I’ll be honest, I knew NOTHING about Santiago de Compostela before I arrived. A pretty poor show on my part, I know, but my university suggested the location, the dates, put us in touch with the company who arranged my Spanish course… I just went with the flow, paid my money and turned up at the airport on time!
And I’m so glad they chose Santiago de Compostela – it really is a little gem of a city! It is so unspoilt, small enough that you can walk pretty much everywhere, not to mention the fact that it is downright beautiful. The old town is incredible; I’ve been all over Spain and never seen anything like it. The stone cobbled streets are smooth and shiny like glass, from so many centuries worth of people walking those streets, (but watch out, those smooth cobbles get very slippery when it rains!). The buildings are breathtaking, everything is so well preserved, you really can imagine that this is exactly how the city looked 600 years ago… I felt like I was exploring an amazing movie set! And the great thing about Santiago is that the old town is still a thriving, active part of the city, not just ‘a bunch of historic buildings’, which let’s face it, are great to look at but sometimes a bit soulless.
In Santiago all these buildings are still so alive! There are cafes and restaurants in the plazas, shops and government offices next to ancient monasteries, even my Spanish school was right behind the cathedral. People actually live, work and socialize in an everyday way in this fantastically beautiful setting. It has a wonderful atmosphere. I often used to hang out in the old town with classmates, and we’d spend hours at cafes, soaking up the sunshine, practicing Spanish, enjoying Torta de Santiago (yummy!), and I’d look around and notice the lovely marble fountain in front of me, the 16th century monastery behind me and the cathedral spire ahead, and I’d have to pinch myself because it was just all so amazingly beautiful!
One of the reasons that Santiago de Compostela is famous (as I found out once I got there), is the ‘Camino de Santiago’. A pilgrimage that has existed for over 1000 years! This is something that you should know before you get to Santiago… it explains all the people wandering around with backpacks and big walking sticks!
I think the whole Spanish region of Galicia, (the north west of Spain where Santiago is located), is often overlooked in favor of Mediterranean Spain – this is such a shame! It’s an absolutely gorgeous part of the country, it is far less commercialized than other areas, and there are plenty of beaches far superior to those on the southern costas. If you are a dedicated beach lover like me, one must-do is a trip to Las Islas Cies. I seriously was not expecting to find beaches in Galicia better than any Caribbean island, but you will not believe how beautiful these Las Islas Cies are. Want proof? Las Islas Cies in Galicia was voted the best beach in the entire world by The Guardian newspaper!
I heartily recommend Santiago de Compostela as a study location for anyone and everyone. It’s beautiful, not too big, but big enough to have a lively night life and a good student scene. There are amazing beaches, lovely countryside, and best of all Santiago has its own unique atmosphere, quite different to anywhere else in Spain. I loved it!