Magical days on the Costa Brava – Spain/Catalonia, Part I

Spain has been on our list for SO long, but for some reason we always ended up somewhere else during our travels. Finally, this past April, we made it there. And though I say “Spain”, our focus really was Catalonia — a distinct region of Spain, with its own language (Catalan), traditions, food, and proud identity.

Though ultimately we’d end our trip in Barcelona, we wanted to see the beautiful Costa Brava, and spent our first four days in Cadaqués — a seaside village on the Mediterranean, with cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings. As is the case with many of the most special places,  Cadaqués is not easy to reach —  while it’s only about 2 hours and 15 minutes from Barcelona, it requires a winding drive full of hairpin turns over a mountain to get in or out. Try doing that after a red-eye from the US (Jeff gets major points for that — I was a terrible navigator and kept falling asleep). That drive is more than worth it, as it passes through olive groves and offers up views of the Mediterranean along the way. Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0072.jpgOur base in Cadaqués was the Hotel Playa Sol — a boutique hotel situated on the small bay and overlooking the town. (The view above was from our hotel room).  Our room was the one at on the 2nd level of the hotel on the far left in the photo below, and was a perfectly sized family room facing the water.
If we were in the room, and we weren’t sleeping, we were on the balcony, with a Spanish Gin Tonic from the bar downstairs. I wish I could transport myself back there right now. I know the gin was Hendricks and the Tonic was Schweppes, but they were the best damn Gin Tonics (they leave out the “and” there!) I’ve ever had in my life.Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0051.jpgCadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0050.jpgHere are Jeff and the girls on the little beach in front of the hotel.Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0001.jpg
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0002.jpgWe spent our first afternoon trying to beat jet lag and walking through the tiny cobbled streets of the town, where there was nothing but charm around every corner. Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0006.jpg
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0074.jpgCadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0075.jpgAnd like any good village, lots of cats.Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0004.jpg

Our first night we watched the sun go down behind the mountains, and the lights of Cadaqués come on, and it felt like we were in a dream.

Getting to know more about Salvador Dalì was the highlight of our second day. He was Cadaqués most famous resident, living there with his wife Gala for fifty-two years in the little fishing hamlet of Portlligat.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0013.jpgHere is Salvador and Gala’s home — with the eggs on top — because, why not put eggs on your house? Actually eggs are a symbol often found in Dalì’s works, and this is just the first of two of his homes that we saw that were decorated by giant eggs. Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0023.jpgThe water in front of the house was full of the most colorful little fishing boats.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0019.jpgCadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0020.jpgCadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0022.jpgOnce inside, we took the short tour through Dali’s Studio and his home with Gala. Only 8 people are allowed in at a time, so you have to book tickets in advance as they do sell out.)
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0025.jpgThe home is full of quirk, and kitsch, and Dalì brilliance. I love that this mirror reflects Salvador and Gala’s portraits here, but it was installed at the perfect angle so that they could watch the sunrise in the morning from their bed.

The matching clogs!! Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0027.jpgAs we walked out of the house and into the back garden, we were stopped in our tracks by a cacophony of buzzing bees along with the overwhelming smell of the sweetest jasmine.
Next to the (phallic) pool was the plastic sofa modeled after Mae West’s lips.

Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0033.jpgThe perfect follow up to Dalì’s house was the Dalì Theater-Museum in Figueres about an hour away. Dalì actually lived here after Gala’s death, and it later became a museum of his work, and is also where is is buried. And again, with the giant eggs!
In a Memorial to Gala, the boat that she and Dalì enjoyed together is dripping with blue tears — and sits above his Cadillac.

Most know Dalì for his melting clocks, but the array of art and styles throughout this museum totally blew me away. He truly was a genius. If anyone knows of a good Dalì biography by the way, I’d love to read it.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0037.jpgCrazy, but brilliant, right!?
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0038.jpgTwo very different portraits of his beloved, Gala.
The Mae West room. Because, why not.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0041.jpgAfter the Dali Theater Museum, we headed a little further west, past this beautiful view of the Pyrenees, to the small town of Besalú.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0077.jpgWe spent a couple of hours exploring the medieval town and enjoying lunch on the plaza.
And here we have the cringey “Mom, enough with the pictures” smile. Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0047.jpg
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0049.jpgBoth of the girls take French in school, and when we realized we’d be just 30 miles or so away, we decided to spend a day there to get a taste of a different region of France than we’d been to before. Our destination was Collioure, but the trip there led us over mountain roads on the edge of the sea, and treated us to some of the most breathtaking views we’ve ever seen.
When we finally arrived, we discovered what proved to be one of our most favorite of any French village we have visited.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0061.jpgIf you look closely here you’ll see a raft full of people at the end of this long pier. There was also a helicopter flying back and forth and dropping people into the water, and we weren’t sure at first what it was. But it turns out that Collioure is also the home of  French Commando Training Center, and these kinds of exercises are common sights in Collioure.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0062.jpg Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0064.jpg
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0068.jpgAway from the water, we were treated to colorful buildings along the narrow cobbled streets.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0071.jpgWhile we were sad to leave France, we were eager to get back to Spain and have a delicious dinner that night. La Sirena was a perfect choice. The service was attentive and friendly and we truly felt like the wait staff wanted us to have the best possible experience.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0073.jpgFunny side story. Jeff is allergic to crustaceans (shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.), so we had to order our paella without the langoustine (a specialty of the region). This was totally OK with me, because I DO NOT eat anything that has legs or eyes or a shell that I have to peel off. Easy enough to explain the allergy to the waitress and the chef, and I figured I was off the hook too. However — not wanting me to miss out on the langoustine, the restaurant owner showed up with an entire plate of them to eat on my own. Seriously, I didn’t know if I could do it — these little sea creatures were looking me straight in the eye. Not wanting to be rude, I made my way through the plate — each bite followed by a large gulp of sangria. Truthfully, they weren’t awful, but I’ll still stick to things without eyes in the future. And yes, that was a HUGE sangria, thank goodness. Overall, such a memorable and wonderful meal.

Our last morning, we learned that the streets of Cadaqués are beautiful (and empty) at sunrise, too.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0017.jpgCadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0012.jpgAs we looked out at this view for the last time, I wondered if we’d ever be back here. Maybe we will, but more likely, I think we’ll probably be discovering special little towns in other countries or even other parts of Spain. It’s a little bittersweet to think about never seeing this place again, but then I get lost in wondering what will be the next little  town that warms my heart the way Cadaqués did.
Cadaques_Costa_Brava_Spain_0011.jpgNext — Eight days in Barcelona.

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