Anyone familiar with Galicia’s wines will have spotted the name Ría on bottles of its famous young white Albariños. Like the closely related word río they denote a natural water feature – but one a little more unusual than a mere river.
Though it is an iconic feature of the Galician coastline, the ría is not a feature you will come across often as you travel the globe. Examples of these coastal river valleys ‘drowned’ by the melting of glaciers at the end of a glacial period can be found in places as wide apart as North America and Australia, but it says enough that ría, the Galician word for the phenomenon, has become the generic tone that describes these beautiful features across the world.
Like a lagoon, rías are a body of coastal water separated from the sea by a long sandy bar, but unlike tropical lagoons these are not balmy, shark-infested waters but fresh, deep blue areas rich in fish and shellfish. They may look like many-fingered lakes just behind the sandy beaches, but follow the land bar and you’ll see that most are actually connected to the sea at some point or another.
A classic feature of the northern Spanish coast, the region’s rías are like the Fjords of Spain, often cutting deep incisions into the land, as at Vigo, Pontevedra and Arousa, which belong to the Rías Baixas, a name you will recognise from many of Galicia’s wines. Other impressive estuarine inlets belong to the Rías Altas, or Upper Rias. They include the rías of A Coruña, Ferrol and O Barqueiro, and not only form excellent natural harbours but also give these cities an almost Norwegian setting enhanced by the rich greenery of the land.
People have been building fishing communities and ports along the rias since time immemorial, these days adding protected natural areas, water sports and recreation to the many pleasures that these magnificent landmarks of nature bestow on mankind – and Galicians in particular.