Palamós, Costa Brava: Sun, Sea and “The Man in the Silk Pajamas”

___a street in the old town, with L’Església de Santa Maria del Mar in the distance___

Palamós is my favorite city on the Costa Brava. It does not receive the publicity of its northern neighbor Cadaqués — probably the  most over-hyped city in Catalonia after Barcelona —  but what Palamós lacks in trendy “buzz” it abundantly makes up for in the genuine local charm of a place not entirely given over to tourism.  It is the perfect place to relax and mingle with the locals.

___the architectural remains of the convent of the Augustinians (1568-1835) located in  Parc del Convent dels Agustins, overing looking the marina___

Founded as a village in 1279, Palamós is located at the northern end of a large bay and is a major port with one of the last remaining fishing fleets on this part of the Mediterranean coast. It is famous for the locally caught  gamba de Palamós (Palamós prawn).

___a green grocer on the Carrer Mayor___

Palamós’ walled old town (Catalan = barri antic ) dates back to the mid-15th century — it is a maze of narrow steep streets, originally designed to protect the villagers from strong Costa Brava winds, pirates and foreign military invasions. Today it is the commercial heart of the city, with many restaurants, cafés, bakeries, small green grocers, wine shops and even an excellent bookshop, Llibreria Gavina along the Carrer Mayor (Main Street), a long pedestrian street at the heart of the old town.

___“flower power”crêpes to go___

One of the great advantages of exploring a town not rated as a “must visit” is that great local food and drink are much more affordable here than just about any other place on the Costa Brava.

Fishing was the major economic activity in Palamós until the second half of the 20th century. Today it is still a major port and the only remaining commercial harbor in the Province of Girona with one of the last remaining fishing fleets on the northern Mediterranean coast. Fishermen come back into port each afternoon and their catch is sold on the dockside, not far from the bottom of Carrer Mayor.  The Museu de la Pesca (Fishing Museum) — also located dockside —  is the first of its kind along the Mediterranean coast and (surprisingly) interesting. Very well-designed,  it gives insight into the challenging life of the local fisherman.

Playa Gran de Palamós is the main city beach.  It has fine sand and clear water,  with all the amenities:  lifeguard towers, showers, hammocks and parasols, WC — even an ATM machine. There are good chiringuitos (beach bars) and a very local, family atmosphere.

___traditional boats beside the seaside promenade___

The promenade that runs along the beach is great for walking and cycling — in fact, it is my favorite place to walk when I visit. The seaside promenade connects Palamós and Sant Antoni de Calonge, above the rocky coastline. Sant Antoni de Calonge is just to the south of Palamós — once a small fishing village, now a very (over) developed holiday destination.

___early 20th century Modernisme door (detail)___

The city has a wide variety of architectural styles. In the 1960’s, just like so many Costa Brava towns, Palamós was rapidly developed as a tourist destination. Unlike most Costa Brava towns, the architecture of Palamós  has remained relatively unchanged — most development was focused to the south in Sant Antoni de Calonge.

Frequent buses to Palamós operate from both Barcelona and Girona year-round, making getting to Palamós easy — and the bus station is located in the center of the city. Travel time from Barcelona to Palamós is just under 2 hours, from Girona just over an hour.

“The Man in the Silk Pajamas”

The gift shop of the Palamós Fishing Museum offers one item for sale that seems puzzlingly out of place: the paperback edition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (translated into Catalan as A Sang Freda). Why is this, of all books, sharing space with a selection of tourist guides and books about Costa Brava fishing history? Because the 20th century true crime classic was written in Palamós.

The cover of L’home dels pijames de seda: Tres estius de Truman Capote a Palamós, featuring Capote (lower left) with the town of Palamós in the background.

As described by Catalan author Màrius Carol in his book L’home dels pijames de seda: Tres estius de Truman Capote a Palamós  (“The Man in the Silk Pajamas: Three Summers of Truman Capote in Palamós”):

“On April 26, 1960, Truman Capote arrived in Palamós in a fully loaded Chevrolet. He was accompanied by his partner Jack Dunphy, an old bulldog, a blind poodle, a Siamese cat and 25 bags, just five months after the chilling murder of the Clutter family had occurred in Kansas. Capote brought over four thousand pages of notes about the crime with the intention of  working on what would be his masterpiece, In Cold Blood, which would also become a reference for modern American journalism.”

Every summer Palamós celebrates its connection to Capote by offering a literary route of the places he frequented during the 18 months of his stay in the town, which were divided into three long summers.

The first stop on the route is the Hotel Trias, overlooking  the boardwalk of the city beach (Playa Gran de Palamós). Capote’s room was number 705. The owners of the hotel, Josep and Ana Maria Colomer, developed a great affection for him, and found Capote a house to rent on the Plaza de la Catifa (this would be the first of many), overlooking the fishing port. In a letter to a friend in New York Capote wrote: “This is a fishing village, the water is so clear and blue as the eye of a siren. I get up early because fishermen set sail at five in the morning and assemble so loudly even Rip Van Winkle could not sleep!”

Capote had decided he needed to distance himself from the excesses of his New York party life in order to write what would become In Cold Blood — Palamós was recommended by writer Robert Ruark, a columnist for The Washington Post, who had lived near-by in the town of Sant Antoni de Calonge since the mid-fifties. Ruark in turn had arrived on the recommendation of British actress Madeleine Carroll, but it was Ava Gardner who made the Costa Brava famous while filming Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951).

Truman Capote gave the locals some vivid anecdotes. The day Marilyn Monroe died, Capote was heading to the Samsó bakery on Carrer Mayor to buy his usual bottle of gin and bottle of stuffed olives. He went to the Cervantes bookstore to purchase The Herald Tribune, but foreign newspapers had not yet arrived that morning. On the cover of La Vanguardia (a Catalan newspaper) he saw the news that Monroe had been found dead at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, due to an overdose of barbiturates. “My friend is dead! My friend has it dead!” he cried disconsolately in the middle of the street in his shaky Spanish.

By all accounts, Truman Capote enjoyed the quiet life of Palamós. He even thought about buying the last house where he lived (and finished In Cold Blood) in the summer of 1962, but his partner Jack did not agree with the plan and convinced Capote to buy a chalet in Verbier, Switzerland.  Capote never returned to Palamós. Josep Colomer, co-owner of the Hotel Trias, lamented: “It was a shame because the tranquillity and warmth of the Costa Brava was very good for his physical and emotional health. Perhaps if he [Capote] had bought a house here he would not have had such a sad end.”

Truman Capote died from an overdose at age 59 in August 1984. One of my favorite American authors, he is always in my thoughts every time I visit Palamós, following his footsteps on the Carrer Mayor.

Sources:                                                                                                                                                           Capote, Palamós y la habitación 705 del Trias (La Vanguardia, Agosto 23, 2016)                         Truman Capote en Palamós (elcorreo.com, Julio 24, 2010)