Vigo and Pontevedra through the adaptation of “The Beach of the Drowned”

Two of the most endearing characters in Spanish literature in recent years are, without a doubt, Inspector Leo Caldas and his partner Rafael Estévez, who appeared on the scene in “Ojos de agua”, the first novel of what would later become a trilogy written by Domingo Villar. 

The writer from Vigo (sadly deceased in 2022) poured into these three novels, “Ojos de agua”, “The Beach of the Drowned” and “El último barco” all the Galician homesickness, all the love for his land and his countrymen and all the good literature one could hope for. 

Director Gerardo Herrero chose the second of Caldas and Estévez’s adventures to be made into a film in 2015. Produced by Tornasol Films and Foresta Films and with the collaboration of the Pontevedra Province Film Commission and the Vigo Film Office, there was no doubt that the only possible scenarios for filming the story were those reflected in the book.

Following in the footsteps of Leo Caldas in Nigrán

 “The beach of the drowned is in the municipality of Nigrán (Pontevedra) where it is known as A Madorra. This small corner, close to Vigo, offers a wonderful route through the landscapes of the novel and the film. The route includes five stops at key points: the port of Panxón, the beach of La Madorra, the Votive Temple of the Sea, Punta Lameda, on the Monteferro peninsula and the Monument to the Universal Navy. It is perfectly signposted and can be done in less than three hours.

Votive Temple of the Sea in Nigrán (Pontevedra) / Pontevedra Film Commission

This route allows us to discover, while we are at it, this beautiful area of the coast of Pontevedra. Here you will find petroglyphs and megalithic monuments, along with Roman and Visigothic remains, the ever-present medieval remains and the very noble palaces (in Galicia, pazos) with camellia gardens and views of the sea or the river. 

When it comes to choosing a place to enjoy a gastronomic feast (as well as following Caldas’ instructions, who knows his stuff), you can stop at any of the establishments near the port of Panxón, where freshly caught fish and seafood are washed down with the best wines from the Rías Baixas DO, and watch the sunset with a good glass of wine!

The beach of A Madorra, in Nigrán, is the real “beach of the drowned” / Pontevedra Film Commission

Vigo: much more than Christmas lights

The common thread of Villar’s novels is, however, Vigo. The city of Vigo, traditional and modern, vibrant and calm, reflects the evolution of Galician society in recent decades. For the reader, to walk with Leo Caldas through Vigo is to visit corners, streets and bars that smell of the sea and good wine, unhurriedly enjoying those small everyday pleasures that life gives us. 

This same atmosphere is reflected in Herrero’s film. In it, we follow a fantastic Carmelo Gómez from the radio station where he works to the legendary Taberna Eligio, where he takes refuge every night to reflect on the events of the day, passing through the police station where he works and the restaurant in the port where he goes to enjoy the pleasures of the local gastronomy. By the way, Vigo offers other literary routes that will surprise the screen tourist. Just a hint: Jules Verne passed through there…

Vigo is, first and foremost, a city that looks out to sea. In this case, to the Vigo estuary, one of those places with magical sunsets that can be seen from one of its beaches. Samil is the best known and is dotted with many terraces for this purpose. From them you can glimpse, in the distance, the Cíes Islands, a natural paradise of icy waters.

View of the Cíes Islands from Samil beach / Vigo Film Office

Montero Ríos is the boulevard that links the centre (casco vello, in Galician) with the yacht club, the ferry terminal, the fishing docks and the fish market. The streets García Barbón, Policarpio Sanz and Urzáiz are home to the modernist and eclectic Ensanche, full of theatres, palaces, mansions and shops. And close to the tapas and wine area, of course. The offer includes all possible variations of the rich Galician gastronomy. It is difficult, very difficult, to choose between empanada or octopus; Padrón peppers or xoubas; churrasco (steak) or lacón con grelos (pork shoulder with turnip tops). However, there is one particular delicacy you must try in Vigo: oysters. So much so that they even have their own street, made up of small stalls that sell them by the dozen, open by the minute. Here you’ll also find the well-known “mercado da pedra” (stone market), where sailors used to sell their exotic merchandise and nowadays they sell quality fakes. Or so they say. We, of course, have not checked it out. 

And to bring lunch down, nothing better than a stroll through the beautiful Castrelos Park, with its period gardens, the Pazo Quiñones de León and its views of the city. It’s also one of the best places in Vigo to go with children, thanks to its huge playground and its lake with ducks and swans.

And yes: in December you have to go to see the Christmas lights. The atmosphere is guaranteed to be amazing and the cinematic spectacle is unparalleled.

“The last ship”: the Vigo estuary in all its splendour

View of the Vigo estuary with the Rande bridge / Vigo Film Office

Although only the second instalment of the trilogy has been made into a film, it is highly recommended – whether you are a Villar reader or not – to visit the settings of his plots. A way to get to know the Vigo estuary as magical and special as its characters. Turismo Rías Baixas gives us the keys here. Reaching the Morrazo peninsula via the spectacular Rande Bridge is part of the Vigo experience. Unforgettable.

For its part, the council of Moaña proposes the route of “The last boat“. Sadly, Domingo Villar did not know that this would indeed be the last of his books. We are left with the hope, however, that his other two novels will be brought to the screen. We will keep our eyes open.

By María Parcero

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