I had heard of the Cíes Islands on many, many occasions. In fact, it was not necessary for the British newspaper The Guardian to claim, just over a decade ago, that Rodas Beach, located on the central island of the three Cies, was the best in the world. Not a few of those who knew her already thought so.
The Cíes are wild, hard and beautiful at the same time, like a ruthless and just queen in winter – when the Atlantic wind turns life on the islands into a real test of survival – and friendly and warm in summer, when their wide sands, licked by transparent waters, are filled with bathers. In between, spring and autumn are the preferred seasons for hikers who find here a paradise made up of a dense and varied tangle of trails.
We were lucky enough to visit the Cíes aboard a 10 meter sailboat. One of the best excursions I’ve done in a long time.
Embarking in the port of Vigo
In a week in September when it was hard to know if we were in the Caribbean or in Galicia, the morning woke up with a high ceiling and high temperatures. In addition, there was a light breeze that would later help us navigate with the sails deployed and leaving the engine aside.
Around 9.30 in the morning we arrived at the office that the company Sailway owns in the port and we were introduced to Javier, who would be the skipper of our sailboat for a day.
Sailway is a Galician company that rents boats and boats, both skippered and unskippered, but also teaches courses for nautical qualifications, has a sailing school and offers unforgettable sailing experiences.
Javier’s good one was close from the first moment. At the end of the day, when we bid him farewell with a hug, we would define him with the hackneyed phrase: “Great Captain… And better person”.
After leaving our articles in the cabins and dropping moorings, Javi started the engine and we left the port with parsimony.
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Wind in the stern and full sail!
As soon as we went out into the dark waters of the Vigo estuary, the breeze – which Javi told us after reading the weather report last night, was totally unexpected – allowed us to hoist the mainsails and genoa (or jib) and set a course for the Cíes.
Our skipper alternated technical explanations on how to carry a sailboat with stories of his adventures as a sailor… And as a traveller. I found the first ones very interesting and the second ones fascinated me and made me laugh in equal parts.
After giving me a few tips on how to take advantage of the wind to sail in the desired direction, I dared to take the helm and try to follow his teachings. To my surprise – because I was never very good at driving anything in general – things didn’t go wrong and I managed the rudder for a good three quarters of an hour of sailing… And without ramming any other boat or running aground on a beach!
Javier told me that I had to keep the genoa (sail smaller than the mainsail and found on the bow) always full, changing the course slightly when that didn’t happen… Yes, my captain!
Navigation to the Cíes
Sailing, we did not take too long to leave behind the waters of the Ría de Vigo and go out to open sea.
On the way we could appreciate, in the distance, beautiful beaches and typical summer villages that began to feel the near solitude of autumn, and, closer, dozens of rafts in which the famous mussels of the Rías Baixas waited to be harvested.
We only vary our course up to the three Cíes islands to be able to see up close the activity of a couple of big fishing boats. On its deck, the tanned sailors did not cease their activity. Checking the net, moving utensils, sorting the fish caught previously… And all this supervised by a small army of seagulls, who in their perseverance thought to find their own supplies.
Anchoring on the island of San Martín
Entertained with all these things, the landscape and the stories of Javi, we got closer to the Cíes.
The sun was already shining high and the heat was quite considerable so I had a crazy desire to dive into those beautiful clear waters as soon as possible.
In front of us, Rodas beach was taken by a good number of tourists, so Javi headed for the South Island, also known as San Martin Island. No more than 10 people walked on the golden sand of the island’s beach. Along with them, 5 or 6 boats were patronized peacefully, alien to everything.
It was there that we anchored and I discovered, in a painful but reactivating way, how cold the water is in these parts. I climbed on the roof of the sailboat and jumped into the water head first. I admit it, despite having diving glasses to enjoy the seabed, I didn’t last more than 3 minutes in that frozen water. But when I got back on the boat, he was a new man.
Exploring the other side of the Cíes
After the bath, we headed north and entered the narrow water channel that separates the islands of the Middle and South. This is how we got to the west side of the island Del Medio, also known as Illa do Faro (or Lighthouse Island).
This part showed steep cliffs of yellowish rock and the sea beat its bases with a certain fury, although, according to Javi, nothing compared to the violent winter days. Here the navigation becomes somewhat more unstable and, as we were going through bad weather, we returned to the east face to explore Lighthouse Island.
The beautiful Illa do Faro
Javi brought us closer to the dock where the big ships that come from Vigo dock and we descended to land.
A wooden walkway leaves from the pier and flows directly into Rodas Beach. When we had it so close, we knew why an important English media had dared to hang the heavy poster of “Best Beach in the World”.
Rhodes is a really beautiful beach, with a white sand that seems to shine under the sun and a Caribbean-style water, except for its temperature. At its back, a small lagoon is separated from the open sea by an old dike that today acts as a bridge.
To appreciate all this from the heights, I advise you, like us, to take the path that starts on the right at the first crossroads that you find after leaving the wooden footbridge.
The road leads, after two kilometers of path, to the Alto del Príncipe. Before, you will find the beach of Area de Figueiras, less crowded – and also very beautiful – than that of Rhodes.
From the viewpoint of Alto del Príncipe the picture is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life. Down there, the color scheme is brutal. On the one hand, the cliffs show a mixture of yellow, brown, grey and green. On the other hand, the sea is intense blue in the west, but the waters of the lagoon appear grayish and those of the beach of Rodas turquoise blue. Complete the picture are the green trees and islets that surround the archipelago, and are also part of the National Park of the Atlantic Islands.
When we got back to the boat, we did it in wonder.
Return to the port of Vigo
It was already 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I took another quick bath before tasting the tasty food they had brought for us. Eat a potato omelette, Galician empanada, Iberian pork, mussels, cheeses, and salmon muffins, anchored in front of Rodas beach in a 10 meter sailboat with an impressive sunstroke… That’s something I’m not going to forget easily.
Nor will I forget that pleasant trip back to the port of Vigo, with background music and the feeling of having spent a spectacular day in very pleasant company.
The Cíes, as I had been told, give off a special magic and energy. And I know I’ll be back to spend the night in them. Promise.