Ferrol is a coastal town in the northwest of Spain, in the autonomous state of Galicia. And although Ferrol is as Spanish as my hometown Malaga, the usual Spanish stereotypes do not apply. In southern Andalusia, we have bulls, fiestas, flamingo, sherry and of course a lot of sunshine. The dominant colour in the south is blue of the azure sky and the Mediterranean Sea.
In the north, the Atlantic colours the landscape green. Cold, wind and rain set the tone here. The sky often turns grey. No wonder that only a few tourists find their way here. Indeed, if you are a sun worshipper than it is probably wise to choose a different holiday destination, but if you like good food, ancient traditions and unspoiled nature, then you are at the right place in Galicia.
This region has an extensive coastline, which forms a varied panorama with steep rock formations, freshwater lagoons, marshes, dune landscapes and picturesque harbour towns.
Northern holidaymakers looking for sunshine might be rare, pilgrims, on the other hand, are abundant. They are on their way to Santiago de Compostela, the capital city of Galicia. Its historic centre was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. The cathedral is the reputed burial place of St.James the apostle. En route you will see the sign of St. James, a scallop. The shell is cultivated along the Galician coast and is known as Vieira, a local delicacy.
2. The Enlightenment in Magdalena
An important starting point of the pilgrimage route starts in Ferrol Vello. Many Britons come ashore here to follow the 118 kilometre-long trail to Santiago starting at the medieval port of Curuxeiras.
From the harbour, following the promenade you enter Magdalena, a neighbourhood built in Neoclassical style, with modernist elements. The streets in Magdalena form a perfect rectangle of six roads that intersect nine times. The district ends on both sides in a square.
The district is a classic example of a new way of urban planning that came into vogue during the ‘Enlightenment’. The neoclassical style is rather unique in Spain. Although this type of architecture experienced a high point between 1770 and 1840 in Europe, relatively little of this building style can be found in Spain.
Ferrol became the most important city in Galicia in the 18th century, when King Ferdinand VI decided to establish here the largest arsenal in Northern Spain, making it one of the great naval ports in Europe. With the arrival of the arsenal, Magdalena was built to accommodate the influx of people.
3. Marine & Shipping
Although nowadays the town is of modest size, the navy still plays a significant role. The large grey ships keep watch, while the arsenal, the port, the shipyard museum, the naval museum and the captain’s palace (Palacio de Capitanía) bear witness to the glorious maritime past, just like the castle of San Felipe, a fifteen-minute drive from Ferrol.
4. The magic of San Felipe’s castle
This military fort built in the 18th century is strategically placed on the estuary of Ferrol. The castle is on the nomination to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. But until then, it is a magical place where one can wander around for hours and with a bit of bad luck never come out. The long dark corridors are full of holes, walls and stairs have been tested by time, towers waver above the water. Don’t let this hold you back from visiting the castle, as the ruinous state of the castle is part of the magic.
Admission to the castle is free for now.
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5. Discover the colours of Ferrol
Ferrol also has a very different, colourful side, where the grey does not get a chance to settle, namely Canido, a district built in a higher part of the city against the medieval walls. The local artist Eduardo Hermida started an artistic crusade in 2008 against the impoverishment of this neighbourhood. He found his inspiration in an artistic reinterpretation of the painting ‘Meninas’ by Velázquez, which he considered one of the forerunners of modern painting.
The colourful figures can now be found everywhere in the neighbourhood. Other local and international artists have followed his example and ‘the master himself ‘, Banksy, has allegedly visited the city. In the middle of the night, he painted two kissing soldiers of the Guardia Civil (military police) on one of the walls. The mural is a reflection of the two women on a wall behind it.
With the introduction of colour, a new era has begun for the neighbourhood. Over the last years, the murals have transformed Canino from a deprived district into one of the trendiest neighbourhoods of Ferrol.
Places of interest
Outside the districts of Magdalena and Canido, Ferrol has a number of other attractions, especially for shipping and marine aficionados:
- The Herrera gardens
- Arsenal: tours are with a guide, do carry your ID, as it is mandatory.
- The Museo de Construcción Navel, marine shipbuilding museum
- Palace of the Captain (Palacio de Capitanía)
- Ferrol Shipyard: Astillero Navantia
- Naval Museum
Eating, sleeping and going out
One of Galicia’s greatest assets is the exuberant amount of fish and seafood. Tuna, Bonito, octopus, scallops and prawns are delicious and fresh.
During our stay, we ate at the Parador, Hotel Carrís Almirante, Gran Hotel de Ferrol and La Bodega de Estrella. All eating and sleeping facilities mentioned below are in the centre.
Parador de Ferrol
The atmospheric Parador of Ferrol is part of the Paradores hotel chain managed by the Spanish state. This 3-star hotel is housed in a stately mansion on the outskirts of the Magdalena district, overlooking the department stores of the Navy.
Click here to check prices and availability.
Hotel Carrís Almirante
The four-star Carrís Almirante hotel is centrally located in the Magdalena district.
Click here for prices and reservations.
Gran Hotel de Ferrol
Gran Hotel de Ferrol is located just outside the centre, a 600-meter walk from the Magdalena district. The breakfast buffet is very extensive, the rooms are spacious. The interior is comfortable but slightly dated.
Click here for prices and bookings.
La Bodega de Estrella
La Bodega de Estrella is a restaurant that that looks more like a fast food chain, but the food is deliciously slow.
Address: Avenida Esteiro, 5-7, Ferrol
Café BlaBla is one of the many cafes in the city. The current Gran Café is housed in a modernist building from the year 1918. Here you can also enjoy good food.
Adres: Rúa Real 193, Ferrol
So you know, I travelled as a guest of the Ferrol tourist board to Galicia.
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