The Ulla River rises in Lugo, in the Olveda Hill and, after flowing along 132 km, it has its mouth in Catoria, in the ría (coastal inlet) of Arousa. It marks the boundaries between the Galician provinces of Pontevedra and A Coruña and, before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, it passes through Valga, the town which holds this festival. Whereas A Estrada hosts in May the Salmon Festival, Valga pays tribute in August to another species coming from the same river: the eel.
The festival is held towards the end of the summer, namely on the last weekend in August, to say goodbye to the month to the fullest. Three days to enjoy the different dishes and tapas prepared with this delicious fish, such as empanada (a kind of savoury pastry), stewed eel with potatoes, and fried, breaded or marinated eel.
Before this food event, there is a tapas contest where local bars and restaurants are encouraged to participate. Here, the winner is chosen among the finalists in a popular tasting.
This festival, declared Festival of Tourist Interest in Galicia in 2013, dates back to 1989 and, although it was halted for some time, this will be the 28th occasion on which it has been held.
Any good food event in Galicia is paired with a popular alcoholic beverage: in this case, the local augardente, popularly known in Galician as caña do país. Whereas one of the mentioned festivals pays tribute to the Ulla River, this one does the same with the traditional augardente, the home-made one. There was a time when the augardente makers used to go from parish to parish for the distillation. They used to sleep in sheds and stayed there until the potada (the distillation of augardente produced in one go in an alembic) was finished, that is, at least one week. They were taken in and fed by the people who had hired them.
This celebration dates back to 1991, and it was intended for the tasting of the augardente made in each of the five parishes of the town: Campaña, Cordeiro, Setecoros, Valga and Xanza. Although the first years it was held in September, it was later combined with the Festa da Anguía (Eel Festival) so that both could gain in popularity. Today, more than 20,000 people coming from all around the Iberian Peninsula, especially Galicia and Portugal, enjoy the event.
Apart from the tapas contest, there is another one to choose the best augardente of each variety: blanca (clear and colourless), de herbas (yellowish, sweeter and made of augardente, sugar and herbs) and tostada (the same as caña de herbas but adding caramelised sugar). The contest and the tasting will take place on Friday and Saturday, and the prizes will be given on Sunday.
The "magical" queimada
Among the usual activities of the programme of the Mostra da Caña do País, it is included, on Saturday night, the preparation of one of the most popular and "magical" of the traditional Galician beverages: the queimada. In this demonstration, usually held at the witching hour, up to 300 litres of alcohol are sometimes burned. The tasting is free of charge.
This "magic potion" is prepared while pronouncing a spell used, according to tradition, to keep the evil spirits away. Strangely enough, this magic words are quite recent as they were written by Mariano Marcos Abalo in 1967. As for the roots of the augardente, historians reject the idea of the Celtic origin, as distillation was impossible until the Arabs introduced the alembics.
The preparation of this beverage depends on the master of ceremonies' taste, and it can include many different ingredients from coffee beans to orange or lemon peel and even some pieces of fruits. However, the most popular one is the traditional queimada, only consisting of augardente and sugar.
If you have enough time, you can wander around the town to discover, for example, the Mina Mercedes Lagoon in Campaña. It was a man-made opencast mine, naturally converted into a lagoon.
Archaeology lovers can also go to Cordeiro to enjoy the Igrexa Vella archaeological site, among the most important ones in the region, including a necropolis of Gothic origin.
Valga, a town in As Rías Baixas, will soon become the hub of food and good quality augardente (a typical Galician strong alcoholic beverage made from the distillation of the grapes pomace). The town will also host one of the most important tastings of the "magical" Galician queimada (a traditional beverage prepared using augardente, flavoured with sugar, and usually coffee, fruits or spices)