This section includes:
- CAP DE CREUS
- EL PORT DE LA SELVA
- SANT PERE DE ROSES- LLANÇÁ
To the east of Castelló and at the northern end of the Golfo de Roses lies the full-blown resort town of Roses, the largest resort on the northern part of the coast. Roses was founded by Greek mariners from Rhodes, who named it after their home. Unfortunetly, the Roses area has become over-developed, the only agreeable recent addition being a man-made beach running along the town center. The original small beach lies beside the busy harbor, but the main swath of fine sand has been colonized by characterless urbanizaciones, or developments. Roses was fortified in the sixteenth century by the Emperor Charles V who constructed a large citadel, la Ciutadela, as a bastion against the Turks. The nearby fort of La Trinitat was the object of a fierce attack by the French during the Peninsular War. For cool and insolent daring its defense by the British naval commander, Lord Cochrane, was one of the outstanding combined operations of the war. When the French launched an all out attack on November 30, 1808, with some 1,200 men they were ingeniously repulsed with heavy losses by a handful of sailors. Nonetheless the citadel was eventually blown up by Suchet in 1814. Apart from the castle and the surviving sections of the city walls, there's little in present day Roses to hint at its long history. Instead, the town trades exclusively on its four kilometers of sandy beach, which have fostered a large and popular water-sports industry. Roses is today surrounded, not by Napoleonic invaders, but by all the amenities of mass tourism, and local supermarkets stock all the foods that make northern Europeans feel at home. One special feature of Roses, though, is the quality of its sunsets. The town faces west, and the sun sets over the Golfo de Roses. There are some decent calas around the rocky promontory to the north of town on the coastal road to Cadaqués.
Market on Sundays. Pastries at Mallol, Pi i Sunyer 4. Xarrich on Mossèn Carles Feliu 12 is a fancy fishmonger, specializing in prepared fish such as salted cod, salted anchovies, and the delicious boquerones (same fish as anchovy but prepared in vinegar). The Don Pancho cruise-boats go out from the harbor, in front of the Hotel Rambla Mar, and tour the Cap de Creus or go all the way down the Gulf of Roses to the Illes Medes. The first route is shorter and more spectacular. The Agua Brava aquatic park (972 25 43 44) is a few km out of town, a little beyond the crossroads for Cadaques and Figueres. Across from the aquatic park is the best go-kart circuit on the coast, Karting Roses (972 25 41 03) boasting a 900 m track, with mini karts or the impressive Super Karts, with 200cc motors that can reach breakneck speeds of 85 km/h. Three scuba centers in Roses, call me for info.
Restaurant Flor de Lis at Cosconilles 47 (972 25 43 16) is a curious place, owned by a German and offering rather sophisticated French cuisine. Crêpes with shrimp and fennel, curried shrimp with exotic fruits, sirloin steak with smoked salmon and bernaise sauce, suprème of capon with lobster tail, etc. Can Ramon at Sant Elm 8 (972 25 69 18) is a more economical and popular restaurant with a relaxed family atmosphere. Bullabesa, suquet, oven-baked fish, fried seafood, wild game, etc. On your way into Roses from Figueres (km 4) is La Llar (972 25 53 68), set in an elegantly decorated chalet, and with a special menú degustación, or set menu, consisting of five dishes. Sea bass with puff pastry, carpaccio of pigs feet with shrimp in herbal olive oil, marinated quail with lentils, grilled lamb ribs with thyme, wild strawberries au gratin, etc. Llevant, on Av. de Rhode 145 (972 25 68 35) has tasty fish stews at reasonable prices.
The New York Times "Dining Out" section (Sept. 15,1999) says of restaurant Hacienda El Bulli (972 15 04 57) "Some say it is the best restaurant in Europe, possibly the world." It is one of two Spanish restaurant which has consistently earned top three-star rating in the Bible of Gastronomy, the Guide Michelin (the other one is Arzak in San Sebastian). Set on a remote cala several kms east of Roses on the Cape of Montjoi, the restaurant is best reached by yacht -or, if you travel like the President or King of Spain..., by helicopter. The road out towards the Cape is rough going, and don't expect to be able to continue to Cadaqués unless you have a four-wheel drive. With spectacular sea views, El Bulli's famous young chéf, Ferran Adriá, 37, serves a highly creative mix of Catalan and international cuisine, and has an extensive wine cellar. Though the restaurant does offer a set menu for about $100, most clients, I imagine, spend more than that on a good bottle of wine. Shrimps with wild mushrooms, buckwheat blinis with smoked chicken and caviar, codfish empanadas with tamarind sauce, vinaigrette with pine nuts and sweet fresh onions, lobster gazpacho with basil, abalone and bacon with ginger root and a salad of coconut and apple, etc. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays except in summer, and from mid January to mid-March.
Recommended beaches: The road along the cape beyond Montjoi is in bad shape and serves to dissuade sun bathers from frequenting some of the areas best beaches. Perhaps the best of them is Cala de la Pelosa, 2 km beyond Montjoi on the dirt track, just before reaching the Cape of Norfeu. The cala is surrounded by pine and oak trees, and the rocky promentories hide protected species of Greek sea turtles and rapacious acquatic birds.
Just south of Roses lies Ampuriabrava. The name has a fine historic ring to it, but in fact the entire village was entirely built for holidaymakers, mostly Germans, with many of its villas set on a 35-kilometer network of canals so that wealthy villa owners can dock their yachts just below their back porches.. What the town lacks in character is somewhat made up for in it's good selection of sports facilities. With watersports on the beach, plenty of tennis courts, and amusement parks for the kids, there's something for everyone. There's also a good center for boat rentals here, with all kinds of vessels available per day or season, and the local flying club and airstrip offer an ample selection of gliders and airplanes as well as a serious sky-diving club. The club hosts international competitions in sky-skating and formations, but also takes on beginners who, for 5,000 ptas. including gear rental, can have the thrill of a lifetime. Dropping altitude is at 12,500 feet, or 3,800 meters..
Useful Empuriabrava telephone numbers: Thalassa rent-a-boat, 45 38 27, Comora Scuba Club, 45 28 45. Marina, 45 36 91. Windsurfing 45 22 80. Formula Tennis, 45 10 08. High Sea (sic) fishing, 45 30 02. Horse Club, 45 08 80. Jip Aviation and Parachuting Center, 45 01 11. *Centro de Paracaidismo Costa Brava, Apto de Correos 194, 17487, Empuriabrava, Girona. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Far more pleasant than Roses or Empuriabrava is Cadaqués, to the north, accessible only by crossing the plain and going up the steep road winding over the bare wind-swept hills (the alternate coastal road around the cape from Roses is for four-wheel drives only). With its steep cobbled alleyways of white tiled-roof houses looking out over a bay of brightly-painted fishing boats, Cadaqués is genuinely picturesque. A sea-front promenade winds along the craggy bays on either side of the harbor - still a working fishing port. Sitting on the seafront, you can watch the fishermen take their live catches straight to the restaurant kitchens. The tiny beaches of red-blue slate and shingle are not terribly comfortable for sun bathers, though there are sand beaches, like Sa Concha, to the south of town. Cadaqués has a definite atmosphere of its own, distinct form other resorts on the coast. This is an up-market resort for arty adults rather than families. There's a lively café society at night with jazz bars, and you can take part in the sardana on Sundays at 10pm.
In the old days the superstars of the avant guard - Picasso, Buñuel, Lorca - and their entourage came to visit Salvador Dalí's eccentric house in nearby Portlligat - follow signs from the main road into town. Recently opened to visitors, 700 ptas, Dali's house may be visited in small closely- monitored groups, so in summer they are often booked solid for the day. Call 972 25 80 63 for visitor information. To anyone familiar with Dalí's work, the windswept lunar landscapes around the bay of Portlligat are bound to ring a bell. In the same way that the architect Gaudí's work was influenced by the strange rock formations of his native Reus, Dalí's surreal landscapes are in fact quite faithful recreations of the weird topography of Portllitgat and nearby Cap de Creus. Portlligat has a scuba diving center open March - November. Call me for information.
Visitors early this century to Cadaques included Garcia Lorca, Man Ray, Eluard, Duchamp, Magritte, Breton, and Albéniz. Visitors in the late '40s included Walt Disney, the duke of Windsor, the ex - king of Italy Umberto de Savoy, and many, many millionaires. and local hostelries proudly display evidence of their patronage. In the 60´s, Cadaqués became a distinctly hip place, hosting an interesting floating community. There are still plenty of beautiful people around and more than a few Mercedes, but it all falls short of, say, Southern-France snobbery, and in the off-season, the local artistic community gives Cadaqués a somewhat bohemian feel.
The sights in Cadaqués are aimed at art lovers. The Perrott-Moore Museum, Vigilant 1, (600ptas.) displays a collection of graphic art assembled by Dalí's former secretary, and is a taster for the Figueres museum. You can admire several early sketches by the young Salvador, and read fan mail from the rich and famous. In keeping with the surreal subtext there is a vintage car with effigies of Dalí, Picasso, Buñuel, and Lorca. A small municipal Museu d'Art at Carrer Narcis Monturiol 15 (near restaurant La Galiota) has local paintings plus a sprinkling by big names such as Toulouse-Lautrec. The apse of the large and rather plain Santa María church has a splendid baroque retablo of 1763 by master Pau Costa. Santa María is also the site of a summer Baroque Music Festival.
Restaurant El Pescador on c/ Nemesio Llorens, which is around the harbourside, to the right as you face the water from Mulberry park, has very good paella, and you can eat indoors or out on the pavement. Es Baluard, built into an ancient fortified wall, also on Nemesio Llorens 2 (25 81 83), closed Thursdays, is highly recommended for fresh fish and grilled meats. On Avda. Caritat Serinyana 6, which is on the main road running away from the bay, the Don Quixote has courtyard seating and a menu del día. La Galiota at Narciso Monturiol 9 (25 81 87) specializes in seafood casseroles and comes with a heftier pricetag. Mar y montaña, brandada of cod, chicken with pinapple, soufflé Gran Marnier. Afterwards, have a ron cremat on the sea-front terrace at Marítim, Plaça Dr. Trèmols, or if it´s early enough, at the busy local 'Casino' just beside where the dry riverbed, or rambla, flows into the sea. This is where locals and vacationers mix, with serious dominoes and card games serving as the ice-breaker. There's an interesting pottery shop at Costa Brava on the Passeig del Mar 12.
Northeast of Cadaqués is the singular site of Cap de Creus, (the ancient Aphrodision of Greek mythology), a desolate and windswept collection of high rocky cliffs overlooking normally rough seas. The lighthouse signals the Iberian Peninsula's Eastern-most shore. The mysterious surroundings were used to great effect as the film location for an Italo-Franco-Hispano coproduction film-version of Jules Verne´s classic tale, Lighthouse at the End of the Earth, with Yul Brunner as the marooned pirate. These craggy cliffs are a paradise for anyone who likes to scramble around rocks risking life and limb at every step. Just below the lighthouse, there's a red brick building - the only other building there - that some (ex) hippie-types have converted into a cozy bar/restaurant/hostal, with fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, 'world-music', and an eclectic variety of eats such as hommus, vegetarian curries, stuffed crêpes, etc.
Recommended beaches: Perhaps the best beach near the here is the Cala Jugadora, at 7.5 km from the turn off in Cadaqués for the Cap de Creus. This is a peeble beach that is always full of anchored yachts seeking shelter from the tramontana. An excellent place to snorkle.
Across the Cape, 13 km from Cadaqués and set amid steeply terraced hills, is wind-swept and white-washed Port de la Selva, an ideal place for wind-surfers, with an serious fishing port on the eastern side of a large bay. The town itself is not terribly enticing, although it does have an old town around Barroque Santa Maria de les Neus, and some good seafood restaurants near the port: Ca l'Herminda at L'Illa 7 (972 38 70 75) has good seafood, as does Bellavista, Platja 3 (972 38 70 50) which as the name suggests, has a good view. Comercio on Moll d'en Balleu 3 (972 38 70 14) has an agreeable terrace. Fishing accessories are available at Nàutica El Port on Moll de la Timba 3.
Port de la Selva is, however, one of the two points of access to Sant Pere de Rodes, one of the most important of all Catalan Romanesque sites. Perched high on a hillside, its ruined towers and walls command a breathtaking panorama of the Golfo de Léon, Sant Pere was constructed by the Bendictines between 979 and 1022, and was sacked and abandoned in the eighteenth century and its most important treasure, an illustrated bible, is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris. The ruins are at their most atmospheric when shrouded in the mist which swirls around you as you trek to the elevated site.
Best preserved is the church at its center with three wide naves and capitals of delicately carved acanthus leaves. Animal heads ornament the capitals, although the best examples have been carted off to the Museu Marès in Barcelona. The 27-meter high bell-tower, pillaged in the eighteenth century, has fine arcades. Although worth the visit, the setting is as impressive as the ruins themselves, with views that sweep from Cerbère in France to the Cabo de Creus. On the hilltop above Sant Pere are the ruins of a medieval castle with magnificent 360º views, and there is an interesting Romanesque church above the main parking lot.
NOTE: In fact, there are two parking lots before reaching the hilly kilometer-long paved pedestrian walkway to the monastery. The first parking lot is free but unguarded. A little further on there is guarded lot that costs 200 pesetas, bringing you closer to the building, a shorter walk.
Sant Pere de Rodes (daily 10-19h; 400 ptas.) was one of the many religious institutions founded in this area after the departure of the Moors. Legend has it that, with Rome threatened by Barbarians, Pope Boniface IV ordered the Church's most powerful relics - including the head and right arm of St. Peter - to be hidden. They were brought to this remote Cape for safe-keeping and hidden in a cave, though when the danger had passed the relics couldn't be found. A monastery was duly built on the site and dedicated to St. Peter (Pere in Catalan). The first written record of the monastery dates back to 879.
Inland from Sant Pere:
There is a good road heading inland from Sant Pere de Rodes the 12 kilometers to Vilajuïga, with dozens of footpaths leading to countless dolmen, tiny Romanesque chapels, and shady picnic areas. From Vilajuïga, (with thermal baths and a ruined Synagogue), the C-252 bears SE towards Roses and Palau-Saverdera, with an interesting Romanesque church, one of the first in the area with Lombard-influenced absidal decorations.
This is Wine Country, and nearby Garriguella is home to a roadside cooperative offering a half-dozen local vintages. Bodegas Trobat, on the outskirts of town, make a deliciously light and fruity rosé. Should you be feeling particularly adventurous, you may like to visit another ruined monastery at Sant Quirze de Colera. Drive north through the eerie landscape of the Sierra de la Mala Veína, (the Sierra of the bad neighborhood), an area full of megalithic dolmens and menhirs, to Vilamaniscle, where a forest road - to your right upon entering the town - traverses 6 kms of very slow and bumpy unpaved track to the ruins. Set in a green but desolate bowl-shaped valley, only the main basilica is intact, but remains of the inclined walls and the cloister attest to the monastery's important role in the eleventh century, similar to that of Sant Pere de Rodes. Further north near the highway, Cellers Santamaria in the village of Capmany make oaky 'Gran Recosind' reservas, dark ruby in color, full-bodied, soft, fruity and long in the finish.
Back to coast
North of Port de la Selva are the last fishing/resort towns before crossing the high and winding coastal road into French Catalunya. El Port de Llancà has a nice beach, la Platja del Port, popular with wind-surfers, as well as an active pleasure-port, a traffic-free promenade, and an attractive old town set 1 km back from the shore to escape the attention of pirates. A tiny plaça major houses an outsized Baroque church (recently restored) and the remains of a later defensive tower. At the center of the plaça in front of 18C Sant Vicenç the huge plain tree is known locally as L'Arbre de la Llibertat, or the tree of liberty. Like other villages on the Cape, Llança was an important wine growing region until the filoxera plague hit in the late 18C, and Llança wines were sold in the U.K. labeled as product of Portugal! A few restaurants and bars huddle near the modern harbor where a flotilla of tiny boats lie moored. Llançà has a scuba diving center which offers diving excursions out to the Cap de Creus. Call me for details.