Galicia, a land of cinema and mystery

In recent years Galicia has become a leading film set as well as a powerful television studio. 

Prime-time series have reinvented some of the local scenery for filming. The local scenery also reigns supreme as tourist destinations, with more and more visitors coming to have their photos taken in places that have become iconic as the settings for major film and television productions. Let’s take a look at some of these places in Galicia. 


Ourense, comedy and suspense

Let’s start with one of the most recent developments: La manzana de oro, a film by Jaime Chávarri starring Marta Nieto, was released in cinemas in September 2023. With a hint of suspense, this comedy was shot entirely in the city and province of Ourense. The city already boasts a cinematographic tradition and is home to a prestigious Film Festival held in September, recently celebrating the 28th festival.

The screenplay of La Manzana de Oro is an adaptation of the novel by Fernando Aramburu (Patria) entitled Ávidas pretensiones. If there is a key location in the film, it is undoubtedly the Pazo de Bentraces. A pazo in Galicia is a large manor house. Bentraces is an original 15th century gem located just 7 km from Ourense. The manor house is the setting for many of the scenes where a group of eccentric poets meet, which is the central plot of the film The location is well worth a visit. 

The province of Ourense was also one of the settings for the series El desorden que dejas (Carlos Montero), one of Spain’s most successful productions since its premiere in 2020. Adapted from Carlos Montero’s novel of the same title, it has not only won over viewers with its plot that blends mystery and the costumbrismo of everyday life. It has also attracted viewers for its settings in the provinces of Lugo and A Coruña. 

Anyone who has seen the series may consider visiting Novariz, the village where a large part of the series takes place. But be careful. Don’t look for it on the map as it’s a fictitious name. If you want to pass through the streets where Raquel, the teacher who is being threatened played by Inma Cuesta, lives, you should actually head for Celanova, which is the real filming location. This small, yet charming town is located just 25 kilometres from the capital of Ourense. Be sure to stroll through its narrow streets flanked by noble houses. There’s one site you can’t miss: be sure to visit the Monastery of San Salvador, a spectacular 10th century building transformed for the series into a school.

Monastery of San Salvador de Celanova (Orense) / Sue Martin for Shutterstock

However, the landscapes are undoubtedly the most captivating part of the series, including the Bande thermal baths, located 50 kilometres from Ourense in the Xurés Natural Park and very close to the border with Portugal. I recommend stopping not only to enjoy the surroundings but also to take a dip, though beware of the temperature of the mineral-medicinal water, which reaches 46ºC. Access is free of charge. 

The thermal baths are one of the great attractions in the province of Ourense and one of the most important thermal sites in Europe. If you’re planning a trip to the area, don’t forget to pack your swimsuit in your suitcase.


As bestas and Unauthorized Living, two milestones in Pontevedra

We continue our route through Galicia towards the province of Pontevedra to visit one of the most iconic places in the film As bestas (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, 2022), the biggest winner at the 2023Goya Awards.

 But to find the locations of this rural thriller, you don’t have to go to Ourense. The film was shot in nearly uninhabited villages, located in Los Ancares (León), outside Galicia

It was also filmed in famous towns such as Sabucedo, located in the province of Pontevedra. The town is famous for being one of the places where the rapa das bestas is still celebrated. One of the most deeply rooted, ancestral and visual traditions in Galicia, and one that has become increasingly popular with tourists since it was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest.

The curro (enclosure) of Sabucedo, where part of a rapa das bestas (horse shearing) takes place / Pontevedra Province Film Commission

To see the manes of the wild horses being shorn, you must make a note in your travel diary in July, when this spectacle, so vividly depicted in the film, takes place. 


Unauthorized Living in Vigo

Next, we travel from the interior to the coast. Many scenes from Unauthorized Living (Aitor Gabilondo, 2018) take place in the port of Vigo. This is another highly rated series inspired by a story by Manuel Rivas, also from Galicia, starring José Coronado and Álex González

The beaches of the island of Arosa have been the site of a number of films / Agatha Selgas

A large part of the plot of Unauthorized Living also takes place in a historic manor house, A Toxeiriña, located in the town of Moraña, some 50 kilometres from Vigo in the direction of Santiago de Compostela. This emblematic house is the home of the powerful drug trafficker Nemo Bandeira, whose succession triggers a fight that is narrated in detail in the series. We recommend visiting this site after the Port of Vigo, which can be completed by heading to the nearby region of Salnés, Villagarcía and the island of Arosa, where you’ll surely recognise the beaches and spectacular aerial views of one of Galicia’s most beautiful estuaries.  


Santiago de Compostela: the capital of the Way and of series

Unauthorized Living was also filmed in Santiago de Compostela, certainly one of Galicia’s most cinematic cities, with more than a hundred films appearing on its CV. That number doesn’t even take into account series, documentaries, and other national and international productions.

The city of the Apostle James is a magnet for directors from all over the world both for its aesthetics and for its magic and popularity as the end point of the Camino de Santiago, a thousand-year-old pilgrimage route that also has a powerful cinematographic history. 

The most commonly filmed sites include the Plaza del Obradoiro, with its impressive cathedral and the annexed Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, where many films have been shot. Cary Grant was seen here in Pride and Passion (Stanley Kramer, 1957), while Martin Sheen was there in The Way (Emilio Estévez, 2010).

Terrace of the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos in the Plaza del Obradoiro / Santiago de Compostela Film Commission

If you decide to stay there, which is part of Spain’s Paradores chain of hotels created out of historic buildings, you should know that it is also the oldest hotel in the world. If you want to sleep like a movie star, ask for the royal suite, room 301, where it is said that Charlton Heston stayed during the filming of the mini-series Camino de Santiago, filmed in 1999. This fantastic production boasted a luxury cast including Anthony Quinn, Anne Archer, and Spaniards such as Imanol Arias, with a script by Arturo Pérez Reverte, and was directed by Robert Young.

The Parador is the perfect place to bid farewell to Galicia, a destination where cinema and history coexist, enchanting directors and travellers alike.

By Nani Arenas (Travel Inspirer)

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