Islas Cíes are certainly the best hidden gem in Europe: A tranquil marine-terrestrial park with crystal clear turquoise water edged by white sandy shores. That’s the reason why the Romans called them the Islands of the Gods.
Once a pirates haunt, Islas Cíes is now an inhabited archipelago off the coast of Pontevedra, in northwestern Spain. The park consist of three islands, Monteagudo (Sharp Mount or “North Island”), do Faro (Lighthouse or “Middle Island”) and San Martiño (Saint Martin or “South Island”). The idyllic Islands are quite unknown for most of the people, even among the Spaniards.
The first thing you’ll notice as you approach the Islands is the pristine Rodas Beach, which was deemed as the best beach in the world by The Guardian in 2007. Figueiras Beach – popular with nudists – is also an appealing spot, because it’s near the pier and quite large. Bolos and Nosa Señora beaches are two other great options to enjoy an unforgettable beach day in the Cíes.
The archipelago, besides being a fairy-tale setting, is also of huge ecological importance. Its speechless landscapes form part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, outstanding for its rich seabeds and some of the most important colonies of seagulls and cormorants in the world. And, with a bit of luck, one can swim surrounded by arroaces (native, smaller sized dolphins).
Heavenly place, their peace and purity are further qualities that make these Islands a hidden gem. In order to protect the environment and avoid mass tourism, access to travelers is limited to 2,200 people per day and only in summer. One can get there by sea from the port of Vigo, city with an airport by itself. There are daily boats, but better to book in advance.
If you want to spend the night in the Cíes, there is a camping area with 800 places that opens in Easter week, and on subsequent weekends until June, and then everyday between the beginning of June and the end of September. There is also a restaurant terrace where one can enjoy a seafood meal admiring the stunning views of the Ocean.
Hiking is a superb way of exploring Islas Cíes. There are four established routes where one can discover the pine forests, the lagoon, and even a pre-Roman settlement with wonderful views of the cliffs. Three of the itineraries take hikers to a lighthouse and the other leads visitors to a sensational spot for sunset watching known as Alto do Príncipe.
Scuba-diving and sailing are also permitted off the coast, with authorization. This can be obtained by applying for a permit straightaway on the National Park reservations website.
A visit to Islas Cíes is an ideal getaway in search of quiet and unspoilt beaches. Heaven on earth? If not, then this is close.