I first came to Santiago de Compostela 11 years ago, to take part in an exchange year at the prestigious University of Santiago de Compostela.
Before starting to plan my year abroad, I had never heard of this little corner of Spain called Galicia. My knowledge of Spain was limited only to Andalucía and Madrid – I thought everyone liked dancing Flamenco and watching bull fighting at the weekend, after having a siesta that lasted 2 hours!
When I arrived in Santiago, I found it to be completely different, in many wonderful ways. Galicia (the region of which Santiago is the capital) has a fascinating Celtic culture, meaning that you are much more likely to hear Irish folk music on the streets than flamenco. There is no bull fighting here; instead, every village and town has multiple festivals centered around one of my favourite things – food! The region is famous for food and is considered to have the best seafood in all of Spain. When you order a drink in a cafe or bar they also always bring you a little plate of free tapas – something that I still love years later!
The countryside in Galicia is green and lush, and at the weekend there are countless outdoor activities to take part in such as cycling, trekking and horse riding. Possibly the best thing is the beaches, which are amazing. Galicia has more coastline than any other area in Spain. One of the beaches, The Islas Cies (featured in the photo above), was even recently voted to be the best beach in the WORLD!
Santiago is also an excellent place to learn Spanish. When I arrived in July, I took part in an International Spanish summer camp to develop my language skills before starting the academic year. As Santiago is not as overcrowded with British tourists as other parts of Spain, it is much easier to practice Spanish with the locals, who are very patient and helpful when you are trying to learn.
I went on to have what was definitely the best year of my life in Santiago. I liked it so much that, over a decade later, I decided to escape the stress and noise of London and return to Galicia to live. I haven’t looked back once.
Sinead Smith is a current staff member of Chester College International School. She first came to Santiago to study Spanish as part of a study abroad year in 2007. In 2018 she returned to make Galicia her home again.