With a mere count of 60 residents, Ponte Maceira can certainly be considered quaint. Yet, with its distinctive bridge and historical streetscape, it rightfully earns a spot on the list of Spain’s most beautiful villages, in our opinion. This charming hamlet is exceptionally picturesque, making it a recommended visit in the Spanish region of Galicia. In this blog, learn more about Ponte Maceira and why it is hailed as one of the prettiest villages in Spain.
Practical Information About Ponte Maceira
Where is Ponte Maceira located in Spain?
Ponte Maceira is in Northern Spain, more precisely in the autonomous community of Galicia, within the province of A Coruña. Thus, it’s situated in the country’s extreme northwest.
The village is near the city of Santiago de Compostela, an important endpoint of the famous pilgrimage route, the Camino de Fisterra. The hamlet lies on the Camino Maritme de Santiago, connecting Santiago with Fisterra. Pilgrims must cross Ponte Maceira’s historic bridge as part of their journey.
Parking in Ponte Maceira
The easiest way to visit Ponte Maceira is with your own (rental) car. We traveled through Northern Spain with our camper, and the village is also accessible by this means.
Given its tiny size, consisting of just two streets and that famous bridge, navigating by car, let alone a camper, can be challenging. Thus, there is a parking lot for visitors just outside the village. From there, you can easily walk into the town.
Where to stay in Ponte Maceira
Ponte Maceira is so small that we don’t recommend staying overnight. A visit won’t take a day or even half a day; you can see everything in about half an hour. To make your visit more fulfilling, consider grabbing a bite at the restaurant with views of the river. However, booking an overnight stay might be excessive.
Where do visitors usually stay overnight? In the nearby town of Negreira, also on the pilgrimage route to Santiago. Typically, this is where walkers rest the night before – or after, depending on which direction you’re coming from – reaching Santiago.
5 best things to do in Ponte Maceira
#1 Cross the historic bridge
The village’s icon is the Ponte Vella, or “old bridge”. Spanning the Tambre River, this asymmetrical bridge has a history dating back to the 13th century and is one of the region’s oldest bridges. It underwent significant restoration in the 18th century.
With five arches, the bridge features a distinct, more pointed shape for the central one. Its asymmetry is notable, presenting a steeper incline from one side, where the chapel is, than from the other. About two meters wide, the bridge is built entirely from rough stones and has been part of the route to and from Santiago de Compostela for centuries.
Legend has it that followers of Saint James crossed this bridge to bury him in what is now Santiago. They were pursued by Romans, and divine intervention purportedly caused the bridge to collapse just as the pursuers were upon it.
#2 Walk The Medieval Streets
Ponte Maceira is like a time machine, where you feel momentarily transported to the Middle Ages or onto a movie set. It’s a highly photogenic sight. It’s no wonder that this Spanish village is on the prestigious list of ‘Los Pueblos más Bonitos de España’ (‘Spain’s Most Beautiful Villages’).
This list is essentially a stamp of quality for tourism and heritage conservation. It’s no small feat to be included; villages must meet strict criteria, including a population of fewer than 15,000, recognized architectural or natural heritage, and a commitment to preserving it.
While Ponte Maceira is quite small, the handful of streets it possesses are beautifully preserved. There’s a medieval ambiance with cobblestone lanes and houses built of rough stones.
Of particular beauty and interest are the Pazo de Balandrón estate and the Chapel of San Blas. The estate lies right next to the bridge and features lovely gardens. It’s privately owned and, sadly, not open for visits. The chapel sits at the bridge’s end. During our visit, it was, unfortunately, closed. Also, look out for the ‘hórreos,’ the ancient granaries on stilts designed to keep food safe, They are a common sight in this region and also in Ponte Maceira.
#3 Hike The Pilgrimage Route To Santiago
Ponte Maceira marks a special point along the Camino de Finisterre. This camino is an ancient extension of the famed Camino Francés that begins in France and leads to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims eager for more trekking can add an additional two days to their journey, heading towards what is colloquially known as ‘the end of the world’, or Cape Finisterre.
On the first day, these walkers come across Ponte Maceira. The hamlet is situated a mere 15 kilometers from Santiago. In about 3.5 hours, the village emerges as the first notable stop along the way. Hence, you’ll see the familiar St. James’s shell symbol marking the Camino within the village.
#4 Watch The River and Watermills
Beneath Ponte Maceira’s iconic bridge flows the Tambre River. In summer, dams are necessary to maintain the river’s flow as it nearly dries up, turning the riverbed green with vegetation. In contrast, the wet autumn and winter seasons often bring floods.
At the foot of Pazo de Balandrón rest the watermills, known as Molinos de agua del río Tambre (location on Google Maps). These mills harnessed the river’s flow to grind grain and are strategically placed near a small dam for maximal water power. Inside the mill, an ancient grinding stone still lies. Historically, there was another mill across the river, now replaced by the Pontemaceira restaurant, offering splendid views over the river.
During our visit in early November, the region had experienced heavy rainfall. Consequently, the river’s level was high, and it surged under the bridge with great force. The watermills at Pazo de Balandrón were completely submerged, making them inaccessible.
#5 Enjoy the Noche en Vela Festival
The village is also known in the region for the Noche en Vela festival. This nocturnal music festival is held yearly in July or August. Performances take place on and around the bridge, which is lit by hundreds of candles placed along its edges, creating a sight worth seeing (view a photo of Ponte Maceira during Noche en Vela in 2023 here). The festival traditionally concludes with a fireworks display, adding to the reasons to visit Ponte Maceira during this vibrant event.