Tag Archives: Costa Brava Postcards

Catalonia, The Costa Brava and L’Escala

L'Escala Costa Brava

It is easy to oversleep behind wooden shutters that blot out all daylight and the next morning we woke way beyond our normal wake up time and had breakfast on the pavement as the temperature began steadily to rise.

Even in Spain it seems it can be difficult to make plans based on the weather but with the benefit of hindsight we would probably have organised this trip in reverse because for the first few days when we visited the beaches there was a lot of cloud and temperatures were little more than average but now that we proposing to visit the cities the temperatures were predicted to reach almost forty degrees.

So we decided to rearrange the itinerary and return again to the seaside and this time visit L’Escala at the southern end of the Bay of Roses.  L’Escala is the town that I had dismissed as the Farol of Norman Lewis so it would be interesting to test my theory because at another time it may have possible to find evidence that points towards this alternative suggestion.

It was only a short journey to the coast and almost completely uneventful until we spotted a field of sunflowers that Kim wanted to stop and photograph.  I don’t know what it is about sunflowers but they do seem to excite visitors from Northern Europe, it is probably the spectacle of thousands of happy waving heads in contrast to the solitary one or two that we grow in our own gardens usually with disappointing weedy results.  This is because as their name suggests they need the sun and that is something that is not too plentiful or reliable in England.

I left the road and parked the car on a dirt track and I didn’t see a problem with that because it didn’t appear to go anywhere in particular and then we disappeared into the field to take our pictures.  Suddenly there was an almighty commotion and an irate woman was shouting and gesticulating and demanding that we move the car.

Wow, she was in a real temper and only after I had apologised several times, bent myself double in a penitent sort of way and beamed at her with a cheerful face as big as any of the sunflowers in the field did her fierce countenance break into a reluctant and belated smile as I moved over and let her pass.  For the next few minutes my ears were burning and I don’t think that it had anything to do with the sun.

Spain Girona Catalonia

Satisfied with our photographic efforts we completed the last few kilometres to L’Escala, parked the car and walked through the tangled knot of narrow streets of what I imagine was once the old town towards the seafront.  It was quiet and it was relaxed and I knew immediately that I liked the place and we came to the sea with a statue commemorating what L’Escala was once famous for – sardine fishing because before tourism and hotels, before glass bottomed boats and pedalos, before yachts and marinas this was once a thriving fishing village and the most important catch was the sardine or the anchovy.

From the statue we walked along a causeway overlooking a rocky sealine where gulls and cormorants searched for fish and fishermen snorkelled with nasty looking harpoons which I imagine made this a no go area for recreational swimming and on towards the sandy beach and the marina to the south where to my horror Kim spotted a street market and I knew that we would be sucked right in.

It was horrible in there, really horrible, with rows and rows of stalls that went on seemingly forever with people pushing and shoving and traders shouting and bullying and there was no way out left or right and so feeling giddy and the palms of my hands sweating with fear I just had to keep going .  Eventually we broke through the overhead canopies into daylight and I thought maybe it was all over but this respite was only temporary and after a short break it carried on.  At this point however Kim excused me from the ordeal so I went and found a bar at the edge of the sand and twenty minutes later we were both happy because I had enjoyed a cool Estrella and Kim had bagged a couple of bargains.

Sardines

It seemed only right now to find somewhere for a plate of sardines so we left the busy tourist beach and made our way back to the old town where we found a suitable looking place and a plate of the local speciality before returning to the car and moving north a little way along the coast to the small village of Sant Martí d’Empúries.

Being the weekend this delightful place was absolutely swarming with people and I am sure that most of the population of nearby Figueres had left the city for a day at the beach.  It was a good thing that we had eaten in L’Escala because there was no chance of a table in the busy Plaza Mayor but we managed to grab a table at a lively beach bar to have a cold drink before taking a short swim in the sea.  To be honest it was far too crowded to be comfortable so we didn’t stay long and after we had brushed the sand from our burning feet we returned to the small village and its handful of sights.

Some say that this is the earliest inhabited place along the Costa Brava but the real reason it seems that it all looks so immaculate is because it was given a serious makeover in preparation for the Barcelona Olympics when Sant Martí d’Empúries was the place that received the Olympic Flame that was brought in from the sea, I assume directly from Mount Olympus.

On the subject of Greece, very close by here is the archaeological site of Empúries that was established here in the sixth century B.C. by Greek traders and settlers but I wasn’t that confident of getting to see it because of Kim’s recent travelling revelation that she doesn’t really like ancient ruins so I chose not to mention it and I caught the suggestion in the back of my throat before it came spilling out.

L'Escala Costa Brava Street Art

Catalonia, The Costa Brava and Tossa de Mar

Tossa de Mar Costa Brava Postcard

Tossa de Mar…

So, Roses was a disappointment, mostly because I had high expectations of the place but today we were going to drive to the south of the Costa Brava to the holiday resort of Tossa de Mar and if I had high hopes for Roses and found it to be rather a let-down I had no such optimism today because I was absolutely certain that I was going to find everything that I thought I disliked about the Spanish Costa resorts and I was ready to snigger and sneer at a place I was positive would be nasty and sleazy.

It was only a short drive to Tossa but it was much more attractive than I had expected as we swooped like a Spanish Imperial Eagle along a treacherous corniche as we followed a precarious coast road with green pine forests on one side and the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean on the other until we reached the seaside resort and found an edge of town car park.

As we walked into the town past the excavations of a Roman villa it slowly began to dawn on me that I was going to be in for a shock and that I just may have to eat my words about tacky Tossa.  Where Roses had been untidy, Tossa was immaculate, where Roses was vulgar, Tossa was charming and where Roses was made of concrete, Tossa was traditional and whitewashed and I was obliged to quickly readjust my preconceived and rather ignorant perception.

The narrow streets were vibrant, the shops were tasteful and the restaurants looked inviting and we made our way through them towards the seafront and the beaches and suddenly and without warning we emerged from the modern commercial centre and we were at the entrance to the old medieval walled town.

 

The “Vila Vella Enceinte

is the only example of a fortified medieval town still standing on the Catalan coast and its present unspoilt appearance dates back to the end of the fourteenth century. It still has the entire original perimeter with battlemented stone walls, four turrets and three cylindrical towers with parapets. At the highest point, where the lighthouse stands now was originally, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the castle of the Abbot of the Monastery Santa Maria de Ripoll, the territorial Lord of the town.

The site was declared a national historic monument in 1931 and I really wasn’t expecting this as we walked the walls and through narrow streets of cobbles and stone houses where plants with exuberant and effervescent blooms draped gaily from every windowsill and balcony, red geraniums like volcanic lava and white roses spilling like cooling foam, until we reached the very top with a view of the town on one side with its imposing parish church and the rugged pine studded coastline on the other.

As we sat at the top of the climb and admired the views in all directions I reminded myself that in future I should be careful not to be too hasty in forming an opinion of a place and then we walked back down the steep streets, past the pretty houses and back through one of the wall gates and then to the seafront where we stopped for a while and ordered a San Miguel and enjoyed watching the people walking back and forth along the promenade.

We were going to drive to Lloret now but for some reason decided against it so instead we steered the car out of the car park and made our way north along the coastline instead.

After the demanding coastal road we arrived first in Sant Feliu de Guixois, a busy town but with a fine, rather sedate sandy beach stretching away in both directions north and south and with a sheltered bay where we stopped for a while and swam in the Mediterranean that we shared with a beach full of mostly local holidaymakers.   And then we carried on to Palamos which we drove through quickly on account of the prevalence of high rise concrete apartments of hotels that immediately reminded us of Roses and eventually we arrive in mid afternoon in Palafrugell and I think I must have got lost and confused somewhere here because I found industrial estates where I was expecting fishing villages tucked into impenetrable coves and we convinced ourselves that after Tossa de Mar everywhere else was most likely to be a disappointment today so having had enough of the surf we headed inland towards the turf.

As we drove away from the coast and into the green forests and fields I was glad that I had visited the Costa Brava and had my opinions readjusted because on the whole I had found the region to be delightful and although Norman Lewis wouldn’t agree with me not entirely spoilt and destroyed by tourism and certainly nothing like as awful as the Costa Blanca and the Costa Del Sol.

Costa Brava Catalonia Spain

Catalonia, The Costa Brava and the Bay of Roses

Costa Brava Cadaques

“I have spent a delightful summer, as always, in the perfect and dreamy town of Cadaqués. There, alongside the Latin sea, I have been quenched by light and colour” –  Salvador Dali.

The search for the Costa Brava of Norman Lewis was going to start exactly where I thought might be the place that he visited, stayed and wrote about in his book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ so this required a journey of fifty kilometres or so from Caldes de Malavella in a northerly direction towards the very top of the Bay of Roses.

The plan was to take a steady drive towards Figueres and then drive east first of all to the Cap de Creus Peninsula which was once so inaccessible that the only way in and out was by sea and the seaside town of Cadaqués which was the summer home and studio of the artist Savador Dalí.

To get to our destination we had to bypass the city of Girona and in plotting the route I became confused by a lot of new road construction and unfortunately blundered onto a toll motorway that swept us quickly all the way to Figueres.  This is quite easy to do because in the last few years and especially after joining the Eurozone and getting access to cheap loans, Spain has indulged in an frenzy of infrastructure improvements to its high speed rail network and to its roads and the Spanish motorway network is now the fifth largest in the world by length, after the United States, China, Russia and Canada.

Catalonia Ceramic Tile Map

Being a natural skinflint I don’t like toll roads but as we arrived at the pay booth there was no alternative but the really annoying thing was that next to this motorway we could see the toll free national road running alongside.  This is because many main Spanish roads have been upgraded not just once, but twice or three times and unlike in more populated countries, where upgrading means improving the existing road, the Spanish solution, where there is plenty of room, has often just been to build a new road next to the old one. Consequently, on some routes, there are actually three parallel roads, the historic route, the post-Franco new road, and the more recent motorway.

On the plus side the motorway made the journey very swift and soon we were bypassing Figueres and heading east towards Roses and shortly after that the long straight highway buckled into a series of sweeping hairpin bends as the mountain road made progress towards Cadaqués.  Nearer to the old fishing village we passed through hillsides of abandoned dry stone wall terracing which is all that remains of a wine growing rural industry that was destroyed over a hundred years ago by phylloxera and this was so distressing to the people that farmed here that the vines were never to be reintroduced.

Cadaqués might be difficult to get to but this doesn’t deter hundreds of people driving there and the place was busy today as apparently it always is as we parked in a large expensive car park on the edge of the town and then walked over a steep hill to reach the seafront.

Tossa de Mar Costa Brava

Cadaqués was once a simple fishing village and there are steep narrow streets with whitewashed houses and sharp stone steps carved directly out of the mountain and then on the seafront side there is barely anything left of the old ways but it was nice enough – trendy, arty, sophisticated and expensive.  This was confirmed by a glance at the menu boards of the seafood restaurants and tapas bars all along the harbour walls and the narrow road next to the sea.  The water was lead coloured and black with weed and fringed by a sharp sand beach where people stretched out in the sunshine striving for a suntan.

We didn’t propose to stay for lunch so after we had walked in both directions along the charming sea front we tackled the undulating cobbled streets making their way across the hill to the huge church at the top of the village and then returned to the car, paid the exorbitant parking fee and returned back along the twisting mountain road towards Roses.

I was excited about going to Roses, I was sure that this is where Norman Lewis stayed and the place generally comes highly recommended in the guide books.  I was immediately disappointed.

There was nothing charming about this place at all. Despite the tourist developments Cadaqués had preserved a lot of its original charm but Roses had clearly swept it all away in a ribbon of soulless 1960s development of concrete boxes and car parks.  A colleague had told me that if I went to Roses then I shouldn’t shout about it because he didn’t want too many people to discover what he called a best kept Spanish secret but to be honest I didn’t like the place at all and as far as I am concerned he can keep the secret as long as he likes.

We stayed long enough to walk along the sea front with its good views of the Bay sweeping  south like a Saracen’s sword and then through a couple of untidy streets with the worst kind of tourist shops and then without a single glance back just drove away from the town with no intention of ever going back.  If Roses is the village that Norman Lewis wrote about then I was certain that I suddenly completely understood everything that he said.

Fearing that all resorts along the Bay of Roses might be like this we now abandoned the proposed coast road route back to Caldes to Malavella and took the direct route back although skilfully avoiding the motorway this time and driving through attractive green forest, fields of harvested hay and the occasional burst of yellow as we drove through fields of swaying sunflowers holding their proud heads up high  into the sun and moving slowly like the shadow of a sundial as they followed its progress through the sky.

Cadaques Costa Brava Salvador Dali