It was August and I was meeting up with a friend to dive in Es Caials, on the small rocky peninsula between Cadaqués and Portlligat. Suddenly, as I approached the town on the winding mountain road, a red light blinked on the dashboard of my car. Pulling over, a cloud of steam emerged from under the bonnet. It was going to be one of those days!
Luckily I was carrying water and topped up the coolant and was soon on my way, driving carefully in order to avoid overheating the car again. However, even without car problems you can either get there on the vertiginous roads from Roses or Port de la Selva via Llançà, through the spectacular Cap de Creus natural park, or by sea.
One of the most iconic seaside towns on the Costa Brava must be Cadaqués, a long way from high rise resorts such as Lloret de Mar and Platja d’Aro and with light and abundant nature that inspires artists worldwide to flock to the town that was a favourite of the great Catalan surrealist Salvador Dalí.
Cadaqués is a town that has retained much of its charm despite being such a popular destination and with much of the town pedestrianised it is easy to get around on foot and explore the narrow winding streets.
The town is at the most easterly point of the Iberian peninsula, on Cap de Creus, a rocky peninsula that forms part of the Pyrenean foothills. The stark contrast between the harshness of the rocks, the beaches and coves and the tramuntana wind make the area inhospitable in some respects, but the sheer beaty of the place more than makes up for those hardships.
The wind, which can reach in excess of 100 kmph and is bitterly cold in winter, has seen numerous nautical disasters as ships have been thrashed against the volcanic rocks. Today the Cap de Creus is protected as a natural park, which means construction within the park itself is strictly prohibited.
If you’re looking for beautiful sand beaches then Cadaqués is probably not your ideal destination. Most of the beaches in and around Cadaqués consist of pebbles, with rocks or rather coarse sand. For this reason you may want to wear plastic sandals in the water to protect against rocks and the many sea urchins you find attached to them.
However, that is not really a good reason to avoid the town. The water is clear, if a little cooler than further south, and there are many good locations for snorkelling.
If you doubt at how wild the Cap de Creus can be take a look at the video below showing wild boar on the beach:
Once a sleepy fishing village, Cadaqués was first documented in 1030 and through its history has been attacked by pirates and claimed by the French and it became popular with artists as far back as the late nineteenth century.
However, it was the early 20th century that really put Cadaqués on the map. Like many Catalans, a large proportion of the population went to Cuba to make their fortunes, building elaborate houses with the money they had earned on their return, some of which can still be seen today. Since the 1960s the town has become a popular tourist destination, particularly a mecca for artists and has managed to retain its charm despite its popularity.
Being next to the sea there are plenty of restaurants serving fresh fish. La Sirena is very well regarded for seafood, while Can Tito does traditional Catalan fish and meat dishes in a cosy environment. Anyone looking to get away from the tourist trail a bit should look out for Restaurant La Cala, a favourite with many locals.
There are also a number of bars on the main beach where you may like to sit and watch the world go by, or stare out over the Mediterranean while nursing a cold drink and tapas.
Apart from swimming and sunning yourself on one of the beaches or in a rocky cove somewhere, the Cadaqués is renowned for its association with Salvador Dalí who had a house and workshop at nearby Portlligat. The Dalí House-Museum (as it is billed, see more information here) was the eccentric artist’s main residence and workshop from the 1930s until the death of his wife, Gala, in 1982 when he moved to Púbol Castle. Groups are restricted to just eight people at intervals of 10 minutes for the 45 minute tour and must be pre-reserved.
The area is also good for diving, with several dive centres offering dive courses and daily boat excursions in the summer months. The waters off Cap de Creus are often exceptionally clear and visibility even at depth can be excellent with plenty of marine life and rugged rock formations to explore.
The short video above gives an idea of the charms of Cadaqués
The beach at es Caials is also good for diving from the shore although you need to be careful of boat traffic.There you’ll find the wreck of the British merchant vessel The Llanishen, which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat during the first world war and abandoned by its crew. The ship was afterwards dynamited and the main section lies in 12-17 metres of water, with another section somewhat deeper. There isn’t too much remaining, but it is a worthwhile dive and the same and the bay is sheltered from the Tramuntana, which often stops dive boats from going out; most people simply get too sea sick.
You can also set off by car or on foot to explore the wonders of the natural park of Cap de Creus. There are numerous walks to secluded bays, although you’ll be lucky to find anything completely deserted; even if there are no other hikers you’ll find a number of boats there.
How to get to Cadaqués
The road to Cadaqués is pretty windy, but it’s much better than it was 20 years ago or so, when there were few crash barriers. If you are using public transport there are 4 buses per day to and from Figueres, which you can reach by train from Girona or Barcelona.
Have I missed anything?
If you think there is something missing, or something needs correcting please leave a comment below and I’ll take a look at it and update as soon as possible.