Standing guard over the port town of A Guarda is Monte Santa Trega, a 341m hill topped with phone masts. There’s a footpath from the town to the top and down to the beaches on the far side but, for €1, it’s far easier to drive along the road that snakes up the side. At the top are two restaurants, half a dozen small souvenir stalls and spectacular views south, across the river Mino to Portugal, and westwards, down to the town below. There is also a small, but extremely informative museum which provides a good introduction to the history of the Castro which is located on the hill. Although the display boards are in Spanish, I am given a very comprehensive and well translated ring-bound folder in English.
The Castro was discovered and saved by a group of Spanish immigrants returning from Puerto Rico who decide to fund a road up the hill and the restoration of the holy places upon it. They found the Castro by accident but supported the archaeological excavations to uncover and examine the ancient Celtic settlement where 3000 to 5000 people could have lived. The northern area beside the road has been sympathetically restored while the southern sector lies in ruins, half hidden beneath the undergrowth. Many of the items found during the excavations are displayed in the museum, including a hoard of Roman coins, gold jewellery, hunting equipment and stones decorated on swastikas. Unfortunately, a unique bronze statue of Hercules was stolen and has never been seen since and is probably adorning the library of some wealthy private collector.
As well as the Castro, there is a small chapel, a cool and peaceful respite from the hot midday sun and the gradually increasing number of visitors (up to 300,000 a year). The Castro and the chapel are connected by a stone path marked by the ‘way of the cross’. The crosses are made from white granite with circular bronze reliefs depicting the suffering of Christ.
After roaming around on the hill I’m feeling quite hungry. Although some people are having a drink in the restaurants, enjoying the panoramic views, no one seems to be eating. I decide to risk it anyway and have the €14 ‘menu del dia’ in the larger of the two establishments, which has small hotel attached. It looks as if it might easily cater for coachloads of pensionistas and tourists, but not today. I am the only client. The waiter seems quite excited to have someone to serve and the food, while nothing special, is filling local fare. Caldo gallego (cabbage, potato and bean soup), omelette, steak and chips. All served with water, wine and bread. However, it is the small details that let the place down. The food is served on cold plates; the only pepper is a powder which comes in a plastic container straight from the wholesaler; the mustard is well out of date and the only alternative the waiter can offer is tabasco sauce; dessert is an orange or a pot of plain yoghurt; and the toilets, whilst clean, have no toilet paper.