Castillo de Soutomaior
Located to the south of and slightly inland from Pontevedra city, the magnificent castle at Soutomaior is about 30 minutes lazy drive on a scenic route that takes you through a number of villages, the largest of which is the town of Vilboa. You progressively climb the terrain, but there are no terrifying drops or sheer cliffs and the journey is an enjoyable one with the castle frequently in view as you draw near.
The Castillo de Soutomaior is without doubt the best of the many castles we have visited in Galicia and scores top points on every level. There is a charge for entry of 1.46 Euros (back in 2006) for which you get a fold-up color leaflet (in Spanish) of A4 size and unlimited time to wonder around.
The car parking and payment kiosk are below the castle and you climb a steep but brief slope to reach a level plateau where both the castle and its superbly manicured gardens reside.
The castle and its surrounding buildings have had various uses, but were most recently used as a sanatorium before becoming part of a hotel and park complex. Today some of the castle's rooms act as meeting and function facilities and the building is also used for weddings and other celebrations and events.
To say the castle is imposing is an understatement. All the walls, plus the central tower are in a perfect state of restoration and the grounds, including trees and flower beds are on a par with the best of those found in Britain. You enter the castle over a drawbridge (which actually works) and pass beneath an arch equipped with portcullis before passing into the main courtyard. One of the ground floor rooms is dedicated to a visual and verbal history of the castle, whilst ascending the stairs takes you onto the battlements which you can walk around freely - if you dare.
Internally the building's present use hides any evidence of its past, although a high level ancient toilet with two circular holes and an open drop of 30 feet explains how unpleasant odours were avoided in medieval times.
The castle is at it most impressive when viewed from beyond its walls and its location, at the top of a steep slope, must have made its invasion a daunting prospect for any would be attackers. Views from both the battlements atop the walls and also some balcony areas in the main building are spectacular. From these points can be seen some of the surrounding villages as well as a mirador (viewing platform) on one of the adjacent mountain tops.
To sum up, if there is one castle you choose to visit whilst in Galicia, Castillo de Soutomaior should be it. You can even take a picnic or dine in the hotel that sits no more than 50 metres from the castle itself and the gardens are pleasant to walk around and contain a number of unusual horticultural species.
As a picture paints a thousand words, the numerous photos of the castle, depicted here, should tell you everything else you need to know about it.
Thanks to Colin Davies for driving us to and from the castle from his home in Pontevedra.