La praia de Testal beach. Noia
The nearest beach to Noia (Galicia) is "la praia de Testal", with white sands and virtually no waves. As with many "ria" (bay) beaches in Galicia, it is backed by pine and eucalyptus trees.
Testal is highly tidal and when the sea goes out the narrow sandy stretch extends to several hundred metres. When the sea is in you can literally walk out 200 metres and the water will still only reach chest height. Testal is only a kilometer or so from Noia as the crow flies, but is best reached by car. There is a significant free parking area extending the length of the beach and even on busy weekends parking at Testal is not a problem. If you paddle out to a depth of 2 or 3 feet when the tide is coming in, you will be surrounded by fish, but not the tiddlers you get in the Costas, these will be anything from 9 to 18 inches long, they don't bite!
Below, a photo of "Testal" beach. (July/August 2002)
Testal does not have any life guards, but the sea is calm and shallow with no threatening under currents or suprise slopes. As with many of the coves and bays in this part of Spain, the road and path that lead to Testal can easily be missed unless you keep your eyes peeled. Testal can get very busy on weekends and after 5:00pm on week days. When the tide is in the beach is long and narrow. Testal takes its name from the small populated conurbation just above the beach.
The photo to the right is a pre-fire shot that shows a view from what was the path leading to the far end of the beach.
The beach of Testal actually has two distinct areas. The first and most popular area is made up of small dunes, and the town of Noia is clearly visible from this part of the beach when you look back into the bay mouth. This part of Testal also has showers and a small beach side bar (really a cabin) where you can get a drink and a snack. Further down the beach however, in the direction of the bay mouth, the beach is quieter and more picturesque (photo above). The car park nearest this part of the beach does have a permanent drinks and ice cream hut, but this is open during busy periods only. When the tide is out, it is only a short walk down the sands from Testal to the next beach along the bay, "la playa de Taramancos".
"Testal" and shellfish!
The sands of "Testal" are famous in Galicia for their clam harvest. This takes place in the autumn (fall) and contributes significantly to the towns economy. Different parts of the beach have historic clam collecting rights bestowed on specific families and it is an offence to remove even a single live clam from the beach unless you have a licence. There is also a posse of "shell police", uniformed men and women on foot, in 4X4 vehicles and in boats, who literally patrol the beach all year long looking for shell thieves.
If you look at Testal and wonder where the clams and shell fish are, the answer is you dig for them. In the photo above left, the entire area of darker (wet) sand is part of a clam bed that continues right out in to the sea. The clams are a couple of inches under the surface.
Below right, a more picturesque view of Testal looking out towards the open bay (July/August 2002).
Interestingly, although it is an offence to take live shells from any "clam bed", you are in fact free to collect and eat as many clams as you wish whilst actually at "Testal" itself. The crime only occurs if you leave with them. This whole situation sounds ludicrous and manages to manifest itself in highly vocal arguments between the "police" and none permit holding locals who ignore the law and help themselves to clams anyway.
In 2004 we were on the beach when some "none local" holiday makers inadvertently collected a mixture of different crustaceans to take away with them. Initially a small discussion took place between the shell police and the ill fated family but, once some of the elderly locals realized what was happening, this turned into an opportunity for them to express their long standing irritation about the "clam law" and those who enforce it. Ultimately, the family who were the initiators of the act were completely sidelined as an ever growing group of locals became increasingly hostile towards the shell police, eventually seeing them off altogether. It really was like something from a "Monty Pythons" sketch.
The area around Testal beach was severely damaged by fire in 2005 and this has resulted in much of the greenery, shown below, disappearing. A re-occurring problem with seaweed had also started to encroach on the beach during our last visit in August 2005, again making the shots below appear somewhat flattering.
2007 update - In 2006 we noticed that the sand levels of this beach had dropped and much of the surface covering fine sand appeared to have vanished. In May of 2007 these levels were down another 4 feet. It is obvious that this beach and (we suspect) several others have been used to source thousands of tons of building sand. This is illegal, but given the volumes taken must have been approved by the authorities. As a result this beach is now an eye saw and one to be avoided – a tragedy.
2008 update - Amazingly, Testal beach seemed to have recovered some what by Sept 20008, although the sand level, and the level of the beach, was down by several feet. We also noticed heavy sand errosion taking place before our eyes at a beach a few km away from Testal - so perhaps this is a natural event after all.