“Baa baa,” the Catalan restaurateur is pointing fingers on his head to represent horns. “Sheep, lamb?” We have fun guessing, not helped by our school Spanish. This is Catalan – fiercely proud of its culture and language. The dish turns out to be a delicious offer of asparagus with melted goat’s cheese.
Here on the Costa Brava the mountains and sea both provide an abundance of fresh ingredients that celebrate traditional Catalan cuisine. Sea food, vegetables, fruits and my favourite, escalivada. A richly flavoured dish of baked onions, peppers and aubergine served with local lamb.
This Spanish Costa is surprising. Having had preconceptions of brash seaside resorts, I begin to think I have landed somewhere else entirely. In Italy, Tuscany or Amalfi, coast perhaps? All the ingredients are here. The deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea set against rose coloured cliffs, the craggy coastline and small medieval walled towns.
This 100-milestretch of Catalan coastline, the ‘Savage Coast’ or Costa Brava in Catalan, has struggled to compete with the more glamorous reputation of the other resorts due mainly to the notoriety of high rise resort just north of Barcelona.
Here, however, I here I found some of the finest cuisine, lush rolling hills, aromatic pine forests and rugged cliffs. It’s also the birthplace of Salvador Dali and the inspiration for Picasso.
This mild Mediterranean climate is ideal for exploring in the autumn months. The crowds have gone and relaxing warm sunshine is at work subtly ripening figs and grapes. It restores me to face winter back home.
I am renting a spacious cliff top villa with friends in Sant Feliu de Guixols, a small town with a big nautical history. It boasts a fine Sunday market, art gallery, ancient monastery, wide sandy beaches and bustling marina.
A group of us take a day trip by sea to nearby Tossa Del Mar. Along the way the spectacular and formidable cliffs reveal isolated beaches, dramatic rock formations and houses that appear to be miraculously clinging to the rocks.
Here we find an imposing castle with fine views along the coast. Also, a charming 14th century medieval walled town. Tossa also reveals a less attractive but well kept beach resort area which still has echoes of the 70’s development.
We take a drive to the beguiling medieval town of Begur. Leaving the chatter in the town square cafes and bars, we slog uphill past narrow Spanish and Moorish streets to another castle, linked to the Napoleonic wars. Well worth the effort for splendid panoramic views taking you from the calm of the Mediterranean to the looming Pyrenees in the far distance.
The savage coast is not so savage in the autumn – its calm, the crowds have gone and the late sunshine is mellowing fruit for more Catalan gastronomic delights.