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The journey to the northern reaches of Catalunya may not be easy, but the culture and nature make these two day trips worthwhile.
Day 1: Cadaqués
Tucked away in the easternmost part of Spain, Cadaqués is a beautiful fishing village on the Costa Brava, whose picturesque façades and monumental church have inspired countless artists and writers, including Salvador Dalí and Gabriel García Márquez. Its serpentine streets invite you to spend the day wandering and discovering breathtaking views of the Cap de Creus peninsula and Cadaqués itself.
7.51am: Take the first Media Distancia train from Barcelona to Figueres (there is a direct bus to Cadaqués which can be taken at either the airport or Estació del Nord, but is no good for a day trip with only one daily service each way, both leaving in the morning).
9.36am: Arrive in Figueres (note that the journey will take longer if you take the Regional train service) and head to the bus station, a block away from the train station.
10am: Take the bus from Figueres to Cadaqués. The winding bus ride from Roses to Cadaqués yields breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Costa Brava, although it may cause travel sickness for some—I felt a bit woozy during this part of the trip!
11am: Arrive at Cadaqués. Ah, finally. The first thing you should do is to get lost in the town’s sinuous cobbled streets and explore Cadaqués’s charm. What I enjoyed most about wandering through its alluring lanes was stumbling upon the Església de Santa Maria, the towering 16th-century Gothic church that can be seen from afar when entering the town, as well as when you’re strolling about. Inside you’ll find a splendid bronze Baroque altarpiece dedicated to the Verge de l’Esperança (Virgin Mary of Hope) and one of the oldest organs in Catalunya. A mirador (viewing-point) outside the church offers amazing views of the bay and Port Alguer.
1pm: Lunch. If you haven’t found anything you like the look of while roaming through the streets, head towards Port Alguer, where you will find a lovely little plaça with various restaurants and an archway. Head through the archway and you’ll end up at Es Cau. I would suggest sitting on the terrace, enjoying the stunning view of the bay and the Església de Santa Maria while eating some of the best burgers in Catalunya. For those not in a hamburger mood, they also have various other dishes available. Es Cau: Riba Pitxot 16.
2pm: Head along the coast or cut through the town towards Port Lligat to visit the Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí. If you do the former, the last thing you’ll notice before leaving Cadaqués is a large, magnificent Modernista house with blue tiles and an orange roof, known as Casa Blava (Blue House). In the early 20th century, a large number of Cadaquesencs (inhabitants of Cadaqués) emigrated to the Americas in search of better economic conditions. When these expatriates returned to Cadaqués with their newfound wealth, they built luxurious and ornate houses such as this one. Sadly, you can only enjoy the splendour of Casa Blava from the outside since people still live there. If you opt to cut through the town to head towards Port Lligat, you need to look for the old house to the right of Casa Blava and follow the signs towards Port Lligat. This is the quickest, yet less scenic, route to Dalí’s one-time home.
3pm: The shortcut to Port Lligat is a 15 to 20 minute walk. Along the way, you will come across the Ermita de Sant Baldiri, an 18th-century hermitage, which means that you’re heading the right way.
3.30pm: To visit the Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí, it’s a wise idea to make a reservation beforehand (www.salvador-dali.org), although you may get lucky as I did and be able to enter without getting a ticket in advance. This is where the Surrealist painter lived until 1982, when his wife Gala died. After her passing, Dalí went to live in the Castell de Púbol and stopped painting altogether because, without his muse, he had lost his passion. The house itself comprises various fishermen’s houses that have been woven into a peculiar, labyrinthine structure. As the house is located on Cap de Creus, the easternmost point in Spain, Dalí would say that he was the first Spaniard to watch the sun rise. Inside the house, you will find two unfinished paintings, as well as an intimate view into the artist’s life and work. Once done here, it’s time to head on back to Barcelona.
Day 2: Jardins Artigas
You will already know of Gaudí’s beautiful Parc Güell, but did you know there’s another such gem by the famous Catalan Modernisme architect that lies hidden away near the French border? In a town called La Pobla de Lillet, Gaudí designed a fantastic garden where nature and architecture merge in perfect harmony. The gardens were built as a symbol of gratitude to Senyor Artigas, who had let Gaudí stay at his estate while he was constructing the chalet of Catllàras for the industrial magnate, Eusebi Güell. Sadly, the gardens remained abandoned and largely forgotten from 1939 to 1989, but in 1991, they were restored under the supervision of the Reial Càtedra Gaudí.
Start: Take the train either to Manresa or Campdevànol; from either place, take a bus to La Pobla de Lillet. I must say, though, that this trip is a lot easier to make with a car since you may not be able to return to Barcelona on the same day by using public transport. For train information, check www.fgc.cat and www.renfe.com. For buses, check www.alsinagraells.com (Manresa to La Pobla de Lillet) and www.autocarsmir.com (Campdevànol to La Pobla de Lillet).
Arrival: Once you’ve arrived at La Pobla de Lillet, make your way towards Jardins Artigas by taking the Tren del Ciment, which traverses the old railroad tracks from La Pobla de Lillet to a cement factory in Castellar de n’Hug.
As you explore the gardens, you will encounter various religious symbols and structures, inspired by Gaudí’s devout Catholicism, such as the Font del Bou (a cow symbolising St. Luke), the Font del Lleó (a lion representing St. Mark) and the Font de la Cascada (where there is an angel symbolising St. Matthew). There are two bridges that cross the Llobregat River: the Pont d’Arc Coix and the Pont dels Arcs. The Pont d’Arc Coix takes you to the gardens’ emblematic Glorieta, where you can catch panoramic views of the gardens. The Pont dels Arcs is adorned by two amusing caryatids of a man and a woman, called ‘el Berenador’.
Opening hours: Saturdays—10am to 1.45pm, 3.30 to 6.30pm; Sundays—10am to 1.45pm, 3.45 to 5.30pm. Entrance costs €4.