La Toja island
La Toja ("Toxa" in Gallego) is a little island in the "rias baias" (lower bays) connected to the Galician mainland by a carriageway elevated above the sea. Although small and only a couple of hundred metres from shore, it is a well known and popular destination for Galician holiday makers.
- To reach this island from Santiago de Compostela, Noia or Muros takes about one and a half hours to two hours by car and takes you south down the coast towards Portugal. Getting to La Toja from cities like Pontevedra and Vigo only requires a relatively short journey.
A significant part of la Toja is protected from urban development and this has resulted in a concentration of hotels, apartments and houses around one small area of the island.
La Toja has a reputation for being exclusive an attracting wealthy residents and holiday makers and, unlike other parts of Galicia, you notice a high private security presence there.
The "shell" church
On reaching la Toja the attractions are some what limited and most tourists seem to migrate to a small park, surrounded by hotels, which contains an unusual church.
The feature that sets this church aside from any other you are likely to find becomes evident as you approach it and notice the unusual texture of the facade. The church is in fact covered from ground to eaves in local sea shells.
(Right, The shell encrusted church at la Toja island)
Unfortunately the initial intrigue, as to why this was done, is soon replaced (in me at least) by the disappointment of realizing that every single shell within human reach is covered in graffiti. The graffiti is not offensive, simply names, hearts and dates, but it certainly takes the edge off the overall spectacle.
The church included, la Toja can be explored in a couple of hours and, as such, we did not feel it warranted the longish journey that we took to reach it. That said, other people we have spoken to do however disagree and it was certainly very busy when we were there.
La Toja has at least one beach and overlooks a large shelfish bed between itself and the mainland. When we visited the island in July 2002 this clam bed, which is submerged under water, was being harvested by lots of elderly ladies, waist deep in the sea. This harvesting is strictly regulated to a certain time of the year and last just a few weeks.