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Report 1969: Five Wonderful Weeks in Northern Spain

By caplanco from Colorado, Fall 2011

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Page 7 of 10: Calella de Palafruegell and the Costa Brava

photo by MEC

View of the cactus garden at Cap Roig

I could have easily stayed in San Se for another week, but it was time to go. It was a pretty uneventful drive, changing to flat scrubby plains in Navarre, and then getting green again (cava grapes!) as we approached the Barcelona area. Again, lots of wind generators; at one place a huge solar array.

To our great surprise it was really chilly and rainy; Calella de Palafruegell is where we’d expected to have the best weather. The apartment is cozy (i.e. one person in the kitchen at a time), a bit musty, with a nice garden patio and a pool that is still open. A downside was those tiny ants that were all over everything. This is the only place without WiFi, which we knew when we rented it. The owners had a book listing restaurants, grocery stores, etc. and we walked into the port area to find the recommended take-away places, both of which turned out to be closed. The sky cleared for a moment of sunshine so we had dinner on the covered patio at Bar Gelpi. I had lamb chops which really tasted good, and French fries with a couple of glasses of red wine. M had grilled sardines (€42.40).

Fortunately the next day brought a major change, thank goodness, from the rain and chill of the night before. The sun was glorious, blue sky, perfect. We walked part of the path to Llafranc to see what it ws like, and found it to be easy and mostly follow the coast. Then we turned around and sat on the terrace at Tres Pins with a beautiful view and a so-so pizza (€14.80).

It was time for the beach. We went to the smaller one at the end of Peligri and spent a couple of hours reading and just enjoying the breeze and sun. It is a course sand beach rather than the fine sand beach at San Se. We may never take any day trips – weather dependent, of course.

After some grocery shopping, dinner was on our garden patio even though it was a bit on the cool side: Penne with fresh onion, red pepper, tomatoes crushed to make a sauce, tuna. M made a salad with lettuce, cucumber, white asparagus, olives. We finally got around to drinking the vino blanco that Carmen’s husband had given us when we left Cedreia. There were many DVDs in the apartment and we ended the evening watching one.

Sun again the next day. We were up and out by 11:15 and on the coastal path to the botanic garden at Cap Roig. The path has many series of steps, and several tunnels. Of course, there are beautiful views all along the way and the water is a clear turquoise. It’s said that this is the most natural wild area on the Costa Brava. I found this path, which took about 30 minutes, much easier than the paths in the Cinque Terre. In spite of all the steps these paths are either smooth paved, paved with stones, or packed sand, with little exposure. Stairways have metal banisters and/or walls to hold onto.

The botanic garden is worth a visit (€3 per person). This is off season so there were no roses or other blooming plants, but the cactus garden was huge with an amazing variety. Also, there a quite a few sculptures to be discovered as you walk through the many terraces. The sun was very warm and we decided to walk on the road rather than the path as it was a bit shorter. A car pulled over and a grey-haired man walked toward us. He began speaking in Catalan and when I said “solo Ingles” he switched to faltering English. He said, “Pardon the impertinence ... would you come in our car...” M thought he was asking for directions to Calella, but I knew he was asking if we would like to have a ride back. We were thrilled to accept. His name was Josep Luis (never learned his wife’s name even though we were sort of making conversation in the back seat.) I asked if she had ninos (because I didn’t know how to say adult children), she laughed and said, as near as I could tell, that she was 46 years old and had two children around the age of 19. They lived in Barcelona and were leaving the next day. It was a brief but charming experience.

Four o’clock at the beach was perfect as the sun was not as hot and the breeze is still just right. We went to the larger Candell beach which was very nice. We stopped for a cava at Puerto Limon (€6) and watched the sky get pink over the sea. The restaurants that we were interested in for dinner were not open. They seem to close during the week after the July/August season, and may open just for the weekend. So back to Port Bo and Restaurant Tony’s. As we walked in we saw Josep Luis and his wife having dinner and paused to greet them. We sat outside on the terrace and asked that they be sent two glasses of cava from us. We had very good mussels marinara, and shared the traditional fideua of vermicelli and small shrimp and pieces of fish or scallops (€46). Josep and wife came out to thank us for the cava, and to give us their card.

In Oviedo M had commented that he was surprised there had been no bugs anywhere we’d been. Now I know why – they are all in C de P. Lots of pesky flies and, of course, the ants in the house.

Another lovely day and we were off for an easy drive to Girona. We went into the old city, the Jewish Call, to the Jewish History Museum (€5.50). It is very well done and most was explained in English and other languages. We carry Time Out with us as I think they are always current with good suggestions. Went to a Time Out suggested restaurant for lunch, contemporary Mimolet. Very creative cookery indeed. I had a strawberry, hummus, caramelized tomato, greens and anchovy salad which sounds crazy but was delicious. This was big enough to have made a meal along with the good bread and cava but it was followed by the most delicious duck breast with peaches in a balsamic reduction. M had the “menu for working people” including a fusilli, pine nut, egg salad starter, and a rice with sausage and pork main. We shared his fresh mixed fruit (strawberries, cherries, raspberries) for dessert, with café solo (€63.20). Then we needed to walk and tried to find the city wall, but got lost and wound up going up and down many stairs. We’d passed many nice looking shops but most were closed. Before going back to the car, we pooled our coins to have enough for the parking ticket machine. Imagine our surprise when the total was €12.10! Parking in Girona is not cheap.

The next day we went to use the very slow Internet at Vent del Mar. We had a nice conversation with the owner. He is from Cuba, has been in C de P for eight years, married an Argentinean woman (now working behind the bar) and they have a one year old son. He has relatives in Michigan, Ohio, San Diego, Iowa, Albuquerque, etc. Loves baseball and rooted for the Cincinnati Reds; wants his son to be a baseball player.

We took the coastal path to Llfranc for lunch. It’s an easy path with lots of stairs. Llfranc has a nice beach promenade, wide, smallish beach and I think it would have been too small for a week’s stay. Lots of Brits for lunch at Terramar Terrrasa. I had a salad with chicken, currents, greens and a light Caesar dressing; M had a tuna sandwich (€26.95). We took the shorter way back along the road and passed some huge and lovely homes.

I did a load of laundry while M went to the beach. After M returned we went to Tragamar for dinner. Unfortunately, while we had seen people going there for lunch so we knew it was open for the weekend, it was not open on Thursday for dinner. So we walked all the way back to the other end of town to the Hotel San Roc and had dinner there. The views are supposed to be lovely but, of course, it was dark. There were not too many people in the dining room. We shared the traditional tomato bread with anchovies, which I don’t need to have again. I had kid baked with honey and rosemary which sounds much better than it tasted because the kid was all ribs with a lot of gristle and little meat. It came with a lovely rice and a sprig of roasted rosemary which was good, crunchy and without the strength of fresh rosemary. M had the traditional suquet with monkfish and gamba, which he liked. There were thinly sliced potatoes on the bottom with the fish and gamba on top all in the suquet sauce. We shared a bottle of white wine from Empordia (€59.55). Wine is very inexpensive and good; water is more expensive.

We left the next morning for the Greek and Roman ruins at Empudies. The Museo is very well done and explains the chronology of the city from the Greek 5th BC through the Roman AD until the capital was moved to Castello. There are some very well preserved artifacts from both times. After the museum we walked through the ruins, especially enjoying the mosaics in the Roman city.

Then on to Cadeques, including the very twisty 14 km two lane road. It wasn’t the road or M’s driving that bothered me but the people coming from the other directions who do not always mind the center lane when they come around the curves. But we made it safely, parked and walked around the waterfront to find a place for lunch. We were really not impressed with the part of Cadeques we saw; small beach and not very pretty buildings on the side streets. We got a map at the “i”and saw that there was much more to the town than the little part we were in. You could see some pretty large houses up the hillside. It reminded me of our impression of the Cinque Terre after having been in other lovely fishing villages; it wasn’t such a big deal. C de P is so nice that Cadeques was underwhelming.

I think this might be a good place to stay if you were not driving and didn’t want to take any trips outside of Cadeques. It’s fame is Dali, and we chose to skip the museum which had a showing of his work and decided not to go to Figueres, which I regretted not having done. The passing parade as we ate lunch at Nord Est was a really mixed bag. I had the green salad with tuna and white asparagus and M had the green salad with skewered cold squid on top (€33.30).

Our last day in C de P was overcast and we weren’t able to enjoy time on the beach. We decided to do an excursion to Pals. Went through Begur and picked up a helpful cultural routes piece at the “i’. Pals is a very lovely medieval town which makes Santanilla look really pathetic. There were some very nice shops and were bought gifts at one of them, Xocolata de Pals. The woman at the “i” in Pals had mentioned a festa in L’Estartit, so we went in search. It was quite a contrast to harming Pals and quiet C de P: multi-storied hotels, multiple boats, lots of diving shops. The festa had something to do with pirates and wasn’t of much interest. Don’t put L’Estartit on your list unless you are a scuba diver.

On the way back we stopped at Paratellada, another well-preserved medieval village. Lots of restaurants and a couple of them were packed and smelled really good. However, given it was already 3:30, we decided to snack at home and start organizing. Apparently this a nice place to drive to for lunch, and M said he’d read that there are a couple of fine restaurants there.

In all the places we’ve been on this trip people love to talk and do it constantly. It creates a pleasant buzz in the cities in the evening. I will miss that buzz and sense of community when we return home.

We had the perfect ending to our stay in C de P. It was raining and we walked in the rain (but not blowing and cold as it had been the night we arrived) to Tragamar which really was open. Dinner was terrific as was the decor. We shared black rice with baby squid. M had dorado cooked in cava with potatoes and onions. I had three delicious baby lamb chops with smoked eggplant, like babba ganoush. For dessert we shared a fabulous death by chocolate with intense vanilla ice cream, and café (€75.50). It had stopped raining by the time we walked home.

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