The song title from the 90’s UK group The Style Council seemed apt for this blog article as I had spent six weeks away at the height of summer. Initially I was glad to escape the heat and the crowds, decamping to the UK and Ireland.
If you reside here in Catalonia or on the Costa Brava then you will feel accustomed to summers arriving early, meaning earlier than usual and the double whammy being higher than average temperatures. It’s been like that in recent years.
There’s little doubt that climate change is impacting most of us worldwide and Spain has not escaped its share. It’s been experiencing prolonged drought conditions that are no joke. In recent times we’ve had highs of 40 degrees in early June, that’d be considered unbearable even during August.
We now spend much of our free time in L´Escala, just 45 kms from Girona, a popular Costa Brava resort for many nationalities, not just Catalans. The French are here big time as second home owners and tourists, and by my reckoning are followed by the Belgians, Dutch and Germans in equal measure. I still see a few English number plates but I reckon Brexit put paid to a lot of what are referred to as ´swallows´.
For anyone unfamiliar with the term it was applied to those Brits who migrated to sit out the winter months in sunny Spain. No harm in that but Brexit changes mean that if you’re British you can only stay within any EU country a maximum of 90 days before having to return home. Luckily for us we have resident status so different rules apply.
So, for the first time in ages I was absent during the peak times on the coast. Glad of the lower temperatures in London, I forgot how quick the weather can and does change. Showery days can quickly change your mood and limit what you can do. Shopping trips to the preponderance of high street charity shops and nipping into the local ´spoons´ (an abbreviation of the pub chain Wetherspoons) became the norm.
I still feel a bit nostalgic about UK pubs, but not about the prices of alcohol.
One uneventful month later it was time to move on to the Emerald Isle. Our brief trip was part holiday, part tracing family history. The inclement weather seemed to be following us but it’s no surprise, Ireland is green for a reason.
I tried not to feel too homesick for a clear blue sky, the warming glow of the sun on your face- and not having to pay five times more for a bottle of wine than in Spain.
It might be the last hot gasps of summer but no need to put away your flip flops just yet, there’s still plenty to celebrate during the first weekend of September.
Like the proverbial London red bus, when it deems to arrive there are three of them all at once. So it is with three festive morsels on offer, all on the same weekend, the hard part is choosing.
The first is L´Escala´s own three day town wide party or´festa´and seems the obvious choice as we are holidaying here anyway. Then there’s the Fira d´Indians in the quaint hilltop village of Begur, a 3 day celebration with a Cuban theme that’s hugely popular.
Lastly there’s a medieval weekend in the pretty village of Besalu, near Banyoles. We went there once many moons ago. The one common theme amongst them all is the dreaded problem of finding a parking space.
The clincher for us was the promise of an overnight stay from a friend in Begur, which meant we could stay much longer, enjoy the festival and not have to worry about driving home. We’d been to the Fira d´Indians back in 2019, and then Covid put a stop to future years until it restarted last year.
I’m sure I’ve written about it in a past blog post somewhere within the archives. It’s been going for about 20-odd years and has its origins in some past citizens of Begur who emigrated during the last century. They made their fortunes from such things as sugar plantations in Cuba. Many subsequently returned and built large colonial style houses. which are dotted around town.
That could be a touchy subject nowadays, amongst those who take a dim view on such colonial activity and exploitation.
I’m not sure if the organisers have a view on all that and it doesn’t seem like it detracts from visitors looking at just dancing the night away. Who even knows what the average visitor thinks, and I don’t want to go down some cultural cul de sac.
Getting back to having fun, the balmy Saturday night we were there was rammed full of people, the majority dressed in white, the de rigueur attire. As always with such summer events things don’t kick off until late. Feeling hungry then forget about getting a table as the wait would melt your mojito. There were numerous street food stalls and pop up bars dotted around its buzzing centre.
Although salsa beats were permeating the myriad of narrow streets, the big draw seemed to be the local park. A large sound stage with an open area for gyrating couples, surrounded by food / drink stalls. Don’t expect a peaceful night’s sleep as a succession of bands and DJs pump out Latin sounds into the early hours. It’s easy to get caught up in the energy and vibe in this Cuban enclave.
We were in bustling Barcelona visiting MOCO, the must see museum of modern art. I’ve done a previous blog post about it and we timed it just right so that we could squeeze in lunch before our return to Girona.
Barcelona is constantly buzzing, tourists are everywhere and it seems like it’s become a victim of its own success. This has led to locals becoming hyper critical of how it’s all playing out. If you live and work around certain parts, I can understand why the negative sentiment Is becoming the norm.
The wider issue of how to handle such overtourism is best left to local lawmakers and I have to sympathise with them somewhat, as in a smaller way we’ve seen what’s happened in Girona over the last decade.
I’m going to leave it there as it’s such a contentious issue. I should add that with the recent local and municipal elections in Spain changes may be afoot.
We wandered out of MOCO and very quickly ended up in a large square surrounded by bars and eateries. This is Born, a popular neighbourhood close to the old town and relatively central. It has a charming mix of small independent bijou boutiques worth browsing, interspersed with furniture stores full of vintage upcycled pieces and much more.
Restaurant Calabrasa caught our eye almost instantly, and it had an empty outdoor table. It’s still April but no problem with a light jacket. We had a shared starter of pulled pork, mains were a large cannelloni with mushrooms and an aged beef steak (photo below). I should add that I’ve often seen it listed on other menus as ‘aged cow’, a rather unfortunate literal translation that does it no favours.
I should add that Barcelona´s continued popularity has inevitably fed into the reality that eating out has become more expensive. Let’s add some context, for tourists that might seem reasonable but as long term residents, knowing what things cost it’s a different metric. It’s hard to shift those memories of dining as a family of four for 80-100 euros but the world has moved on.
Final bill for 2. With a bottle of white wine, one dessert and coffees came to 88€
Verdict. A couple of hours well spent, nice enough food, forget the cost, enjoy the moment and tomorrow’s another day.
There’s no shortage of places to eat in this sedate seaside town and understandably many cater for the visitors and tourists alike. Cuisine-wise it’s a typical Spanish/ Catalan affair with what you might expect when visiting this part of Spain. Don’t expect to be wowed or tempted by anything different that you might have expected to find in a big city.
Which reminds me of a poster´s wording I once saw in Girona a few years ago during more contentious times. ´Catalonia is not Spain’, a reference to this region’s strong independence movement. There’s certainly more than a grain of truth in that, as you’d find out for yourself if you’d spent a lot of time living and/or working here.
It’s a subject that evokes a lot of differing opinions and emotions. I try to avoid it, especially with Catalan friends. I’m sympathetic, a listener, happy to sit on the fence on this one.
Anyway, maybe not the time and place for a food review. Restaurant La Mod has a commanding sea view just a stone’s throw from nearby Riells beach. It sits below an apartment block, strung out amid other adjoining bars and offices. They all have a handful of outdoor tables each, but today it’s raining so we plump for indoors.
It’s not our first time here, we’re attracted back as a result of their welcoming nature to dogs, and humans of course. These over the top dog friendly owners are aways cock a hoop to see our two canine companions. That makes our visit less stressful and we can enjoy our stay almost forgetful that they’re with us.
At this point I should mention the eclectic nature of the interior wall decorations. Where do I start? It looks like someones been to one too many flea markets arbitrarily buying all and sundry. And then sticking it all up on the wall. Your eye wanders from what looks like a mixture of African tribal masks to more mundane dumpster diving artefacts.
Glancing upwards the bare concrete ceiling is a disappointing unfinished afterthought, maybe money saved during its formation. I should be more forgiving.
Maybe I’m being a tad unkind as the rest of the interior, roomy tables well spaced and background music is perfectly acceptable. Billed as a jazz bar it does have a singular lonely looking piano and music posters of various well known jazz artists.
Once we’d wrestled the smiley waitress away from our two furry friends we were ready to order. The food menu appears to have changed slightly from our last visit. We often go for shared plates as our starters and then choose a main. This time, for my main course I chose a Thai chicken curry with rice.
Curries over here are not the same as what I’m used to back in the UK. Generally they seem to lack the depth of flavour we get back home, and locals tend to prefer a much milder version of what passes for mild in blighty. However, I’m not going to judge today’s offering and I get a pleasingly tasteful attempt.
Desserts wise I’m happy to try a morsel of someone else’s choice as I’m usually full by this time. I’d need to be offered something truly exceptional to twist my arm, so happy to watch.
We end up happily fed and the house red wine (10€ / bottle) has worked its magic, to finish we were offered a shot of our choice, on the house.
Verdict. If you can tear yourself away from the makes no sense wall decor and just stare elsewhere like the vibrant blue sea, and enjoy the food, plus caring service, then you’ve walked into the equivalent of a welcoming comfy lounge room.
Living in Girona and exploring the Costa Brava has been a delight, but there’s lots more to see elsewhere in Spain, a hell of a lot more. We’d been lucky enough over the years to have visited many places, but this time it was the northern regions we had a yearning for.
Yes, people say the weather can be a bit wetter and the Atlantic coast might feel a bit colder to swim in, but it’s high summer so let’s go. I’m not a great fan of long distance driving so we plan the trip in short stages, for me that’s driving about 300 kms or less each day.
With hindsight it was a trip we´ll remember for a while as it was done in the summer of 2019 pre-covid, so because of travel restrictions we did very little in the way of holidays for the following two years.
The timeline was two weeks and I’ll break it down below. The accommodation was a 50/50 mix of AirBnb´s and regular hotels. First stop was Zaragoza, about a 4 hour drive from Girona, for a one night hotel stay in the old town area. It’s a big city and a bit tricky to navigate but we arrived early in the evening.
For supper we head to a popular thoroughfare of bars and restaurants called El Tubo (the tube/pipe). It was super busy, it is August by the way, but we found a reasonable looking spot inside a place serving upmarket tapas.
The city has a grand cathedral and we enjoyed a stroll around the city’s more touristic old parts. The one night stay feels like enough, not a place to linger and we drive on towards San Sebastian, about 3 hours away.
Our route took us past Pamplona so we decided to stop for a brief look and lunch. This place is famous for its San Fermin bull run in mid July, which attracts over a million visitors and lasts several days. We wander into Cafe Iruna, a cavernous old mahogany clad place which we discover was a popular haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
Lunch over we take a stroll through nearby streets, we seem to be in the middle of what appears to be some kind of South American themed carnival. Numerous colourfully clad groups stream past a central avenue, some waving country flags that I don’t recognise, accompanied with music. It’s a nice surprise but we need to get going.
We reach San Sabastian by evening and enter via the wide sweep of its beach that’s La Concha (the shell). It’s a stunning looking view down below. The more mundane issue of parking is a different challenge that means the eventual parking spot is a 15 minute walk from our apartment.
We appear to be in close proximity to a few bars and proper sleep becomes nigh on impossible, as constant noise continues until the early hours. Our fault for arriving at the weekend. We’re in the Basque region of Spain and the architecture is different. There’s money here and it shows.
La Concha beach is bereft of any beachside bars, not something we are used to seeing. Our walk takes us to a promontory which is home to a famous sculpture ElPeine del Viento (the comb of the wind) by Eduardo Chillida. It’s actually a collection of three steel sculptures, each weighing over 9 tonnes, and an emblem of the city. If time allows there’s a funicular that takes you to a hilltop offering far reaching views of the coast.
Evening looms and we wander into San Sebastian’s busy centre. This is tapas or more to the point pintxos-central and we enjoy the local fare.
It’s a relatively short hop to our next port of call Bilbao, another centrally located bnb apartment. We´re met by the charming owner who also helps me find a parking spot nearby. Big cities, height of summer, tourist season equals parking hell. We hit the jackpot here, the apartment has the look of a New York loft with a wall mounted front-end of a motorbike, and all the mod cons.
The city is host to the world famous Gugenheim museum, which we visited the next day. Visually stunning inside and especially from the outside with its looming spider statue and a floral puppy by American artist Jeff Koons. It easily consumes a whole day.
Next stop is Santander, about 300 kms from Bilbao, the road follows the coastline and we decide to stop for lunch in Castro Urdiales. The streets here are busy and the place reminds me of a Cornish fishing village in the UK, not what I’m used to seeing on the Costa Brava.
On reaching the outskirts of Santander, first impressions are that it’s a bit industrial. Our Airbnb flat looked inviting from the indoor photos. Its outdoor location looks somewhat different-decidedly dodgy. Certain dodgy-looking characters loitering on street corners, it has the appearance of an area of social housing that begins to ring alarm bells. This over reaction however is proved unfounded.
Walking downhill towards the seafront we wander into a bustling bar area. The next day we devote the entire day to discovering the city. Santander extends up from the coast, so steep in places that there are outdoor escalators that help reach its upper regions.. It even has a funicular that we took downhill. The areas facing the coast have a more upmarket feel from where we were staying. We walked along the coast, stopping off for lunch at a former fire station.
Although the sandy outcrops look enticing, I’m not keen to jump into the sea.
Next stop westwards is the region of Asturias, much smaller, our destination is Oviedo, its regional capital. We passed through a constant green undulating landscape, very uplifting. Our hotel choice is a sprawling white behemoth of a place. Architecturally white and futuristic looking, a bit of a step up from the last place.
Oviedo’s quite big and appears busy, its downtown is a mix of old and new, the region is noted for its cider and Avenida de Sidra is where the action is. We watch as waiters pour it into a glass with left arms outstretched high, so cider pours feet away from the glass. We’re in the mood to try some.
On day two we take a 30 minute drive north to the coastal town of Gijon for a walkabout, a boat trip and of course the inevitable lunch stop, sardines this time and yes, more cider. The town is buzzing and just by the port there’s even a large sculpture made entirely from empty green cider bottles.
The final leg of our two week foray means we are taking a different route back to Girona, and stop at Burgos. Our hotel is a stone’s throw from its emblematic Saint Mary Cathedral. It’s quite a sight and seems to change different shades of colours as the sun pans across its mighty spires.
Full of old town charm, by evening the whole populace looks to be enjoying a ramble through tree lined avenues with plenty of culinary options. We pull up at a place with tall bar chairs and barrels for tables to enjoy a selection of local cheeses and dried cured hams. There’s no hairs and graces involved as fingers came first.
Next day we took the cathedral tour. It’s a real tourist draw but I’m finding the audio tour a bit heavy so skip a few bits. The famous El Cid who defeated the moors way back, is buried here. For us though the trump card is the Museum of Human Evolution, a high tech looking edifice that traces our Homo Sapien ancestors and more. I’m reminded that we are not a million miles away from the limestone caves of Atapuerca where important discoveries of early humans were made in the mid-1970’s.
The following day I’m faced with a 700 km hike back to Girona where we arrived back late. Nowadays we look back fondly at our road trip and vow to repeat the journey back to this Spanish region, to venture further west to include Galicia and maybe even southward into Portugal.
I like to loosely group L´Escala into three areas or zones. They’re all nice in their own way, it just depends on what you’re looking for.
At one end there’s the peace and tranquillity of Montgo, with its neat little sandy cove, Cala Montgo, a great choice for a family beach day. (playa Montgo). At the other end is the casc antic or old town, which has a couple of much smaller beaches, rocky outcrops suitable for lounging and a greater number of bars, shops and restaurants.
In the middle you have Riells, a more modern creation with a much longer and wider beach and surrounding streets, better geared up for summer tourists with families. From here you can enjoy a 15-20 minute stroll along the Passeig Maritim, a wide walkway that hugs the coast, up to the old town. It’s quite rocky along here and not really promoted as a bathing area but there are fine views across the bay to distant towns like Empuriabrava and Roses.
Once you’ve reached the old quarter you can either keep walking with the sea to your right, or veer off into the maze of surrounding streets. There’s a much greater variety of shops, bars and restaurants within a very walkable area so take your time. It’s also where you’ll find Cerveseria (pub) Frankfurt. Plain looking and down to earth I guess it’s trying to imitate a German bierkeller which it does to a degree.
We liked the cosy looking wooden booths spread out along one side, the walls decorated with kitschy looking pictures and paraphernalia, somewhat adding to its Germanic feel. I’m not totally convinced but the bare stone walls,and the long mahogany coloured counter could be downtown Bavaria-if only for a fleeting moment.
Being English we’re more aware of the large round Guinness sign and plump for a pint of the dark stuff (6€). The laminated food menu is a masterclass in simplicity, tapas dishes to share, hot and cold baguettes, frankfurters/hot dogs and burgers with a variety of sides and toppings customised to your taste.
This isn’t a gourmet burger as such, think more like slightly fancy fast food. Prices aren’t over the top, my Angus 200 gram burger was 7.85€ with just an additional 1€ for extra onion, tomato and lettuce. One of us had the blood/black sausage hot dog- a bit different. Buns and bread rolls are the usual soft, pappy, tasteless kind, the three tapas dishes were what we expected.
If that hasn’t hit the spot there are of course desserts, and we chose a pastis de pastanaga (carrot cake) and a pastis de xocolate (chocolate cake).
Verdict. Sadly no thigh slapping lederhosen or frauleins to be seen but on our second visit, a Thursday, they had live music, a nice twist. On a tiny side note they didn’t mind our two well behaved dogs so that’s always a plus for us.
Final tally for 3, a bit higher than anticipated as the Guiness was going down too well, was 77€.
Spain’s capital city is a far cry from home. What brings me here? Simply a visit to a friend and a yearning for a change of scenery.
Spain is a country that surprises curious travellers. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited many parts when time allows, I still have a good few places on the list yet to be ticked off.
It was time to revisit Madrid. We’d been before as a family trip, one Easter way back when Ryanair still flew there from Girona (not anymore). Just about one hour flight I recall but you still have to catch a cab into the city. It was early April and cold, so I ended up buying a warmer jacket and scarf. We saw many of the colourful Easter celebrations and numerous religious processions. A very different affair from what you see in Girona.
I took the fast train AVE service (Renfe.es) from Girona, which takes just under four hours to cover the 700 kms. Buy them online as tickets are cheaper if you book a few weeks in advance. Plus, if you’re living here, over 60 and travel a lot on trains it’s worth getting the Tarjeta Dorada (gold card) at 6€/ Yr (2023 price). Purchase them at the train station ticket desk, just have your passport/TIE for id purposes. Simply input your personal number when booking online to get 25% to 40% discounts depending on which day you travel.
I should also mention that this route has opened up to other competitors and I keep hearing of ridiculously cheap Barcelona to Madrid fares so do your research.
Back in the UK there used to be an old advertising slogan ´let the train take the strain”, and in this case that’s true.
With the national carrier Renfe you get an assigned carriage and seat (or choose your own + 5€) which is comfy enough, and even has a charging point for phones or laptops. Most services also have a buffet car or you may have a trolley service too. Stops from Girona are few and include Barcelona, Lleida and Zaragoza. There’s even a digital display which shows you the speed of the train, at times reaching almost 300 kms an hour.
The big plus point is you arrive smack in the centre of Madrid, at Atocha station and there are plenty of taxis outside. This must be my third time here, each time staying in a different part of the city.
The advantage of having a friend who lives here as a guide is a big plus, as well as speaking better Spanish. This time I’m in Chamberi, an upmarket residential area that is walkable from downtown or a 10€ cab ride. It also seems to have a sizable student population as they inhabit many street bar terraces. My apartment is a stone’s throw from a noisy music bar nightclub that remains noisy until the early hours. Patrons congregate outside, people coming and going
How do these places coexist in a residential block defies comprehension, surely they get endless complaints. I mustn’t forget that Spaniards are noisy a lot in general and that’s not a complaint.
If you’re here on a Sunday then you ought to visit the popular El Rastro street market, a real cornucopia of stalls and then proceed onto La Latina area. Look out for an Argentinian bar/cafe that serves yummy empanadas washed down with a mojito or margarita.
Park Retiro is a well known green oasis with lakes and rowing boats, but I realise that I’m near Parque del Oeste which is huge. While it may be a bit hilly in places it’s a welcome retreat on a hot day in May with large shady trees to rest under. I’ve got time to visit the nearby Museum of the Americas, although it closes mid afternoon I get time to whizz through it all just before it shuts. Covering the whole of the Americas, art and archaeology from the distant past to today.
Another cool, vibey fun area to visit for drinks and eats is Malasanna, and close to the city centre. Tourists and locals stream through here constantly, streetlife at its busiest every night and more so at weekends. It was here that my friend introduced me to tinto de verano, a popular refreshing summer tipple made with red wine and lemonade.
It’s a vibrant city where you can turn a corner and a new experience awaits you.Just popping into a normal looking bar for a drink will more than likely result in being offered a free tapas, sometimes so plentiful it can negate the need to have supper.
An abiding memory is the fact that you can eat out very late here, 11pm is not a problem, unlike Girona where a funny look is more likely.
It’s mid May and we have visitors who have decided they want to visit Girona, which is all fine and dandy but today’s date is when the city wide annual flower festival, Temps de Flors begins.
But this isn’t just some ode to flower arranging and twee looking containers, it’s a smorgasbord of displays, from normal to wacky abstract. If you live here, especially within the enclaves of the old town areas then you either hunker down for nine days of constant milling crowds or, decamp the city.
The result is that such hordes must have somewhere to eat and drink, hence the almost futile task of seeking a restaurant booking on this of all days. It could prove to be easier to have met the pope. In our case, no pope-pun intended, god loves a tryer and we score a result with a 3pm booking at Draps.
Slap bang in the hustle and bustle of Girona´s old quarter, amongst numerous other eateries which includes restaurant Normal, being just opposite, another addition to the Roca brothers stable of fine dining.
Draps occupies a corner plot and it’s been here for ages but I´ve never tried it. Various family members have and have spoken of it in mainly good terms. As we wait outside for the rest of our group the whiff of curry hits my senses from the Indian restaurant a few doors down. I could’ve been easily persuaded to go there instead. We also observe the futile attempts of hungry people being turned away, too many chasing too few seats.
Table ready, we go inside and upstairs to a large round table at the far end. An immediate impression is how narrow it is. I guess the temptation is to cram in as many tables as possible but it adds to the cosiness, hence its popularity with couples. Bare stone walls are the backdrop to a warm wooden decor.
At these busy times and large throughput of diners means that it´s a set menu, their Temps de Flors offering is 33€ and we´re asked to choose our starter, main and desserts all in one go.The feather in the cap is a welcoming glass of Cava (included), Catalonia’s admirable answer to Italian Prosecco. And very nice it is too, you can buy it across a range of prices, even the 2€ version is quaffable when making a mimosa.
For starters I chose the pumpkin soup decorated with shavings of dried cured ham, which while I enjoyed the crispy bits I also got some chewy fatty croutons too. It also reminded me that whenever I order soup it invariably gets served warm, rarely hot.
A friend ordered tuna tartar (photo below) and they made a jolly good job of serving dishes so we all ate at the same time. Main dishes included a choice of duck confit, red snapper, sole or steak, which was my choice. Should have gone for the fish as my steak was passable, but redemption came in the form of a fine homemade cheesecake for dessert.
I conveniently lost count of the total glasses of wine we all had, refills were plentiful, and staff more attentive, as the place was emptying.
Verdict. When faced with sheer weight of numbers it´s fair to accept that you’ll be getting a fair meal, and have to pay a bit above what constitutes ´normal times’. It also often leaves you feeling like trying it on another occasion. Final bill, not much was added to the set price, so it came to 35€ per person.
The famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi left his mark across numerous city locations, the most known has to be the Basilica Sagrada Familia. This still unfinished holy site looms largely as a must see if you visit the city.
His other modernism handiwork can be found writ large in Casa Batllo, in the fashionable downtown Passeig de Gracia. A wide avenue of fine upmarket shops, hotels and eateries attracts a constant stream of tourists. A fair number head to Casa Batllo, an imposing fantastical facade that wouldn’t be out of place in some fairy tale themed Disney movie.
No sane person could possibly walk past here without stopping in their tracks and wondering if reality had taken you into an alternate architectural side turning.
Curvature abounds, curved shaped wood, stonework, metalwork and ceramics is the order of the day. It’s been on our bucket list for ages and we decided to book a visit. The added attraction is the tour includes music and drinks on its roof space. If you’re thinking of planning a night out in Barcelona, it´s an instant lets do it no brainer. Fast or last, catch it if you can as it is limited to spring and summer sessions.
The gold tour starts with an audio tour via a tablet / headphone combo loaded with your chosen language. You begin by working your way up the numerous floors that the Battlo family lived in. Rooms and living spaces are devoid of furniture as you meander through other slow moving visitors. The tablet offers images of what life was like during that time period but I must admit to just listening to the audio.
The tour ends once you reach the upper level and rooftop, even the shapely chimney stacks are elaborately decorated with broken tile pieces. Those staying for the music are directed to a table, the gold tour includes a glass of cava and about an hour’s worth of music. Performers and music styles are varied and can be all booked online, ours was billed as a jazz, soul, pop, dance trio called Nika Mills Trio.
She sang mostly in English, working her way around the seated guests, encouraging some to sing along. One guy stood up and was a surprisingly good singer, prompting praise from the audience. Our visit was in early April, so remember your jacket as evenings up above street level can feel chilly.
For more info on the house and Magic Nights (visit+concert+drink) www.casabatllo.es
It’s early March and there’s still not much open in our L´Escala neck of the woods, Montgo. Two beachside restaurants look to be open Friday to Sunday, Oreig and Can Miquel. The latter has a low-rise 3 star hotel attached to it. We stopped off recently for a morning coffee which took ages before we got them. No surprise really if you look at their online reviews for speed of service and treatment.
Down the hill from us the modern touristic sprawl of Riells with its white-washed houses doesn’t look that exciting either. Its beachfront pedestrian promenade is eerily dormant. Just a stone’s throw away the main street Avinguda de Montgo has the usual array of retail, real-estate places, bars and restaurants, but subdued activity. Come summer it’s bustling but seems boringly uninviting right now.
If you’re seeking a slightly facer pace then you need to head for the old fishing village area, Casc Antic. It has a more varied mix of independent shops and plenty of bolt holes for a drink or snack. Wander down side streets and see where they take you. More people means a buzzier vibe especially at the weekends, as many congregate around the couple of smaller beaches here.
One such sandy oasis is La Platja where Bar Bikini sits amongst several well placed eateries, close by to a favourite of ours, Grop. Bar Bikini has a narrow corner setting, a cosy interior and a larger outdoor terrace where we sat. It’s another contender for a sundowner spot or people watching.
The bubbly waitress served us a bottle of their house white wine (16€) and we began to survey the food menu. It’s a simple mix of tapas, salads, hot and cold sandwich options which includes pastrami-which you don’t see often. So we ordered some sharing tapas plates, a goat’s cheese salad and a pastrami sandwich. All fine but not enough pastrami.
The waitress is starting to break into good English and the inevitable questions surface covering our respective lives and reasons for being here. I’ve been in bars where the grilling becomes too private for my English reservedness. I often feel like I’ve given away too many personal details. The kicker is when I’m with the kids and the talk oscillates between English, Spanish and Catalan.
Eyebrows are raised and incredulous grins become the norm. The gift of languages is a gift that keeps giving. It’s also something which would have been harder to achieve (for our kids) had we stayed in the UK. It also makes for humorous scenarios when we overhear locals talking about us-thinking we don’t understand. You should see their faces when they realise the opposite is true, and the kids’ put downs are sweet revenge.
Food consumed we´re beginning to feel the drop in temperature as evening looms, it’s time to go.
Verdict. Bar Bikini managed to satisfy our thirst and hunger, a commendable food outpost if simplicity is your bag. There are however many competing bars around which makes choosing a bit harder. I was additionally impressed by their interior lighting, long low hanging light cloches adding an original touch.