When we visited Barcelona many years ago, we never got to go outside the confines of the city. This time around we wanted to make sure that we got out of the city. Our plan was to see some of the small villages and towns in Catalonia, between Barcelona and the Pyrenees Mountains. For this, we decided to try something new… again. In addition to our valued tour guide Monica, we secured the services of a car (and driver) for the day. When I travel, I don’t care to drive if I can help it. In a foreign country in particular, DJ and I typically use public transport (buses, trains) or get a taxi. It saves me from having to investigate the local driving laws. Plus, we get to see how the locals get around. In the end that makes us feel more like travelers and less like tourists.
However, public transportation would not be a good option here for a day trip. We were surprised to find out how cheap it was to have our own driver. Call me elitist if you want, but when it comes to travel, my goal is always to keep things easy. Have a chauffeur for the day and be driven around in a spacious Mercedes town car? Sign me up!
Catalonia is the most northeastern region in Spain, one of the 17 “states” of Spain. It is unique because it has maintained its local dialect of Catalan despite its long history of occupation. Catalan is still an official language in the region, along with Spanish. Sharing a border in the north with France, Catalonia has been influenced throughout its history by the French. France has invaded Catalonia many times and controlled the region periodically until the end of the Napoleonic wars. A proud people subjugated by the Romans, France and Spain, Catalonia recently started a process to secede from Spain to form an independent Catalan state.
Calella de Palafrugal
After driving about 90 minutes from Barcelona, our guide Monica takes us to an old fortification and lighthouse above Calella de Palafrugal. Calella was an old fishing village that predated the Romans. In fact there are some archaeological remains that can found near the fortification. Fishing in Calella is now longer the focus as the town has embraced tourism. During the warm weather flocks of visitors come to enjoy the beach and the sun.
We walked through Calella, enjoying the combination of the high rugged bluffs and the quaint buildings in the village. Then we got back in the car and headed to Peratallada.
On our way through the country to get to the next stop on our tour, we noticed many small villages along the way. These villages have survived countless wars, invaders, rebellion, just still remain quiet reminders to a distant past. Most of these villages clump around the village church, which physically dominate the town and it did the social and religious elements in previous generations.
The name Peratallada is derived from pedra tallada, which means ‘carved stone’. That was obvious when we arrived as literally the entire town consists of stone buildings. There is a small castle keep in the town, but unfortunately it is now a hotel and we were not able to explore it. Nonetheless, we were able to see the stone walls of the castle, the outside of the bastion, and explore the stone streets (This town is aptly named, EVERYTHING is stone in this place!).
Monica, DJ and I sat down for a nice meal at one of the many restaurants in Peratallada, and we talked not only about history, but also about current events in the US and Catalonia/Spain. One of the best things about traveling is talking to people from other countries, learning their impressions about my country and me providing my thoughts about theirs. This is the most interesting aspect of travel; the exchange of perceptions, opinions and perspectives.
Next it was on to Girona.
We continued our trek north to the city of Girona. Monica wanted us to see the city because it was once an important site of the Jewish people, and the old Jewish Quarter is one of the best maintained in Europe. In addition, there is an excellent cathedral in Girona. The cathedral was fortified OR was built on the remains of a fortification, I could not tell for sure. Our tour guide Monica indicated that Girona was frequently under siege throughout its history, primarily by the French.
The Girona Cathedral
The Girona Cathedral a unique exterior design that does not follow the typical pattern of other historical cathedrals I have visited. I believe this was due more to the history of the site than intentional design choices. The site was once the site of a mosque when the Moors inhabited Girona. Whether it was design properties left over from the Moors, influences by the Jewish population of the city, or the result of the fortifications required to protect the cathedral, Girona’s external cathedral does not follow the same patterns of other cathedrals of that time period. Unfortunately we were unable to see the inside of the cathedral on this particular day. It would be nice to see if the interior design was different from what we expected from cathedrals of that point in history.
After a walk through the old Jewish Quarter, we have a brief stop for gelato (yumm!). Then we got back to our car and headed back to Barcelona.
Although our visit here was all-too-brief, it reinforced my conviction that Barcelona is one of my favorite cities. Like me, it is a city of contradictions; its origins predate the Romans, but it is really a “young” city, very vibrant and engaging. It has beautiful architecture everywhere but the majority of its inhabitants live in drab, tenant buildings. Nonetheless, the friendly people, good food, La Sagrada Familia will always keep us coming back.