Saturday, 7 June 2014

Visiting the Costa Brava: Cadaqués

In part 2 of my trip to the Costa Brava, I visit Cadaqués. You can read part 1, about Port de la Selva, here.

If Port de la Selva is laid-back and low profile, Cadaqués is its glossier, more popular neighbour. It's all relative though: this white-washed beachside town is no Monaco. Cadaqués isn't ritzy and glitzy; nor is it over-crowded – but its pin is more firmly in the international tourist map thanks to its most famous former resident, Salvador Dalí.

Photogenic Cadaqués

The artist actually lived around the bay from Cadaqués in the hamlet of Portlligat. Even the term 'hamlet' doesn't quite capture the petite proportions of the place: it's nothing more than a cluster of buildings and chiringuitos huddled around a pebble beach. The most prominent building is, of course, Dalí's former residence. Now open to the public (tickets cost €11 and must be bought in advance, you can do so here), Dalí and his wife Gala lived there for 50 years, until Gala's death in 1982. During that time, their home expanded from simple fisherman's hut to the rambling complex of rooms that remains today. I began my visit to Cadaques with a visit there, and was surprised at how much the private side of Spain's most flamboyant son the building still reveals over 30 years after his departure. As you'd expect, eccentricity is very much in evidence, from the stuffed bear-cum-umbrella stand in the entrance hall to the penis-shaped swimming pool, but a much more intimate glimpse into the couple's life is afforded through this guided visit. I learnt that Dalí had carefully positioned a mirror in his bedroom so that he could awake to beautiful bay views without needing to stir from his bed; that he rigged up a complicated contraption that allowed him to paint while seated; that he was a collector of bizarre knick-knacks and trinkets. For a full account of my visit, you can read this post.

Salvador Dalí's former home in Portlligat

Dalí also dominates nearby Cadaqués; his statue positioned prominently by the beach to welcome visitors to the town. Significantly bigger than Portlligat, Cadaqués is still easy to wander in an afternoon. Arranged around a cove, it boasts plenty of beachside bars for a relaxing drink. Unlike Port de la Selva, Cadaqués has no permanent harbour, although in summer the bay fills with boats. When I visited during the Puente de Mayo, Cadaqués was bustling yet still relaxed – I suspect it can get a bit crowded in July and August though. It wouldn't be too challenging to shrug off your fellow visitors though: away from the bay, Cadaqués is a maze of narrow streets, winding up the hillside. Perfect for quiet exploration, these alleys are studded with boutiques, bars and restaurants – plenty of boltholes to escape the crowds.

Maitanqui is one such bolthole. Tucked away down a passageway close to the seafront, this modern restaurant serves modern Catalan and European dishes with a fusion twist. I enjoyed my share of two starters, Thai-style mussels and artichoke chips. The mussels were plump and juicy, with a healthy amount of ginger and coconut, while the fried artichoke chips were full of flavour (the two sauces provided, tartare and barbecue, weren't the best complements though). My main of bream en papillote (the paper turning out to be a banana leaf) was delicious, cooked with coconut and chilli. In the evening, the restaurant's interior was softly lit, the patio sadly empty due to the Costa Brava's notorious tramontana wind paying an unwelcome visit. With helpful yet discreet service and great value, well-prepared food, Maitanqui is worth a visit for holidaymakers finding themselves tired of standard seafood and rice dishes. Cadaqués's culinary clout doesn't end here though: the town's most famous restaurant is Compartir, which is run by three chefs who formerly worked with Ferran Adrià at world-renowned El Bulli.

Cadaqués itself has little in the way of formal sights, beyond a town museum (Dalí's work features prominently, as you would expect). Its appeal lies in just that, though: it's a town to wander and explore at your own pace, pausing to dip in and out of cafes, bars and shops, to soak up the sun on the pebble beach. Dalí arguably may not have had much taste in facial hair, but he certainly chose his place of residence well.

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