June 18, 2016
We wanted to take some days off in the neighbourhood of Barcelona. We had already visited the city itself, the glorious Sagrada Familia and the Gaudi buildings, Parc Güell, the old city with its great tapa bars followed by some shopping away from the Ramblas. We only missed out on the Miro museum in the Parc de Montjuïc, high above Barcelona, because it happened to be closed on the day we wanted to visit.
More than thirty years ago my husband visited the Club Med in Cadaques and remembered it as a very beautiful place. The name Costa Brava always brings images of packed beaches with high rise buildings in the back to mind, but when we started to do some research we realized that it also means very beautiful nature and charming small fishing villages of white chalked houses, and beautiful inlets and bays on the rocky coastside. It is also Dali land, with many medieval villages bordered by the Pyrenees in the North. Sportive tourists can play golf, swim, sail, windsurf, snorkel or dive, kayak, walk, bike and even ski. It is a world renowned culinary destination and even with El Bulli being closed still offers great small restaurants, that are a lot more affordable.
My husband had to work in Barcelona, so we met up there, and spend the first evening enjoying the city vibe. We took a taxi from El Prat airport, which costed about 30 euro to get to Barcelonette, close to the old port in the centre. We avoided the Ramblas but headed to Plaça de Santa Maria, where we enjoyed an aperitive in the sun, on the terrace of La vinya del senyor. We ordered a glass of cava, but they have a large choice of wines by the glass. We got hungry and decided to find a good restaurant for dinner. We walked into Mercat del Born, which has been revamped into the museum of La Ribera that shows the excavated underlying medieval houses and streets and tells the story of the defeat of Catalonia in the War of the Spanish Succession.
We chose Casa Delfin, which has changed owners a few years ago, who kept the charming interior as well as some of the traditional Catalan seafood dishes the place had been famous for. We shared a plate of fried artichoke and fried squid with a glass of wine, followed by the catch of the day. To round of we had a cocktail in the small but charming bar Numero Neuve. We took a taxi to our hotel Campus located on the grounds of UAB (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona), in the North of Barcelona. The hotel is simple but clean and efficient and not very expensive, due to its location. We had booked a rental car with Budget/Avis, in a location close to UAB. After our breakfast in the hotel we picked up our car and set of in the direction of Girona.
We turned in the direction of the sea to visit Tossa de Mar, where the old medieval village has been preserved next to the new village and beach. Marc Chagall lived two summers in Tossa and painted El Violinista Celeste here, inspired by the beautiful light in Tossa. The little streets of the new village are also charming with shops, restaurants and bars. In the old city stands Ava Gardners’ statue, who starred in the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) which was shot in Tossa. From Tossa we followed the beautiful costal road to Sant Feliu de Guíxols. You drive from one lookout to the next over the beautiful little inlets.
Sant Feliu de Guíxols did not charm us and we continued to Platja D’aro where we had lunch at Arros i Peix. You choose fresh fish and seafood from the counter and its preparation. We went for the small sand eel (fried), clams (in tomato sauce), (fried) squid and sardines (fried with garlic and parsley). All very very fresh, well prepared, but not the cheapest place on the Costa Brava. Platja D’Aro is apart from its beach not very interesting. So we continued to Palafrugell, which has seen a real boom of tourists over the years, thanks to its beautiful beaches and bays. Mass tourism unfortunately does not always gives the best architectural developments.
We drove to Calella de Palafrugell, one of the beaches of Palafrugell, which boasts a charming fishing harbour, white houses with deep blue shutters, and arcades with small restaurants and bars along the water. We had a coffee with views of the sea.
We then drove to Girona where we checked in the Hotel Ciutat de Girona, smack in the new centre, only 20 metres away from the iconic Les Peixateries Velles bridge, built by Gustave Eiffel. The hotel is nicely decorated, and during the week they offer really good deals. The restaurant of the hotel ‘Blanc’ has good reviews. We made an evening walk in the last light of the day, crossing the metal red bridge, to look at the coloured façades of the houses that hang over the river bank. Only one of the houses is accessible to visit, the house of the architect Rafael Maso, which is now a museum.
We went looking for a restaurant in the old town and ended op in Brots de Vi, where we had a simple but very good dinner.
We made a walk through the city the next morning, crossed the red bridge again, wandered through the Jewish quarter where you find the Jewish museum. We walked up to the cathedral, climbed its stairs, and where disappointed we had to buy a 7 euro ticket to visit the cathedral. We decided against it and walked around the cathedral into the gardens de la Francesca. From here you can visit the Arab bath’s (12th century). It was a lovely morning so we walked the old preserved city walls, that give you a very interesting view from above unto the city and its squares.
We picked up our car in the parking lot and where shocked with the price of the parking ticket: 37 euro for 24 hours. I think this is the most expensive covered parking lot we ever used. Especially since we were to find out three days later that you can park for free just around the corner!
We drove to Begur, and the beach of Fornells. Fornells is a lovely little bay with a small harbour and a beach, but the coastline in front is plastered with very expensive houses most of them with a swimming pool. They all have a great view of the beautiful sea the Costa Brava boasts.
We were planning to visit Pals, but stopped for lunch at the entrance of Pals, where our eye fell on the beautiful terrace in front of restaurant Antic Casino. They serve a three course lunch for 14,5, water and coffee included. You can choose between three dishes for each course, mostly typical Catalan cuisine. It attracts many locals who obviously know the lunch menu. Since it was getting late, we decided against visiting Pals, and chose to visit Escala, which has a nice beachfront with fishing boats.
Here they hand-dry anchovy fish as a local speciality. We took a coffee with views of the Roses bay. We drove on to Roses through the parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de L’Emporda.
Roses is a very busy town, which reminded us a lot of Nice in France. The same wide boulevard along the sandy beach, a little harbour at the end of it and a hill filled with houses as a backdrop. We drove our car to the top for sweeping views of Roses bay.
We continued to Cadaques where we would stay two nights at the Llane Petit hotel at the right end of the bay of Cadaques. Cadaques is a beautiful village, with cobblestone streets, typical white houses and a great walking boulevard in front of the bay, with beaches at both ends. The first evening we had some tapas and a drink at Bar Meliton, smack in the centre of Cadaques, great for people watching. Everyone comes out in the evening for a refreshing walk in the sea breeze. Mind you; take something warm to wear because it tends to cool down quickly when the sun goes down and the wind starts blowing.
Llane Petit hotel has a great location with views of the Cadaques bay. The rooms are clean, light and airy. The hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, but you can always take a dip in the ocean right in front. The welcome is very warm, and the breakfast has everything you need, with lots of fresh fruit. They have indoor parking space for 10 euro a night if needed. We did find a parking spot at the side of the road, but off course, May is not high season yet, August on the contrary, is.
The next morning we took the car and drove to Port Lligat, just next to Cadaques where Dali used to live and work, and where his house is turned into a museum. If you want to visit the house, you have to book your ticket in advance online. Even in May, you could not get a walking in ticket, everything was already booked for the day. You can visit the gardens without advance reservation for 5 euro. The gardens are worth the visit, many pieces of art are exhibited in the garden. On the top, there is a small building where they show a very interesting film about Dali’s personal life, his artistic development, and his sometimes strange views on life and reality. We spent quite some time only visiting the gardens.
Afterwards we drove into Parc de Creus. We drove all the way up to the lighthouse. The parc has many walking paths, a wild coastline with its vertiginous cliffs and hidden coves, and with islets scattered all along it. Through wind and water erosion, rocks are formed into different natural sculptures. There is a parking lot just under the lighthouse, and if you are hungry or thirsty there is a bar-restaurant with great views. The club Med which used to stand in the middle of the parc, in one of the bays, has been torn down some years ago, and the terrain has been given back to nature. A monument still stands witness to this victory of nature over economics.
In El Port de Selva, which you reach following a beautiful road from Cadaques to El Port, we took a lunch at the seaside Restaurant Monterrey, on the covered terrace. The sun was beating down and we needed the shadow. We took anchovy as a starter and grilled squid after.
From there we drove up to the Monestir Santa Pere Rodes, 600 m above El Port. The way up alone, with sweeping views of the bay, is a good reason to visit the monastery. The monastery has records dating back to the year 878, and it was finally abandoned by the monks in 1798. It acquired its essential features between the 10th and 12th centuries, with successive enlargements and refurbishments up to the present day. You can visit the church and the remains of the monastery. There is a restaurant with great views of the bay.
That evening we had dinner in Cadaques in restaurant Talla, a small restaurant with a great view of Cadaques bay, a nice interior and great food, served from an open kitchen. They honour the great Catalan cuisine, serving local ingredients in a creative fashion. We had a Thai salad with prawns, and scallops with artichoke. We declined the desert, and just had a coffee.
After our breakfast in the hotel and checking out, we headed to Figueres as second part of our Dali adventure. Figueres (birthplace of Dali), offered the artist the theatre to be transformed into a museum.
The Dalí Theatre-Museum is the largest surrealistic object in the world. It is located in the the former Municipal Theatre, a 19th century construction destroyed at the end of the Spanish Civil War. On its ruins, Dalí created his museum. From the seventies onwards, Dalí devoted his entire attention to the museum project, taking part in it and designing its tiniest details, until the official inauguration of the Dalí Theatre-Museum on 28 September 1974. Unfortunately, I found the experience of visiting the museum not a very pleasant one. The museums corridors are very narrow, and it being a Sunday, though not high season yet, was packed with groups of tourists, many of them not even really interested in the artwork itself. It was almost impossible to really enjoy the exhibited art works, and after 45 minutes of this claustrophobic experience, we decided to leave and maybe come back on another occasion. Pity because the museum exposes about 1500 pieces of art by Dali. We drove to Perelada as an alternative. Unfortunately all the sites there are closed on Sundays. Perelada is a small and cute, but not very interesting little village.
We decided to make stopover in Girona instead on the way to the airport. This time we parked our car on the large free parking lot at the North side of the city just at the other side of the river from the cathedral (Parc de la Devesa). We took lunch at Brots de Vi, a three course meal including a glass of wine, water and coffee for 16,5 euro which is a great deal. We went for an ice cream to La Bombonera at Plaça de Independencia. Plaça de la Independencia is a square surrounded by arcades where restaurants and bars put out their terraces in summer.
It is the kind of square where you love to while away a Sunday afternoon, just looking at people passing by. If you return to the airport on a Sunday evening be aware that traffic jams are rule on Sunday evenings from the Costa Brava to Barcelona!