Thursday, May 22, 2014

La Coruña: A Spanish Iberian Treasure

Situated along the Atlantic Coast, La Coruña is a charming port city whose history has maintained close links with its heritage as an old fishing and commercial centre. The peninsula on which the Old City now stands also contains the Tower of Hercules, which is one of the chief symbols of the city, an interesting Romanesque collection of streets, squares and medieval churches. Britain looms large on A Coruña's horizon. In 1588 the ill-fated Spanish Armada weighed anchor here. The following year Sir Francis Drake tried to occupy the city but was seen off by María Pita, a heroine whose name lives on in the city's main square. In 1809 a British army sent to help Spain resist the invading French was forced into a Dunkirk-style evacuation here, losing its leader Sir John Moore in the process. In the 19th and 20th centuries A Coruña's port was the gateway through which hundreds of thousands of Galician emigrants left for new lives in the Americas. Today this is Galicia's wealthiest provincial capital, and a tour of the city isn't complete without experiencing the traditional Galician cuisine typical of the peninsula, and marked by the town's excellent seafood and meat which comes from the inland parts of the province. A busy commercial centre, cultural enclave, historic city and modern metropolis with a buzzing culinary scene makes La Coruña a delicious treasue to discover.

The statue of local heroine, Maria Pita, in the main square of La Coruña

The spectacular clock tower in La Coruña's City Hall in Maria Pita Square

18th-century Baroque-style San Jorge Church

Detail of St George, after whom the church was named

The interior of Iglesia de San Jorge

The ornate altar of the church

Restaurante El Cantoncillo, in the heart of La Coruna's old town

El Cantoncillo's outdoor chalkboard highlighting the restaurant's Galician specialities

Our server uncorking a bottle of local Spanish wine

Light and delicious, the A Veira do Mar was a perfect wine with our Tapas-style lunch

As we enjoyed our wine, we perused Cantoncillo's menu with Galician specialties

Estrella Galicia, one of the town's local beers

A basket of fresh warm bread

A plate of local ham, salami and cheese

Croquetas de Pollo: Spanish chicken croquettes

A traditional Spanish tapas, these Croquetas de Pollo are bound with a thick, buttery cross between béchamel sauce and and eggless pâte a choux dough. This floury base was mixed with ground chicken, cooled and then shaped into oblong cylinders and fried. Due to the abundance of butter in the filling, the hot croquettes were lush and creamy with a fluffy interior and delicate crisp breadcrumb coating. Another Spanish classic, Pimientos de Piquillo Rellenos de Bacalao, was a fabulous char-grilled whole sweet red Spanish peppers stuffed with an aromatic mixture of puréed cod and local seafood, onions and garlic bathed in a rich and flavourful tomato and piquillo pepper rose sauce. Together with the plate of local cheese, cured meats and fresh warm bread, we were fortified to continue our stroll through the remainder of La Coruña's old town.

Another classic Spanish tapas,  Pimientos de Piquillo Rellenos de Bacalao

The outdoor patio of El Cantoncillo, overlooking leafy Plaza del General Azcarraga

A lovely flower festooned balcony overlooking the square

A short stroll from the restaurant was Iglesia de Santiago Iglesia de Santiago, the oldest building in La Coruna built in the 12th century

The Romanesque sanctuary from 1217

A stand of fragrant purple lavender growing beside the ancient walls of the church

The picturesque entrance to the Convent of Santo Domingo in the old town

Collegiate Church of Santa Maria do Campo

The ornate 13th-century carved stone archway to the church

Detail of the archway

The interior of the church

A devout parishioner preparing the flowers for the upcoming weekend service

The Tomb of Sir John Moore, famous in Galicia for his role in the battle of Elvina

The Jardin de San Carlos, where Sir John Moore's tomb resides, 
was once part of the fort of San Carlos

A flower in bloom in the garden

Castillo de San Antón

The Castle of San Antón is one of the most spectacular monuments of La Coruña in the Spanish region of Galicia. The old fortress was built between the 16th and the 17th century, in a small island on the Bay of La Coruña, to defend the city against attacks coming from the sea. During the English assault by Francis Drake in 1589, the castle effectively served to defend the entrance to the city and now serves as the venue for the archeology and history museum of la Coruña, The Museo Arqueológico e Histórico.


The rugged coastline around the Castillo

An enormous anchor sits in the courtyard of the Castillo de San Antón

A group of school children were on a day trip to the castle

The spectacular Tower of Hercules is known to have existed by the 2nd century, built or perhaps rebuilt under Trajan, possibly on foundations following a design that was Phoenician in origin. It's thought to be modeled after the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The tower has been in constant use since the 2nd century and is considered to be the oldest existing lighthouse in the world.

The 2nd century Tower of Hercules, a UNESCO heritage site

The view of our ship, The Silver Whisper, in port in La Coruna