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In Spain's northwest corner, cool and ancient Galicia.

Jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, the region of Galicia has the rainiest summers on the Iberian Peninsula, and the Galicians are cousins to the fair-skinned Bretons, Welsh, and Scots.

The cathedral town of Santiago de Compostela is the draw for most visitors here. For nine centuries, pilgrims have journeyed to this remote corner of Europe to visit the cathedral founded in 1075 and believed to contain the remains of James the Apostle.

The monunmental granite city--with its medieval plazas, palaces, churches, and hospices--is one of Europe's most historic sites. But having come this far, you should also allow some time to visit Galicia's beaches and green countryside.

You'll need a number of meals to begin to sample the variety of fish and shellfish the region offers--octopus, prawns, scallops, oysters, mussels, lobster, crabs, sardines, trout, and salmon. Dry local white wines have the refreshing tang needed to accompany fish. Albarino is probably the best known of these wines; all are inexpensive. Though today's Santiago is a city of about 100,000, its historic center has been barricaded against motor traffic. Late on a rainy night, the hush is broken only by bells and the sound of water from gargoyle spouts splattering on the cobblestones. Even if your itinerary is crowded, you could profitably spend a couple of days here.

Consider a splurge at the Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos (about $90 for a double room), built by Ferdinand and Isabella in the 15th century to house visiting pilgrims. It shares one side of the Plaza del Obradoiro with the cathedral. The hotel's restored chapel is used for musical performances; if you leave your door ajar, the music may drift up into your bedroom. Jaunts from your base in Santiago

Two of them are easy outings. A third is a full day's loop trip to the beach; another is overnight to a fancy island hotel. If you want to rent a car, you'll find international and local agencies in Santiago.

A romantic old palace. Just 16 miles away is the Pazo (manor house) de Oca. Walk beneath the 17th-century residence to an overgrown garden and out onto stone terraces softened by age and moss. Water courses down to a pond with water lilies and a stone island that carries carved figures and appears to be floating atop the water. The palace looks ancient, romantic, and melancholy.

Oca is just off Highway N525, an easy-to-drive route past tidy gardens and stone houses. Once in Oca, look for a paved turnoff to the right. It's about 3/4 mile to the palace. About halfway there, take the upper fork in the road.

Solar architecture in La Coruna. An hour northeast of Santiago is Galicia's largest city, La Cornuna (population 250,000). The Armada paused here on its way to confront Elizabethan England. Head for the Darsena de la Marina (inner harbor). The dazzling white building along Avenida de la Marina, with their solanas (glass-paned balconies), face south to the harbor. These have their own energy-efficient architectural logic: In winter, their greenhouse-like panels of glass admit the sun, warming all the rooms behind. In hot weather, the windows open to scoop in cooling breezes.

Walk out around the fishing vessels and onto the quay for sweeping views of the many-windowed facades glinting in the light. Farther east is a greener, hillier, and less-touristed miniature of Santiago's old quarter.

From Santiago, it's 45 miles on Autopista (tool road) A9 to La Coruna. You drive all the way through town to reach the inner harbor, where you'll also find a tourist office that can supply you with city maps and information.

Joining Spaniards at the beach. At least once in their lives, Spaniards feel that they should pay homage to Santiago, the nation's patron saint. But if they return to Galicia, it's for the beaches.

Galicia's coast divides into the north-facing Rias (estuaries) Altas and the more deeply indented west-facing Rias Bajas.

To sample the Rias Bajas for a day, take C543 from Santiago to Noya. Either proceed toward Muros--past pines, sand beaches, and views reminiscent of the countryside around Santa Barbara--or take the loop drive on C550 through Ribeira.

Road signs can be confusing. They are often in Gallego (Galician), while your map is in Spanish. The local dialect turns j's into x's, reflecting the proximity of Portugal and its more guttural sounds.

About halfway around the peninsula, look for the sign to Corrubedo. About 4 miles after the turnoff but inside the Corrubedo town limits, turn left past a settlement of newer houses to a bay with small boats bobbing inside the stone breakwater. The beach is divided by a stone ramp. To the right, wooden fishing boats are scattered across the beach. To the left is sandy shore without the crowds common to the more accessible beaches.

The road returns along the Ria de Arosa past austere granite houses shaded by eyebrows of cantilevered grapevines. The gardens grow corn, beans, potatoes, and turnips (their leaves are the basis for the soup caldo gallego). Stone granaries stand on legs high above the damp ground. Each town has a stone cross adorned with a relief of a Biblical scene. In fishing villages, women

under floppy-brimmed hats mend nets. The beaches on this side of the peninsula tend to be less windy.

The return to Santiago through Padron completes a round trip of about 100 miles. But on the narrow, twisting roads, the drive could take you nearly 4 hours.

Overnight on an island. This trip would probably include a night or more away from Santiago. The road to the resort island of La Toja passes through Padron. Then go by either the faster N550 through Pontevedra or by C550 along the southern shores of Ria de Arosa. It's about 60 miles by either route.

There are several hotels on the island, but the most luxurious is the Gran Hotel de La Toja (about $135 for a double, including two meals). This gleaming white pile--with a seafood buffet lunch by the pool, a spa, decorous Spanish guests, and a properly stuffy staff--is a fine place to rest or to launch into boardsailing, sailing, tennis, or golf. Get an early start; summer afternoons can be quite windy. Nearby, on the La Toja--Canelas Road, is the large, sand-duned Lanzada Beach.
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Date:Mar 1, 1985
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