South of France/Spain Road Trip (Part 5)

Days 8 -10: Cap de Creus, Dali’s House, Cadaques, Empuries, Calella Palafrugell, Pals, Figueres and into France again.

Cap de Creus disappointment

Our Airbnb accommodation in Cap de Creus was really sub standard and we had to change our plans from using it as a 2 night base. Snarling dogs, an uncontactable host who turned up 75 mins late to let us into our dark, faintly grimy room, a bathroom door which had fallen off, no room key. Airbnb were brilliant and refunded us completely, even for the first night.The 5km rough track to reach the house was horrendous in a low slung saloon car; I was sure we’d wreck the sump on some of the large boulders that littered the route. We have experience with rough road driving and have had some tough experiences in Africa – this wasn’t far off some of it!

Neither of us felt like staying here, but the thought of negotiating that awful approach track again tonight and then trying to find somewhere else in an area we’d never visited before – now, at 6.45pm – was equally unappealing. Luckily we had supplies for dinner rather than having to go back out again. There was a dining space in the pleasant pine tree shaded grounds so we got our food set out – the usual cold fare – and decided to think through our next move. I told our hostess later that evening ( assailed by the dogs once more) that we would not be staying tomorrow and were unhappy about the accommodation.To be fair, we were served a nice breakfast next morning, Yoghurt, cereals, home-made jam, honey and bread, eggs – albeit in a strained , silent atmosphere. It was a relief to pack up the car and drive away.

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Cap de Creus

Off we toddled to Cap de Creus National Park visitor centre (closed – story of this trip! –  a very run down looking place with a lot of graffiti and litter.) I’ve noticed people on TripAdvisor complaining bitterly about the road to the centre but it was fine compared to what we’d just driven.
It’s a very rough, rocky  coast and despite the distant hills, it just didn’t grab either of us at all. We are used to such high quality coastal landscapes at home, plus we have enjoyed some great coastlines in South Africa , the Arctic, Norway, Ireland – wild, beautiful places –  but there was something scrappy about this area so we took a couple of minor walks down to the shore in places then skedaddled off. Disappointing though the photo above makes it, I think,  look ok.

Dali’s House in Port Lligat

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Never mind, Dali’s amazing house , the Casa Museo Salvador Dali at tiny Port Lligat,  now awaited, only 10 mins drive away and a must see for me. Chris decided just to hang around the pleasant tiny harbour area and get a coffee, while I managed to get a timed ticket to see the interior. It was surprisingly busy and I just got in ahead of some coach tours; they regularly run out of ticket times so I was lucky.

What a house! Bizarre, hugely interesting, full of the oddest things in the weirdest places but really, well worth seeing even if art leaves you cold.

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There was a good film intro too, about Dali’s life and his outlook. One of his most stunning paintings is in Glasgow, my home city, in Kelvingrove Art Gallery – Christ of St John of the Cross , a brilliantly executed oil of Jesus on the cross suspended above Port Lligat.

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I joined Chris for coffee in the pretty café outside the house, a stone’s throw from the small, colourful fishing boats pulled up on the shingle. A delightful spot all round.
We headed now for Cadaques,10 mins drive away, a white washed traditional fishing village which has grown into a resort. Given so much of the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol has been often unsympathetically over-developed with huge skyscraper hotels (though I do love Marbella and Puerto Banus), the Costa Brava -the Wild Coast – where we now were, was to prove brilliantly different.

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Port Lligat and Dali’s House

Cadaques

I love that Spanish style of dazzling white cubist buildings with orange tiled roofs and we fell in love with Cadaques at first sight; it has lost none of its charm. It was busy yes, but enjoyably so with a buzzy family atmosphere. In fact, we liked it so much we decided right away to stay here overnight. Although we have toured quite a bit of Spain and really love the country, this was our first introduction to Catalunya.

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Now the problem was finding somewhere to stay as a quick check on the internet confirmed that everywhere was booked solid. We made some cold calls to hotels here and there but no joy. Then by chance, we came upon Hotel Blaumar Cadaques, a pretty, very clean and really charming small 3 star hotel set back from the waterfront in a quiet residential area. Yes, they had a room, but only for 1 night – yes thank you, we’ll take it! It was reasonably priced too and our room was spacious and airy with wonderful views over the flower filled gardens and across the bay. And – it had a sunny balcony! It couldn’t have been better, just perfect. A relief to get parked in their garage too as it wasn’t cheap in the town’s main car park.

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View from our room

Able to relax now instead of worrying about where to lay our heads tonight, we strolled round to the far end of town, finding a nice restaurant with tables right by on the quay. It had to be lunch, this was too lovely a location not to eat out. We both chose the pot of mussels in white wine and herbs with a serving of excellent fried potatoes and plenty of good bread to mop up the juices.

It was simple, no nonsense food and really tasty; there was nowhere else I would rather have been that afternoon than that atmospheric little spot. Beside us, the water was very clear and fish darted about. Around us, the whole town sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. Temperature was in the low 70s, very nice for our walk back along the length of the bay. I bought postcards and stamps, browsed the shops and we picked up some wine and nibbles for later on. It was already 4pm so it was unlikely we would want anything much for dinner later. The balcony was a pleasure to sit out on with a glass of sparkling wine and all we did was chat and read and watch the sun going down. We were already promising to come back to Cadaques in future and I would make a beeline for that small, family run, simple hotel.

Day 9: Empuries, Pals and lovely Calella Palafrugell

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A good buffet breakfast next morning, then off we set heading further south into more Terra Incognito. It had been an easy drive to Cadaques but the road out and south was tortuous and very slow. It wound down, down into a flat valley as we headed for Empuries, an ancient Greek – Roman site which was superb. Right by the sea – the harbour was left too, I’ve never seen a Roman harbour before – the ruins of the city were extensive and we spent ages wandering the various remains of houses, shops and palaces. The small museum displayed stunning jewellery, artefacts, mosaics and sculptures from the site – I felt embarrassed that I’d never heard of it before now as I love Roman sites, but this one had escaped the radar until I read about it last night.
We stopped off at nearby L’Escala, a tiny place, just a small sweep of sand, all quite low key and very pleasant indeed. Had a stroll along the front then made for a wee café-bar on the beach, plastic tables and seats but which did a very decent mussels in white wine and excellent fried potatoes. There was a queue for a table despite other smarter places being open, so we reckoned it was worth a try and it didn’t disappoint.

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Our final stop that day was the lovely resort of Calella Palafrugell (CP) on a very attractive coast of pine covered headlands, cliffs and little sandy coves, peppered with small traditional whitewashed resorts. It was delightful and completely different to the towering high rise Spanish beach resorts of greater renown. The roads were narrow and tortuous all over this area, giving occasional glimpses of turquoise coves through the pines, smart villas, palm trees and small hotels. Very lovely.

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Finally , we pulled into parking at CP, a delightful fishing port with colourful traditional houses and hotels, fishing boats pulled up on the sand, pine covered headlands and a couple of nice beaches. We loved it and decided to stay for the night.

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There was very little accommodation available but we managed to get the LAST room in the large, modern Hotel Mediterrani which overlooked the sea. It was very cheap too, perhaps because our room, though very clean and comfortable, was quite dark; the really nice Manager apologised for it facing some pipework, rather than the beach, but really, we were just relieved to get somewhere at short notice in such a nice and obviously popular area.
Got our gear into the room, then parked the car round the corner on a side street, all very safe. It was a glorious late afternoon, around 6pm, so we headed out again for a stroll along the shore then up to the terrace of a beautifully situated café-bar where I had a Margarita and Chris had a beer. Sitting under the pines, overlooking the beach and the pretty town, the evening sun still warm, I really did think, this is the life….

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Later, we had an evening stroll along the busy back street, got a couple of ice creams and just enjoyed the holiday atmosphere. Another grand wee place altogether.
Day 10: Cap Roig, Pals village, Figueres and into France again

Breakfast next morning was an excellent buffet – a bit too cool to have it out on the terrace – but we got a window table and enjoyed muesli, yoghurt, fresh fruit salad, boiled eggs, good bread, pain au chocolat (ooh, so pleased to see those in a basket) cold meats and cheeses and that lovely Pan con Tomate – chopped up tomatoes with some good olive oil, which tastes great on toast. Coffees with hot milk and we were absolutely stuffed! We had with us our own full size kettle as usual for making cups of tea first thing, so we’d had our dose of that necessity on waking. Not everywhere in Europe provides a kettle for tea in your room so we always bring our own.

(Mind you, I had a bit of a disaster with our kettle in Italy one year, in San Gimignano.We had just got into our room after a long day’s driving and sightseeing and I was desperate for tea. So I grabbed the kettle out of Chris’s small suitcase, filled it up and soon it was boiling away and I made us each a cuppa. Ah Bisto, good old tea. In no time I wanted another cup but wondered why there was so little water sloshing inside the kettle, when I thought I’d filled it.I lifted the lid to check inside only to find that it was full of Chris’s pants and socks! Now, of course, deeply boiled! To save luggage roonm, he always uses the kettle space to pack away his underwear, but I hadn’t given him time to empty it this time. So – boiled underwear – flavoured tea. Thankfully, he only ever puts his clean stuff inside😊

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Had a stroll along the little beach below the hotel once we’d had breakfast, settled our bill with the very friendly Manager and headed with our gear to the car. I was keen to visit the Jardins de Cap Roig, a short drive away; Chris wasn’t that fussed but I’m glad I persuaded him as they were absolutely delightful, laid out on a cliff with stunning views through the pine trees to the cerulean sea below. I sometimes find gardens abroad to be a wee bit underwhelming but this was a beauty of a place with flowers galore and immaculately maintained, a really life affirming place. Laid out in 1927, there was also a pretty castle, privately owned. We spent about an hour just wandering the myriad paths , following the map of the gardens to make sure we saw every corner; well worth the entry fee, a must see I would say on this part of the coast.

Today was going to be quite a big travel day with our accommodation tonight back in France, near the pretty village of La Couvertoirade in the Les Causses area – 3.5hrs drive away. But there was still more of Spain to enjoy, first up being the lovely little village of Pals, about 15 mins away from the gardens.

A complete contrast to the coast, its medieval core is stone built and very beautiful. We walked up to the 11th century Romanesque tower, all that remains of its castle and admired the 12th century walls. It’s a popular place for a day trip and was quite busy, with some nice café -bars, their terraces full of people having lunch and generally enjoying the sunny weather.I really wanted to stop and have lunch too, it was so appealing but we had a long day ahead and had planned a meal out tonight in France plus, we were still pretty full after breakfast. Onward it was, to get some mileage rather than food under our belts.

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Dali Museum

A must see for me was the Dali Museum in Figueres, a city we found very easy to navigate and get parked in. In fact it seemed quite quiet. That changed when we arrived outside the museum where there was a queue to get in and it looked like the whole world was here.Chris is not a Dali fan so decided to retire to a nearby bar for a beer; there was a very lively area beside the museum packed with cafes and bars and restaurants, going like a fair. So off I toddled, giving myself an hour to enjoy the place.
In fact, I could have spent double that time – what an incredible place! The minute I walked inside, I was bowled over by the images and strange effects of Dali’s art. Wild, weird, bizarre, provocative, skilful, playful – I’ve never seen anything quite like it.The art work and sculptures and displays were clever and intriguing and defy description. Well worth seeing and I just wish Chris had come in, because even without being a fan of the artist – and he’s not my favourite by a long way – it is an experience. The exterior of the building itself is quite stunning.

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Lincoln or a female nude? Or both?

I joined Chris at his sunny table for a coffee, raving about the museum but he was quite glad to have enjoyed his lunchtime drink. That meant that I was now driving – always a recipe for tension between us; I love driving but Chris, normally very mild mannered and polite does NOT like being a passenger one bit and is always pointing out that I’m in the wrong gear. The miles pass by with his regular commentary through gritted teeth – ‘you’re in 3rd ‘ or ‘5th!’ Within fifteen minutes, I know he will be deeply regretting that drink.

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No major fall outs this time however and 2.5 hrs later we were pulling into the small village of Le Caylar on the edge of the Les Causses escarpment. Our aim had been to stay in nearby La Couvertoirade, an exquisite, ancient village amidst sheep pastures and empty countryside, but we couldn’t find any accommodation there online. But the heart of Le Caylar turned out to be characterful, with a nice walk up to a viewpoint, an old church and castle remains.

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We had a very nice room too in a 14th century house but regretted taking up our hostess’s suggestion of where to eat – the worst meal of the trip. Twice we had to return what was clearly microwaved stew and potatoes (mushy because they’d been frozen and reheated), the centre of the dish each time being cold. Only one other couple came in to eat while we were there, never a good sign either. Later, I found out that the place belonged to the family so our hostess simply signposted her guests to it automatically! We felt really cheated because I’d read that a basic cafe place at the entrance to the village (there was a service centre area on its edge) was actually recommended in Les Routiers for cheap, no nonsense tasty food and that was where we’d planned to go. Well, we were starving after that small, half warm offering in the restaurant and made a beeline for it, but they’d stopped serving at 8pm! Finally, we found a minimarket attached to the petrol station and cobbled together some cured ham, cheese and crisps to keep us going. But no bread left and no milk for my tea either – disaster!

Days 11 – 13: La Couvertoirade, St Tropez, Grimaud and Gassin – and I end up in hospital.

Other days: South of France/Spain Road Trip (Part 1)  South of France/Spain Road Trip(Part 2)  South of France/Spain Road Trip(Part 3)  South of France/Spain Road Trip(Part 4)   South of France/Spain Road Trip (Final)

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