A survey of the 15 largest cities in Spain puts the Galician city of Vigo top of the list for quality of life. From mobility and public safety to health, education, pollution, the cost of living, cleanliness and housing, Vigo trumps them all. Resident Denis Carballás Riveiro tells us why…
Denis Carballás Riveiro
“We’re actually in that Bay of Vigo, and all that’s left is for you to probe the mysteries of the place” – Captain Nemo – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne (1870)
I’m from Vigo. You may not have heard the name of this town as many times as Viggo Mortensen. It’s understandable. Vigo’s a medium-size city on the north west coast of Spain. Until the ‘80s, the city didn’t appear on most of the maps, but its streets had already seen the faces of film stars, international spies and, even, Jules Verne. Nowadays, it is known around the country because of its Christmas lights, something that never ceases to amaze me as Santa Claus wasn’t born here (as far as I know). The city receives hundreds of thousands of tourists who come to see the lights during December. I have to admit it: somehow they’re beautiful.
Any time someone asks me what I like most about Vigo, I don’t know very well what to answer. I think about my personal tastes: music, eating, nature… This city offers a little bit of it all. A city with sea and mountains. Yes, I think this is a good start to talk about everything I like about Vigo. But before that, I’m going to ask you to imagine a sunny day with good temperature and a quiet urban environment. In this description of the city, there ain’t no rush hours or much traffic, even though cars have a terrible obsession of sounding the horn.
One of the things I value the most of Vigo is being by the sea. This is something good during summer and winter. I can stroll next to the water with an umbrella in hand under the rain or drive my bike on some warm days. I follow the river down to the beach, 15 minutes away, just to have a refreshing swim (water tends to be cold) and lay down on my towel to read a couple of chapters from some book. The sea’s always in my daily plans during the hottest days from June until September. Some of my favourites are Fonte Beach, Canido Beach and Olmos Beach – small and quiet, even though sometimes they’re packed.
I also recommend visiting the Cies Islands and spending a day between its walkways and beaches. If you eat a sandwich, I recommend caution: seagulls are crazy there. I could tell you some funny stories.
During the summer, on the longest days, you can enjoy the sun until 22:45h. There’s even a celebration around the summer’s solstice. People do bonfires at the beach and gather around them with friends or family to welcome the new hot season.
But if the big blue is not your thing, you have some mountains, too. From viewpoints to natural paths like the ones of Mount Cepudo or Mount Galiñeiro. There you can see the whole city. If you fancy something more urban, Vigo has been built around the hill of O Castro, where you can visit the old fortified walls that served to defend us from the enemy.
Time to eat! If there is something people from Vigo can boast about, it is the good eating. You can have the typical dishes of the region at very low prices in some places. One of my favourites is Bouzas. A little fisherman’s quarter packed with tapas bars. It’s an excellent site to try squid, octopus, zorza (meat with spices), Spanish omelette…Everything well-served with some good white wine: albariño if possible. You can also do this at the old quarter, right in the city centre, where even Stephen Hawkings tried some delicious oysters.
When you ask someone about local music, it’s certain that he’ll tell you that the city lived its best moments back in the ‘80s. That scene was known as La Movida and it turned the city into the second cultural capital of Spain, right after Madrid. When the ‘90s appeared, the attention got reduced.
Despite this, the city’s kept alive in terms of music. There are lots of local bands. There’s a wide offer of high quality gigs of various musical genres. There’s also a relevant jazz jam session. Normally, these events don’t receive that many people, but I can assure you that the quality of music is great. This city breathes music and there’s a huge underground culture with small art galleries and independent record stores.
On the other hand, if you come to the city during the summer, you must go to the concerts at Castrelos Park. An outdoor auditorium just in the heart of the big park of the city. Arctic Monkeys, Leonard Cohen, Metallica, The Offspring, Tom Jones (believe me, one of the best concerts of my life), The Pretenders, Oasis, Mika… are some of the artists who have performed there. And, even though there are some tickets on sale, you can watch them for free! Imagine the delight of being able to live any of these shows during the warmth of a summer night surrounded by nature and trees. A luxury! You can make the most of your visit to the park by visiting its castle and gardens: beautiful and peaceful places in the middle of the city craze.
I love my city. It’s not a big capital nor even a small village with a low population. It has the perfect size. I end this day doing one of my favourite plans: having nachos with guacamole sitting on the rocks while watching the sunset. It looks gorgeous today. Right at this moment of the year, spring feels like summer. Maybe this is the mystery Captain Nemo talked about…