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CULTURE

Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

Spain's northern region of Galicia and the country of Ireland have lots of surprising similarities and connections, from music and landscapes to gastronomy and even DNA - here are just a few.

Galicia Cies Islands
The Cies Islands share some of the dramatic clifftop scenery seen across Ireland, but how much do Galicia in Spain and Ireland have in common? Photo: Ignacio Ruiz / Pixabay

The greenery

Ireland is of course referred to as the Emerald Isle because of its lush green landscapes, but did you know that Galicia and the other northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria are known as Green Spain? These regions are very different from the dry almost desert-like landscapes in parts of Andalusia. This is partly to do with how much it rains. In Galicia, rainfall exceeds 1,000 millimetres per year, while along the west coast, it’s close to 2,000 mm per year. The amount of rainfall in Ireland is similar with 750 to 1,000mm over most of the country and up to 1400mm on the west coast.

Galicia

Galicia is known as Green Spain. Photo: Christopher Winkler / Pixabay
 

READ ALSO: 12 pictures that show the true beauty of northern Spain’s beaches

The Celtic connection

It is often said that Galicia is the seventh Celtic nation, besides Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Wales and Brittany. It is thought by some historians that Galicia was founded by a Celtic tribe called the Gallaeci who settled in the area. This is evident from the number of pallozas or ancient round stone houses found in Galicia, which date back 2,500 years and are thought to be of Celtic origin. Add this to the existence of pagan festivals and ancient stone circles in both places and you’ll see that there is definite evidence for these theories. 

Although the language in Galicia is very different from Celtic languages and closely resembles a mix of Spanish and Portuguese, it does still contain dozens of words with Celtic roots. The words Gallic and Gallego even sound similar.

The Celts and Galicians have a lot of similarities. Photo: Calanard / Pixabay

READ ALSO: This Spanish city has been voted the best place to live by its inhabitants

Genetic links

In 2006 a genetic study at the University of Oxford revealed that in fact the Irish were distant descendants of fishermen from northern Spain. According to Professor Bryan Sykes, the Celts have a genetic footprint almost identical to that of ancient inhabitants of the coastal regions of Spain, who would have migrated north between 4,000 and 5,000 BC.

New research in 2018 by Trinity College Dublin and the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University Belfast also backed up the theory that the Irish were descended from populations in Northern Spain.

DNA

There is evidence to suggest that the Irish are descendent from people from Northern Spain. Photo: Pete Linforth / Pixabay

The music

There is no denying that when it comes to music there is a definite similarity between Galicia and Ireland. In Ireland, they play a type of bagpipe called the Uilleann pipe, which has a softer, more melodic tone than those from Scotland. The Galicians too have their own type of bagpipes called the Galician gaita. Bagpipes have been played in Galicia and neighbouring regions of northern Portugal, Asturias and Cantabria since the Middle Ages. You can still hear them being played today on the streets of cities like Santiago de Compostela and at local cultural festivals.

The Galician gaita bagpipes. Photo: Dario Alvarez / Flickr

The cider

Ireland is of course known for its cider – famous throughout the world for its celebrated cider brands. But did you know that some regions in Spain are also known for their excellent cider or sidra as it is known here? Galicia produces more than 80,000 tons of cider apples per year, making it the largest producer of cider apples in Spain.

Although Galicia does produce a lot of its own cider, the majority of this alcoholic apple drink is produced in nearby Asturias and the Basque Country. Unlike the Irish cider however, the northern Spanish cider is cloudy, not as sweet and is often not sparkling either. You can even enjoy a glass of cider with a traditional dish of lacon con grelos, which is very similar to the Irish dish of bacon and cabbage. Both dishes are often served with a side of potatoes too.

Cider is popular in Northern Spain like it is in Ireland. Photo: Jose a. del Moral/Flickr
 
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UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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