It’s one of the Costa Brava’s chicest resorts but thanks to its artistic connections, Cadaques also has a unique bohemian charm that's easy to fall in love with
The road seemed to go on forever, twisting up and round, until finally we reached the top and the Mediterranean was in sight. We were on the Costa Brava, north of Barcelona, on our way to the little fishing village of Cadaqués. We’d been warned it was a bit of a trek over the hills to reach it, but we had been assured it would be worth it. Sure enough, as soon as we set eyes on the place, we fell in love. Who wouldn’t.
Cadaqués is a picture-postcard resort of whitewashed houses, draped in bougainvillea, winding their way up hilly cobbled streets. Shabby fishing boats and multi-million-pound yachts rock side by side in its harbour, while its intimate pebbly beaches and rocky coves are overlooked by pretty restaurants, bars and cafes. It’s the favourite holiday haunt of well-heeled Barcelonians, who come here at weekends to browse its galleries and boutiques and take their boats out to its private rocky coves to sun themselves (sometimes stark naked).
Unlike much of this stretch of coastline, Cadaqués has escaped the high-rise, concrete development of neighbouring resorts further south, and has retained the charm of the little Spanish fishing village it once was. In the 1960s it was known as Spain’s answer to St Tropez, but I don’t think that’s a good description. Yes, it’s just as pretty and attracts a moneyed, chic crowd, but instead of the glitz and glamour of St Tropez, Cadaqués has a much more appealing laidback, bohemian vibe.
This, I guess, is partly down to its artistic connections. Since as far back as the 1800s, Cadaqués has attracted artists and intellectuals, inspiring the likes of Henri Matisse, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp and Picasso. Its most famous artistic claim to fame, however, is Salvador Dalí, who grew up in nearby Figueres but used to spend his childhood summers here. Dali met his wife, Gala, here in 1929 and the couple converted a series of fishermen's cottages in neighbouring Port Lligat into a semi-permanent residence. Their home is now open to the public and is well worth a visit.
Dali does decor
In a group of around six, we were escorted, room by room, through the labyrinthine house, described by Dali as “a true biological structure… Each new pulse in our life has its own new cell, a room”. Already familiar with Dali’s weird and wonderful painting style, we were pleased to see that his tastes were just as surreal when it comes to interior design. On entering the house, we were immediately greeted by a huge, stuffed and polar bear towering above us. If that wasn’t strange enough, the bear was as heavily accessorised as BA Baracus from The A-Team.
The rest of the house was full of other kitsch delights – mannequins, stuffed birds, funky mirrors, giant white eggs, a shrine to Michelin tyres and a penis-shaped pool! It made us want to go back to our regular house in Brighton and give it a Dali-style makeover.
Apparently, Dali’s surrealist canvases were inspired by the striking ruggedness of the coves and headlands on this coastline, so we headed to Cap Creus to see it for ourselves. Now a nature reserve, it’s one of of the most stunning stretches of the Costa Brava, or ‘Wild Coast’.
Braving the wind, we scrambled down the cliffs from the 1853-vintage landmark lighthouse, winding our way through overgrown paths and clambering over jagged rocks and spiky shrubs. Here, the usually calm Mediterranean swells and crashes against the granite shoreline, as gannets and gulls dive and soar through the waves. It was breathtaking.
Dinner and drinks
That night, we headed into Cadaques and took a stroll around the Old Town and the bay. As if it wasn’t pretty enough by day, it’s even more so at night, when the light of the moon reflects on the rippling harbour, and lights flicker from the gently rocking boats. We joined the fashionable set, in their designer flip-flops and cool linen clothes, ducking in and out of the stylish boutiques and art galleries. We heard very few English accents as we passed the bars and restaurants, serving squid ink paellas and fresh grilled fish.
We decided to dine at Es Baluard, a family-run restaurant overlooking the main beach that’s known for its seafood. The traditional fish and seafood casserole, zarzuela, was delicious. We ate late (9.30ish), like the locals, but when we arrived for a drink at Cuban-style Cafe de la Habana, it was still fairly quiet.
We got chatting to a Dutch couple, both artists, who live in Cadaques and they recommended going on to L’Hostal for some live music. It's a famous Cadaques establishment: Salvador Dalí was a regular and apparently brought Mick Jagger here. The artist once said L’Hostal was “the most beautiful place on earth”. I wouldn’t have gone quite that far, but it definitely had a nice vibe. With high ceilings, candlelight and heavy, elegant furniture, it felt as if we were in a grand Spanish house rather than a bar.
The drinks were pricey, but it’s free to get in and it’s worth paying a bit extra for the live music. It can range from rock to jazz, but we were treated to some Latin-style upbeat music. I tapped my feet and tried to imagine what it would have been like to be here back in Dali’s day. Maybe we would have got chatting to the man himself, and been invited back for a swim in his phallic pool!
Where to stay
Hotel Playa Sol
is regarded the best hotel in Cadaqués. It’s right across the street from a tiny, protected bay but has a lovely pool surrounded by olive trees if you want to cool off. It’s a five-minute walk to the town centre shops, bars and restaurants.
Alternatively, check into one of the nautical-themed bedrooms at the small, family-run Hotel Blaumar
, in a residential area near the Playa Sol and a 10-minute walk from the town centre. Take a dip in the plunge pool before breakfast on the shady terrace.