A half an hour ferry ride from the city of Vigo on the western coast of Spain, the Cies Islands lay in wait, almost like a jungle lion poised to spring upon its prey. That is, if that jungle lion is actually more of an island archipelago known for spectacular beaches and day hikes through a well-preserved coastal wilderness. Yeah, the metaphor does fall a bit short. Still, you'll be taken aback by the number of chances at tranquility in an area largely overlooked by the tourists that swear by Mediterranean beach resorts.
The archipelago consists of Monteagudo and do Faro, which are connected by an incredible sand bar (Rodas Beach, legitimately considered one of the world's most beautiful), and San Martino, which is a short boat ride away. The main draw is the big island, though, where you'll find yourself with your feet in the sand against a continuous backdrop of craggy, forested slopes, all within a few hours walking from each other. The best hike is from the ferry to the lighthouse on Mount Pereira, which will take you a few hours, and leave you grateful you added the Cies Islands to your itinerary.Although it is quite off-the-beaten-path as far as your potential travels through Spain, Porto, Portugal is less than two hours from Vigo and could provide an incredible slice of culture (the historic old town on a hill overlooking the ocean? C'mon!) worth slapping on your itinerary sandwich. Shuttles actually run from the airport in Porto to Vigo, where you can catch one of the frequent ferries to the islands. Also, if you have your own boat, be sure to purchase a docking permit prior to an overnight stay.