The Route of the Camellia in Galicia, Spain

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Route of the Camellia

The Route of the Camellia in Galicia, Spain, features a dozen stops with amazing gardens – all with camellias as the centerpiece.

The camellias have become a botanical symbol of Galicia with more than 8,000 varieties that flourish in the villages, line the streets, and fill the plazas and homes across the region. The best way to experience this floral magic is to follow the Route of the Camellia that takes you from pazo to pazo – the traditional manor houses of Galicia – where you can savor the beauty of camellias while learning about this unique area of Spain. It’s a perfect match for those who love gardens and history.

Galicia History

The Galicia area of Spain is different from the rest of the country when it comes to food, language, and culture. Many of the elements you associate with Spain – paella, flamingo dancing, bullfights – are not as common here. Instead, the area is an anomaly of Spain with a Celtic influence of those who settled here centuries ago. You are just as likely to hear a bagpipe playing instead of a guitar strumming classical Spanish music.

Galicia is also an anomaly when it comes to its weather and its gardens, especially with the camellias that grow here. Located in the northwest corner of Spain just above Portugal, this green belt of Spain looks much like central North Carolina – hilly with lots of trees across a verdant landscape. Instead of a Mediterranean climate, Galicia is cool and rainy in winter and hot and humid in summer. Does this sound familiar to the hot and humid southern states in the USA? Thanks to the Gulf Stream the weather travels from here to there to create the climate camellias love.

Santiago de Compostela

Route of the Camellia

Santiago cathedral / Beverly Hurley

The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela, known for the famed St. James Way camino that for centuries has attracted pilgrims who walk from near and far to the Cathedral of Santiago in the heart of the city. Santiago was founded on the relics of St. James the Apostle that legend says were discovered nearby in the 9th century and relocated to the city’s cathedral. Both Santiago’s old town and the Camino are UNESCO world heritage sites.

Santiago is also a garden city. Courtyards, buildings, and parks laden with camellias dot the landscape of Santiago. Tall oaks and chestnuts tower above the hilly, curvy roads that wind through this historic city.

Exploring the Route of the Camellia

The Route of the Camellia features a dozen stops with amazing gardens – all with camellias as the centerpiece – including the gardens in Santiago’s Alameda Park.

Route of the Camellia

View of the cathedral from the park / Beverly Hurley

Sited on a bluff above the old town, the park is filled with lovely plant specimens, plus stately oaks, horse chestnuts, and eucalyptus trees, along with masses of lovely camellias. The circular path around the park offers stunning views of the cathedral on one side and the other the University of Santiago de Compostela campus

A main feature of the Route of the Camellia is visiting the pazos of Galicia. These historic manor homes of noble families from long ago have been an important part of the region’s history for hundreds of years. To receive the designation of a pazo, the noble family needed five elements on their property beyond the house itself: a church, a granary, a coat of arms, a dovecote for pigeons, and a cypress tree. Look for these five at every pazo on the route.

Pazo de Faramello

Route of the Camellia

Pazo de Faramello / Galicia Tourism

You can spend several days or longer traveling back and forth from Santiago to see the camellias and enjoy the gardens along the Route of the Camellia. The Pazo de Faramello is close to Santiago and was the last pazo on the Portuguese route of the Camino way before reaching the cathedral. This pazo is a unique combination of a house with a business – a former paper mill from 1714 until 1895. It has both beautiful gardens and a manor house that you can tour.

Route of the Camellia

The parterre at Pazo de Faramello / Galicia Tourism

Route of the Camellia

Camellias along the lower wall at Pazo de Faramello / Beverly Hurley

An intricate parterre garden on the roof of the old mill catches your attention as you enter the tall stone gates onto the pazo grounds. The gardens are terraced from the river up to the house. Camellias line the fern and moss-draped stone walls, just a few of the 300 camellias and 200 cultivars here.

Some 16 historical trees, including the oldest holly tree in Galicia at 200 years old, are found throughout. From the primroses on the forest floor in late winter and spring’s early flowers to the hydrangeas in summer and the fall colors of autumn, the gardens here offer something to see year-round.

Route of the Camellia

Paza de Farmello stream / Beverly Hurley

There is a certain wildness here coupled with a gentleness that makes the pazo so memorable. Stop in the gift shop for camellia oil pressed and bottled in Galicia, along with wine made from local albariño grapes.

On par with the gardens, is the artwork including a unique altarpiece in the church by Joseph Gambino, depicting only the Virgin Mary and not Christ – a nod to the women who worked in the paper mill. Throughout the grounds are crosses to commemorate the Camino path found on the other side of the river.

As you travel farther away from Santiago, you will notice the tiny hamlets and stone houses that dot the hillsides here. It’s been said that half of the hamlets of Spain are here in Galicia, making for a very picturesque view across the land.

Pazo de Oca

Route of the Camellia

Exterior of Pazo de Oca / Galicia Tourism

The Pazo de Oca, southeast of the city, is unique with its 16th-century castle-looking fortress as the backdrop to the estate. The garden is notable for its grandeur, often called the “Galician Versailles” with different stages of botanical design from Renaissance to Baroque.

Route of the Camellia

Pazo de Oca garden / Galicia Tourism

Route of the Camellia

The lake at Pazo de Oca / Galicia Tourism

Pathways lead the visitor past an extensive network of neatly trimmed hedges and parterres of boxwood and camellias that create a wonderland of intricate design.

Planned as both an ornamental garden and a production one for food, there are orchards, labyrinths, a water system of stone channels, small garden rooms to enjoy, plenty of beautiful flowers, and even a series of small lakes with ornate balustrades and buildings.

All to give you a reason to pause and breathe in the beauty of this pazo. The current owners still visit here, so when the flags are up, they are in residence.

Pazo Santa Cruz de Ribadulla

Route of the Camellia

Pazo de Santa Cruz de Ribadulla / Galicia Tourism

Not far away is the Pazo Santa Cruz de Ribadulla, more of a wild place than a neatly trimmed garden on this stop on the Route of the Camellia. It’s more Galician the locals say, as the gardens meet the forest, gently pulling you into the beauty of the camellias found throughout.

Route of the Camellias

Camellias at Pazo de Santa Cruz de Ribadulla / Beverly Hurley

Route of the Camellia

The camellia allée at Pazo de Santa Cruz de Ribadulla / Galicia Tourism

Many old-growth camellias dot the land and are used to create hedges and mass plantings. Magnolias, olive trees, and other plants are found throughout, including an extensive parterre behind the house. The allée of camellias is a top site to see and reminds you of the grand allées at southern plantations in the U.S.

But it’s the section along the river that sets this pazo apart from the others. This is where wild nature and camellias converge to create a magical landscape with a forest of camellias that grows here.

Route of the Camellia

The stream at Pazo de Santa Cruz de Ribadulla / Beverly Hurley

As you drive farther from Santiago, though still an easy day trip, you can access more pazos. Along the way, the rolling hills are dotted with houses in small towns and hamlets, most with a stone fence and a private vineyard.

Pazo de Rubianes

The Pazo de Rubianes has 350-year-old magnolias that flank the gates of this property that date back to 1411. A parterre of boxwood hedges greets you at the front of the house.

Route of the Camellias

Pazo de Rubians entrance / Galicia Tourism

Historic camellias are found throughout the property, including a section of 18 camellias given by the Duke of Caminha from Portugal to the Lord of Rubianes in the early 19th century. Eucalyptus, chestnuts, Japanese cedars, and European and American oaks are just a few of the significant trees towering above. The cinnamon camphor from India was the first of this species in Spain.

Route of the Camellia

Camellias line the paths at Pazo de Rubians / Beverly Hurley

Route of the Camellia

White camellias on the right side of the pazo / Beverly Hurley

A 300-year-old magnolia grandiflora is near the house, along with a lovely white camellia (Alba plena) – the same flower worn by fashion icon Coco Chanel to symbolize elegance. It’s easy to wander on the grounds for hours so use the triangle-shaped signs to keep you on track; the green triangle path is a long walk and the pink is a short one.

The original 15th-century kitchen and stable have been converted into a gift shop and a winery tasting room showcasing the pazo’s three types of albariño white wines sold here. From the top of the hill, you can see across the land to the Atlantic Ocean, the original boundary of this massive pazo on the Route of the Camellia.

Pazo Quinteiro da Cruz

The Pazo Quinteiro da Cruz is a coming home story of sorts. It’s now run by the adult children of their parents who renovated the buildings and resurrected the gardens when they bought the historic property in the 1970s.

Route of the Camellia

Pazo de Quinteiro da Cruz / Galicia Tourism

Route of the Camellia

Pazo de Quinteiro da Cruz / Galicia Tourism

The parents cared for the collection of camellias here – some from the 1700s. They also planted hundreds of more varieties. Two are cultivars named for the parents. A long road lined by camellias leads to the pazo’s main buildings. The arbor has some of the oldest 17th-century camellias on the property. A 200-year-old Camellia japonica ‘Covina’ is a prized specimen considered a camellia of great importance. The collection of yellow camellias was brought from Vietnam by the father.

A few years ago, the daughter continued the camellia planting tradition by adding some 200 tea plants (Camellia sinensis) that she harvests from March into October. If the camellias aren’t in bloom when you visit, signs in front of the plant have a code so your cell phone can access an augmented reality program showing the flower in bloom.

Pazo La Saleta

While the Pazo La Saleta is only open for a few months of the year in spring, a visit showcases this plant collector garden designed by an English landscaper. Some 230 camellias are scattered across the property, with new ones that have hybridized on their own being discovered periodically.

Route of the Camellia

Some of the older camellias at Pazo La Saleta / Galicia Tourism

Route of the Camellia

A display of camellia flowers at Paza La Saleta / Beverly Hurley

The oldest arbutus in Galicia is here. A guided tour (booked far in advance) leads you from the house down the hillside into a forest of horticultural gems – Illicium, podocarpus, arbutus, Illex, deciduous magnolias – and pathways lined by camellias are just a few of the plants with world origins found here. The current owners are on a mission to collect seeds to preserve this heritage.

Castillo de Soutomaior

Castillo de Soutomaior is near the town of Vigo, the largest city in Galicia and home to the largest fishing center in Europe. On your way here, you will drive past forests of eucalyptus used to make paper at one time, and past platforms on the water to cultivate mussels, just one of the seafood delights enjoyed in Galicia.

Route of the Camellia

Castelo de Soutomaior / Galicia Tourism

Sited on top of the hill as castles usually are, Castillo de Soutomaior is a museum with surrounding grounds and a public park. The impressive trees and shrubs found here include 19th-century camellias – a white flowered one is one of the largest in Galicia by the span. These centenary camellias were added in the 18th to 19th century when the castle was a private residence.

Route of the Camellia

The castle park / Beverly Hurley

The property has many exotic trees – added by the landowner to show how well off he was even if not well-traveled. The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is one of the largest in Spain. Other interesting specimen trees include a fern tree, monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) from Chile, Chamaecyparis, Norfolk pine, cedar, and Abies, and a massive Pittosporum covered in white flowers in spring.

From this spot on the hill, you can gaze across the hillsides covered in terraced vineyards at this stop on the Route of the Camellia.

Route of the Camellia

Looking across the hillside from the castle / Beverly Hurley

Pazo de Pegullal

Continuing south, almost to Portugal – but still an easy day trip – is the Pazo de Pegullal. This former 16th-century monastery turned manor house has exquisite French-influenced gardens added in the 18th to 19th centuries. Impressive stone work creates terraces, balustrades, and stairways. fountains and water features punctuate the garden beds.

Route of the Camellia

Pazo de Pegullal / Galicia Tourism

Route of the Camellia

Camellias highlight the stone walls / Beverly Hurley

Rows and parterres of trimmed boxwood, and even some roses, create decorative patterns. and everywhere are camellias, rhododendrons, and other beautiful garden plantings. The walls and pergolas draped with wisteria in spring are Instagram-worthy stops. The adjacent 30-hectare vineyard is filled with albariño grapes used for the three labels of white wine bottled here. The Baroque-styled manor house with a double staircase in front is the summer residence of the owners.

Other stops on the Route of the Camellia worth visiting in Galicia, include the Pazo de Lourizan, the Pazo de Mariñan, and the Pazo de Quiñones León.

Route of the Camellia

The camellia expo / Beverly Hurley

Time your visit to Galicia in the spring, when the International Camellia Expo is held in a different Galician city each year. Thousands of camellias are on display and citizens and tourists from near and far turn out to admire this botanical symbol of the area.

Where to Stay

The Hotel Quinta da Auga is an oasis of tranquility and luxury in Santiago with a magnificent spa, a hydrotherapy pool, an outdoor pool, and gardens. This restored former paper mill turned into a 58-room boutique hotel offers charming rooms and suites each individually decorated and overlooking the gardens, patio, lawn, and the river.

Route of the Camellia

Hotel Quinta da Auga / Galicia Tourism

Route of the Camellia

Hotel Quinta da Auga room / Beverly Hurley

The hotel’s Filigrana Restaurant serves the most exquisite Galician food and local wine. The multi-course menu includes appetizers like raw tuna topped with avocado and entrees of fish and meat, plus delightful desserts, each paired with a wine selection. It will be a most memorable meal. You can also enjoy a lighter meal in the cafe bar or linger in the adjoining cozy den or on one of the hotel’s many patios in warmer weather.

Where to Eat

The food in Galicia is culturally rich in flavors and variety. Surrounded by the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean on two sides, seafood is a staple on the menu in Galicia. Shellfish of every type, cheese and wines from the region, canned fish and salted cod from the fishing fleets, padron peppers, and other spices are part of the gastronomic culture here.

A visit to the market in Santiago – Mercado de Abastos – is a showcase of this with four buildings filled with cases and counters of fresh and local food to purchase. Some of the restaurants will even cook the seafood you buy from a market vendor.

Route of the Camellia

The Santiago market / Beverly Hurley

The restaurant San Jaime in the old town of Santiago offers Galician tapas, seafood options including shellfish of all types and octopus served the traditional way, along with the local favorites like ham croquettes.

The restaurant Indómito in Santiago is one of the newer venues that attracts a foodie crowd. Its multi-course dinner menu pushes the edge of style and flavor – like beetroot salad with mackerel – while still keeping a classic sense to the dishes served. The open-concept kitchen – sit at the counter to see the action – creates a vibe that attracts people of all ages.

Route of the Camellia

A typical dish – Bacalao con berberechos / Galicia Tourism

Route of the Camellia

Galician style octopus / Galicia Tourism

The restaurant Veiramar in Arcade near Ponte Vedra is in a lovely setting overlooking the water and is known for its fresh seafood, along with other Galician specialties. The restaurant Ultramar near the historic plaza of Pontevedra has a bar-and-grill vibe with a modern spin on the food served. The restaurant Villa Verde in Vedra is housed in a historic building and serves a traditional Galician menu.

Remember, dining time is later in Spain with restaurants opening for lunch closer to 2pm and dinner starting at 8pm. Dining here with these rich traditions and amazing foods encourages you to slow down and savor the experience of eating.

For more information on Galicia, visit www.turismo.gal or www.spain.info.

Featured image – Pazo de Faramello / Galicia Tourism

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