To walk around Soutomaior castle, in the municipality of the same name in Pontevedra, is like taking a trip back in time; a time of minstrels, traditional crafts and medieval battles. This space nestled in the valley of the river Verdugo, near the sea but hidden from it, has it all: a drawbridge, a double walled enclosure and even a parade ground, taking us immediately to the scene of any medieval story we may have in mind. On the first few meters of its hillside, we can enjoy the panoramic view that this castle fills in. And the first scenes begin.
Although there is no certainty about the origin of this castle, today it is in perfect condition and considered very likely to date back to the 12th century, and to be linked later to Pedro Álvarez de Sotomayor, known as Pedro Madruga. The most famous of the Soutomaior family initiated the renovation of the castle, which went from been famous in armed conflicts to acquire, years later, a residential character. Several disputes, in the 18th century, led to Benito Fernando Correa taking possession of the building. The Marquises of la Vega de Armijo later made it their summer residence. And in this process of transforming the castle into a welcoming home, one of the most spectacular gardens in the Pontevedra province was born. The Provincial Council of Pontevedra acquired it in 1982.
There are three options to really get to know this beautiful and historical castle and its surroundings, which, with their 25 hectares, are considered the largest botanical garden in Galicia. Turned into routes, there are three itineraries that go through the castle's camellia garden, the vineyards or the surrounding forest. Let's discover them one by one:
- Camellias. This Eastern flower that floods the landscape with color is the undisputed star of the garden. Next to 800-year-old chestnut trees, the camellias can be counted by the dozens. There are up to 25 different varieties, of different colors, sizes and shapes, which accompany us from the very beginning of the stairway access to the park. When we start our way back to the castle, the ancient trees come into sight, trees that once had the privilege of being the first camellia plants in Galicia. Their antiquity adds appeal to the camellia-framed garden which, since 2012, has been recognized as an International Garden of Excellence. In terms of seniority, there is a clear winner: the Camellia japonica from the 19th century, the oldest in the entire park. In total, more than 200 camellias sway with the walker who, after leaving behind a camellia-lined entrance, discovers, between different shades, the reticulatas or the longicarpas.
- The vineyards. Wine is an important part of As Rías Baixas' idiosyncrasy and, in this case, the Soutomaior area is renowned for the high quality of its Albariños. When entering the vineyards of the castle, one can discover very different spaces: a central one, showing an almost garden-like planning, and another steeper one at the end of the property.
- The forest. This less fertile and less deep soil is transformed into a natural carpet: so is the forest land of Soutomaior. Large and hilly at the beginning, this itinerary has a mix of camellias and forest species so that the transit from the garden to the forest is very smooth. San Caetano chapel, a small creek and beautiful views accompany the walker, who receives shade and shelter from all kinds of species: ornamental shrubs, chestnuts, oaks, pines, eucalyptus, sweetgum, arbutus or laurels that rival each other, and all of them seem to win.
Thus is Soutomaior: an unbreakable bond between architecture and the natural environment. Between park and castle, now converted into a palace, and in which different noble rooms or the Neo-Gothic whim called the Ladies Gallery may occur.