Tag Archives: Catalonia

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)

A Costa Brava Summer, 2016

Sa Concha Blog

… Sa Concha beach, near Platja d’Aro …

I am spending the summer on the Costa Brava, in the northeastern corner of Catalonia. This is a region I have been exploring for many years  —  so sharing a few insights and images is way overdue!

Steps to the Sea - S'Agaro

steps to the sea, S’Agaro …

Stretching along the Mediterranean from Blanes, 30 miles (60km) north of Barcelona, to the French border at Portbou, the Costa Brava (Wild Coast) is filled with wooded coves, high rugged cliffs, peaceful beaches and clear blue water. On the streets everywhere the lingua franca is Catalan, not Spanish. Some areas are also overflowing with the damage that followed rapid tourist development beginning in the 1950s, but, in general, it remains a relatively unspoiled region.

Tossa de Mar

… the medieval walled town of Tossa de Mar, la Selva  …

The Catalan coast is divided into three coastal comarques (counties): la Selva to the south, Baix Empordà at the center, and the Alt Empordà in the north. During the winter months the Alt Empordà  can be subjected to the legendary Tramuntana, an impressive wind that blows off the Pyrenees.

Fishing Boat - Blanes

… a small fishing boat on the beach in Blanes …

The cultural heritage of the Costa Brava is tied to the fishing trade and ship-building. The city of Blanes, in la Selva , known as the “Gateway to the Costa Brava”, is a good example. Beginning in the 18th century, the local economy entered into a period of growth with all of the typical Costa Brava economic activities of the time:  extensive maritime-fishery, boat building plus lacework, rope making, and barrel making. The town was a center of shipbuilding and also had a famous sailing school. Tourism is the major industry of Blanes today.

Cami de Ronda near Sant Pol_edited-1

… view from the Cami de Ronda (walking trail) near Sant Pol, Baix Empordà …

One of the best ways to appreciate the Costa Brava is to walk the many coastal trails that connect traditional fishing villages. The Camins de Ronda (walking trails) were originally created by fishermen to protect coastal inhabitants from approaching pirates and smugglers. Certain parts of the old trails vanished with tourism development in the late 20th century but many trails have been recently restored. I find them very safe and well-marked. Difficulty varies in each section, but even the easiest section might be a challenge for visitors who don’t integrate walking or cycling into their daily routine.

Empúries - Blog

… ruins of Empúries …

Empúries Roman Tile Blog

Roman tile floor, one of many at the Empúries ruins

The ruins of the ancient Greco/Roman colony of Empúries, founded in 575 B.C., are located just north of the town of L’Escala, in the Alt Empordà. The strikingly beautiful coastal site is one of the most important Europe — and, for me, a very memorable visit. The site is open year-round and the Museum of Catalan Archaeology is located on the grounds.

Castell d'Aro

… a quiet street in the medieval town of Castell d’Aro …

Església de Sant Martí de Romanyà Blog

… the church of Sant Martí de Romanyà in the village of Romanyá de la Selva …

This is a region filled with medieval towns, churches and farmhouses. Small farms are everywhere, supplying the local markets.

Casa Font en Begur Blog

… the Indiano Casa Font (the Font house), Begur, Alt Empordà … 

Llagostera Blog

… an indiano in Llagostera, Baix Empordà …

Sant Pol

… the indiano Casa De Les Punxes in Sant Pol, Baix Empordà …

Indiano Begur_edited-1

… an indiano in Begur, Alt Empordà …

In the late 19th century a large number of inhabitants of the Costa Brava traveled or emigrated to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic — it has been estimated that as much as one third of the average town here left to make their fortune. Many of these immigrants were financially successful in the Caribbean, especially Cuba, and returned to their towns and villages on the Costa Brava where they constructed large and ornate houses. Many houses, referred to as Indianos (“from the Indies”) can still be seen — some are a bit dilapidated, many restored. During the first week of September, the town of Begur (Alt Empordà) celebrates their nostalgic relationship with Cuba with the Fira d’Indians (Festival of the Indianos).

Dali Museum Figueres

… the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Alt Empordà

The rugged Alt Empordà is Salvador Dalí country. Dalí lived most of his adult life in a unique house of converted and connected fishermen’s huts in Port Lligat (near the French border), and three excellent museums: Dalí Theatre-Museum, Salvador Dalí House – Port Lligat, and Gala Dalí Castle Púbol comprise what is known as the Dalinià Triangle. Here is a wonderful video about them: The Dalí Triangle.

Cabanas Blog

… the beach at Sant Pol,  Baix Empordà …

Beyond the intense summer tourist season, there is year-round activity on the Costa Brava. Out of season (November – March) the area returns to being “local” — the small coastal towns and villages go quiet and the bars, restaurants, hotels and shops that cater only for the summer tourists shutter during the winter. At times it can be bleak, windy and rainy — especially in January and February — but it is also when you can discover the calm and space of the coast — and the beautiful winter light.

Winter light

… January sunset over the Massís de les Cadiretes (Baix Empordà) …

 

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

El meu Barcelona (My Barcelona)

For over two years, I lived in Barcelona’s old city (Ciutat Vella). Here are some favorite photos — with a few memories — I took during my years in the Ciutat Comtal (the City of Counts):

Number One Blog

… Number 1 …

Location:  Carrer de la Mercè

The first photo I took in Barcelona. Of all the sights and sounds in the vibrant city, it was street art — graphiti, stencils, chalk and paint — that found my camera first.

Faceless Angel Blog

… faceless Angel …

Location: La Basílica de la Mercè , Carrer Ample

Called “an oasis in the city”,  La Basílica de la Mercè (The Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy) is a Baroque-style basilica, built between 1765 and 1775.  The “faceless Angel” watched over a favorite restaurant of mine (now defunct).

Study in Pink Blog

… my neighbor’s pink recliner …

Location: Carrer de Meer

In my neighborhood, the tradition was (and still is) enjoying any small bit of sidewalk as a community terrace, especially on hot and humid summer nights…it was sociable and peaceful, though in the last few years the locals have been battling with young, rowdy tourists for space.

Different Green Blog

… early Saturday evening …

Location: Plaça dels Traginers (Barri Gòtic)

Tucked away in corners of the ancient winding Barri Gótic (Gothic neighborhood) streets there were still a few plazas where Saturday nights are spontaneous “happenings”, centered around tiny bars. Music, poetry, art. Inspired times.

Picasso Blog

… Pablo …

Location:  Carrer d’en Rauric

I always navigated the small streets and alleyways of Barcelona because of both their character and  the distance away from the hordes of tourists. “Pablo” was always a welcome sight!

Barceloneta Balcony Blog

… my neighbor’s garden …

 Location: Carrer del Baluard

In my neighborhood, a small balcony (much like that little bit of sidewalk for a reclining chair) was/is a small expansion outward that could be either utilitarian or creative — or both.

Happy Face Blog

… happy face door knocker …

Location: Carrer del Correu Vell

 A touch of Barri Gótic (Gothic neighborhood) humor, another layer added to the history of an aging  door.

Barceloneta blog

Barceloneta patterns…

Location: Carrer Sant Elm

One of my favorite places in all of the city was/is  La Barceloneta, a neighborhood in the Ciutat Vella (Old City) district of Barcelona. It was constructed during the 18th century, with the residents working in and around the port. There is even a little museum,  La Casa de la Barceloneta, where the history of the neighborhood comes to life.  La Barceloneta is known for its long, sandy beach (which made an appearance in Don Quixote, Book 2).

Casa Bruno Quadros Blog

Casa-Bruno Cuadros

Location: La Rambla, 82

 When living in Barcelona, I associated La Rambla with hordes of tourists, over-priced cafés and pick pockets — and some amazing jewels of the Catalan Art Nouveau movement, Modernisme. The Casa Bruno Cuadros, also known as the Casa dels Paraigües (House of Umbrellas) is an example. The most opulent decorative element is the ornate Chinese dragon on the corner of the façade. It was used to advertise the shop, together with the umbrella below it.

 

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

Barcelona: Casa Vicens

Windows

Casa Vicens (1888), located on a quiet street in the Gràcia district, has been called una joya de Gaudí oculta en Barcelona (a hidden jewel of Gaudí in Barcelona). While living in Barcelona I visited Casa Vicens many times, appreciating the striking exterior design – and noticed the lack of large crowds of tourists/Gaudí enthusiasts that are the norm at other Gaudí sites throughout the city. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005 for the quality of the work and its place in the history of modern Catalan architecture, the recent news that Casa Vicens will open to the public in the second half of this year (2016) is cause for celebration!

Casa Vicens was the first complete building designed by Antoni Gaudí within Barcelona’s official borders. He had worked on smaller projects, but Casa Vicens was the start of good fortune for him. It was commisioned in 1878, the same year Gaudí, at the age of 26, graduated as an architect.  For a Gaudí admirer, Casa Vicens is the place to begin any study of his amazing career.

The building is covered with spectacular tiles (no coincidence that Manuel Vicens Montaner, who commissioned the building from Antoni Gaudí, was a tile manufacturer), following the vogue at the time in Spain for Oriental and Eastern motifs (Neo-Mudéjar) while also reflecting Gaudí’s developing style.

Gaudí based his design for the tiles on the French marigold (Tagetes Patula) which grew in the grounds of the estate, marking the beginning of his use of nature as an inspiration and a model:

Casa Vicens detail

Gaudí designed the railings by making clay models of the resplendent leaves of the fan palm:

Gaudi Gate

I look forward to visiting Casa Vicens when it opens its doors later this year, and hope that this beautiful corner of Gràcia does not loose its tranquility as visitors arrive seeking new insight into the world of Antoni Gaudí.

Exterior

Casa Vicens location: Carrer de les Carolines, 24, Gràcia, Barcelona

Metro: L3 Fontana

Official website:  Casa Vicens

Map:

 

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

Costa Brava: the “Wild Coast”

Costa Brava Tossa de Mar

Vintage Poster : Tossa de Mar

“Costa Brava” was officially recognized in the 1960s to promote tourism. How did the famous Catalan coast get its name?

Costa Brava 2

Vintage Poster

Ferran Agulló i Vidal, (Sant Feliu de Guixols,1863 – Santa Coloma,1933) was a Catalan journalist, poet, politician and gastronome. In September 1908 he published an article in the Catalan newspaper La Veu de Catalunya, referring to the rugged northern Mediterranean coastline for the first time as the “Costa Brava” — the Wild Coast. Previously the coastal region of north-eastern Catalonia, consisting of Alt Empordà, Baix Empordà and Selva, in the province of Girona, had no official name.

Playa de Oro

Vintage Poster: Playa de Oro (Platja d’Aro)

Map:

Temps de Flors

This spring I decided to visit Girona during the Temps de Flors (Time of Flowers) festival, celebrating its 60th anniversary. The festival is held for 9 days in the middle of May.

The city of Girona is in northeastern Catalonia, beside the River Onyar. It’s known for its medieval architecture,with a walled old neighborhood (Barri Vell), including the Jewish quarter (Call) — one of the best preserved in Europe. During Temps de Flors the narrow, winding streets, gardens, patios and monuments are imaginatively adorned with flowers.

The festival is very popular and the crowds can be a challenge, as space is needed to fully appreciate the floral arrangements — this year there were 164 installations — quite a lot to see in a day, even arriving early. There is a free map, with a well-organized route, available at the Girona tourist office.

The restaurants of Girona are renowned for both traditional Catalan and cutting-edge cuisine but as often happens during festival days they were either booked or offering special menus beyond my budget. I was very glad to discover Lapsus Cafè on the Plaça de la Independència, offering a perfectly priced daily menu (3 courses plus wine for 9.50€) of traditional Catalan fare, plus very friendly service and a relaxed atmosphere.

…floral welcome…

 

…spring mix…

 

…pink and blue corner…

 

…a celebration…

 

Links:

 Temps de Flors website   

 Official Girona Tourist Office website

Lapsus Cafè

Map:

 

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

The Distinctive Flavor of Xató

Xató is like nothing I have ever tasted — this rich, savory and versatile sauce it is one of the Catalonia’s unique gastronomic creations. The origin of xató lies in the wine region of Gran Penedès, in southern Catalonia.  Xató sauce accompanies a typical Catalan winter salad of escarole, tuna, salt cod, green tomatoes, black olives and anchovies — normally consumed during the cold first months of the year and specially during Carnival and new wine celebrations.

The Recipe

2 ripe tomatoes, 1 head of garlic, 1 guindilla pepper, 2 dried nyora peppers, ½ cup of toasted almonds, ¼ cup of toasted hazelnuts, 1 small slice of toast, 1 cup of olive oil, ⅓ cup of white vinegar, 1 tsp of paprika, anchovies (optional).

Leave the dried peppers to soak overnight so they can soften, and then remove the seeds. Place the garlic and tomatoes on a tray, add a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt, and put them in the oven for 15 minutes at 200 ºC. The garlic make take less time to cook, about 10 minutes. Once ready, peel the tomatoes and take out the seeds then put them in a mortar with the garlic. Peel the almonds and anchovies, put them in a frying pan for around 5 minutes, then add them to the tomato and blend it together. Then add the flesh of the dried peppers, the slice of toast, the oil and the vinegar. When it is all well mixed, add the teaspoon of paprika and the guandilla pepper. Blend the mixture again. Add anchovies to taste if desired.

Now that the sauce is ready, put the escarole, tuna, salt cod, green tomatoes, black olives and anchovies. Add the xató generously and enjoy!

The towns of Gran Penedès — Calafell, Canyellas, Cubellas, Cunit, El Vendrell, San Pedro de Ribas, Sitges, Villanueva i el Geltrú and Villafranca del Penedes — have their own variation of the recipe for this dish. In 1997 the Ruta del Xató (the Path of Xató) was created to popularize this dish and highlight the different variations of the original recipe. The Ruta del Xató is an easy trip from Barcelona.