Seaside Villages on the Costa Brava
When I was in college I studied for two summer semesters in Madrid and we spent almost every weekend touring the countryside to some of Spain's most famous places: Segovia, Toledo, Seville, and Salamanca. While I loved visiting these historic places with their royal tapestries or Roman aqueducts, my favorite memories often included seeing small villages with whitewashed houses and terra cotta tiled roofs. It's been many years since I've been in Spain and today I got to see some of the same types of villages again, only this time many were in a seaside setting here in the Costa Brava.
Following a list of suggested small villages to visit from the New York Times book 36 Hours: Weekend Getaways in Europe, we set our GPS to Begur, a small village outside Aiguablava. It's a village with cobblestone streets with wrought iron balconies. According to some informational plaques, former residents made their wealth in Cuba in the 1800's and when they returned they built beautiful houses. One house had 19th century scenes from the Americas painted on the outside and the current owners left them intact,
Pals was a village of contrasts. Along the waterfront, cars were lined up bumper to bumper as people spilled out of them with straw bags bursting with towels and beach mats. Stores sold everything from inflatable seaside friends to typical kitschy souvenirs such as dolphin key chains and t-shirts with fish. We were a little surprised the New York Times suggested this until we discovered the old town on the hill. Peaceful cobblestone streets weave in and out between buildings up to a stone castle. Most of it was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but the tower remained. it is known as the Tower of Horas and the ancient bells ring every quarter hour. When we opened the old wooden doors of the cathedral the whole church was cast in darkness except the stained glass windows behind the altar, but lit up in the corner I spotted a curiosity. At first glance I thought it might be a water vending machine for parishioners which seemed odd, but upon close inspection, it was a vending machine selling votive candles. Walking back down to our car, it almost felt as if we were in Provence.
Continuing on our journey, our GPS guided us up a winding road through the mountains with no signs of anyone living there now, but there is evidence of terrace farming, each section divided with walls made of stones, We stopped on top for a magnificent sweeping view of the sea. In Ireland, there are similar places in the mountains, but all around you can hear the bleating of sheep. Here there was total silence.
At the bottom of the hill perched along the sea was the white washed village I had been seeking: Cadaques. It is a picturesque town with a sea wall that winds along the waterfront. We chose a restaurant based on popularity and this one was full of Spanish speaking holidaymakers. Dave tried his first paella and it was delicious. It was served in a pan hot out of the oven with fresh mussels, shrimps, and clams, After lunch we explored the village and decided that this is a village we would like to stay in someday in the future.
On the way back to Aiguablava we passed more hill towns with whitewashed houses on streets rising up into the hills crowned with a church at its highest point. It's a different Spain than the one I knew back in college with now a new modern vibe, but it's one I will long remember.