Slip the city
GO CITYBREAK:Travel an hour or two from Barcelona or spend a couple of days on the beaches or discovering the vineyards and towns full of architectural treasures, writes SIMON TIERNEY
OUR WAITRESS INSISTS that I try the Malvasia, a local sweet wine. No encouragement is needed. She demonstrates how to drink from the traditional porron bottle, with its long, spouted neck. She warns me that it cannot touch my lips. Instead, I must hold it above my head and pour it like a fountain into my mouth. I am feeling unduly confident.
Most of it goes in my eye but the bit that manages to find my lips is delicious. I am sitting outside a restaurant. The sun is setting but it is still warm. The town is exhaling after its day in the heat. I am eating whitebait and calamari and enjoying some chilled Cava. Sitges, half an hour by train to the south of Barcelona, is one of the many gems on the Costa Barcelona.
The Costa Barcelona, in the region of Catalonia, is located in northeast Spain. I travelled along the northern and southern coasts of the area. I also travelled inland to Penedès, the wine region of the province of Barcelona. The Irish thirst for culture often brings visitors to Barcelona, while ignoring the stunning environs. The city has become rather saturated with tourists but the province in which it is ensconced, is unspoilt and offers beauty, culture and space to breathe. Leaving Barcelona behind and heading for its neighbouring treasures is liberating. The real Catalonia awaits.
Sitges is an old fishing town with a spectacular coastline, offering 17 beaches and a continuous promenade which makes for a charming walk in the evening. As I ambled along, a bride dressed in flowing white garments smiled at me on her way to the beach below to be married, as the sun set in the distance. I thought I had stumbled on to a film set. It is an idyllic location with bustling bars and restaurants, spilling on to the narrow pedestrianised streets and sandy beaches. Casa Bacardi, nestled among the many boutique shops, is well worth a visit. I had the best mojito I have ever tasted here (the trick is to clap the fresh mint, not crush it. Go easy on the sugar).
The traditional fisherman’s homes with their signature blue shutters and brilliant white walls collide abruptly with the mansions of the “Americanos”. This term describes the “done good” Sitgetans of the 18th and 19th centuries who emigrated to Cuba and Puerto Rico, earned a fortune and then returned to the town. They built beautiful houses with gardened courtyards to show off their newfound wealth.
From here we moved north towards Colònia Güell, a small, late 19th century village developed by the wealthy industrialist, Eusebi Güell, as a sort of Catholic-socialist experiment. Here, he planted his textile factory and its workers, managing to house them while also creating a microcosm of civilised society with a theatre, a social club and many of the luxuries which would have been inaccessible to the labouring classes at this time.