That is what the Romans called the Atlantic Islands as they sailed the Mare Tenebrosum, the Sea of Shadows, an allegorical term with which they dubbed the Atlantic Ocean. They were not misguided. Between the mists and the silvery vastness of an inhospitable sea, they felt the magic that enveloped these islands bewitched by nature. From their radiant setting, the turquoise of the crystalline waters and the serenity of the fine, golden sand beaches bewitch every visitor. The Atlantic Islands are the earthly paradise of the Galician coast.
At its arrival, the ship bursts into the port of Ons like a flash. A new day begins on the Atlantic Islands, one of the most beautiful spots on the Galician coast. After reaching the shore, the visitor is greeted by the peaceful image of the island. The cliffs, gruff due to the oceanic wrath, draw a docile profile, bathed by the emerald blue waters gently caressing the radiant sands of the beach.
Without exaggeration, the landscape of these islands may be the closest thing to paradise. The impetuousness of a climate, of moving gentleness in summer, increases, if possible, its unique nature. The area seems to carry the blessing of the gods as if the islands were the natural embodiment of the daughters of Venus, Roman goddess of beauty, emerged fully formed from the sea foam.
The archipelagos of Cíes, Ons, Sálvora, Cortegada and the splendid marine world that surrounds them, make up the Maritime-Terrestrial National Park of the Galician Atlantic Islands. A natural treasure tenderly carved by the waters that have enriched these soils with a vibrant yet delicate and vulnerable ecosystem.
Its privileged location, in front of the Rías Baixas, has produced a landscape of dunes and steep cliffs conquered by shrubs of gorse and heather.
The pirate Francis Drake
The gradual irruption of tourism and the fragility of the marine world make it necessary to protect the islands. At the same time, it is not only the waters surrounding them are included in the National Park but also the oceanic beds, that at some points reach depths close to 70 meters.
The Atlantic Islands have been a refuge for monastic orders that took advantage of the proximity to the coast to establish their settlements. At the end of the Middle Ages, a time of conflicts for the Spanish crown, the island played a crucial role in becoming a haven for foreign ships. Turkish, Tunisian and English fleets arrived in these coasts not always as friends but respecting the islanders who populated the harsh landscape. It is said, however, that the pirate Francis Drake broke this “peaceful” coexistence. He ravaged the Vigo estuary and devastated the Cíes. From that time of pirates and privateers, arise many legends about sunken galleons and bountiful treasures that are still told today.
Between crags and cliffs
Ons is home to a native population, whose houses impregnate the island with rural charm, cultivated orchards and traditional fishing gear, the only type permitted inside the Park.
Impressive is the commotion of the sea birds that crowd between cliffs and crags. The scarce human presence, the availability of good breeding grounds, and the extraordinary abundance of marine resources make the Atlantic Islands an ideal home. The Cíes and Ons islands are classified as SPA zones (Special Protection Areas for Birds).
Dusk on the Atlantic Islands is a feast for the eyes. To the south of the Rías Baixas, protected by a beautiful bay, the Parador de Baiona is an excellent vantage point to enjoy the sunset over the Cíes, which offers the most beautiful panoramic views of the Galician coast.
The north’s most touristic estuary
Pontevedra is also an excellent starting point to get to know the Cíes. Only a few kilometers away sail the ships from Sanxenxo or Portonovo. The Parador de Pontevedra is a spectacular 16th century Renaissance palace.
Its interior maintains a carved stone staircase that leads to cozy rooms, in which classic and stately decoration coexists with good taste and comfort. The excellent wines and the seaside gastronomy are signs of its Galician identity.
Scuba diving in paradise
The clear waters and the richness of their depths make this environment a diving paradise, both in scuba diving and leaded apnea. An authorization is required and can be obtained on the Park’s website, at the offices on the islands and at the Vigo visitor center.
Sailing the islands
You can find information about the annually authorized shipping companies on the National Park website (www.parquenacionalillasatlanticas.com), in the offices or in the Visitors’ Centre of the National Park in Vigo.
Eden at the table
If any adjectives describe Galician cuisine, then it is exuberance. Seafood, fish, vegetables and the incredible softness of its cheeses form a still life of infinite details.
You can enjoy the outstanding traditional gastronomy both in the Parador de Baiona, which has the Torre del Príncipe restaurant and the Enxebre A Pinta and in the Parador de Pontevedra, with the Enxebre “Casa do Barón.”
The octopus á Feira, the empanada del obrador, the zamburiñas á grella, the excellent meats or the baked scallops are a sample of the fertility of a dinner you can’t miss.