But, a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to spend several days traveling around the Catalan countryside like it was my own personal playground. In doing so, I realized it could quite possibly be one of my very favorite regions in Spain (err, or not in Spain, depending on who you talk to).
So let’s take a little journey around Catalonia, shall we?
My excursion to the northeast region began in the city of Girona. The hillside town dazzles new visitors with its houses hanging on the Onyar River’s edge, and vibrantly hued buildings that glow in a slew of faded candy colors. I weaved through the Jewish quarter, made a little lap around the cathedral, and finally into the restaurant Divinum, where I dined on a nine-course meal fit for a queen. It was quite the first stop, and all I could think was “it’s a shame we didn’t save the best for last.”
Uncertain that the visit could get any better, I took a winding journey up and over the hills to the coastal enclave of Cadaqués. Along the pebbled shores of neighboring Port Lligat, I watched the sunrise as fishermen came and went, wrapping myself in the sounds of the breeze as it rustled the rows of olive trees criss-crossing the hills. Even more intriguing than the sun rising in front of me, was the house perched on the shore’s edge behind me. It was the home of Salvador Dalí, which, the day before, I discovered hid all sorts of quirky treasures; a jewelry-wearing polar bear, decked-out mannequins, and precariously balanced egg sculptures.
Despite the area’s fame, the morning beach maintains the quiet rhythm of a pueblo untouched by the outside world. And perhaps this isn’t all that surprising given that until about a century ago, Cadaqués was only reachable by boat. Considering it takes a potentially queasy mountain drive to get there, it’s seems a boat arrival probably made good sense.
The final stop on my Catalán tour was Besalú, but I was confident that my ability to be impressed had run its course. But I was wrong again. Framed by a massive arched bridge, the pueblo hit me like a pile full of the ancient bricks it was made of. If first impressions were everything, then Besalú’s mission had been accomplished.
But there was so much more to the little town than just the initial wow-factor. Apart from the reliably cozy small streets, the city teased my imagination with peculiar chairs. Yes chairs. One hung dripping from a building wall. Another stood some ten feet tall like a giant’s high-chair. Then there was this two-dimensional one to the left, seated along the banks of the river. I also visited the oddly awesome Museum of Miniatures, which, to its credit is a whole heck of lot more rad than I can even bring myself to admit (a high-wire walking ant with an umbrella? Wha???).
The highlight of all this gallivanting around Catalonia was that after the days passed trekking around spectacular towns, I spent nights in my own personal villas. Yeah, you read that right. I was brought on this journey by Charming Villas Catalonia, who housed me in a stone countryside mansion, a city center apartment, and a modern beachside paradise.
Essentially, each villa is like a little hotel-meets-palace, but authentic and private, and PERFECT for a decent-sized group of friends (say 6-10 couples, sometimes more) to rent out. Beyond that, they also come equipped with fat kitchens (i.e. nothing like what you’re used to in Madrid) that basically beg you to hit up the market and make yourself a feast full of local fare.
Yes, it’s true, Catalonia may be a pricey AVE-ride away from Madrid, but with Mediterranean beaches, a border with France, and nearby Barcelona, you can’t really go wrong. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait as long as I did to discover what the region has to offer.