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Cadaqués, one of the most stunning landscapes of the Costa Brava

Tucked away in a natural harbour sheltered by the Pyrenean foothills, Cadaqués, known as the white pearl of the Catalan coast, has long been a favourite with artists, starting with Dali. This tiny fishing port also leads to the Cap de Creus headland, one of Europe’s most beautiful marine and terrestrial nature reserves.

The gentle lifestyle and mild climate of Cadaqués, a little fishing village on the Catalan coast, a few kilometres from the French border, were much prized by some of the leading 20th century artists.

Tucked away in a natural harbour sheltered by Pyrenean foothills, this Catalan village, home to less than two thousand souls, has retained its whitewashed, traditional architecture. The only road leading to the village, which is also spectacular, was built just fifty years ago, leaving this tiny Catalan fishing village cut off for many centuries, which is no doubt why its own traditions and culture, particularly that of buccaneering, became so strong. The fishermen of Cadaqués used to attack boats on the high seas, fleeing home to the safety of their village. In turn, hardened pirates would then launch raids on Cadaqués in retaliation. The steep lanes of the village, which still resemble a maze, were originally laid out to lose and disorient attackers. The Turkish pirate, Red Beard, however did manage to burn down the church of Santa Maria in the 16th century. Rebuilt by the fishing folk, the edifice is now home to an outstanding Baroque altarpiece one of the most beautiful of Catalonia. The masterpiece however very nearly disappeared during the Spanish Civil War, when the Republican troops intended to subject it to the same treatment as the legendary pirate. The inhabitants hid the altarpiece behind a stucco wall that was erected in just a night!

On leaving the church, the traveller will be able to admire the timeless scene of the close-knit rooftops of Cadaqués in the foreground and, in the words of the poet, the “wine dark” sea surrounded by arid Mediterranean hillsides to the rear. You may glimpse a few old people resting in the shade of an opulently flowering bougainvillea, while the tourists busily digitalise the picture for eternity. Let’s continue our tour…

The white lanes are stained red by big juicy Barbary figs, while noisy seagulls circle overhead in the blue sky. By a small square, you may stumble across a graffiti portrait of Cadaqués’ guardian spirit, Dali: in this urban fresco, the pope of provocation bears a striking resemblance to Don Quixote.

Born in Figueras, Dali, whose statue surveys the port of Cadaqués, spent all his holidays on this coast, before buying a fishing hut, and then another at Portlligat in 1930, a few hundred metres from the centre of the village – attracted by both the quality of the light and the secluded wilderness. Today, this amazing house-museum, where nothing has been moved since the artist’s death, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. It is a maze of corridors, not unlike the village itself, in the heart of which lies a lush Mediterranean garden.

Besides Dali, who introduced many of his friends to the area (Picasso, Mirò, Federico Garcia Lorca, Buňuel), Cadaqués also wove its magical spell over some of the leading figures of the twentieth century from Magritte to Marcel Duchamp and John Cage to André Derain! Somewhat earlier, Christopher Columbus stopped here to shelter from a storm. Cadaqués is also the spiritual home of the greatest Catalan writer of the 20th century, Josep Pla, who has yet to gain fame outside his country. Following in the footsteps of these illustrious predecessors, visitors enjoy wandering aimlessly and endlessly along the immaculate white winding lanes, possibly pausing at a café (Rosa Azul, for example which serves delicious cocktails in the shade of a giant plane tree) and admiring a few examples of modernist architecture, or, like Dali (him again!), setting off to explore the Cap de Creus headland, one of the most beautiful marine terrestrial nature reserves in Europe.

Cap de Creus, the mythology of geology

The easternmost tip of the Spanish mainland is a mythical place, formed by the rocks of the foothills of the Pyrenees, producing an almost phantasmagorical landscape! This geological treasure trove of international acclaim is several million years old. When the Pyrenees emerged from the earth’s crust some 300 million years ago, magma rose to the surface in the form of great black rivers. The schist and rock have been eroded by the fierce Tramontana wind and now make up an eerie landscape, inhabited by “amazing creatures”: a waymarked path highlights an eagle here, a seal there or a horse over there. All these shapes inspired Dali’s work and he said that Cap de Creus was “a place made for gods rather than men”. He spent his entire life fighting to preserve the area.

But it was a close call for the nature reserve. Between 1962 and 2004, it was home to a holiday village for scuba diving enthusiasts, attracted by the transparent waters of Cap de Creus. A hundred or so concrete bungalows marred this beautiful landscape, not to mention the sewage waste that spewed directly into the sea. After a massive clean-up, thankfully begun before the economic crisis (otherwise it would never have taken place), Cap de Creus has, happily for us, been restored to its former, unspoiled glory. 

At sunset, the wind rises and brings in the mist off the sea. It is time to head for the lighthouse restaurant of Cap de Creus and enjoy the superb panorama.

Practical information

Finding out more: www.catalunya.com

Getting there?

Barcelona is a premium destination for many regular and low-cost airlines and direct flights to and from Barcelona can be booked from most of the main cities in Europe. Those keener on rail travel may like to know that there is TGV (high-speed train) link arriving at Figueres direct from Paris and a well-established rail network in Catalonia linking it with most of the towns of south-west France and, of course, Madrid and other Spanish cities.

Going out for a drink?

Rosa Azul, Placa Dr. Pont, 1, Cadaqués. 

The tourist attractions mentioned

Santa Maria's Church of Cadaqués Santa Maria's Church of Cadaqués
Santa Maria's Church of Cadaqués
Cadaqués
0:15
Parque natural de Cap de Creus Parque natural de Cap de Creus
Parque natural de Cap de Creus
Cadaqués
4:00
Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí
Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí
Portlligat
1:00