Santa Isabel. In 1921, a ship carrying 268 people sank in front of the island. Its inhabitants tried to rescue the victims, but, despite their heroism, 213 people lost their lives that day.

A sculpture of a mermaid on a rock facing the sea

The Mermaid of Sálvora facing the sea. | Shutterstock

We can also visit the Mermaid of Sálvora. This sculpture, which is related to a legend, was built in 1956 by order of the marquis of Revilla, a descendant of the Otero family. The legend tells us about a Roman knight who survives a shipwreck. As he walks through the beach, he finds a mute mermaid he instantly falls in love with. They got married and had a child called Mariño. From here on, the versions of the tale differ in some aspects, but the most popular variant claims that the knight was trying to bring the mermaid’s voice back to her, so he made a plan: he would jump with their son over the fires in Saint John’s Eve. The mermaid was scared when she saw them jump into the fire, so she spat a scrap of fish out of her mouth and she called for her son. This way, she was able to speak again.

We cannot miss the chapel of Santa Catalina either. This old tavern where sailors used to gather eventually became the temple of the island. However, the most spectacular temple can be found on its beaches. The island is mostly made of rocks, but it does have some secrets, hidden corners of silky sand and clear water where one will realise that there is no need to go to the Caribbean to enjoy the best of the sea. Galicia keeps a good deal of maritime paradises, and many of them rest in Sálvora. Wild deserted beaches where time seems to halt, until the sun comes down and the traveller must leave, no matter how difficult it might be.

Why we did not know it before

The sun setting over an island

The Sálvora Island as seen from the island of Arousa. | Shutterstock

The main rivals of the Sálvora Island are the other members of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park. Especially the Cíes Islands, in front of Vigo’s estuary. This place hosts the famous beach of Rodas, an international treasure where most travellers make a stop to admire such a special corner.

When someone keeps travelling northwards, where the Sálvora Island lies, they usually do so in order to explore the best villages in the area, from Sanxenxo to Cambados, passing by the already mentioned Vicente do Mar, a place that has lately attracted many people to the fantastic peninsula of O Grove. Also to the north, the island of Arousa has bewitched many a traveller as they discovered its beaches, most of them located in the wonderful natural park of Carreirón.

As we explained when we unveiled the spell of Porto do Son, the problem of Galicia is also its own blessing. When one finds such a great beauty, culture and history, one simply needs to visit everything. But time and space make it difficult to encompass all of it, so it is easy to leave out hidden corners like Sálvora, even though this makes it even more magical and worth discovering.

You can also read this article in Spanish here.


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