Sant Feliu de Guíxols is a small Catalan Mediterranean port town, about an hour north of Barcelona, with a long history. At present it is my home for 4-6 months each year. It has all the qualities that make it a great place if you are an artist, writer, photographer or poet. But because Dalí never stayed here, it is not known as an artists’ colony.
The town was named for the Carthaginian Saint Felix (Sant Feliu in Catalan), martyred in Girona during the last great persecution of Christians by Roman authorities in 304. The Romanesque Basilica of San Feliu was constructed in Girona to honor him. Guíxols is a bit of a mystery — it appears to be derived from the word iecsalis, found in a 10th century document, that seems to mean “rope-maker”.
Sant Feliu de Guíxols grew around a 10th century Benedictine monastery. The fortified monastery has been rebuilt many times, and now has an art museum as well as a parish church and a restaurant under its roof.
These days, the town is relatively active throughout the year — emphasis on relatively. November, January and February are particularly quiet and despite what the local tourism office promotes, the weather year-round is not an idyllic eternal summer: winter brings cold rain with the tramuntanya (Catalan name for the northern wind) and summer, when tourism takes over, can be uncomfortably (and at times unbearably) humid.
Sant Feliu de Guíxols has a small historic center, with narrow streets and architecture spanning centuries. A market hall, on the Plaça del Mercat, was constructed in 1929. A local farmers’ market is held here every Sunday morning.
The town was once an important centre for cork manufacturing and, in fact, it was economically prosperous for decades thanks to the cork wine and champagne stoppers produced here. Small abandoned or redeveloped (parking lots a favorite) cork factories can be seen in just about every neighborhood as well as cork oak trees, endemic to southwestern Europe and northern Africa.
Fishing is a tradition here but has never had the importance it has in neighboring Palamós. Some small boats are still active today, with blue fish (primarily sardines) the main catch. In late spring a month-long blue fish festival (Campanya gastronòmica del Peix Blau Ganxó) is held. During the festival many local restaurants offer menu selections featuring blue fish. The smell of grilled sardines are a sign to me that summer has arrived here.
Beginning in the 1950s, Sant Feliu de Guíxols, like the rest of the Costa Brava, began to be developed as a center of tourism. Though high-rise tourist apartments and hotels line the seafront, it avoided the worst excesses of package tourism. The near-by town of Platja d’Aro has the nightlife, the multiplex, and chain stores, leaving Sant Feliu de Guíxols with a slower pace. The Festival de la Porta Ferrada — Catalonia’s oldest music festival — began here in 1958, and is a very diverse summer festival that attracts large crowds in July and August.
7 things to see/do in Sant Feliu de Guíxols:
Monastery/Thyssen Museum: The Benedictine monastery is the most important heritage site in town. Mare de Déu dels Àngels church, the History Museum of San Feliu and the Summer-Autumn exhibition space of the Thyssen Museum are all located in the monastery.
The Hermitage of Sant Elm: In 1203 the monks received royal authorization to fortify a cliff that would warn them of attacks from the sea. In 1452 they built the hermitage of Sant Elm, dedicated to La nostra Senyora del Bon Viatge (Our Lady of the Good Journey). From Sant Elm, the bay and the city of Sant Feliu de Guíxols as well as the dramatic coast can be seen. It was from this spot that journalist Ferran Agulló had the idea, in 1908, of christening the coast with the name of Costa Brava (“wild coast”).
Casino La Constancia: Designed in the modernista mozárabe style by Barcelona architect General Guitart i Lostaló, it was inaugurated in 1889. It is located on the Rambla del Portalet. Despite being called a casino, it was never a place of gambling but the headquarters of a working and labor society founded in 1851. It was a place of cultural activities (including popular dances), discussion forums, and a library. Today it is a restaurant.
The Maritime Rescue Museum: A museum located in the town’s rescue station (built in 1890) dedicated to the history of local maritime rescue operations. The view of the harbor from here is beautiful.
Town Cemetery:The Sant Feliu de Guíxols cemetery, established in the 19th century, contains some remarkable tombs in the Catalan Modernist style which reflect the opulent good-fortune of some during the height of cork manufacture and maritime trade here. It is small enough to explore in less than an hour.
Camí de Ronda – Sant Feliu to Sant Pol: This coastal path (Cami de Ronda)begins in downtown Sant Feliu de Guíxols and is an easy hike crossing a pine grove near cliffs and the sea. At the end of the path is Sant Pol, the most northern of Sant Feliu’s neighborhoods.
The beach at Sant Pol: Located on a large bay, Sant Pol is a long family beach, complete with boardwalk and a protected area of dunes. Among its attractions is its architectural heritage. The best-known house on the beach is Casa Estrada, the “house of 9 towers”, built at the end of the 19th century.