A two-day tour of Catalonia

This is a two-day tour through small towns in the north of Catalonia, spending the night in the wonderful and famously touristic city of Girona.

Day one

Starting from Girona, the first stop is the Lake of Banyoles with its crystal-clear waters. Mountains and green fields surround the lake giving an air of freshness and purity. This is a lovely walk to start early in the morning, taking into account that while on holidays “early in the morning” means around nine or even 10 a.m.

 

The walk is a 90-minute loop around the lake. The surrounding area is very varied and colourful. There are fields full of bright yellow crops with heavily scented flowers (“colza”, a plant used to feed cattle, as a local helpfully explained). There are also many small red flowers called “ruseiya” and green fields that add to the pure countryside feel.

The Catalans, knowing the beauty of this lake, chose it to host the rowing competitions during Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Games.

There is a camping site near the lake for those nature lovers who want to enjoy the clean air and the spectacular landscape for a longer period of time.

After this walk it would be time for lunch in the small yet majestic town Castell Follit de la Roca, 40 minutes by car from the lake. This town is built atop a rocky precipice –when you see it from the main road you’ll open your eyes wide, and probably your mouth too!

Surprisingly this town doesn’t see many tourists – it was so empty that it even felt phantasmagorical. But it is definitely worth the visit as the natural location is awe-inspiring. Since it sits high on the rocky mountain it has great views in all directions, particularly from the top of the church tower. La Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park is nearby.

For lunch I strongly recommend the restaurant Ca la Paula which had amazing food, surprisingly cheap for the quality. A three-course set menu (with several choices for each course) with red wine was 16 euros (£14).

After Castell Follit de la Roca the next stop is Besalú, an extremely touristic medieval town.

Besalú is considered the most important medieval town in Catalonia. It has been declared a National Historic-Artistic Town,” explained Eduard Comas, a local school-teacher.

Besalú means fortification between two rivers, and it really is between two rivers. To access Besalú there is a massive medieval bridge of “unknown” origins, as its sign stated.

The town was full of tourists browsing the craftwork shops and taking pictures. The craftworks ranged from ceramics to wooden tools, and on that particular day there was a blacksmithing fair in the main square, where heavily-muscled men were hammering at various iron objects.

“Ironwork is very traditional in Catalonia and in Spain in general but this craft is starting to disappear as less and less people are interested in buying these objects. These fairs aim to promote our wares to tourists and —who knows!— someone might engage in this profession thanks to the fairs,” explained blacksmith Carlos Moreira.

The fair displayed all kind of forged objects: horseshoes, dragon- and snake-shaped coat hooks and ornaments, swords, even a sailboat.

One corner of the fair caught my attention, where large muscular men were gathered around a short, aged man who was explaining technique to the young group. You could tell from his age and the attention he commanded, that he was the expert around here.

The old man was Josep Ferrer, a blacksmith for 71 years. We arranged for an interview, a few days later at his home in Les Planes, a suburb of Barcelona. Later on we’ll learn more about Josep but for now let’s continue this tour…

A coffee and a dessert later it is time to head to the city of Girona, whose beauty must be seen both by day and by night, which is why we’ve chosen it for our overnight stop in this two-day tour of Catalonia.

Girona is a historical city with buildings dating back to the times of Charlemagne. It is very romantic with many small and hidden paths to get lost in. The view from the river is famously picturesque, with houses painted in different bright colours.

There are many stories or myths around this city.

One of these is a belief that if you kiss the buttocks of the lioness statue located in the Plaza de Sant Feliu, you will surely come back to Girona. The statue isn’t very tall, just three metres from the floor, with convenient stepping-blocks.

“Funnily enough a visitor heard the legend but got the wrong statue, a male lion atop a column a good six metres above the ground. He was halfway up the column when someone told him he was reaching for the wrong lion! It was so hilarious it was even in the news,” explained Orlando Sánchez, a student at the university of Girona.

Another legend concerns a puppet, resembling a harlequin, that is suspended above the commercial Argenteria street during the city’s spring celebrations. Jordi Serrat, who lives in Llagostera, a small town close to Girona, explained one version of the legend that says that “El Tarlá [the puppet’s name] is to remember an acrobat who raised the city’s spirits during times of a serious epidemic by doing acrobatics in the street of Argenteria.”

According to Jordi, Girona is the city with the best quality of life in all of Spain.

For dinner in Girona the traditional restaurant Café Le Bistrot was recommended by locals, with outside seating in a steep, quiet medieval street.

Day two

Leaving Girona, not without first kissing the lioness, the second day of this tour leads us to the towns of the “Costa Brava,” the Rugged Coast.

After a busy first day, today’s plan is to chill out on the beach.

A good option is Tossa de Mar, a seaside town with white-washed walls and a white sandy beach. It used to be a fishing village but now lives mostly from tourism.

At one end of the beach stands a fortress built on a rocky hill. The town is divided in two areas: The old area, inside the fortress walls, and the modern area, much of which is no older than 60 years.

Tossa de Mar is perfect when you want to spot people and be spotted. But if solitude and quietness is what you prefer, there is a nearby beach called La Fosca. To get to this beach, the best thing is to drive to Palamos and walk from there. It is a ten minute walk to paradise, as La Fosca is a wonderful beach to just sit and enjoy the calmness and massiveness of the sea.

There is a short walk from this beach that takes you to an isolated cabin once owned by the famous Catalan artist Salvador Dalí.


The Dalí Triangle

Egg-headed sculptures, optical illusions, a caged cricket, classic Greek statues with baguettes on their heads, an upside-down boat; all these and many more eccentricities you will find while travelling the Dalí Triangle.

The Dalí Triangle is a circuit of three towns in Catalonia, visiting three houses of the surreal artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989).

The unconventional personality of Dalí is reflected in these houses, located in Figueres, Port Lligat and Púbol, now made into museums. All three are worth visiting not only for their locations but because they inspire creativity.

“Before I came here I didn’t even like Dalí’s art, but now I have to admit that being here has changed my mind. He was absolutely crazy,” said a tourist outside the Museum-Theatre Dalí in Figueres.

The Museum-Theatre Dalí located in the small town Figueres is the most known and visited museum of Dalí, probably because it is the closest one to Barcelona. Many people outside the museum were not aware of the existence of the other two museums in Port Lligat and Púbol.

This museum in Figueres was built under Dali’s instructions and his remains are buried here. There is always a big queue outside the museum, but there are plenty of things to see from the outside that will keep you busy while queuing.

This museum features most of the paintings of the artist, plus an impressive section displaying Dalí-designed jewellery.

The second stop of the triangle is The House-Museum SalvadorDalí located near Cadaqués, a Mediterranean town where many wealthy people from inland Catalonia have a holiday house.

Located on a small peninsula, Cadaqués is a paradise where many artists —not just Dalí; also Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró— have lived or visited for extended periods of time.

The house-museum is in Port Lligat, a 15 minute walk from Cadaqués. The path goes past fields full of olive trees and the Mediterranean Sea appears in view from time to time.

There are many cats all over the place and mysterious tuna served for them by the roadside.  This made me wonder who owned and fed the cats. The mystery was solved when I saw a man in the act. He explained: “I love cats, they are the cats of Cadaqués and I always feed them. Many other locals do it as well.” The man was also on his way to the Dalí museum as he worked there.

The House-Museum is the house where Dalí used to live with his wife and muse Gala until 1982[i] when she died. That same year Dalí left the house and never came back.

The house is small, compared to the other two museums, but its size gives it a special intimacy. You get to see the couple’s bedroom, their big cage for birds and the small one for a cricket (they liked the sound of crickets so much that they had one in their bedroom).

To visit this museum you must book in advance as they only let 10 people in every 30 minutes.

Outside this museum I met Arturo Caminada, who owns a boat that, he says, belonged to Gala and Dalí, who then gave it to him as a gift. Arturo explained that he worked for Gala and Dalí for 40 years and now his daughter works in the museum and his son takes tourists to the Natural Park Cap de Creus in the boat. Meanwhile Arturo likes to sit back and talk to the museum visitors.

The last visit in this triangle is the House-Museum Gala Dalí Castle. This museum is a XI century castle in medieval style, located in the town of Púbol. This museum displays furniture designed by Dalí. The house was a gift from Dalí to his wife Gala, to fulfil his promise of making her queen of a castle.

There is a distance of 40 kilometres from one museum to the next, so two days are necessary to visit all of them. Although you will find Cadaqués so beautiful that you may want to stay there longer, as I did.


[i] Gala Dalí. La Vida Secreta: Diario Inedito. Editorial Galaxia Gutenberg.