Montefurado, Pierced Mountain. You know you are about to hear an interesting story when you hear a name like that. Montefurado is nowadays a small village in the Sil Valley, in the Northeastern corner of Ourense province, somewhere halfway between Santiago de Compostela and León. But when the Romans came to that region they knew as Gallaecia the valley was a goldmining hotspot.
Less than 100 km away, up this same valley, As Medulas, a U.N. World Heritage Roman mine is very popular. There the Romans literally dissolved a mountain searching for gold. What is left is a landscape of red pinnacles, caves, galleries and chestnut trees woods growing on the red land. Montefurado is pretty much the same, even more impressive from a technical point of view, but much less known.
What the Romans did at Montefurado was, literally, pierce a mountain, build a tunnel to skip a long meander of the river and channel its stream through a narrow pass, using its force to wash the soil in search of gold grains. Today Montefurado is a quiet place. You don’t notice the tunnel unless you go down to the river banks. There, you can still see – 2000 years later – the dried meander and an enormous 400 metres long tunnel passing through the mountain.
But there is much more than this tunnel in Montefurado. Take a look at the first picture in this post. You can see the village and the Courel Mountains behind it. But, if you look at the forefront, amongst the vines, you will notice a couple of caves and tower-like structures: the village is built on top of a Roman mine. The caves are the remainings of the ancient galleries, and the towers indicate the original level of the ground, before the Romans digged out searching for more gold on the river banks.
The Sil Valley is know for its wines. Two of the Galician Designations of Origin are located on its banks: Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras. The valley has an almost Mediterranean climate and Montefurado is placed in its heart so they’ve been growing vines –and olive trees, which is a rarity in Galicia- for centuries. Some even say the Romans brought the vines with them. Anyway, what is amazing here is the mix of natural landscape, Roman engineering and wine making.There are very few places where you can clearly see the different layers of its history. And here, at Montefurado, it is possible to identify the Roman mine, the tunnel, the village built on top of it with some remainings of its peculiar architecture made of slate and wood, the vineyards and the church. There are even some castle ruins in the mountain pierced by the tunnel, if you are interested in climbing to its top and search amongst the brushes.
What to eat here:
The Sil Valley is famous for its wines. Quiroga is a part of Ribeira Sacra Designation of Origin, white and red wines made mostly of local grape varieties as Mencía (red) and Godello (white). Valdeorras D.O. is just a few kilometres up the river, so maybe it is a good idea to try its excellent wines and compare them with Ribeira Sacra.
Quiroga, where Montefurado is placed, is famous for its olive oil. Nowadays it is mostly produced for personal consumption and it is difficult to find in stores. There are a couple of Galician brands, as OU Sacra or Aceiroga producing part of their oil in this valley. This part of the Ourense province is known also for its cold cuts (as chorizo or salchichón), mostly smoked. Botelo (Botillo in Spanish) is a local speciallity. It is a kind of chorizo sausage made filling the dried stomach or the bladder of a pork with its ribs and loins, paprika, garlic and other spices. It is served boiled, usually with potatoes and some greens. Androlla and Pigureiro are quite simillar, but less common.
Where to eat:
There are a couple of interesting restaurants in Monforte de Lemos (30 minutes by car from Montefurado), the main town in the area. O Grelo is specialized in traditional Galician food. Manuel Bistró offers an unexpensive contemporary menu. Pazo do Castro (25 km.), an hotel placed in an old manor house near O Barco de Valdeorras, has a small restaurant with local specialities.