Costa Brava Cruising, Catalunya
Thu 27 Jun 2013
A short long flight from Australia lands you on the sunny shores of Spain, Barcelona. The region is soon to be an independent country, given the Cataluyna flags about the place, the North East coast of Spain had its culture and language suppressed for many years under Franco, is now forging for an independent country.
Never mind the politics - we have enough of this back home.
Distancing from the core Barcelona, which is wonderful, interesting, culture filled and light fingered, the base for this cruise is Canet de Mar. Swallowed like Wyong, into the north of the "greater" Barcelona area, the old town fronts the beach. Dodge the cars and train through, it is separated by NII (said as "N2") major road and the Rodalies regional train line.
As luck would have it, the first day of adventure coincides with the first day of summer school break, so the NII is choking, and some town passings are a crawl. Lucky, the outlook is interesting and the traffic reasonably considerate, to a point.
The passing scooters at close quarters inspire you to fold in the wing mirrors - the extra 10 cm saving either side giving some breathing space for the hire car without the extra insurance. On the subject, the smallest (smart move) car is EU 22 per day (barato = cheap in Spanish) for a week or more hire and is a constantly commented cute Fiat 500. Its a pretty ordinary drive, but small cars are the way to go.
Some time later you are off the town streets and in a seaside national park area between Tossa de Mar and Sant Feliu de Guixols. This must be the Costa Brava they talk about. From the road side lookouts above, you gaze into the bahia (bays), where a number of anchored boats will be enjoying each others company bobbing on the pretty waters of the Mediterranean.
Upon arrival at little Sant Feliu de Guixols, the port area is aging and thus, interesting, Fisher-people toss floated baits distant on rods as long as a bus. This is best viewed over some hap hazardly placed concrete barriers, behind which tired fishing nets are authentically mended by similarly authentic fishermen.
The lunch time stop is a nearby friend, who has served time in Australia in the Help X system. Stories of fruit picking and cash work are typical of Spanish people visiting Australia on a budget - with no little access to suitable Visas, an no "working holiday" option for the under 30's, they opt for simplicity in cash in the Australian bush to fund Aussie adventure.
Onward north are more small towns, some overrun with people, cars and tourism akin to our very own Gold Coast … at close quarters. The timely reminder of foreign location is dealt with a hill top castle as old as it is large.
Over-nighting is in the Empurabravia "canal estate". A large town created from nothing must be the legacy of some project builder with deep pockets. The 30,000 plus inhabitants crowd in around bars, marinas, apartments - it looks a little like the Gold Coast again, the difference is the cacophony of languages in the late night bars courtesy of the English, Dutch, Germans, locals and dusting of Russian. Very impressive, the outlook, the proximity, the boats - all for what? Their nearest islands are 200 km away, thus leaving option of the somewhat busy bahai of the nearby coast. Interesting, all very interesting.
The morning next, its over the hill before the hoards arrive to the tiny road end harbour village of Cadaqués - you might have overlooked that the town was the home for a time of Dali. Thus, you miss seeing houses bent out of shape to suit the art of the matter. Never mind, the town is picturesque so fake shutter sounds abound from cameras and smart phones.
Next over the hill and slide into neutral for the coast down hill to the El Port de la Selva, and the road North where the perfect afternoon has amassed numbers on the little beaches of the way - tick the box - the Costa Brava is beautiful, has many nice outlooks, beaches and cute towns to meander.
Off to the hills. A couple of nights is due to be spent at Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans. The stark contrast of the winding road to the mountains makes it very real. Small villages sit idly by as you take the route into the mountain pass to France that has only been paved for 20 years. Prior to this, the refugees from the Spanish civil war number 7000 or more that made their way over the pass, in winter to find themselves in Coustouges, Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans, or further. Some died, most lived, some stayed. It is accounted that there were 500,000 or more refugees from that war parked in France.
After all, this part of France WAS part of Catalunya back in the day, so the refugees may have had relations in these parts. Catalunya as fabled elsewhere, was a country years ago, The French took up part during a war … with these folk holding onto some languages and culture and plant the odd hilltop Catalunya flag. Elsewhere you can observe lazed integration at its best. One local aged fellow was spotted to pass in an aging Renault, complete with beret. Very authentic to Australian eyes.
The mountains are magic and a day is spending hiking under blue and napping beside clear water streams.
As the trip is coming to an end, there is an overnight in Ceret, France. Surrounded by trees and gifted in afternoon horizontal light, Picasso lived for a time in Céret. During his time there (about the time of the first world war) he managed to get a modern art museum opened and give the town a reputation that can't it can't shake, so creative types have trickled in.
The simple days of Céret are best spent at curb side cafes, drinking short coffees, being ignored by the owner and being ashed upon by the upwind smoker who could not care less… or maybe he does know that you are an Australian sitting with an American?
The final day's drive back to the Canet de Mar is back on the NII. The road is much more interesting than the alternative tolled freeway…. Right down to the seedy side of EU road trips - the occasional curb side prostitute ready to mend the truckers lonely heart.
Its all in the culture it seems, and essential viewing for the best stories to send home.
Costa Brava and Northern Catalunya, "muy bueno", or should it be "molt bo". Very good in Spanish and Catalan.
Allow some weeks if you travel here, is cheap, friendly and very interesting and have you wanting more.
Hire car from Hertz.com was the fabulous little Fiat 500. The rebirth of an iconic European car, its was fun and ideal for the tight roads of the small towns and mountain roads. Hertz have the most attractive prices of the hire car companies in Spain. The Barcelona Sants office is just outside the station, and the staff friendly and efficient.
Road trip course
|Story by: |
John Nayler is a long time visitor to the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach and former resident.
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