The Cíes archipelago is one of those places that you can visit over and over again without it ceasing to amaze you; These islands have a myriad of features related to their relief, their climate, their fauna or their history. At Mar de Ons, we want to end the year by remembering some of these sights, specifically twelve: one for each bell. Come on, the rooms are about to go 😉 Make yourself comfortable and enjoy these interesting sights of the Cíes Islands with us that you surely didn’t know about:
Cíes Islands features: surface, meteorology and vegetation
- You may not know that the Illas Atlánticas National Park (made up of the archipelagos of Cíes, Ons, Cortegada and Sálvora) has an area of 8333 hectares, of which 1194.8 are land and 7285.2 are sea. The Cíes archipelago has a total of 3,091 hectares, of which only 433 are land. Despite being the archipelago with the largest area in the Park, Ons has more hectares of land, since it has 470.
- In the Cíes archipelago, the beach-dune system is very important, a fragile and morphologically unstable ecosystem with changes caused by winds, currents and waves. In these islands, the Rodas-Muxieiro dunes stand out the most; Years ago, an old cement walkway bordering this area was replaced by an elevated wooden walkway, which has a lesser impact on the dynamics of the dune.
- Another feature of the Cíes Islands that always surprises the visitors, is that in this archipelago, it rains much less than on its nearby coast. The same happens in other archipelagos located outside the Rías Baixas, such as Ons and Sálvora since the low altitudes of the islands hardly represent an obstacle for the clouds, in contrast to the barrier of coastal mountains up to 700 meters high. Consequently, the relative lack of rainfall makes summer a period of drought. The climate of the Cíes Islands thus moves away from having an Atlantic kind of character and becomes more Mediterranean like.
- For centuries, the vegetation on Cíes has been changed by elements such as cattle or fire. Today, the native trees are limited to a small stand of Pyrenean oak on the Illa de Monteagudo, there are also some species of this plant on the Illa de San Martiño. Native species were replaced in the 1950s by eucalyptus, acacia and pine trees (easily visible on the east side of the archipelago). Now, the Illas Atlánticas National Park watches over the natural evolution of Cíes. At the beginning of the 90s, some areas of the islands started becoming repopulated with native trees, so there are areas where Pyrenean oaks, birches or strawberry trees grow.
Cíes Islands Sights: It’s fauna
- In the Illas Atlánticas National Park, there is one of the largest colonies of yellow-legged gulls in Europe. Some 7000 pairs nest in the Cíes archipelago; As we talk about bird watching in Cíes in this post, this animal usually establishes its breeding ground on the way up to the Cíes Lighthouse. A couple of decades ago, up to 25,000 pairs nested in the Cíes archipelago, but the closure of landfills in nearby coastal towns led to a decline in the populations of the yellow-legged gull in the Illas Atlánticas National Park.
- The cormorant is another very popular seabird in Cíes. About 300 pairs live in the archipelago and one of the best locations for seeing them is on the Viños islet. What few people know is that the sinking of the Prestige tanker in Atlantic waters in 2002 was a real catastrophe for this species. Apart from the death of adult cormorants, there were other long-term negative effects such as the decline in the sand eel or ‘bolus’ fishery, the fish that this seabird feeds on.
- Talking about invertebrates in Cíes means dedicating a special chapter to its butterflies. In Cíes, Ons and Sálvora, the presence of an endangered lepidopteran stands out: the harlequin butterfly or Zerynthia rumina, which is also known as the aristolochian butterfly because its caterpillar feeds on the Aristolochia longa plant. Also, in Cíes, you can see the Machaon butterfly and the ‘Brithys crini’ night butterfly.
- Amphibians are very rare on the Cíes Islands and, in general, throughout the Illas Atlánticas National Park; this is due to the low humidity of the soil as there are few permanent water courses. The common salamander, classified as a vulnerable species in Galicia and Spain, is very abundant in Ons; however, it is very scarce in the Cíes archipelago, where it is only found in the Illa do Sur or Illa de San Martiño.
- Another of the sights of the Cíes Islands again related to its fauna, involves an animal in danger of extinction: the Iberian skink. This reptile is an endemic species of the Iberian Peninsula and, in the Illas Atlánticas National Park, you can only see it in the Cíes archipelago. Also, in Cíes you can see other reptiles such as the ocellated lizard or the Iberian lizard.
Sights of the Cíes Islands: it’s history
- The first human settlement reached Cíes in the Bronze Age. The castreño-Roman town of As Hortas, located on the slope of Monte Faro, dates back to this period. The shell deposits found in As Hortas confirmed that the diet of these early inhabitants consisted of local fish and shellfish.
- In the year 899, King Alfonso III donated the Cíes Islands to the Cathedral of Santiago, remaining for several centuries as a property of the Catholic Church. Between the 11th and 12th centuries, two convents arose: one in the Illa do Medio and the other in the Illa do Sur or San Martiño; both were destroyed by the Normans in an attack on the islands. The religious communities that settled in Cíes introduced a feudal system. They grew rye, millet and wheat, in addition to practicing livestock farming with animals such as goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits or pigs. The pirate attacks that took place between the Middle Ages and the Modern Ages led to the church abandoning the Cíes Islands.
- With an artillery warehouse located in the old San Esteban Monastery (Illa do Medio) and the Carabineros Barracks near Praia da Nosa Señora, people came to resettle in Cíes in the 19th century. In the 1840s, two salting factories were installed on the islands, one in Illa do Norte or Illa de Monteagudo and the other in Illa do Sur or Illa de San Martiño. Competition from canneries working on the nearby coast caused the closure of these factories in 1900, reducing them to warehouses. In this period, the current Lago dos Nenos operated as a lobster nursery.
Experience The Cíes Islands directly
As you have seen by reading this post, there are other sights around the Cíes archipelago as well as the Praia de Rodas, which was considered one of the best beaches in the world by the British newspaper The Guardian in 2007.
Your first trip in 2021 has to be to the Cíes Islands. This is how we celebrated the new year in this spectacular spot exactly 12 months ago:
The Cíes Islands can be visited at any time of the year; At Mar de Ons we organise trips on winter weekends. Check our service and transport schedules to Cíes and, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us by calling the phone number +34 986 22 52 72.
Our shipping company takes all the necessary measures so that the trips are made under conditions of maximum security, without contributing to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Surely after these unique chimes, in which we have exchanged grapes for sights of the Ciés Islands, you are dying to get closer to this archipelago of the Illas Atlánticas National Park. We are delighted to take you: don’t miss your trip to Cíes next year in 2021!