Ourense in Galicia is the home of glorious hot springs, once beloved by the Romans, and a dynamic natural landscape of steep hills, rushing rivers and dramatic canyons.
The presence of the hot springs, known as the Burgas, attracted the Romans to Ourense who also saw how easy the river Miño could be crossed here and built up a fortified settlement to protect it's trade routes. Following the demise of the Roman Empire, the Suevis took control but the city was destroyed by the Moors in the 8th century. Rebuilt by Alfonso III of Asturias, Ourense was attacked yet again, this time by Arab invaders before it was reestablished in the 11th century by Sancho II.
Sitting in a valley on both sides of the Miño river, Ourense showcases architecture from all periods of its history with some Roman elements left at As Burgas and the Ponte Vella, the old bridge; a medieval area with a 19th century expansion and the modern and contemporary architecture of today.
Magnificent canyons can be seen nearby along the Miño and adjoining river Sil. Don't miss a visit to As Burgas where the thermal waters run from the hot springs at 67°C and spout from fountains dedicated to the water nymphs. The city's Romanesque cathedral is the second oldest in Galicia and has some wonderful Gothic flourishes whilst the former episcopal palace is now a wonderful Provincial Archaeological Museum.
Explore the old and new of Ourense at the city's bridges with the Ponte Vella, first built by the Romans, and the Ponte de Milenio, a cable bridge built in 2001 with sloped 'flaps' of footpaths rising at a 67% gradient and affording spectacular views from it's viewing platforms. Walk the 100 steps to the top that stands 20m high for a panoramic view.
Get out into the stunning countryside with lots of hiking trails as well as routes for cycling and horseriding. There are several nature reserves around the city including the Área de Allariz Biosphere Reserve around the river Mino. Just outside of town lie the Termas de Chavasqueira, a set of thermal baths where you can spend the day bathing in the hot springs and enjoying the countryside.
Ourense has many traditional festivals throughout the year, often populated throughout with peliqueiros, people wearing wooden masks that are funny or frightening and whose job is to make as much noise as possible. The most popular festivals are Xinzo de Lima, Viana de Bolo when Androlla, a traditional sausage, is served and the fiestas of Laza and Erin.
Ourense has many shops, especially on the streets of Paseo and Santo Domingo where you'll find international names, fine brands and fashion houses. Whilst wandering in the older areas of the city, why not buy some traditional products and crafts? Galician cuisine has much to offfer and octopus is a local speciality of the area, particularly the dish polbo a feria, made from boiled octopus.
Other great local dishes include empanadas gallegas, Galician turnovers filled with meat or fish, red and green peppers and onion, and lecon con grelos, pork with turnip tops. Try some of the dense buttery cake, bica mantecada, or filloas a la crema, pancakes made with cream, for dessert and enjoy your meal with a Ribeiro wine.
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