Las Rías Baixas, also known as ‘Tropical Galicia’, is a coastal area in the south of Galicia. I’m convinced many people first association with this area is wine. The area is the best known area of the four official wine regions in Galicia. The wine region Rías Baixas is named after the region it belongs to en that we talk about on this page.
Translated Rías Baixas means ‘lower sea estuaries’. This region contains the most southern rias of Galicia which are characterized by their vastness. The rías of the Rías Baixas go deeper into the country then the estuaries of the northern part of Galicia, the Rías Altas, and they are also more quiet. Where the Rías Altas are famous because of their savagery, the Rías Baixas are more quiet thanks to some inlands who are positioned like gatekeepers and slow down the Atlantic Ocean.
What is a Ría and what means the name Rías Baixas?
A ría is an estuary, or sea loch. It’s best to compare this with a fjord, but the difference is a ría is not surrounded by steep glaciers. The rías of Galicia are long coves of see coming inlands. With help of the rías Galicia has such a long coastline of more than 2.000 kilometres long. The rías are like the sea, the water is salted and have tides.
Las Rías Baixas consist of the 4 most southern rías of Galicia, in other words the lower estuaries. And low in Galician is Baixo/Baixa. Because ría is a feminine word, people say baixas, with an a. In masculine words the letter o is used, for example in the Galician word for the Netherlands, also known as “the low lands”. The translation of the Netherlands in Galego is therefore: “os países baixos”.
The 6 Rías of the Rías Baixas
The region of las Rías Baixas contains a total of 6 rías. From north to south:
Ría de Corcubión
The most Northern ría and less know than the four biggest rías that will follow. This Ría is named after the village Corcubión, the most inland place on this ría. Best known place however is not Corcubión, but Fisterra, located at the other side of the ría, where the land ends and the oceans starts.
Ría de Muros e Noia
This ría stretches from the town of Muros at the ocean’s coast to the medieval town of Noia more inland. The Ría de Muros e Noia is the only ría of the Rías Baixas without islands before the ría. And it’s also the only ría that is named after two cities, in stead of the name of just one distinctive place.
Ría de Arousa
The biggest ría of the Rías Baixas. This ría is well known for it’s fishing. The ría is full of mussel beds. Wherever you are in Arousa area, you will always see the characteristic flat and rectangular beds in the ría. The mussels grow at the bottom of these beds.
The ría is also a popular turistic destination and has many beaches and leisure hotels. In particular the peninsula of O Grove and Sanxenxo is very turistic. Don’t let is scares you, it’s a very nice place to visit! What is also worth a visit is the island of Arousa, that can be reached via a small bridge, and will offer you beautiful views. Well, almost everywhere around the Ría de Arouse you will have very pleasant views.
Ria de Pontevedra
Named after the city of Pontevedra, where this ría ends. You can find tourism at this ría as well, but mainly at the beginning of the Ría. Especially around the village of Sanxenxo that borders the Ría de Arouse.
One of the main attractions of this ría are the Islands of Ons. They are located in front of the ría, protecting the ría and inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The islands of Ons are a protected area that can be visited with a boat trip from Sanxenxo.
Ria de Aldán
This small ría is often forgotten when naming the Rías Baixas. It’s by far the smalles ría and a quiet spot, located between the rías of the big cities Vigo and Pontevedra.
Ria de Vigo
The most southern ría of Galicia. The southern side of this ría consist almost entirely of the industrial city Vigo and her suburbs.
In front of the ría you will find the islands of Cíes. On sunny days those islands look like tropical islands with their beautiful, white beaches. Besides their beauty the islands have also an important function for the region. They protect the inland. Thanks to the islands of Cíes the Ría de Vigo has quiet waters and that helped Vigo in establishing itself as the biggest fishing harbour in Europe.
What I personally like about this ría are the views. Especially the view you have coming from the north and travelling to Vigo. Where the highway A9 crosses the ría you get your first, impressive impression of the city of Vigo.
Tourism and fishing
Besides wine the biggest industries in the Rías Baixas are tourism and fishing. Traditionally the Galician coast is off course a fishing area. Plenty of fish was and is still being caught in the rías and also in the Atlantic Ocean. Fishing is still an active occupation, but it’s less activated in the rías themselves. Fishermen have to go further into the ocean. They sail into the ocean from Vigo and Pontevedra.
Fishing in the rías has changed. Nowadays plenty of shellfish is growing in the rías. It’s impossible not to see the mussel beds. As a tourist you can make many excursions in the rías along the fisheries.
Tourism is another very important activity in the Rías Baixas. Thanks to the rías the area has a very stretched coast line and also a lot of beaches. Many Spanish people visit the Rías Baixas in summer for the beaches and to catch some air. Some of the most popular destinations you will find at the Ría de Arouse, like O’Grove and the peninsula of La Toxa, Sanxenxo and Cambados. At this ría you also find the beautiful Island of Ons. Definitely worth a visit!
My suggestion when visiting the Rías Baixas: if you have a car available I would suggest you to take a trip around the rías. At your trip you will find many beautiful views and a lot of variation. You will see white beaches, wineries, fishing and tradition. Visit a bodega and pause at one of the lovely villages.
Drug transports in Galicia
I have to mention this in the article. It’s part of the (history of) Rías Baixas. Besides turism and fishery the Rías Baixas have another sector that brings in money, however it’s something to be pride off. From the 80’s Rías Baixas is considered als the main entry for drugs from South America to Europe. Especially at the Ria de Arouse there where many big drug lords at the end of the last century.
Main activity of the drug lords was just the traffic. They were no producer or dealer off the drugs, but just took care of the transport from the ocean to the land. Due to the closed culture of Galicia and the enormous coastline the drugs traffic was very successful in this area.
The coastal line is so enormous that police cannot control it entirely. And the closed culture also helps. Galician people are considered as closed and do not talk a lot about each other. For you as a tourist this has a positive effect, when visiting the rías baixas you will not sense anything of this dirty business.
Do you want to know more about this dark history? Netflix has created a spectaculair series about it, with one of the capo’s as a main character. The series is called Fariña, or Cocaine Coast in English.
This serie is based on a book that’s also worth reading: Nacho Carretero – Fariña
Rías Baixas Wine
Last but not least, the excellent wines from Las Rías Baixas. I’m fond of them! When talking about wine from the Rías Baixas we often think about just one variety: Albariño. About 90% of the wines from the region are made from this grape.
Albariño wine is a very characteristic white wine and is an excellent combination with seafood, from Galicia of course. It’s a classical advice when looking for a wine to combine with your food: drink wine from the region where the food comes from.
How to describe the taste of the Albariño wine from las Rías Baixas? It’s a dry and fresh wine, but has also a bit sour, what makes it even more fresh. Difficult to describe, my best advice is to try it for yourself. If possible in combination with some lovely seafood.
Conclusion: las Rías Baixas are a must see in Galicia!
I recommend every visitor in Galicia to visit las Rías Baixas. As mentioned, a car tour can bring you everywhere. It’s even possible to catch some highlights in just one day. For example if you travel from Vigo to Sanxenxo and continuing to the Ria de Arousa and ending your trip in Fisterra. You will pass a hilly landscape, that will present you some excellent views. Have a break when you see a lovely restaurant, beautiful beach or just an impressive via to one of the rías, the ocean or the beautiful landscap. Boa viaxe!
Tips in las Rías Baixas
In the conclusion above I already gave you some tips when visiting Las Rías Baixas. To some up some extra highlights.
Ria de Arousa:
- A illa de Arousa (the island of Arousa). Reachable via a small bridge. An easy place in the toeristic environment of this part of the Ria.
- Boat trip. Take a closer look at the mussel farms. Especially the underwater view is impressive. Sip a glass of Albariño at the deck and enjoy the sun shining and the views of the ría.
- The villages of Sanxenxo, O Grove & La Toja and Cambados (with their beautiful beaches)
Ria de Vigo
- Cíes island; the tropical Galicia. When the sun is shining these island with their beautiful white beaches have a tropical feeling.
- A Guarda; almost Portugal. As many coastal villages in Galicia A Guarda is beautifully located. Worth a visit: Castro de Santa Trega. a Galician fort and archaeological site.
- Island of St. Simon. Four small island in the Ria de Vigo. The islands have a large history. A religious destination in the medieval era, a prison during the Franco regime. Nowadays the islands are quiet. Enjoy the peace and the beautiful views of the city Vigo.