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Costa Brava

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Cadaques tickles the northeastern tip of Catalonian Spain, curving gently with the Mediterranean Sea. Renowned for the whitewashed buildings rounding the bay, its gently weathered 19th century grandeur, and its claim to Salvador Dalí fame—this small town completely charmed us. During our stay we happened upon an international photography festival, visited the 50-year home (turned museum) of Dalí, and beached with the locals. Here’s a sweet peek into this darling town.

Woman stands on top of narrow street stairs wearing a red dress.
Oh hey, I didn’t even notice the camera.

We had one day and night to fall in love with Cadaques. I’d booked a stay at the chill little Hostal El Ranxo right in the middle of town. I’d also booked us Dalí museum tickets for the afternoon, so we spent the first half of the morning strolling the sights, drinking coffee (my favorite pursuit), and indulging our wives (okay, just me) with cobblestone alley photoshoots.

Sail boat sitting in small bay at sunset with town on the shore behind.
Cadaqués is divine all around.
Blue door with a placard of a baker alongside it.
Here lives the baker.

Ermita de Sant Baldiri

The great thing about traveling is encountering the unexpected. Walking the town, we happened upon a photo exhibit inside the small stone Hermitage of Sant Baldiri—aka Saint Baudilus—a martyr from the 3rd century who was beheaded for halting a pagan ritual. As the story goes, in the three places his disembodied head bounced post-cut, water sprang from the ground, bringing fresh water and life to the people. Lesson here? The good lord giveth and the good lord taketh away. But I digress.

Statue of a saint wearing colorful robes.
Church of Sant Baldiri, established 1702. Love these colors.

InCadaqués International Photo Festival

The photo exhibitions in the 3rd annual InCadques photo festival were magnificent. In particular, the large-scale, slightly muted prints by Mathieu Richer displayed inside the Church of Sant Baldiri wowed. Since the 16th century, the people of Andalusia have undergone a yearly camino (pilgrimage) in honor of the Virgen del Rocio. According to Richer, “the pilgrimage lasts a week, in a colorful and moving parade. Pilgrims in flamenco dresses, on foot, on horseback, and in decorated carriages advance the day by singing. At night they camp around a fire, sing, dance, share a meal and wine until dawn.” I especially loved the young vaquero accompanying his lilac-covered wagon.

Photo of artistic photography exhibit inside an old stone church.
Mathieu Richer’s photos of the camino del Virgen de Rocio.

All the exhibitions were creatively woven into the history and landscape of the town. It’s so delightful to feel like you are part of the art and an active participant in how it’s discovered and observed. These floating prints were specially anchored to rest at surface level with the sea. So dreamy.

Woman walking past photography prints suspended in the sea as part of an art exhibit.
Overhead scene of photography exhibit set in the seaside. Woman and man are viewing art.

Salvador Dalí House Portlligat

After our art-filled afternoon, we walked to Salvador Dalí’s long-time residence in Portlligat, a wee port town outside of Cadaques. From 1930-1982, the house—now a museum—was the primary residence for Dalí and his wife, Gala. The architecture grew “organically” over the five decades, with the house resembling a hive of curving rooms, staircases, and outdoor spaces built of whitewashed stucco or concrete. True to form, his home was as fantastical, whimsical, and precise as his artwork.

Stuffed polar bear decorated with swords and medals in the entryway to Dali's house.
Welcome home, my darling. A gift that lived inside the front door.
View out the window in Dali's art studio in Portlligat.
The view from Dalí’s art studio and the incredible natural light he enjoyed. He built a mechanical lift with an empty space through the floor (in the right of this photo) so while working on enormous canvases, he could roll them up or down and paint any portion of the canvas while seated in his very low, low-rider chair.
Photo of an archival black and white photo of Gala, Dali's wife.
The man also loved Gala. The world in their home together is fascinating. This picture was taped to the wall above the entryway to his photoshoot area. Can you imagine a life married to Salvador Dalí? Surely he was a handful.
Woman looks out over bay of Portlligat.
My wife, the explorer. Taking in the breathtaking light and landscape of Portlligat at the top of Dalí’s property.

Be sure to book your tickets to the Salvador Dalí House in advance. They only allow eight visitors in at one time for ~30 minute slots. During busy seasons spaces can book up months out, so plan ahead.

Exploring the town

For the most part the old town is car-free, so it adds to the old-world feel and artistic tone. Our hotelier recommended Es Grec, a Greek seafood restaurant tucked in a narrow alley and flanked by art galleries. It was crazy good, rich with the olive oil we’d been craving since our recent trip to Greece, a fabulous flaky fish fresh from the sea, and a friendly Greek proprietor to whom I got to say ευχαριστώ (thank you / efcharisto) and feel quite clever for having retained one Greek word for an entire three months.

Row boat in bay at sunset.
Sunset view over the town of Cadaques.

Driving to Cadaques

Driving to Cadaques from Barcelona takes 2.5 hours. You can hop a tourist bus from Barcelona, but of course I love a car so you can explore the secrets of Costa Brava—like beautiful Begur. In the last leg, you’ll climb up the tail end of the Girona Pyrenees (that have peaked along the France/Spain border and come to rest in the Mediterranean Sea) before cresting and starting the descent down to Cadaques—the so-called Pearl of Costa Brava. Of course the photo below does no justice, but the views really are mind-boggling looking out over the Mediterranean Sea.

Scenic view from a mountaintop down to Cadaques and Mediterranean Sea.
Start of the gorgeous, switch-back road winding down into Cadaqués.

Generally speaking, the driving in Spain is not so aggressive and (let’s be honest) frightening as in Greece or Italy. This means even if you’re new to international driving, you’ll be fine (as long as you have an international drivers license). We did great in our car that was no bigger than a roller skate and could barely hold two carry-on suitcases in the trunk. And shout out to anyone who knows my fashion habits…yes I managed a three week trip with only a carry-on. Miracles can happen!

Small blue car in front of graffiti wall.
Wee blue shoe car.

Have you visited Cadaqués? Tell me all about it. xo

Begur! Costa Brava! The magic of the Mediterranean. Turns out Costa Brava region is yet another place I would happily live. Reading about Hotel Aiguaclara on a travel blog lured us to Begur—a town I’d never heard of—and we had the good fortune to discover its coastal path. You must visit, and when you do, please stroll these magical coastal walkways.

View of the 10th century castle of Begur in the upper right as well as views of hilly town of Begur and its stunning sea views.

Begur’s backstory

Thanks to Begur’s hilltop views and strategic location, everyone from the Greeks to the Romans have staked their claim and left their cultural mark. Splashes of Cuba are present, too, in the richly ornate colonial mansions and public buildings. Both the money to build and the architectural style came from Spaniards returning from Cuba in the mid-1800s with their newly colonized riches. If the cultural influence isn’t enough to tempt you, Suddenly, Last Summer (starring Liz Taylor) was filmed in Begur and the climax takes place atop the 10th century castle that looks over the town (and upon which I stood).

Exploring Begur

Although more off-the-beaten path than Barcelona, Begur still receives its share of tourists. Because of its appeal, visiting in late summer or early fall is—like in most of Europe—more relaxed. The city is refined, clean, elegant and retains that old-world, wealthy colonial feel. Hotel Aiguaclara—a colonial style mansion built in 1866—sits near the old town. This is the hotel that beckoned us with its gorgeous breakfast buffet (honestly I can’t fight a lavish spread), colorful and welcoming decor, and incredibly friendly service. Due to it being mid-week in shoulder (aka, start of the off) season we were upgraded to a two-bedroom junior suite that had us feeling quite subtle glamour rock n roll.

Charming antique hotel facade with a mural in Catalan reading made with love.
Made with Love, Hotel Aiguaclara
Wife, being so fabulous in Hotel Aiguaclara.

Cami de Ronda

The coastal paths—known as Cami de Ronda in Catalan—have been used for centuries to fight pirates, help shipwrecks, and catch smugglers. Nowadays the magical coastal paths are a gentle tourist draw but mainly just magic for the people lucky enough to live there. There are three paths linking eight coves and beaches down the steep hillside from Begur. I dream of renting a seaside abode that steps out onto the path. Some dreamy late summer month my wife and I will just write and stroll the azure sea waters.

Exploring the coastal path out of Sa Riera

Our first afternoon, we walked from Begur to Sa Riera, a sweet cove with a handful of restaurants, a small sandy beach with access to the northern coastal path. This sign waited for us.

A tile sign written in Catalan welcoming visitors to the beachside village of Sa Riera.
In Catalan: Friend, Sa Riera is not a mirage or a fable, it is a beautiful corner of Costa Brava.
Welcome and enjoy.
Wife, heading north on the Northern Coastal Path. The water was such a dreamy clear turqouise.

Our second day we got wise and drove to Sa Tuna instead of attempting to walk. The road down the mountain is miniature, full of hairpin turns, and sharp drop-offs. Drive the 10 minutes with caution but, oh is it worth it. Once there, you can stroll the coastal paths and swim in the coves. From Sa Tuna, the Eastern Coastal Path takes you to Aiguafreda and back in ~ 45 minute walk. The weather was perfection, but the water was a bit brisk. Here are some of the views:

Gorgeous views
The swimming pad where the river of Aiguafreda merges into the Mediterranean Sea. The path (up behind me) scrolls along the seaside in front of luxury houses and beach villas and tiny restaurants and lush forest.
Coastal path outside of Sa Tuna to Aiguafreda. Have you ever seen bluer water? Or a cuter “little” seaside cottage?
That water! So clear! The path wends along in front of houses, over the teeniest little beaches, and anyone can access them. It felt quite paradisical.

Our last day we ate lunch at Toc Almar, a fancy beach hut restaurant perched over the softy, sandy beach of Aiguablava. We both agreed that maybe we were meant to live on the Mediterranean Sea? Afterwards, we walked the Southern Coastal Path from Aiguablava to Platja Fonda and back. Dreamy.

Lunch at Toc Almar at Aiguaclara

I’d love to return and do a more concentrated effort to hike along Spain’s glorious coast line. Have you been?

Here are some shots of our darling Hotel Aiguaclara. I’m a big fan. There were tons of nooks and crannies and everything just so. Below are also driving logistics for visiting the beach and the coastal paths. Bye, we love ya.

Outdoor lounge area of the Hotel Aiguaclara.
One of the outdoor nooks at the hotel.
Woman lying on a bed looking at camera.
Our two-room junior suite was chilled out elegance.
After dinner lounge.

Logistics:

  • Distance-wise, walking from Begur to the beaches is doable but the lack of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure makes it a no-go. Our first day we walked from Begur to Sa Riera and it was a steep, hot, and often sidewalk-less hike. I definitely don’t recommend.
  • There’s a free beach bus that you’d be wise to hop on, especially during summer. You might lose your mind attempting to access the beaches in summer via car due to minimal parking and minuscule roads in and out.
  • Late season presented no problems in driving to and parking at the beach.
  • Look for a hotel with parking. Especially in the old town, parking is limited and will be an added cost if your hotel doesn’t provide.

From Barcelona to Begur

After landing in Barcelona, we got our bright blue, super miniature rental car and drove to Begur. The drive was only 1.5 hours and super chill. Driving in Spain is like driving in any major U.S. city. Along the way we stopped through Petrallada (a town carved of stone) which was utterly charming and completely empty. If you want food, coffee, or souvenirs after late summer, be sure to arrive after 12pm. This town seems to thrive on tourism, and since it’s an historic stone-carved town, it’s the perfect place for a roadie (espresso, hey). As long as you don’t want a morning espresso.

Woman walking through the town of Petrallada
Tiffany strolling Petrallada
A stone gate in the town of Petrallada.