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Five parks to inspire you in Compostela

Bad-minded gossip says that the city of Apostol is the biggest village in Galicia, which paradoxically is something that true-blood Santiago-dwellers take to be a compliment. And it is, because as a parameter for quality of life, there is greenery and vegetation on every corner of the ancient city, and it makes it special. Green clambers over the seven hills; it invades all of the stony gutters in the streets; it even dares to boldly play with the façade of the cathedral.

In "Huertas", the back garden of Obradoiro, urban and rural mix mimetically, without any kind of ego struggle. The city has lately succumbed to the unstoppable advance of the green element. Compostela has always had a kind of contest between the weight of its history and modernity. The presence of what is old is counteracted by ragingly modern avant-garde architecture, and has turned the great green spaces into a network of world level parks. More than a garden city, it is a garden with districts inside it.

Let's assume that the stone forest has overwhelmed you by its beauty, and you now want to meditate. We suggest taking a green route to see a unique side of Compostela. This would be my list of top Compostela parks.

1.-The Eternal Alameda Park. It is not new. It is the nineteenth-century park par excellence. At the foot of Porta Faxeira, and separating the old and new areas, it has been clothed in the history of the city since last century, when it was turned from a private estate into one of the most beautifully classical parks in the world. It has everything it needs to make you fall in love: hundred-year-old trees with their dry, twisted trunks; the Herradura walkway, also called the Cholesterol walk - for recovering from an excess of Galician food; the most beautiful views of all sides of the town; fountains; churches; wrought-iron benches from the turn of the century; and the bandstand that is essential for any provincial city worth its salt.

2.-Bonaval. Design and modernity near the old area: From a domesticated park, we go to a magical place that embraces the historical quarter. The old monastic garden of Santo Domingo always had a slightly esoteric side. Abandoned for years, its soft sloping terraces were taken by Siza and turned from a leafy park into a highly modern piece of design work. Meticulously pruned green areas, caves, an ancient graveyard integrated into the park, and magnificent views of the cathedral are all blended with the existing old stone structures and ruins. Water, cave and "strange" shapes make it modern, enigmatic and special.

3.-Banks of the Sarela. An enchanted forest in the centre of the town: two rivers cross Compostela, in the Barrio del Carmen. When eco-hiking became really fashionable, a decision was made to restore their abandoned banks and make the most beautiful urban-rural walk I have seen. The several kilometres of incessant water of the winding Sarela, babbling springs between wooden footbridges, stone bridges, thick forests and even abandoned tanning works make the place a natural, rustic garden - in the heart of the city.

4.-Belvís. Monastic splendour behind the old part of town: Belvis is a watercourse that was always considered a green backbone to the East of the historic quarter. And it was always abandoned. A passageway between Virxen da Cerca and the traditional Belvis, this park highlights the beautiful hills that surround this hollow. It is a real gift for your eyes: the splendid monasteries of Belvis and the Seminary at the top, the stony Santiago that rises up above, and an always silent and scenic park, whose maze is a perfect place to lose yourself.

5.-Vista Alegre Park. The park of surprises. The wealthy Simeón family opens its small palace and magnificent garden. You enter through the two old gates to the property that are always open, and the pink country-house has all the elements of the Galician country-house, such as the chapel, galleries, etc. If the garden were the prototype of any powerful family, special effort was put into dressing each of its corners with the most florid avant-garde architecture. The SGAE headquarters like the Flintstones' house; Casa Europa; Escola de Altos Estudios Musicales; the Natural History Museum. Four avant-garde structures that lend the finishing touch to a classical garden.

By Fran Camino

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