We all know it's best not to get carried away with outlandish claims of places being 'the best in the world' - it generally only leads to disappointment.  But then again, wouldn't you be interested to find out what the hype was about if you had the opportunity to visit one of these celebrated places?  Even though I live in the back end of the beyond in a remote corner of Spain, I have the incredible privilege of having not one, but two of these so-called 'best of' places within a (relatively) short drive.

Firstly, I have The Best Steak in the World (according to Time, The Observer, The New York Times and various other noteworthy publications) at El Capricho in Jimenez de Jamuz, just half an hour drive from my house.  I've written about this restaurant before on this site and had the opportunity to go again just last week, and although I never thought I'd say this - it really is the most incredible meat - certainly the best I've ever tried, and all the carnivorous friends I've taken there agree it is the best they've ever tasted.

I was surprised to find out, more recently, that I also have what is reported to be The Best Beach in the World not so far away from me either.  OK, it's a bit further out than Jimenez de Jamuz, involving a 3-4 hour drive to Vigo, but by Spanish standards that's not too far.  When you live on a high inland plateau, in a location which is among the top coldest geographical points in Spain, the possibility of visiting a Carribeanesque beach within driving distance is way to tempting to pass up.

The Playa de Rodas, chosen by The Guardian as The Best Beach in the World in a 2007 list of the world's top ten beaches, is situated on the Isla del Faro, one of three islands that make up the Cies Islands (Islas Cies).  This trio of tiny islands lies just off the Atlantic coast of Spain, in the mouth of the Ria de Vigo in Galicia in the north west.  Officially, the Islas Cies are uninhabited, but from Easter to early Summer, boats ferry visitors from the ports of Vigo, Baiona and [port] to the islands, turning them into a buzzing hub of day-trippers, campers, explorers and sun worshippers - the Gallegos' playground, if you will.

Of the three islands, only two allow visitors.  The third, the Isla Sur, or Isla de San Martiño, is a protected bird sanctuary and is off limits.  The remaining two islands present a rich combination of rocky peaks rising from the sea, dense pine and eucalyptus woodland, gorgeous little sandy outcrops, lighthouses, a lagoon and the majestic Playa de Rodas linking the two islands.  For the happy campers and day-trippers, there is a campsite (the only place to stay on the islands), a pair of bar/restaurants, and a first aid hut.  Ferry to and from the Cies Islands from Vigo, operated by Mar de OnsOrganising a trip to Cies is quite easy, if a bit involved.  If you're planning to stay on the Island, it has to be in the campsite - no other options are allowed.  The boat companies (in our case Mar de Ons) won't sell you a return ticket split over a day or more if you haven't got a booking at the campsite.  So, the first thing to do is book your place at the campsite and then the boat trip.  Both of these bookings can be made easily on the respective websites which work well. We paid (Summer 2012) about  €25 for 2 adults at the campsite (bringing our own tent) and the return boat trip was about €15 each.
The Campsite on the Isla del Faro is the only place to stay overnight on the Cies Islands. After pestering my wife (who distinctly dislikes camping) for a couple of weeks, we packed the gear in the car one Friday morning and set out for Vigo with a view to catching the 1pm ferry...

Part 2: Parking, The Boat Trip, Camping and Lunch >>