Noia started life as a small fishing village over 1000 years ago, but is now a holiday resort during the summer months with most of its population working in the nearby city of Santiago de Compostela. Noia has a medieval district and there are several beaches nearby, the closest being la praia de Testal. Most holiday visitors to Noia are Spanish with many travelling from Madrid, Barcelona and other major Spanish cities during the Spanish holiday month of August. It is during this month that Noia, and many other towns in Galicia, have their festivals. These festivals can last several days and involve music (traditional and pop/rock), dancing, fairs, fireworks and special markets.
I first visited Noia and Galicia in July 2000. My wife, although brought up in England from the age of four, was born in Noia and most of her family originate from there. Although my first visit to Noia only lasted a week, I was impressed by the differences between this region and the other parts of Spain I had previously visited, specifically the Costa’s. The spectacular scenery and stunning beaches like "la praia de Testal" and "Queiruga" offered a different Spanish holiday, away from the commercialism I had come to expect from Spain. The people and language were very different too. I have subsequently been back to Noia Galicia on each of the last three years and enjoyed the "real Spain" experience, discovering something different on each occasion.
Below, a typical street view in the older pedestrianised part of Noia. The street is cobbled (July/August 2004).
Noia (that's the Gallego spelling) started life as a fishing and agricultural village. Indeed it is still known throughout Spain for the shellfish (mainly clams) harvested in the Autumn at the local beach of Testal. Over recent years however, Noia has evolved into a mixed economy, with a significant part of its revenue being generated through summer tourism. Located only 35 km from Santiago de Compostela, many of its inhabitants commute to Santiago daily, a journey of around 40 minutes. Noia’s population of about 15000 is split between city centre apartment living and homes in Noia's suburbs.
Noia is ideally located on the coast at the junction of two estuarial rivers, the Tambre and Traba, with a backdrop of the San Marcos mountains (which are really hills). Galicia has a coast line very similar to that of Norway with dozens of bays and inlets littering the shoreline, nearly all with spectacular, and often deserted beaches. A simple description of Noia during the summer months would be “a Galician seaside town”. The nearest beach, "la praia de Testal" is a 15 to 20 minute walk or 5 minute car journey, and there are some 30 plus beaches within a forty minute drive down the coast in either direction.
Noia has two focal points, the first is the new town square or plaza ("la Alameda"), which is lined with palms and is located adjacent to the Town Hall and an old Franciscan church. The second is the medieval district, in the older part of Noia, with buildings dating back 1000 years. Both these areas have many bars serving coffee, tapas and stronger beverages and they tend to be the social centres for both residents and holiday makers during the weekends and at night time.
The main town square or plaza in Noia, "la Alameda" in Spanish, is in fact to the side, rather than at the centre of Noia. It is faced by Noia's Town Hall, a Franciscan church, a mansion house (Varela Radio) and a large apartment block with cafe bars at ground level. The Alameda also has a fresh spring water fountain to the side of the Franciscan church which people continually use to fill up their empty evian bottles. Within the gardens adjoining the this area there is a bust of sculptor, Felipe de Castro, from whom the gardens take their name.
A view looking across Noia's main piazza, la Alameda (July/August 2002).
Noia's town hall (Casa do Concello), although old in appearance, dates from the 1950's, but does contain some of the original cloisters from a Convent (Claustro Franciscano). The site is additionally occupied by an old Franciscan church and an apartment block which also lies in the grounds of what was Noia's Convent. Noia's new square is in two sections, the area nearest the town is gardened with some small lawns, trees and flowers, whilst the main part of the plaza is tiled and lined with both palm and deciduous trees. Noia's main square is extensive in size and locals and holiday makers a like can be seen walking up and down it on an evening, before relaxing in one of the adjacent bars for a drink.
Noia's main plaza is a major focal point and is of sufficient size to host the larger concerts during the festival season, as well as many other smaller shows and presentations throughout the rest of the year. We have been on the square when as many as 4000 people have been enjoying a performance by one of the festival’s bands. This area also acts as a meeting point and, with its many granite and cast iron benches, is a busy and ideal people watching site. If you stand at any point on Noia's square facing the buildings (there is a road on the opposite side) the centre of Noia will be to the right.
Below, one of the original plazza's in the medieval quarter of Noia where there are several busy bars (July 2002).
The medieval district is at the opposite side of Noia to the plaza described above, but is still only a five or six minute leisurely walk in what is a compact municipality. The mediaeval part of Noia has some very old buildings and narrow streets with several tastefully maintained bars at its centre. It also has what we consider to be the unimpressive looking, but best tapas bar in Noia, "la Parra". This part of Noia whilst nice during the day is best enjoyed at night when its true atmosphere can be appreciated. When we visited this district on the first evening of our holiday in July 2004, there was a traditional story teller captivating the people sat at the bars with stories about Galicia until 1.00 am in the morning. We did not understand a word, but it illustrates the way this part of Galicia and Spain maintains its heritage and culture, something we in Britain could take a lesson from.
I don't know too much about the history of Noia’s mediaeval quarter. In 2004 we bought a book featuring Noia which goes into great detail about its buildings, culture and history. Unfortunately, it is written in the Galician language of Gallego which we are struggling to decipher. Certainly, many of the buildings are several hundreds of years old and although now bars and shops, started life off as homes and businesses, many associated with Noia's fishing industry. As we interpret more of the guide book we will add additional information to this page.
Not surprisingly, one of the oldest buildings in Noia is St. Martin's Church (Igrexa de San Martino), built in 1434. This church is in one of Noia’s original squares, in the mediaeval district, and is representative of Galician Gothic architecture within the region. Noia was the seat of the Archbishop from 1168 to 1812 and another of the buildings in this plaza, adjacent to St. Martin’s, was formerly the Arch Bishop’s palace. This small square was renovated in the 1950's and represents the oldest and most original part of Noia, it also hosts some of the smaller and more traditional concerts during festival season. There are in fact 3 different squares around the church of San Martino, the Tapal, the Fanequeira and the Canton and in days gone by they represented the hub of Noia.
Below a photo of San Martino church, Noia (July/August 2002).
Immediately opposite the main facade of San Martino’s church is a predominantly white building. This structure contains a section of old granite wall which dates back to the time of San Martino’s church and is the only remaining part of the Churruchaos country house. The arched window within it is gothic. Another building on this piazza still has the original Archbishop’s coat of arms emblazoned up on it, a relic from Noia's days as the Archbishop's seat.Although there is a defined part of Noia which is almost exclusively medieval, the rest of the old district has many buildings dating back to this era and very few buildings are less than a couple of hundred years old. Most properties in the locale are terraced and many feature balconies from the first floor up. There are also many buildings which are older than they appear, the result of white rendered facades being applied over the original granite stone traditional to this region of Galicia.
Although not in the medieval quarter itself, another former church (now a museum), St. Maria's (Igrexa de Santa Maria), dates back to 1327. This church was built in the Marineiro style and has housed within it a collection of tomb stones, some dating back to the fourteenth century. It also has an impressive portico to the altar and is well worth a visit. St. Maria's also has a cemetery which, in addition to containing grave stones, also holds "baldachins". These were gruesome structures used to hang criminals in the 16th century. It was not a good idea to misbehave in Noia during the time of the inquisition.
Below a photo showing the inside of the Santa Maria church museum taken from the balcony level (Noia July 2004).
Throughout Noia there are many examples of Galician architecture and, as in all towns and cities, it is a good idea to look up to the original structures above what are often shop or business premises at ground level. An unfortunate feature throughout Galicia is that for every four or five well maintained old buildings, there is a ruined or abandoned one. Within Noia’s centre attempts are being made to renovate these properties, but since land registration is new and not yet compulsory in Galicia, owners frequently cannot be found. This means that in Galicia you are continually confronted with a beautifully restored piece of Galician architecture bordered by, or connected to, a ruin. If you like the idea of purchasing one of these properties (some are for sale), be warned, prices in Galicia are double what they are in southern Spain, even for a ruin.
It's difficult to make a British regional analogy to describe Noia, but it would probably be fair to say that Noia is similar in size, perhaps bigger, to the West Yorkshire town of Otley. Noia has a couple of main roads running through it, bisected by another very old street, from which most of the lesser roads and paths originate. It has three supermarkets, although not of the size of a typical Asda or Sainsburys. It also has an amazing number of shoe shops, we counted 14 in 2002. Additionally, Noia has an indoor two storey market and a twice weekly outdoor market. It has a sports hall, indoor swimming pool and tennis courts as well as several banks with cash machines, plus estate agents, hairdressers etc. In short it is a fair sized principality.
Within Noia a day can easily be spent walking around, having a coffee or something a bit stronger and just passing time looking at the shops and architecture. Cake shops, of which there are at least three (two of which have a cafe within them), are something special here. In England the best cake shop I have been to is Sterchis in Filey, a cake shop from the past, but two of those in Noia are even better and very different. Cakes there are sold by weight and additionally, they specialize in "mini" cakes, one or two mouthfuls in size. This means you can get three or four mini cakes (all different) for the price of one standard cake. The best of the three shops has a selection of thirty to forty different mini cakes depending on the time of day.
Swimsuit shops are also a local specialty and there are at least four outlets dedicated to nothing but beachwear. Clothes are generally of high quality here, but the prices are fairly comparable with the UK.
The area close to Noia has some of the most scenic and spectacular beaches you are ever likely to see. Whether you like golden brown or bleached white sand, crashing waves or lagoon like serenity, Galicia really does have it all. There is one small disadvantage however, Galicia is not on the Mediterranean, and that means the water is relatively cold.
Below, a photo of la praia de Testal, i.e. the beach at Testal (July/August 2002)
The nearest beach to Noia is la praia de Testal, with white sands and virtually no waves. As with many beaches in Galicia it is backed by pine and eucalyptus trees. Testal is highly tidal and when the sea goes out the narrow sandy stretch extends to several hundred metres. When the sea is in you can literally walk out 200 metres and the water will still only reach chest height. Testal is only a kilometer or so from Noia as the crow flies, but is best reached by car. If you paddle out to a depth of 2 or 3 feet when the tide is coming in, you will be surrounded by fish, but not the tiddlers you get in the Costas, these will be anything from 9 to 18 inches long, they don’t bite!
Our beach rating: 4/5
If you prefer your beaches with golden sand and large waves, a 40 minute journey south of Noia will take you past several potential tanning sites to la praia de Queiruga. We found this beach by accident, it is one of many with a small and barely noticeable sign, but that in our opinion is as good as it gets.
The beach at Queiruga is about a mile long and is always virtually deserted. On Wednesday 4th August 2004 we spent an hour and a half watching a school of dolphins about 40 metres off shore. The first two we saw jumped vertically out of the water together about 30 feet from us, which at the time was not very comforting - dolphins do look like sharks when you are in the sea with them. Queiruga beach is at the entrance to the Muros bay (the Spanish call it an estuary) that leads to Noia and the seaside municipality of Muros can be seen in the distance opposite.
Our beach rating: 5/5
In order to reach Queiruga from Noia, you have to drive through two coastal towns, Porto Sin and Porto do Son. Both have beaches and Porto Sin has a large marina. You also pass a village which actually has its church built on the edge of the beach
If you continue to follow this coastal road you ultimately reach a roundabout where, if you take a right, you find two routes that lead to different parts of a beach side National Park (Complexo Dunar de Corrubedo e Lagoas de Carregal e Vixan). This park is quite famous and features a massive dune which has a boardwalk (about 3/4 a mile long) leading to a beach. At the other end of the park there is a tourist information centre, a cafe and a visitor’s exhibition centre. This part of the park also connects to the beach and has 3 nature walks. This beach can get busy at weekends, but has lifeguards and is well patrolled.
Our beach rating: 4/5
In 2002 the west coastal region of Galicia was hit by an oil disaster when the Prestige crude oil tanker sank. Most of the beaches mentioned above were affected, although they have now recovered without any visible or lasting effects. At the time the incident was reported on many occasions on UK news channels. When discussing the disaster all the channels showed a specific beach whilst talking about the effects the oil would have on the valuable clams beds. The beach they showed was la praia de Testal near Noia. Although harvesting the clams was brought forward that year, the oil never reached la praia de Testal.
Noia has two weekly outdoor markets on Thursday and Sunday mornings. These markets sell clothes, some household goods and produce (mainly local). The market occupies several small and one large street in the lower part of Noia.
The main festivals in and around Noia are listed below. Some of them are celebrated on several different dates during the year, there are also festivals within festivals. All relate to a saints day.
The final one is the most significant in Noia’s festival timetable and is elaborated on below.
Noia has a 6 day long festival every year (San Martino de Noia), normally during the third week of August. This festival has many events built around it, but the main ones are a series of night time concerts. These concerts start between 8.00 and 10.00pm and continue well into the early hours. We have been there at 4.00am and they have still been going.
Most evenings have two bands, some play traditional Spanish music, but most play a mixture of Spanish with some British rock and pop. The music these bands play is primarily covers of chart hits, but because they are on permanent tour, playing at festivals all over Spain, they are well known and have impressive stage rigs, some with video screens etc. (These bands are actually called orchestras in Spain.)
We were in Noia during the festival in 2003 and, after our initial scepticism, really enjoyed the bands. We thought the best one was a band called "Limon", but a band who originate from Noia called "Paris de Noia" were the favourite with the locals.
Below, The band "Limon" performing in August 2003 in Noia's main town square (la alameda). Their entire stage hydraulically unfolded from a large articulated vehicle, with lights and two performance levels with steps between them.
All the (free) contemporary concerts take place in the main plaza, although there are some traditional brass bands who also perform at another smaller square behind St. Martino’s church in the mediaeval part of town.
In addition to the concerts you will, during festival time, continually hear bagpipes. The Galicians are Celts and have their own traditional dress and music (similar to that of Scotland) which bears no similarity to that of southern Spain. They also let barrages of fireworks off at 10.00am every morning and then on the hour there after, great if you want to sleep in.
Although music appears to be the main festival activity there are some other more traditional and regional events. One of these is the festival of the empanada (a Galician pie). When we were there part of this festival involved anyone participating paying 2 euros for a slice of an empanada of their choice and a glass of wine. Being a foreigner does not prevent you from participating. A series of similar small events take place on a daily basis and you just decide what you want to see and what you don't.
Other festival related happenings include: A South American market, which lines one side of the main piazza and sells all manner of jewelry, bags and clothes (actually good quality and very cheap), a large fun fair (as in Britain) and various activities to entertain and involve children.
On the final night of the festival, there is a spectacular firework display over the bay. It lasts about 20 minutes and is impressive, even by the standards of Disney.
The overall festival experience is very enjoyable for young and old, although high decibels is a major feature of many events. We stayed at an apartment close to the location of the musical festivities which ensured sleep depravation and compelled us to watch all the concerts, but we did enjoy them.
How have we managed to lose this part of our heritage in the British Isles? Historically we had festivals and celebrated our culture and nationalism, now the best we can do is steal St. Patricks day or watch the Notting Hill carnival in London. Why do other people celebrate their culture in Britain, yet we don't celebrate our own?
Whatever part of Galicia you are in there is bound to be a festival of some sort going on nearby. Festivals can celebrate anything from a Saints day to a food or activity. They can last a day or a week, but are always advertised in an obvious way, be it buntings over a road or path, or posters in the surrounding area. If you hear fireworks going off during the day, then you can guarantee that they relate to a nearby festival.
If you notice a nutty smell at the location of a festival it will be hot sugared almonds. These are prepared and sold continuously at small stalls close to festival events, especially at night time.
Festival update for 2005
The next festival in the Noia area calendar will be the Carnaval of Outes which will take place on the 09/02/2005. Duration one day.
Details of further festival dates will be posted here once the dates have been confirmed.
Live music performance
Local folk rock band, Paris de Noia, will perform in Noia (A Barquiña) on 3rd February 2005. For details of Paris de Noia, and future dates and venues, visit their web site at: http://www.parisdenoia.com/ (non clickable url).
For information on Noia, there is a small wooden tourist cabin in the main plaza (la Alameda). This is manned during normal working hours, though not by English speakers, and they do have a couple of leaflets in English. Noia also has two cyber cafe's, one at the ground floor level of the pink apartment building adjacent to the town square. There is also a tourist centre at Porto do Son, a short distance drive down the coast from Noia.
Noia’s Police station is on the main plaza with its entrance to the left side of the stone town hall. The nearest major hospital to Noia is in Santiago, although there are clinics in Noia.
If you need help in Noia and you don't speak Spanish you might have a language problem. But do bear in mind that in the 1960's a huge number of Galicians left Spain to work abroad, many in Britain. As a result most Galicians have a friend or family member with a UK connection and some understand a bit of English. The golden rule for communicating with anyone like this is speak slowly. One of my wife's cousins has an extensive English vocabulary and can translate a Spanish conversation to English very competently however, he does have difficulty understanding an English speaker (me) due to the accent and speed of vocalization.
The object of this section is to provide information to anyone considering visiting Noia or Galicia. To this end any and all of the recommendations we give are based solely on our own experience.>
If you want a drink, with or without tapas, any of the cafe bars on the main piazza, or in the old mediaeval part of Noia, are good. Most offer a snack style menu. Our personal favourite is the end bar on the pink apartment building on the main square adjacent to Noia's Town Hall, it also tends to be the busiest.
If you want tapas many of the bars above are fine, but the best is "la Parra" (in our opinoin) in the medieval part of Noia. We normally have our first meal of the holiday there to get in to Spanish mode. Two plates of tapas (to share between two) - recommendation: "lomo" (pork) and "calamares" (squid), plus drinks and bread, will be around 17 euros, but these are meal sized portions. Although there will be a couple of tables outside and a bar inside, the main la Parra restaurant is inside the building beyond the bar. It is very close to San Martino church.
Formal restaurants are few in Noia and although we have tried some, the only one we would recommend closed sometime after August 2003. A restaurant to definitely avoid is a fish and seafood restaurant on a road (I think called "Costa do Ferrador") which leads down to the bay and out of Noia. There are two similar restaurants on the left side of this road (going down) and the bad one is the second of the two. The meal we had was truly awful (and expensive) and we have since heard other bad reviews of this restaurant.
For good value food a pizzeria called "Mama Mias" is as good as it gets. It is located to the back of the second of the pink apartment buildings behind the town square. This place has an extensive menu of pizzas, pastas and some veal and pork courses. We have eaten there many times and never been disappointed. Their stuffed peppers, salads and pastas are all great starters. Their pizzas, of which there must be at least 30 different types, are made in full view in the restaurant (by the owner), who speaks some English, and try their chocolate dessert at the back of the dessert menu. If you don't like pizza don't worry, they have pastas and meat dishes (although served with chips). If you go to Mama Mias after 10-10.30pm you will probably have to wait for a table. Everyone who goes there is smart and there are a lot of parties.
Still with good value, if you want something traditional, try lunch at "Saineiro". It is located on the same road as the awful seafood restaurant, but on the opposite side. Here you can get a set three course meal with half a bottle of wine or lager and a coffee for 8 euros per head. There is a choice of four or five options for both starter and main course, the service is fast and efficient and the food is Galician.
For breads, empanadas etc, try "Panaderia el couto", they have a shop in Noia and also a permanent stall inside the indoor market. They are recommended for two reasons, firstly my wife is friends with the family who own them, secondly they have a bakery in the district of "el couto" which supplies all the bakery shops in town anyway.
If you want to try "churros" and hot chocolate, the traditional breakfast of the region, it is best served hot straight from the rotating pan device used to make it. The only place where you can be sure to get a fresh batch is the "churreria" on the first floor level of the indoor market. The churros is great, but the surroundings some what lacking.
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