L’Escala is popular holiday town on the south of the Gulf of Roses in the Alt Empordà. The town is close to the earliest Greco-Roman settlement in Spain, a site which has been under archeological excavation since 1908 and is a popular tourist destination.
Originally a fishing village famed for its anchovies, l’Escala’s port area has undergone considerable expansion over the last two decades in particular to cater for the large number of pleasure boats moored in the marina. Fishing still goes on, although the number of fishing boats is massively outnumbered by the motor yachts, sailing boats and dinghies.
The old town of l’Escala is still charming and it is easy to pass time in one of the cafes in the small bays located there, although parking can be a problem, particularly in the height of the tourist season.
The town tends to be rather deserted off season and many areas are like a ghost town, with weekends seeing Catalans travelling up from Barcelona and elsewhere to stay in their holiday homes. There are some foreign visitors over the Christmas and then Easter, but from late May and June is when things start to get busy and the end of July and August are packed full of people making travelling around the town difficult. Many people who live in l’Escala year round bar far prefer the quiet months, but only you can know whether that suits you or not.
The famed anchovies are prepared using a method introduced by the Greeks that uses salt to preserve the fish rather than the more common oil and as a result salt was an important commodity in the town. Today the salt ships that in days gone by would deliver salt to l’Escala are commemorated every September in the Festa de Sal (Salt Festival).
As well as anchovies, the town is well known for diving, with a number of dive centres operating from the port. The dive centres each offer up to three boat dives a day to locations along the local coastline, as well as making the longer journey to the Medes. You may find it more comfortable to drive to Estartit and use a local dive centre as the journey from l’Escala lasts 45 minutes or so.
There are also boat excursions that travel up and down the coast, including glass bottomed boats for examining the undersea world, which is great for kids and adults alike. And from the beaches there are other activities such as windsurfing and sailing for all levels of experience and so now may be the ideal opportunity to start lessons while on holiday there.
Gastronomy wise, l’Escala doesn’t have much going for it; the restaurants tend to be overpriced and all serve pretty much the same uninspired dishes aimed at tourists. High points are Meson del Conde at Sant Martí de Empúries, although that is not as good as it once was and the queues and service in summer are less than desirable.
L’Escala also seems to have too many supermarkets for the population size, with two new supermarkets opening in 2014, although one closed down. The supermarkets range from the Catalan BonPreu to Spanish Mercadona and Dia, as well as foreign owned Aldi, Lidl and Carrefour.
Most tourist accommodation in l’Escala consists of privately owned villas and apartments. There are hotels, but not to the extent of some other over developed towns and camping is also popular here with a number of campsites in and around the town.
The main beach is Riells, a 600 metre curve of sand that is fairly shallow and good for kids, although you do need to wade out a bit if you want a serious swim. The beach gets a little too packed in the summer as tourists start to pack themselves together tight, like the anchovies the town is so famous for.
Less densely populated is the beach at Empúries, in front of the archeological site, probably because you have to pay for parking. Further on is El Riuet, with several kilometres of sand running up to Sant Pere Pescador.
Areas of this sandy beach are popular with nudists, and there are areas for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Here the less able kitesurfers can be a nuisance when they stray out of their area and start dive bombing you with their uncontrolled kites. However, it can get a little too windy here and rather than a peaceful afternoonm swimming and sunbathing you get sand blasted instead.