Old Ambient bar and restaurant, L’Estartit

Migratory birds fly south for winter, however we’ve relocated eastwards, a mere 40 km drive away from Girona.

We’re wintering in L’Estartit, and the remaining number of watering and eating holes is slowly dwindling. If solitude and peace is your thing, this might be the place. Seagulls circle our apartment, their whining is the only thing we hear sometimes. 

It’s a Saturday, early evening, so we head towards the only Irish bar in town O’Malleys. We’ve got the dogs so choose a table on their front terrace with a fine sea view-well the ‘club nautic’ which we’d call a marina.

The view is mostly small boats and yachts but there’s little activity. It’s not exactly Monaco but it suffices.

We ordered drinks, I asked for a Guinness, ‘we don’t have any’ was the reply. It’s a bit like an English tea-room running out of tea. I hadn’t allowed for an alternative so I’m stumped. 

Bottled Guinness? Same reply. The reason we’re given is that the bar is closing soon, until the following March or April.  A bit of a moving target it seems. I look around and there’s only one other client watching the rugby on their tv, they might have trouble covering the electric bill for today.

Drinks consumed we moved on closer to home, to the bar/restaurant Old Ambient. Its long street terrace has been enveloped with a clear protective side covering. It’s surprisingly cosy looking and the patio heaters make a difference. Dogs and smoking are permitted within this section, so we’re happy to stay.

The owners appear to be Dutch by my reckoning, and for late November it’s bordering on mildly buzzing with locals and visiting weekenders. The beer list is mighty long with some nice Belgian craft beers. Still, they have draught Guinness, so I finally got what I wanted albeit in a non-Irish bar. 

The good wife had the same, strangely hers was warmer than mine, I’m less bothered so accept a swap. Time to peruse the food menu, a mix of tapas dishes and mains. 

Their burger list stands out for me, so I chose one with goat cheese. She orders the locally sourced steak, which the small print advises there’ll be a 30 minute wait.

No problem as we’re busy chatting, but the wait time can reach a point that for me becomes an irritation. It’s one of those alcohol induced tipping points which is hard to judge.

I’m mindful that we all want to eat together but the 30 minutes is starting to irk me a bit and feels longer.

It allows me to peek inside the slightly overdone dark wood and soft red interior, with large oval tables for groups, and wooden booths lining the walls. It even has a back room with a rickety looking pool table. The decorative and eclectic wall adornments add a homely touch too

Our two attentive young servers eventually bring us our food order. My meager portion of fries are cold and the other groan is sachets of ketchup. The steak however proves to be a big hit.

Verdict. This could be the only place in town with a pulse on a dark winter’s night, we’re pleasantly impressed to promise ourselves a return visit.

Final bill for three, 88€ (3 pints, 2 burgers, a steak, 2 desserts, 2 bottles of Mon Perdut red wine at 11.95€ ea.).


Living in Girona-looking back

Okay we’ve been living here in Girona for fifteen years and I’ve never done a looking back type of blog post before, so here goes. It may well even stretch to a second part.

When people say time flies it’s true, as it doesn’t feel like that long. I’m even mildly surprised to be honest. 

Where do I start I ask myself. In general terms I think that Girona’s charms have been noticed by more outsiders who’ve made this place their new home. We’ve been lucky to have met a wide range of people, not just other Brits.

One such story comes to mind. In the early days having very young kids meant you often bumped into other parents with similar aged kids of their own. Especially in kids playgrounds. On one such occasion we found ourselves in the tiny Catalan village of Monells. By the way, if you’ve never been there do yourself a favour and put it on your list.

Our kids could never pass a playground without stopping and trying out the slides and swings. It was here that we struck up a conversation with a young German couple with their baby. It turned out they were living nearby in a converted farmhouse that was split into smaller apartments. A friendship kind of developed and we’d meet for a coffee whenever they came into Girona.

He was quite jovial and entertaining, ruining my preconceived stereotype that Germans lack a sense of humour. They too were here in Catalonia, Spain living the good life. Curious as we always are as to what people do to survive here, he told me he was working for an American company. 

The twist was that the US bosses always believed he was working from his home town in Koln, Germany. To mask this charade everytime he had to speak to them, he’d have to check what the weather was like in his supposed hometown, just in case they’d ask. If memory serves me right they went back to Germany to have their second child, and we lost contact.

The losing contact with good friends we made here who returned to the UK was a recurring theme amongst the many British expats we knew. Their reasons were many. Family, friends, frustration with the education system here, health are all part and parcel of the why’s. 

Another common thread we found was that once they’d left, future contact was minimal or non-existent. People who we’d got to know very well, mixed socially many times at each other’s places and then nothing.

Maybe I’m being too sentimental but life moves on and many other long term resident friends are still here. They include Americans, Dutch, French, Ukrainian, Italian with a sprinkling of Catalans and Spanish too. 

I even met an elderly Dutch lady who had read my blog and decided to move to Girona. A lot of the bonhomme involves long liquid lunches, sharing stories of what made us move here, and how much better it is for the kids.

Ours were quite young when we arrived in 2006 at 6 and 8. They deserve some credit as far as what we’ve made them endure. Jumping from a small quaint village primary school in the English countryside to a foreign land where they understood zilch.

Kids are quite resilient though, and get on with it. We didn’t have the funds to place them into an international school, so the local state school would have to suffice. The rarity of being the only English kids in class soon wore off too. However, their ability to pick up the language meant that nowadays their Catalan is indiscernible from local natives.

They’ve also grown to appreciate the many plus points of living here, including being fluent in 3 languages (English, Catalan and Spanish). As parents we fare less better in the language stakes, calling them into service when needed. 

I even get a bit cagey when Catalans ask me how long I’ve been here. I think they expect me to be a fluent speaker by now, more forgiving if I’d only chalked up a few years. I can’t deny that I find it harder to learn than Spanish, and that Catalan is so dominant in Girona. I keep telling myself that I must try to improve.

The other big story over the last decade has been the surge in popularity of all things cycling. Though popular long before we arrived it’s been boom time for property rentals, and even ‘cycle-themed’ cafes and coffee shops. Those international cyclists are big fans of not only the surrounding topography, but also the climate and cuisine.

The restaurant scene within Girona’s old town area has certainly edged slowly towards the more expensive end. The culinary kings of Girona, the Roca brothers have added to this exclusivity be extending their empire with a hotel, ice cream parlour and a rather oddly named restaurant, Normal.

That new normal is if you can wait a few months and prices are anything but normal.

Beaches Girona

Renting a flat on the Costa Brava in winter-part 2

As our adventure in L’Estartit enters into early November the recent winter time change has meant it’s dark by about 6pm. As long term residents we know the score, begrudgingly accepting this annual change. 

It always feel like a major step change, a cut down version from balmy long summer days. There’s the reassuring compensation that sunny days can still hit 20C by about lunchtime, enabling outdoor pastimes. 

In our Girona apartment it was always a running joke that we didn’t turn on the central heating until November. A red line not to be crossed. 

Cooler days and nights have meant digging out warmer clothing, a gentle but firm reminder of seasonal change. Jumpers, scarves and hats that haven’t seen the light of day for several months are resurrected.

We’ve replaced urban living for big skies and XXL wind, boy does it blow up here. Not all the time mind you, and if I’m honest friends had mentioned it before in passing. Night time requires lowering the persianes as howling gusts of wind rattle them, reminding me of the film ‘The Shining’. I’ve heard Catalans mention that the Tramuntana winds here do affect some people’s psyche. 

We’re surrounded by a sea of boarded up holiday apartment blocks. A few show signs of year-long residency, as window and balcony shutters stay up. Visually there are a few parked cars, and a passing car is evidence that we’re not completely alone.

At long last we get to try the heating options here. Remember these places are mainly summer residences and heat insulation is largely an afterthought. Bedrooms have an electric wall-mounted radiator, and the living room’s AC unit pumps out toasty levels of hot air.

The missing link is the bathroom with its stone floor tiles and large window. We’ll just have to wait and see what can be done. The other bugbear is the limited amount of kitchen worktop space, and dim lighting. We’re reaching the minimum requirements for the formation of a to-do-list.

The daily morning walk to the beach with our two dogs continues regardless of the weather. One visibly loves it, tumbling in the sand, while the other gives the impression of do I really need to be here. Occasionally we stumble across a dead fish or seagull, why do they always want to rub their faces in such dead detritus.

As I walk along the windswept pristine shoreline I can’t help picking up rubbish, mostly the odd tin can and bits of plastic. On one outing some kids saw what I was doing and added to my bounty, well done to them. 

Thursday is Estartit’s market day which stretches out along a handful of streets a few blocks back from its seafront. I’ve been twice and there’s little to get excited about, a lot of clothes, bric-a-brac and bags, with a sprinkling of fruit and vegetable stalls opposite the church. I spot red chillies so grab a few, plus some red peppers and a dozen figs, all for less than 2€.

I keep hearing a lot of French spoken so it’s no surprise that I come across a French bakery in town. El Pa de l’Anna is small with an adjoining workspace where two bakers were hard at work. I managed to buy two small tarts, one chocolate, one lemon, two croissants and two small filled baguettes, one with chorizo, one with blue cheese and walnuts.

I walked out a mere 10€ lighter but was pleased with my choices, let’s hope they don’t close for winter.

I have to remind myself that this is a small town with equally small expectations given the time of year. Its ‘life and soul’ has retrenched until at least the spring, or a little later.

My next foolish quest is to find somewhere that offers an all day English breakfast.


L’Estartit Eats – Masala

I’ve mentioned before that we’re ‘wintering’ on the coast in Estartit and part of the fun of discovering a new location is trying local restaurants. Especially those that offer a set lunch menu or ‘menu del dia’.

Being late October invariably means a lot are closed for the season. It still leaves a decent amount that remain open and a cursory walk about town identified them. The set lunches here are priced less on weekdays, ranging from 12€ to 22€. Good value when you get 3 courses, bread and one drink. Weekend visitors can expect to pay a few euros more.

Of course we’ll be keeping an eye on value for money (VFM), as a higher priced menu doesn’t always equate to better quality food.

As big curry fans, Estartit has two to choose from, this time we chose Masala, whose weekday set menu is 11.95€. We appear to be the only customers. As it’s a sunny day we choose an outdoor table under a large canopy.  We’re given what appears to be the usual menu, economically arranged as a jumble of loose leaf plastic wallets. No expense spared there then.

I had to ask for the set lunch menu, another 1 page effort that is a dramatic cut down version of the normal menu. There’s a choice of 4 starters, we chose the onion bhaji and shish kebab. The main course choices were limited to chicken, available in 3 different sauces. I asked for my dansak to be extra spicy.

I tend to find most of the Indian food I’ve eaten here in Spain is still not hot enough for my tastes, even when menus have it as very spicy. I have it on good authority that Catalans even find  a mild sauce like Korma too spicy.

My partner was curious to know if she could have the tandoori mix grill instead, and pay the extra. Not possible was the reply, as the till is programmed a certain way. What happened to keeping the customers happy, and a chance to make a bit extra. 

This could get interesting, a red rag to a bull scenario with flailing arms. I begin to argue the point and notice a dissaproving look on my wife’s face. The mountain, or the till in this case will not be moved, and I dutifully comply. She chose a normal chicken curry.

We added a portion of rice and a garlic nan to share and two beers. The waiter appeared to be on his own, so I guessed he’d be doing the cooking too. Still, we’re in no rush, he was cordial, pleasant and the wait time between starters and mains was fine.

We ordered another beer, could he use the same glasses he asked. Mmm, I suppose so but not what we’re used to. Fresh glasses in any bar or cafe are de rigueur.

Rate the plate. Good effort all round, well spiced and left me wanting a bit more. Top marks for the garlic naan. Portion sizes are always going to be a contentious issue where a set menu is offered.

I take a peek inside before we leave, the stuck-in-the 90’s decor with lime green tablecloths leaves a neutral feeling. There’s a pool table at the back and a slightly tatty kids playground area out front. 

I will return to try the normal priced menu, and to do battle again with the tyrannical till.

VFM score. 8/10. Final bill 2 lunch menus plus 2 extra small beers, 28.30€

 Masala, C/ Eivissa 21, L’Estartit 17258

Beaches Girona

Renting a flat on the Costa Brava-in winter (part one)

A lot of people from Girona ship out to the coast at the height of summer. This familiar annual migration creates sparsely populated neighbourhoods that are eerily quiet.

Some of the lucky few are fortunate to be able to make use of a property bought by their parents, or shared between the families.

Prices were so much cheaper and affordable back when the Peseta ruled. The unlucky ones make do with renting for a week or two. Holiday rentals generate a substantial income for owners, albeit for a short period, chiefly July and August.

Canny regulars are known to book the same place year after year to ensure they get their slice of the sun. Those of us looking for something last minute are often disappointed with what’s left.

We’ve done it in the past, and you can expect to pay 700 to 800€ for a 2-bed flat for 1 week. That’s not even on the seafront, those frontline properties are naturally the first to go.

The other great bugbear is car parking, which can be extra or as happened to us one year, meant parking a 5-10 minute walk away. If you’ve got pets like us then that narrows the field even more.

The vacation agony is also compounded by long traffic queues waiting to get into resorts too. The summer of 2021 may have seen less Brits but a large influx of Northern Europeans made the season a much better turnout than the year before.

Kids decamp to the coast when the summer term ends in late June, with mum and dad commuting into Girona daily. Places like St Antoni de Calonge are like Giron-by-the-sea as we always bump into someone we know 90% of the time when we just go there for a day.

A good many 2nd residence owners are stuck in their ways, and tend not to visit their places out of season, even when it’s fine weather. In the thick of winter, coastal towns are so quiet you begin to feel like the last person on Earth.

So, being British and used to cold, windswept, barren, grey-skied seaside places we decided on a bit of reverse psychology. Let’s rent a seaside flat or apartment for the winter period and see if we like it. 

The good wife was also keen on living a more relaxed lifestyle, and as long as the internet connection was good enough, she could still work remotely. Oh, and we also needed a place which accepted dogs, as we have two.

Recovering economies seem to focus people’s minds on ways to earn extra money, especially after the Covid experiences of early 2020. Trawling the popular Spanish property websites like Idealista, or checking local Facebook groups yielded a few results. Our net was cast wide and we didn’t have a firm favourite location.

Anywhere like St Feliu de Guixols, L’Escala or Platja d’Aro would be okay. We also started asking people and friends we already knew, and we were offered a flat in L’Estartit. 

I’d always admired the wide expanse of beach here and the ease of free parking just next to the beach itself. True, it doesn’t feel as posh as somewhere such as S’Agaró or Calella de Palafrugell, more like a poor relation.

L’Estartit is a little grittier, with few hairs and graces, happy to have sand kicked into its face.

So what did we get? 

A cosy sunny 2nd floor flat with 2 bedrooms, 2 balconies, a 10 minute walk to the beach. The front balcony looks out onto a large campsite, closed for the season. It catches the sun for most of the day, has ample seating, a top spot for a morning coffee.

Being late October the walk into town is a largely lonely outing. We’re near a motorhome site so bump into the occasional winter tourist. I see a few French cars in town and hear a lot of French spoken. Hardly surprising as we’re so near the border, even restaurant menus have French translations-at the expense of English ones. 

Walking haphazardly around it’s no surprise seeing so many shops and restaurants closed for the winter. But, a good few are still hawking their menu del dia which I’ll be reporting upon more. The town even has two Indian restaurants open all year-if you’re not from the UK this fact is a reassuring slice of home.

This solitude thing may take a while getting used to after having lived in a bustling, noisy Girona ‘barri’ (neighbourhood). 

On the other hand the fun part of any new location is checking it out. Not just where to eat or shop, but good places for a coffee, or a sunset drink. 

We’re here until June 2022 so I’ll be adding to the winter rental story periodically.


Mooma restaurant and cider house

The Costa Brava isn’t the only place to find good restaurants, hidden gems can also be found inland. The countryside is littered with many fine farmhouse or ‘masia’ type restaurants offering traditional Catalan cuisine.

Serious foodies are flocking to the region which boasts many Michelin starred places like Girona’s Celler Can Roca and Massana. For my not deep pockets they’re still on my bucket list.

The ongoing quest for somewhere fresh and different led us to Mooma, a cider house and restaurant. I’d googled the place beforehand and read some good reviews. How did I not know about it? Are people keeping it a secret?

You enter along a long dirt track flanked by extensive apple groves, arriving at a mix of commercial looking warehouses and buildings. It is after all a place where they make cider, as evidenced by the sheer number of large wooden crates containing green apples.

Car parking is plentiful and dotted with a mish-mash of wooden sign posts and information panels, spouting sustainable agriculture. Are they trying to set the tone of what to expect?

Turning a corner brought us to its large stone built restaurant building. We were meeting friends who’d already arrived. We followed the young server through a mix of well appointed interior and exterior dining spaces. For a Friday lunchtime the place looked busy. Not a bad sign.

Maybe because we had our dogs, we got given a large wooden table within a marquee populated with patio heaters. It is late October and the clear plastic sides means we’re protected against the wind.

Our friends have already sampled the house cider (1 litre 6.90€), curious to try it all we ordered a further 3 bottles of the other types on offer. The menu can be viewed via their QR code or on paper. Rarely does a menu excite or cause doubt about what to have, but this one is fresh and intriguing.

We shared the following dishes as starters: 

Assortit de croquetas, 8.20€ (assortment of different croquettes), Amanida brie de fruits, 8.70€ (green salad with brie cheese and a mix of red berries). 

Calamars Andalusa, 10.90€ (squid, Andalusian style) and Xistorra a la sidra, 7.90€ (very small sausages in cider). All eagerly consumed and their own brand cider is going down well too.

For mains two of us had the slow cooked lamb (Espatlla de xai) 18,50€, which came on the bone with diced fried chips, some cooked tomatoes covered with fried onions. I begin to regret what I’ve chosen.

A tuna dish, 17€ (Tataki de tonyina), and I had a sweet sausage with braised apple pieces in a cider broth 11.50€ (Botifarra dolca poma).

Thumbs up all around, and someone commented on my dish looking slightly phallic. I liked it but felt there were too many apple pieces, and wondered whether a dollop of mash and some gravy would have been better for my Anglo Saxon tastes.

Still, we’re not finished yet and the next hurdle was deciding on which desserts to have. Are these their achilles heal or a cut above the rest? 

I needn’t have worried. We chose: pastis formatge, 6.50€ (cheesecake), xuixo de poma, 5,90€ and a crumble de poma, 5.90€ (apple crumble with condensed milk). 

I think I’ve had my apple-fix today. I tried a piece of the cheesecake- it was sublime. I’ve had my fill and I’m ready for a siesta, but it’s a 15 minute drive away!

Mooma or shooma? Oh definitely a Mooma moment.

Final bill. 

Okay some of us got carried away with one too many of their top notch versions of Calvados (spirit de Mooma). At 6.50€ the generous measure would make any Frenchman smile-if that’s possible.

Add our shared starters, 4 main courses, 4 desserts, ciders, coffees it all came to 187,80€

Sidreria Mooma, Ctra de Fontanilles, Mas  Saulot, s/n Palau-Sator 17256


Places to visit near Girona-Pals

There’s a plentiful supply of quaint Catalan villages worthy of a visit. Many of them are located in the Baix Emporda ‘comarca’ or county. 

Drive out of Girona for an hour or even less in any direction-except maybe south. Not that I’m being snobbish about it, it’s just that I scratch my head when I try to think of a nice place to visit going in that direction.

What I’m looking for is perhaps a nice stroll, admiring the views, sights and points of interests. To cap it off, resting or relaxing in a cosy cafe or restaurant is a bonus.

What I’m not too keen on is what we might call a ‘commuter town or village’, too modern with plain looking houses. You often come across ‘urbanizacions’, a catch all word for a housing estate. These solely residential areas devoid of any character have zero appeal. Every second home owner has a noisy barking dog and there are no shops. Some might have a local cafe or bar, which I’m guessing would have heads turning as soon as a stranger walked in.

You won’t go wrong within the Baix Emporda, inland or on the coast. 

Pals itself is about a 45 minute drive from Girona, it has a long medieval heritage with stunning views over the surrounding landscape.  A verdant landscape that’s largely flat, famous for its rice fields.

We’ve been here a few times and not only during the warmer months. Between Christmas and early January it hosts an annual ‘pessebres vivents’, a living nativity event. 

Pals’ narrow winding cobbled streets are a perfect stage for numerous locals dressed as peasants and the various tradespeople of 2,000 years ago. Butchers, bakers, basket makers and more are all represented. All silently toiling away in the background, while present-day visitors walk on by or stop to gaze a while. 

Those who know what to expect and eagle-eyed viewers try to single out the Caganer character-the ‘shitter’ Yes, you too can volunteer to stick your naked butt out and crouch down in a corner of a field on a cold December night. One year I took my American nephew to one nearer to Girona (in Brunyola). He burst out laughing upon seeing the caganer, which is also on sale as a model figure in local souvenir shops.

At other times, the restored Gothic period old town is a joy to wander through. Welcoming pathways lead to pretty floral cul-de-sacs, or to a small quiet square with a bench.  As with many such places there’s always a church to be found. The 13th century Romanesque church of Sant Pere has commanding views of farmlands below.

Modernity is never too far away with several bars and restaurants to choose from, where you can try a local dish,’arros negre’ black rice made with squid ink.

Though being inland it also gives its name to a fine long stretch of beach a few kms away, Platja de Pals and a nearby golf course.


Sushi, sushi everywhere

I know I’ve been living here a while but I can remember a time when sushi restaurants were a rare sight in Girona. Anything new or different food wise would make the local grapevine twitch. 

Fast forward to today and sushi establishments seem to be springing up on every street corner. Have the locals suddenly changed their taste buds and adopted this Asian cuisine? They certainly seem to be lapping it up as most look busy with clientele.

Surely we’ve reached the sushi-saturation point, maybe not quite yet. I’d always thought about the large number of opticians, dental clinics and shoe shops in Girona. Do Gironians suffer from poor eyesight, bad teeth and poor footwear?

On and on new sushi cafes and restaurants keep appearing. Many in what were once previous food premises but revamped and restyled. Luckily we’re a family that loves sushi so the more the merrier. It’s fun to try out new places, and the ‘buffet libre’ is our personal choice. It’s basically what they call ‘all you can eat’.

As a quick recap or guide, the cheapest deal is to eat during weekdays at lunchtime where you’re offered a set menu which in my experience is sufficient. The all-you-can-eat option is a few euros more. The same option at night, weekends and festival days is the most expensive. The average is around 16-17€ and often excludes drinks.

So it was that we ventured out to try Koyo, a small chain with several restaurants, in premises which had been a Chinese restaurant before. The one thing I remember about the old place was how large the interior was, and how unwelcoming it all looked with bright lights. It made me think of school canteens.

In its new reborn form the interior, though still large, has been thoughtfully redesigned avoiding that cavernous look. Together with the extensive use of wood panelling and softer lighting, it’s a big improvement.

Being so big it’s swarming with staff and the workmanlike greeting was unremarkable and slightly off putting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not after the kind of enthused smiley greeting you’d find in the US, something in between.

Our table for four was fine and maybe because of covid overhang rules, sufficiently spaced apart. We went for the buffet libre at 16.50€ each, excluding drinks and desserts. The menu is in the form of a picture book, and you’re given a paper and pen to write down all your chosen dish numbers.

The place quickly filled up as it was the evening of a national holiday. The beauty of the buffet libre is that by using the pen and paper you can reorder stuff-as often as you want. But, being so full it was getting progressively harder to grab a waiter’s attention to hand him/her the paper.

There was also a tardy approach to collecting the stacks of small plates that this kind of eating generates. More napkins too were needed which we asked for but none arrived. 

The food was good-when it arrived, but the wait time when reordering was becoming painfully slower. I’m sure they missed out on some items too. Our drinks seemed to arrive quicker though.

Verdict: A good place to retry, but on a less busier night or for lunch. As for the level of service-could try a bit harder.

Cost: With 2 Asahi beers, 2 soft drinks, 2 bottles of white Penedes wine (11.95€ ea.), no desserts, it all came to 103€.

Koyo, Restaurant Japones, Joaquim Vayreda, 4-6, Girona 17001


Arrels restaurant, Quart

I do like a Catalan country restaurant and Girona is blessed to have many dotted around the surrounding countryside. Luckily many aren’t too far away, so locals take advantage of these larger dining spaces and easier parking. 

No more so than at the weekends where booking is highly recommended. Those of us with a looser work timetable can take advantage of a week day visit which is a much simpler exercise. And less expensive.

A good few have a daily set lunch menu priced so as to be affordable and don’t get too overcrowded.

The only slight downside is if you’re driving you ought to watch the amount you drink, fair point. 

So when it came around to paying back a favour for a friend recently, we thought of one near to where he lives, in Quart. A few minutes drive once you leave Girona’s outer limits and you reach Arrels (roots in Catalan), a large, handsome, imposing stone building set back from the busy main road.

I should add that I’d been here before, about 6 years ago when by chance we stopped here because of car trouble. Back then it was called by a name I no longer remember.

This time it’s sweeping entrance driveway welcomes you into a spacious car park. The restaurant sits in a generous plot with the addition of outdoor tables that I don’t recall before.

The interior dining space has had a facelift and our Tuesday visit still boasted a decent lunch turnout. Even with the usual chatter and clanking plates from other diners, it was unobtrusive.

Our table for 3 was ample, crisp white tablecloths and cloth napkins are always a nice touch. Service was swift, polite and jovial. The set weekday menu is 17.50€ for 3 courses, wine and bread.

We’re sufficiently good at understanding menus in Catalan but asking for one in Spanish shouldn’t be a problem. Getting one in English is often hit and miss. Culinary vocabulary is sometimes a minefield getting the correct equivalent translation. Still, we’re in Catalonia and must show willingness.

Starters (primers) and mains are the first decisions to be made. 

Todays’ included  Nicoise salad (my choice) with green beans (mongetes verdes), anchovies and candied potatoes.

A lot of mutual nodding and slight clarification followed. We were unsure what Papardelle was-it’s a type of pasta, which came with a mushroom sauce and parmesan (crema de ceps i parmesa).

Our drink of choice was red wine and a bottle duly appeared- and remained.

The choice of seconds (segons) was slightly bigger and included:

Bacallà amb salsa verda (cod with green sauce).

Arròs sec de pollastre i bolets (dried rice with chicken and mushrooms).

Bracets d’anec a la taronja-my choice (duck with an orange sauce)-bracets translates as ‘arms’ ?

Two further steak dishes had an additional small supplement.

Whilst portion sizes aren’t in the XL stakes it is tasty, fresh, home-made quality food. When it’s this good you don’t always need much. My mind always thinks back to what this all might cost if I was in the UK-at least 2 or 3 times more.

For dessert I’m glad I chose the ‘Textures de xocolata’ a deliciously tasteful mix of 3 different chocolates, topped with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Top notch. I’m usually unimpressed by the dessert choices in most places, many appear to be shop bought.

No better way to while away a couple of hours, with good food and friends.

Restaurant Arrels, Carretera C-250, KM7, 17242, Quart, Girona


Costa Brava beach days – Sant Marti d’Empuries

Strung out by bountiful beach coves and gently sweeping sandy beaches that stretch out to the horizon, there’s little to not like about Sant Marti, located a short distance from its neighbour L’Escala. 

If you’re already in L’Escala, take the Cami de ronda de l’Escala (Passeig Dr. Pi i Llussa), a coastal footpath and walk here at your leisure. Even here you can stop, just turn off to the right, via one of many access paths (unmade, often uneven) to discover uncrowded sandy coves.

We often make our way directly to a beach area, a 20 minute walk past the village, which welcomes dog owners. It is also a popular spot for kite surfers, windsurfers and the occasional naturist. The beach is sufficiently large enough enabling you to spread out, avoiding any eye contact with bare flesh.

For directions, we make our way from Girona using the AP7 toll free parts. If you weren’t aware, you can travel north or south for free, using a limited number of exits. We join the motorway at St Gregori, going north and get off at the Vilademuls exit. You still get issued a ticket at the tolls but there’s no payment. 

Continue along the N-II road through Oriolls and turn off at the GI- 623   signposted Escala. Go all the way eastwards to Escala itself if that’s your final destination, or take the St Marti turn off. As you come off the roundabout here go past the village. There’s a horse riding place on the left and shortly after look out for a sign ‘RioMar Hotel’, just before a bend in the road. Turn right here and continue down this dusty track. You’ll start to see parked cars on one side, the further you can get down here and find a parking spot the nearer to the beach you’ll be.

If not then continue to the end where you’ll see the beach and follow the track to the right, and take the first right, where there are more places to park. The beach area in front of the 1-star hotel RioMar is popular with windsurfers and there’s a beach bar here (Ukelele) too, but only during the summer season. Look to your left and you’ll notice a small river and a long wide expanse of sand with dunes at the back. You can see right across the bay of Roses and the resort of Roses in the distance.

Cross over the arching iron bridge and choose your spot. At the height of summer there are lots of dog owners here and hundreds of kite surfers which use a nearby camping site as their base. This area has no beach facilities like showers or lifeguards, except for a portaloo (summer only). Do wear sandals or some sort of foot protection as the sand is blisteringly hot. Entering the sea at this point the water’s quite shallow for a fair way out.

Of course you don’t have to venture out as far as here, you can enjoy super beaches located just a stone’s throw from the village itself. The only downside is finding free parking, or use the paid option. For example, just behind the church, walk down below to one that has a beach bar (chiringuito Olivia) which I’ve been well informed serves good food. That said, Sant Marti is well served by a handful of eateries in the Placa Petita, a cute triangular shaped area that gets super busy in the evenings and more so at weekends.