I’ve just returned from a visit to my daughter who lives in Catalonia, Spain. She works in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but she is moving into a new apartment a bit further along the Mediterranean coast at Calafell.
Calafell is in the Tarragona region on the Costa Daurada or Golden Coast, to the south west of Barcelona. It has miles of spotless golden sandy beaches, which the local council workers clean and smooth down every morning. The warm Mediterranean Sea here is reasonably calm and shallow, which makes it a perfect holiday destination for families. When I went it was May half term in the UK but not in Spain, so everywhere was quiet and very relaxing.
It is a fascinating town, which is great to explore on foot, and easy to get to by high-speed train from the airports of Barcelona or Reus. The railway station is in the newer part of town where all the amenities you could want are situated. There is a hospital, schools, supermarkets, museums, football club, sports stadium, and gorgeous parks with ancient olive trees and cooling fountains. There are even co-operative offices within the library which you can rent by the hour or for longer periods. These are great for entrepreneurs, writers and small-business people like my daughter who don’t need their own permanent offices.
A short walk up a very steep hill took me to the heart of the town. Many of the ancient stone buildings have been renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants or artisan shops. But the rich character of the old town is still visible. It is all set around a public square, Plaça de Catalunya, which was established towards the end of the 18th century. There is a church which was built in the 19th century by the people of the town when the bishop could no longer make the steep climb to the old chapel for his visits.
The original chapel was in the castle, which is situated at the very highest point of the old town. Here the buildings are medieval or older. Indeed, parts of the Castle of the Santa Creu of Calafell date back over a thousand years. From the top there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area with its medieval buildings, Roman ruins and vineyards as far as the eye can see. For this is the heart of the Catalonian Cava region. My daughter recommended the Freixenet which is produced locally.
The local officials in Calafell are clearly very proud of their heritage and culture. There are informative posters and signs in several languages close to any site of historical significance.
One such poster explained that
“22 million years ago the hill where the castle is now situated was a coral island surrounded by vast, fine sandy beaches. Now completely fossilised, one can still see the remains of coral (grey coloured rock) and molluscs (yellow coloured rock) in the fossilised sand.”
And I could! It also explained that
“The melting of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to rise to its current level and the Cobertera stream formed a fertile valley that has been agriculturally exploited since the time of the Iberians. During the Roman and Medieval periods and well into the 20th century, cultivation spread throughout the basin and even the surrounding hills were deforested and margins built on them for the cultivation of vineyards.”
Being fascinated by the history of any place I visit, I spent many hours wandering in the old town of Calafell. However, I was with two of my young grandchildren, so the sandy beach was the place to be every afternoon. It is amazing what children will find to play with in the absence of their usual toys. Pebbles, shells and the sand itself kept them busy for hours. Chasing waves was a delight, especially as they had my daughter’s tiny dachshund dog to compete with. And washed up bits of wood triggered off magical games. It was a joy just to watch them.
In the evenings, when the children were in bed with their parents taking a well-earned rest, it was time for my daughter and I to explore some more. Alongside the beach there is a beautiful paved promenade dotted with palm trees. Along here there is a 5-star hotel with a gorgeous beach bar and lots of privately owned apartments with swimming pools. But nearer the town there is a little group of remaining fishermen’s houses including Casa Barral.
Carlos Barral (1928-1989) was a writer and publisher and a bit of a character from what we read. He used to gather other writers around him for literary conversation. These gatherings would consist of lots of drinking and smoking and loud noise which drove his poor wife to distraction. When she could stand it no longer she banished them to a nearby bar called L’Espineta.
Since 1999 Casa Barral has been owned by the town and converted into a museum to preserve the seafaring customs and lifestyle of this small community. It also reflects the literary importance of Barral, who was a very influential figure in 20th century Literature. One of the writers who gathered regularly at L’Espineta was Gabriel García Márques (1927-2014).
I have read two of his books; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I have to say I found them hard to understand. However, I can appreciate his genius. Being American Spanish from Colombia, he is considered to be one of the best writers in the Spanish Language. His style has been called ‘Magical Realism’ and most of his stories explore the theme of solitude.
The bar, L’Espineta, that they met in has remained exactly as it was, owned by the Barral family, until very recently when it was sold. The new owners have kept every detail intact even down to the pictures on the walls.
There was a reopening party on the night I arrived and I went every night while I was in Calafell. It truly is a strange experience sitting on the chairs García Márques would have sat on and drinking from the glasses he would have used in the bar he knew so well. I felt submerged in his world of Magical Realism.
The final detail that sticks in my mind about Calafell is the incredibly ornate Cementerio. I am used to decorative statues and ornaments on graves in our local cemetery, but they are not nearly as ornate as those in Spain. I discovered that there is actually a European Cemeteries Route in Spain which celebrates the historic and artistic heritage of the most distinctive examples. And, Catalonia is the region with the largest number of significant cemeteries.
While I don’t think I will be going on the Cemeteries Route, I am almost certain that I will go back to Calafell if I can conquer my terrible travel anxiety. I had such a lovely time but it takes me a week to recover from the stress of the journey!
Enjoy my photos of Calafell~
Old town and Castle
Park, Beach and swimming pool