Although Vigo, in the Southeastern corner of the province, is a far larger city, Pontevedra is beautifully picturesque and unsurpassed in the province for its historical and artistic importance. The Rias Bajas (Rias Baixas) coastal region has an abundance of natural beauty (mountains, green hills, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and seashores). The old city center is well preserved and contains numerous historic buildings and monuments. Pontevedra is proud of its cultural and natural heritage.
The city itself is built on a hill, with some streets sloping down toward the Lérez River. The majority of the town occupies the south bank of the river, although it has spread out in all directions in recent years.
Both Galician (Galego) and Spanish are commonly spoken, but signage is increasingly in the local language. Galego shares characteristics of Portuguese and French, as well as Spanish, and anyone conversant in the Romance languages shouldn't have a hard time understanding written Galician.
The climate is mild and rainy year round, with the humidity that one would expect of a coastal area receiving significant precipitation. While summer is the "high season" for tourists, pleasant weather occurs throughout the year.
Archeological evidence shows that the town existed as far back as Roman times. The city took its name from the nearby bridge, "Pontus Veteri" (Old Bridge). From the Middle Ages through the end of the 16th century, the city was one of the main ports and most populous cities in Galicia, though it afterwards declined first due to the disappearance the Castillian Crown, then later because of successive wars. During the 19th century the Spanish provinces were created and Pontevedra was designed as a provincial capital, bringing new institutions, industries, and population to the city.
Until the Spanish Civil War, Pontevedra was a social and cultural center, but after the war, as power was centralized in Madrid, industry migrated to Vigo because of the excellent port facilities. Pontevedra is currently undergoing a cultural renaissance, and its population is increasing due to the urbanization of the province.
Peinador Airport (Vigo) and Lavacolla Airport (Santiago de Compostela) are only about 30-40 minutes from Pontevedra via the Atlantico highway (AP-9). Flights from those cities connect to Madrid, as well as other cities in Spain and Europe (London, Paris, Geneva, and Frankfurt).
The city is ideally sized for walking, and nearly all of the items of historical/artistic interest are within easy walking distance of the city center, right in front of the Capilla de la Peregrina. Local buses are available and reasonably priced, and taxis are plentiful. Fares are typically small because distances are not large.
Car Rentals (unnecessary in the city, but may be useful to tour the countryside):
The old city, located at the top of modern Pontevedra, contains several worthwhile sites.
La Capilla de la Peregrina: This very ornate old chapel's bells chime the hours. According to tradition, the Virgin Peregrina guided pilgrims who disembarked in Baiona on their way to Compostela. It was built at the end of the 18th century and has a scallop shell base. It features two styles: Baroque and Neoclassical. In the center of the church, there is an impressive altarpiece with the image of the Virgen Peregrina. The font with holy water is an enormous shell brought from the Pacific Ocean.
La Basílica de Santa María la Mayor: There are some interesting sculptures on the facade around the portal.
La Iglesia de Santo Domingo: These medieval ruins date from the 1300s and form part of the Provincial Museum of Pontevedra.
Public Square: Where everyone goes to stroll in the evenings. When the weather is cold, nothing beats stopping at a street vendor for a still-hot packet of fresh roasted chestnuts.
La Alameda: This public park is beautiful at sundown, when you can see the sun setting over the sea. It contains a monument to the region's seafarers. There is a small zoo there.
The farmers' market by the river: stop and get some "queixo galego" (local cheese) and "pan galego" (traditional local bread).
Two picturesque bridges: The Ponte do Burgo and the Roman bridge of Pontesampaio. The latter is where French invaders were stopped in their efforts to conquer Galicia. Local legend says a woman noticed the French troops advancing, and, after sounding the alarm, faced them off wielding only a sickle until the Spanish army arrived to defeat the French.
Benedictine Monastery of San Salvador de Lérez - (Tel: 986-841-471): Located in the Parish of San Salvador de Lérez, it is commonly known as San Benitiño. It was built in the 10th century by the monks of the Order of Saint Benedict and restored in the 16th and 17th centuries. A neoclassic templum with a Baroque facade from the 17th century, one wing of the 16th century cloister is joined to the south wall. During the 16th century, the cloister was a school of philosophy and humanities. The most interesting part is the chapel of Saint Benedict, which dates from 1700, where one can see the image of Christ. There is a popular tradition of walking kneeling below the altar of Christ.
Museo Provincial de Pontevedra - Various Locations - Tel: 986-851-455 (closed Mondays)
This museum is considered to be one of the finest historical/archeological museums in Spain. It is composed of a set of buildings, among them two Baroque houses. Also included are the Gothic abses of the ruins of Santo Domingo Church and the Edificio Sarmiento, an old convent.
Illa das Esculturas (Island of Scuptures) - Located near where the River Lérez empties into the ocean - Tel: 986-846-611
This open air sculpture garden, the only one of its kind in Spain, showcases works by Francisco Leiro, Giovanni Anselmo, Fernando Casás, Dan Gram, and Ian Hamilton, among others. Spread over 70,000 square meters, the works of art are integrated into the landscape, which features native wild flora and fauna.
Festa da Romería de San Benitiño de Lérez: The date varies from year to year, but this summertime celebrattion takes place on the outskirts of Pontevedra. St Benedict is one of the most venerated saints in Galicia, and this devotion dates back to the late Middle Age. Lérez is a old Benedictine monastery, a sanctuary located on the Lerez riverbank where a small image of the saint is venerated.
Carnival: Since 1876, Pontevedra's citizens celebrate the reign and death of King Urco. Nowdays, Carnival takes places in the streets, and features street bands and fancy dresses (costumes).
Festa da Virxe do O: December 18th is the festival of this patron saint of the city.
Festa da Peregrina: On the weekend of the second Sunday in August, this festival starts with a floral tribute to the "Virxe da Peregrina" (Virgin of the Pilgrim), whose shrine stands in the center of the old town. It includes fireworks (weather permitting), bullfights, a marathon, a regatta, bands, and artistic displays. This also coincides with the Honey Festival (held in Verdura Square).
Autumn Festival: For one weekend in mid November, Plaza da Perdura is the venue for this cultural and commercial festival, bringing people to Pontevedra's historic centre to celebrate typical autumn produce like mushrooms, nuts, and legumes. Also on hand are several magostos (traditional chestnut festivals), folk games, and musical performances. Nearby restaurants offer typical autumn dishes to celebrate the festival.
Feira Franca (Medieval Fair): Held the first weekend in September, it celebrates the open market held in Pontevedra starting in 1467, a privilege granted by King Enrique IV, and originally lasted a month (15 days before the Festival of San Bartolomé and 15 days afterwards). This celebration commemorates Pontevedra's era of greatest influence and prosperity, from the middle of the fifteenth century through the end of the sixteenth century. Food, recreation, and history all abound, and include music, drama, and historic costumes.
Festa do Caldo Galego: On the second Sunday in March, this local dish is celebrated with its own festival. The stew is served in clay dishes, and the celebration includes a Caldo Galego contest. In an effort to preserve traditional recipes, including varieties which use squash, onions, rice, and chestnuts, each contestant much submit the list of ingredients. Entrants are divided into two categories: meat-based and vegetarian.
Festa dos Maios (Mayfest): On the first Sunday in May, this festival celebrates Galicia's Celtic roots. This includes a contest for the best "maio" (a conical construction covered with branches and flowers, around which a group of children dance in a ring and sing while beating sticks to mark time. The child with the best voice sings under the "maio."
Festa da Anguia: In late June, the Parrish of Pontesampaio hosts this celebration of various dishes prepared using eels.
Festa do Demo: In late August is the Festival of the Devil, celebrating the symbolic struggle of good against evil. The "devil" chases the children with his pitchfork, then they get to play traditional games in the town square.
Festa de Santiaguiño do Burgo: In late July, this festival ostensibly venerates the Apostle James, but includes food and sporting events in addition to its religious component. It includes the “Santiago Peregrino” marathon and fireworks. It is also held in conjunction with the traditional "Homage to Senior Citizens" celebration.
Festa de San Sebastián: Honoring another patrón saint of the city, this occurs on January 20th.
Find pulperías in the back streets and sample the octopus. It's delicious--and generally far cheaper than elsewhere in Spain. Pulpo a la Gallega is a wonderful dish of boiled octopus served on a bed of boiled potatoes, sprayed with olive oil, spicy paprika and sea salt. Like so much Spanish food it sounds ridiculously simple and is stunningly delicious
Galician gastronomy includes a wide variety of foods. Galician stew (caldo gallego) can be made with sausage (chorizo), ham, beef, or chicken, and contains chickpeas (garbanzos), potatoes, cabbage, and other leafy vegetables. "Lacón con grelos" is very common all over the region: pork cooked with turnip, potatoes and chorizo. Both are typical winter dishes. Although fabada, made from fabas (large white beans), smoked morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, and manteca (lard) is usually considered Asturian food, some excellent versions can also be found in Galicia.
Being so close to the sea, Galician cooking has plenty of seafood, including recipes for hake, turbot, sole, grouper and sea bass, squid, octopus, mussels, and velvet swimming crabs. And the list goes on: clams and oysters, spiny lobsters, European lobsters, triple-grooved shrimp, and scallops.
“Empanadas” are also popular: a flaky pastry stuffed with any of a variety of fillings, including ham, chicken, chorizo, potatoes and other vegetables, cheese, and olives.
Some typical desserts are: Santiago Tart (almond-based) and “filloas”, thin pancakes made from wheat. One of the best ways to end a walking tour is to stop in a pastelería and pick up a treat or two.
Hotel Madrid, Calle de Andrés Mellado, 5 - Tel: 986-865-180 - Very reasonably priced, comfortable, and central.
Hotel Residencial Mexico - Andrés Murvais, 10 - Tel: 986-845-939 - Reasonably priced and near the old town.
Parador Nacional Casa del Barón - Barón, 19 - Tel: 986-855-800 - Right in the historic district and part of the national system of Paradors, this is a restored baronial palace. Although it certainly falls in the "splurge" category (we only stayed there one night), it was a delightful experience (period furniture, wooden floors, etc.) that my children and I will never forget.
Hotel Galicia Palace - Avenida de Vigo, 3 - Tel: 986-864-411
Hotel Rias Bajas - Daniel de la Sota, 7 - Tel: 986-855-100
Pontevedra is generally a very safe city. However, as with nearly everywhere in Europe, be aware of pickpockets, who may work in groups to jostle or bump you while a confederate lifts your wallet. Carrying a photocopy of your passport and only the amount of money necessary for the day's purchases is always sound advice.
This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!