Barcelona, a true traveler’s muse, and the gateway to the rest of the exciting Spanish region of Catalonia. For several reasons, it has lured me back few times in the past few years, mainly edible reasons!
When most of it has been seen and done, it was time to stop my wallet bleed caused by buying far more espadrilles than one woman can wear in a single summer season. Seeking restorative doses of coastal romance, vivid culture, and some seriously picturesque landscapes, I found more desirable distractions three short rides away.
These less sung Catalan gems were definitely worth breaking away for the day.
Admittedly, I came to Girona on the day the last episode of the final season of Game of Thrones aired to get my own GOT conclusions. My guess is, I’m not the only one who needed that!
If you’re a fan, feel free to call it little Braavos, where a number of memorable Arya turns into a ruthless assassin scenes were shot. And how about that Cersei naked walk of shame from the Cathedral de Santa María de Girona posing as the Great Sept of Baelor scene? Anybody?!
Ok, that’s enough GOT geeking for today.
The show might’ve put the city back on the touristic map, but what has initially pinned it down there is its place in history as a cultural intersection. The old town’s center is an impeccable cobblestone web harboring Jewish, Arab, Roman, Gothic, and Modernist architectural jewels.
On the western side of the river Onyar, the newer part of the city is a great place to relax in quaint coffeeshops or devour some local pastries.
If you feel like you need to burn the extra calories afterward, zigzag across the river on those iconic bridges the city is insta-famous for. Shabulous ochre hued houses adorning both sides add a dashing pop of color to the scene. Don’t forget to capture the moment on the Pont de les Peixateries Velles, brought to public recognition by its celebrity designer, Gustave Eiffel.
This one is my favorite; simply because the journey constitutes half the prize. The 2:30 hours (give or take) drive from Barcelona’s center is made much more pleasurable by the amazing scenery surrounding snaky mountainside roads. Not for the lightheaded, but certainly stunning.
Two things tempted me to explore this side of the Spanish rugged coast (aka Costa Brava), the promise of idyllic Mediterranean whitewashed towns and Dali. The latter I was able to encounter before even reaching my final destination, with a quick detour to visit the Dali Museum in his hometown, Figueres.
As for Cadaques, it’s a place to fall in love, be in love, just love.
A town so pretty; it inspired the work of top-class artists like Picasso, Miro and Man Ray. It must’ve been that liquid gold sunset spilled all over the bay, which I witnessed later, that kept them coming.
I spent the first hour getting purposely lost in a maze of narrow handmade stone paths, and not really wanting to be found. It was pretty much a game of let’s see how much prettiness I can discover if I turn this corner. Rows of vibrant bougainvillea, rustic blue doors, the cutest local souvenir shops, cozy sidewalk cafes, a bottomless jar of charm, that’s what I found.
Ultimately, I followed my nose to the waterfront and scored a delightful fresh seafood meal. It was a long one, punctuated by regular gazing breaks. My mind often reeled away trailing white sailboats and snapped back to the sound of gleeful swimmers and chatter.
A short afternoon walk to the nearby Portlligat cove brought me to the former residence of Salvador Dali, where he lived for 50 years with the love of his life, his wife Gala. Their spirit evidently lingering in the place, lending it a very “surreal” character.
By far the most popular destination with Barcelona day trippers.
A mere 50km away from the city, the second most important pilgrimage site in Spain after the Camino de Santiago, the Cathedral de Montserrat, is accessible by public transport. Inside the sacred monastery that sits approximately 4000ft above sea level, devotees and curious crowds alike come to commune with the miracle working spirit of the Black Madonna, the patron of Catalonia.
Additionally, Montserrat is the spiritual home and the historic soul of the Catalonian people. The Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat is a symbol of national pride, where intellectuals and patriots found refuge during the age of Franco to keep the flame of the region’s distinctive culture alive in the darkest time of the country’s history.
If like me you were not entirely familiar with the status of the place, perhaps spend some time at the beginning of your visit at the audiovisual exhibition up there, which explains it all.
The Arts Museum of Monserrat is another great place to encounter the works of the masters, such as El Greco, Dali, and Picasso.
To better appreciate the natural attributes and beauty of the area, I took the funicular de Sant Joan to the second and higher observation platform. The views it provided of the first platform and the surrounding valley were sublime.
At the top, there are few hiking routes varying in intensity to choose from. This probably is the best way to get a good look at the oddly shaped peaks of the serrated mountain, rumored to have been carved with giant golden saws operated by baby angels descended from heaven.
I mean, just let your imagination a little loose…