Gripped by Dalí country


Go reader LUCY TAYLORleft the damp and drizzle behind for six days’ walking in Catalonia with her father

SITTING ATOP a cannon in the afternoon sun at the highest point along the coast between the border with France and our day’s destination, a few hours south, the view made the climb worthwhile: deeply glittering Balearic Sea broken only by fingers of rock straight ahead and a wide bay dotted with whitewashed towns.

We had begun our walk in a very unplanned way at the hottest time of day. My pale face had turned red, I had run out of water and I was regretting my final two gin and tonics in the early hours of the morning. This could be the start of the first round of bickering between me and my not-quite-as-dehydrated father, my walking partner for the next six days.

The dismally damp endurance test otherwise known as the Irish summer had encouraged us to buy last-minute flights to Girona, in Spain, to spend a week walking southwards between the towns of Port Bou and Roses. We left accommodation and distances to chance, but armed with a shiny new map I had been anxious to get started along the cliff- hugging Camí de Ronda trail.

We arrived by train in sleepy Port Bou, set in a small, perfectly formed cove between mountains, to visit the poignant memorial to Walter Benjamin, who took his life in the town. Half an hour later we decided that, had we known how steep the path would be, we would not have attempted it that day. Hindsight doesn’t make the hill any gentler.

When we arrived in the oddly named Colera, we zombie-walked into a cafe, then headed into the sea. After braving the freezing Atlantic this summer, the Mediterranean was bliss. Floating happily in the clear water lived up to all my rain-driven fantasies.

We were exhausted when we reached Llançà. It was beginning to get dark, so we were hugely relieved to see a sign for Hostal Empordà, a hotel on a quiet street that, we instantly decided, was where we were staying for the night.

We seemed to be two of about six guests in the large building. The owner, a cross between Manuel and Basil Fawlty, insisted on advising me in a flood of Catalan on the best way to continue our journey. He didn’t look as if he had walked farther than his front door in a long time.

I listened and responded as best as I could – and was grateful when he finally released me and let me struggle upstairs for a desperately needed shower.

The northern Costa Brava does not fit the stereotype of the Spanish costas. High-rise resorts are few and far between, and the coast is the spectacularly rugged point where the Pyrenees suddenly meet the Mediterranean.

The Camí de Ronda is an old coastguard patrol path that clings to the edges of this rocky coast and passes many disused military sites. At times it climbs severely to reveal the glistening blue-green expanse of the sea; other times it winds through pine forest, clinging defiantly to the bare rock, or through gentle scrubland fragrant with wild herbs. It is marked by painted lines on the rock and the odd signpost.

The section entering Salvador Dalí’s beloved town of Cadaqués passes across the top of Cap de Creus national park, along an ancient road edged by sharp drystone walls between old olive groves and vineyards covering the crinkled landscape. We came across some impressive ruins of fortified houses typical of the area and enjoyed the gentle breeze as we strolled along a path only sometimes shared with cheery mountain-bikers.

We arrived in Cadaqués at the tail end of a fiesta, so were subjected to the loud beats and dodgy cover versions of a local band until 3.30am. As I lay listening to my father snoring and yet another Coldplay song being butchered, I regretted taking the room with the balcony instead of the one with the en-suite bathroom.

Early the next morning, bleary-eyed, we took the gentle walk to Portlligat, the easternmost town on the peninsula, to see the bizarre but peaceful home of Dalí and his wife, Gala, set to one side of a quiet, almost circular bay under the eye of a military base that, siting atop a peak in the national park, inadvertently echoes the egg perched on top of one of Dalí’s outbuildings.

Though it lacks some of the drama of the Dalí museum in nearby Figueres, the Portlligat house gives you a more personal glance into the lives of this wacky pair.

While my father continued along the old road towards the dramatically bleak Cap de Creus I returned to Cadaqués, to meet some friends for a lunch of tortilla, cheese, bread, fruit and a delicious bottle of Rioja on a beach outside town.

We repeated the beach picnic the next day in the steeply sided inlet of Jóncols and, after an idyllic swim, pushed on towards Montjoi, an old-age home posing as a holiday resort. After a night it reminded my father of life on an oil rig. We paid €45 each for a decent en-suite room and all our meals, plus wine and any activities we chose to do. Much cheaper than El Bulli, Ferran Adrià’s restaurant next door, but maybe of a different quality.

Montjoi was our final stopover, and when we arrived at the impressive citadel of Roses a bus was waiting to leave for Figueres. It was with huge regret that we left the coast to head for the hills and a train back to Girona.

After a pint in the very cosy Café Irlandés, and dinner in the atmospheric Café Le Bistrot while three musicians played jazz, we relaxed over a bottle of local red wine. Definitely a trip to be repeated.

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