City break: La Coruña, Spain

CIMG0002 copyFancy a weekend break in a city surrounded by water, with long sandy beaches on one side a bustling port on the other and packed with bars and restaurants in between?

If so, A Coruña, the second city of Galicia on Spain’s northwest coast, could be the answer – it provides a very different experience to the Spain of the south, has excellent transport links with the rest of the country and is only an hour’s flight from London Heathrow.

Visitors to this part of the world often forgo the attractions of A Coruña (also known as La Coruña, and Corunna in English) in favour of the better known Santiago de Compostela – site of the cathedral where the interred remains of St James are a place of pilgrimage for Catholics (although many non-Catholics, agnostics and atheists now go on the pilgrimage). However, while Santiago is undoubtedly a fascinating place, A Coruña has much to offer and with its excellent travel links (the airport is only a 20-minute drive from the centre of the city), turbulent history and many bars and restaurants makes for the perfect weekend break for visitors from other parts of Europe.

There are a few negatives – it’s a bit concretey in parts, the weather can be changeable and parking is horrendous – but the good stuff more than outweighs these quibbles. For a start, everything is so accessible, once in the centre of town it’s only a ten minute walk from the port through the city centre out to the wonderful long beaches of Riazor and Orzán. The town itself has plenty to interest the traveller with much of the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) still intact. Here you’ll find the Old Fortress, which has now been redeveloped into the Garden of San Carlos where Sir John Moore – a hero of the the Peninsular War who died defending the city at the Battle of Corunna – is buried. You’ll also find the beautiful main square of María Pita, named after a heroine of the city who in 1589 defended the town against an English Armada led by Sir Francis Drake. Plaza de Maria Pita houses the City Hall and is a wonderful open space lined with restaurants and bars.

A Coruña’s most famous landmark has to be the lighthouse of the Torre de Hércules (Tower of Hercules). Set upon an isthmus jutting out to sea, the Torre has guided ships through the treacherous waters of the Costa da Morte (the coast of death) since Roman times. This World Heritage Site remains an operational lighthouse (the oldest is existence), as well as being the cultural highlight of a weekend.

The bus network is comprehensive and easy to use, but visitors can also make use of a tram that operates during the summer months, the route takes you along the coast. Alternatively, you can walk the Paseo Maritimo (maritime walk), this broad path is over 9km long and is well worth taking the time out to visit. Not only is it a pleasant walk but you get a real sense of the scale and history of the city.

On the port side of town you’ll be able to see the galerías – glazed window balconies for which this part of A Coruña is famous. Should you get the chance to approach the town by sea, they make for an impressive spectacle with the light shining on the glass. There are also a number of museums in the town, which have reasonably priced entrance fees and are worthy of a visit. These include the Castle of San Antón Archaeological Museum, Casa das Ciencias science museum and the Domus, a museum dedicated to the study of humans, there is also very good aquarium Aquarium Finisterrae.

The true heart of the city lies in the streets lined with tapas bars and restaurants. You’ll find a multitude of small bars, which although packed with customers always seem to have space for a few more. The streets in and around Calle Real and Calle de San Andrés begin to fill around 7pm as families go for a traditional stroll (pasear) around the town. Later, the bars become packed with customers eating local treats such as empanada (a local pasty), calamares a la romana ( fried squid) and pulpo a la gallega (octopus). The area is particularly noted for its seafood – don’t miss out on a plate of razor clams (navajas a la plancha) washed down with a glass of the excellent local wine Albariño. If your stomach is strong enough following an evening of partying at one of the many nightclubs near Riazor beach, nip back into town for a breakfast of churros con chocolaté – a thick hot chocolate served with long donuts sprinkled with sugar – yum!

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Highlight

Torre de Hércules – at 55m tall this 1,900 year old lighthouse at the tip of A Coruña is a must for any visitor to the city. A viewing platform at the top of the lighthouse is open to the public and offers fantastic views over the city. The visitor centre at the base of the tower explains the restructuring work that has taken place over the years and some of the many myths and legends associated with the lighthouse.

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Travel
Vueling Airlines (www.vueling.com) and Iberia (www.iberia.com) both offer flights from London Heathrow direct to A Coruña. Flights take approximately one hour. The centre of the city is about a 20-minute drive from the airport. For more tourist information go to http://www.turismocoruna.com

Hotels
Hesperia Finisterre www.hesperia.com/hoteles/hesperia-a-coruna-finisterre/
Meliá Maria Pita www.melia.com/en/hotels/spain/a-coruna/melia-maria-pita
NH Atlantico www.eurostarshotels.com/eurostars-atlantico.html

When to go
A Coruña has much to offer all year, but if you like a party then think about visiting during Easter week (Semana Santa) or in August when the city puts on a large number of fiestas complete with dancing, live bands and fireworks.

Don’t miss
La Bombilla is a small tapas bar in the centre of town that is something of an institution in A Coruña – it’s always packed and offers great value. It’s not a place to stay for long – it’s too small – but a great bar to have a quick beer and a tapa before moving on. You’ll find it in Calle Torreiro between Rúa de San Andres and Calle Real.

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