Bar Social Cer, L’Escala (& afternoon sun)

Bar Social Cer, L’Escala (& afternoon sun)

Being on the coast in L’Escala a lot more now, we’re always on the lookout for new places to drink or eat. It happens to be the start of spring and the Easter holidays have just ended. I’m wondering what’s open where I can bask in some warm afternoon rays.

Forget the old fishing village area, shame, as it has a few nice spots with far reaching sea views across the Bay of Roses. Working your way eastwards towards the modern sprawl that is Riells, the story is pretty much the same.

Just opposite the beachside statue of the little Prince (petit Principe) there’s La Basilic, popular amongst expat Europeans more than locals and La Mod, the latter more of a restaurant and happy to welcome diners with dogs. Both are close to the beach, some outdoor seating and sea facing. Again the absence of afternoon sun means I’m not tempted.

You really need to shift yourself over to the Port area. Not as lively as the fishing village (casc antic) area and bereft of any nightlife. Dominated by the ‘club nautic’ or sailing club there are a fair few restaurants facing the marina that feature below long swathes of low rise apartment blocks. A not untypical scene found at other Costa Brava club nautics. I think the architect must have reused the same plans at several beach locations!

So back to Bar Cer located midway down a residential street. Many small towns and villages here have a ‘Bar Social, buildings which are owned by the local authority and host cultural community events plus a bar. Bar Cer has a generous interior plus outdoor terrace/garden area. It’s functional, modern and bordering on boringly plain.

Our initial attraction came via a local FB post promoting a small market, barbecue and DJ music date held on a Sunday. 

Being a minority male within my female dominated dynamic I happily let the ladies shop while I supped on a vermouth, minded the dogs while the DJ did his thing. This idyll was only punctuated by periodic interruptions for more funds.

We’ve been back subsequently as a local English guy organises the odd quiz nights and karaoke, mostly off-season. Both activities attract the locals too and the food options are good, we liked their Americana burger. It does have that ‘community’ feel about it, your tourist or day visitor would most likely walk on past.

Bar CER Social, Carrer del Garbi, 6, L’Escala

Beaches Girona

Time and Tide

It was Chaucer who said time and tide wait for no man but I’m just going to truncate that slightly as I like the first half and it kind of fits for what I’m looking for.

I may have mentioned before that we´re spending more time away from Girona up on the coast, namely the seaside resort of L’Escala. I’ve written about its many charms and the various beaches here in past posts.

The Costa Brava is peppered with a plethora of fine beaches and the various towns and villages that cling to them symbiotically.

Our Catalan friends in Girona all have their own favourites, of course. One in particular, St. Antoni de Calonge is like Girona-by-the-sea. The real charms here are the fine sandy beach and the beachfront path that’s largely pedestrianised.

Here you can find a coterie of bars and restaurants to suit all pockets. The rest, meaning its interior is pretty unremarkable.

Almost every time we visit we seem to bump into someone we know from Girona. Not blighted by any high rise developments its three small bays are strung out along an elongated coastal path that snakes its way to Palamos the next town, larger and livelier. 

Compact and still retaining a largely Catalan feel, it’s not going to wow those of  you looking for somewhere with a pulse. Better head to nearby Playa d´Aro for plentiful nocturnal fun. It attracts both the local and tourist youths in droves so its central parts get quite boisterous and noisy during summer time.

Its popularity persists even off season as shops here are open on Sundays (but not in Girona) attracting Gironians for a spot of weekend shopping. There’s certainly more of a commercial feel to the place coupled with a much larger choice of dining options.

Another local coastal bolthole is probably the nearest in mileage terms from Girona, St Feliu de Guixols. Again it’s another one of these places where the good bits are along the beachfront and a few of the bigger plazas and streets that pierce its interior.

A fair size working town which leaves you with the impression that it has seen better days. A forlorn former grandeur that is sad and chic in equal measure.The beach is sweet, well served with chiringuito bars and it hosts an annual long running summer music festival, Porta Ferrada. It gets some big names, we saw Simple Minds here last year.

If you feel a bit flushed you’d probably go for a pad in nearby upmarket S’Agaro. Two beaches of note here are St Pol and Sa Conca, popular with weekenders all year round, who frequent the beachfront eateries ( Sa Conca only has a seasonal beach bar). A perennial favourite of ours it could have easily been chosen as a film location for a Californian hipster movie.

Off season all of these Costa Brava coastal locations vary in the degree of emptiness. Let’s give it a score then. I was lucky (or unlucky-depends how you look at it) to have spent winter months in Estartit. I’d be generous if it hovered between 2 and 3. I recently went through the Playa de Pals neighbourhood, which resembles a post-apocalyptic town where everyones dead but the buildings have remained. No a living soul around.

Our Catalan friends and neighbours from Girona look genuinely perplexed and puzzled at us living on the coast outside the usual summer months. They reiterate the quietness and loneliness of such a decision.


Chiringuito Bretta, St Marti d’Empuries, Costa Brava

Chiringuito Bretta, St Marti d’Empuries, Costa Brava

The chiringuito or beach bar can be found on most Costa Brava beaches these days, a chance to retreat from the heat and enjoy a cool beer or a snack in the shade. They usually pop up around March and are gone by September / October.

What were once ramshackle wooden sheds serving cheap fare, many have now evolved into culinary destinations with menus and prices that you’d expect to see in more higher class establishments. The ´spit and sawdust´variety are still abundant for lovers of plastic chairs and frayed bamboo screens.

And so it was that one evening I was dropping off someone at the nearby Hostel Empuries, a chic 4 star beachfront place near  the Empuries Ruins museum. I heard rumba music emanating within earshot but couldn’t see from where. It wasn’t until the next day that we ventured over and found the entrance to Bretta.

I should add that this chiringuito is set back a little from the beach and you can just about make out the sea through the pine trees.

Hugging one side of the museum entrance it is generously laid out with a small interior that has ground to ceiling glass windows. Plentiful outdoor seating options litter its large pebbled terrace that includes repurposed pallets, long bench seats and even deckchairs. A large oval shaped bar dominates one side of its outdoor area, which opens during busier evening hours. A handy option even though waiter service is available.

It’s mid afternoon and we park ourselves on a table, we´re just here for drinks and we observe staff busy serving and taking food orders. No one notices us, I mean we dont expect instantaneous service but Im starting to feel invisible. I’ve written about this occurring at other places before, so deja vu is kicking in.

Eventually it takes one of us to get up and wander over to the bar area. Not a great start. Believing in giving people a second chance we see a poster for an upcoming market day at the bar plus DJ music.

It’s on a Saturday and we arrive at a bustling bar with lots of mini stalls selling vintage clothing, jewellery and assorted hipster knick-knacks. It helps that the weather is good and we spend a merry afternoon trying their cocktails and stall browsing. I can’t comment on the food as none was consumed.

As more punters pile into the bars outdoor areas the DJ decides to come back to work and cranks up the sounds. It’s not long before the pulsating beats prompt people to get  up and dance. After a satisfying stay we left the party at full swing which probably continued till late.

Bretta is sure to be one we will be returning to when it reopens next year.

Summer 2023 opening times; Mon closed, Tues and Wed 11-5, Thurs to Sat 11-4, 7-1am, Sun 11-5

Moscow mule cocktail

Beaches Girona

Long hot summer just passed me by

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.

view of L Escala
Beaches Girona

Fira de Indians, Begur

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.

Dancing the night away


Last few months in L’Estartit

Our winter experiment is coming to a close as we have to vacate our rental apartment by late June. The idea was to see how we fared wintering on the Costa Brava as we’d never done anything like this before. 

As with most people who reside in Girona, the coast is always viewed as either a day trip or a summer holiday destination. Whole sections of our former neighborhood La Devesa, decamp to second residences. Those lucky enough to have had savvy grandparents who bought way back when prices were affordable are reaping the rewards.

Once the tourists leave and winter sets in there’s little attraction to remain, especially for the whole winter and into spring. Empty streets, closed shops, bars and restaurants add to the ghost town feel. The few places that decide to stay open here in L’Estartit aren’t always the most inviting, and the odd few that you’d prefer to go into tend to open only at weekends.

Some days you might have the whole beach to yourself but the damp cold or windy climate will mean your stay is short. November, December and January were the bleakest.

That’s not to say that you won’t experience periodic outbursts of fine weather, a nice respite when it happens.

For some, this type of voluntary solitude is no problem, for me it felt a tad strange moving from busy little Girona. When I had a reason to visit the city I felt elated, a nostalgic pull. 

Still, we had to wait until around Easter in early April to notice a distinct rise in reopenings of shops and bars, with a symbiotic increase in tourist visitors. Now in June, the hot weather spell is back with a bang. The beach is buzzing, welcoming and ready for the summer onslaught. Can’t walk the dogs on the beach anymore, but there’s a fenced-off beach area in nearby Els Griells urbanization.

I might venture back in early July to check out their long running Beatles Festival, highlights will include the band’s former barber. The one from Penny Lane?


Sa Tuna and Aiguafreda- two jewels on the Costa Brava

There are no shortages of beguiling beaches on the Costa Brava, large and small. Some of these tiny little known coves can be a joy to discover. Questions around ease of access and parking-if any- do crop up but reward the adventureous or the curious.

Quite a few of the upmarket super-mini beach hideaways can be found clustered around the coastline near to the inland town of Begur. On entering it’s easy enough to pick up signs for Sa Tuna, a further ten minute drive.

Just before you start the descent of a hundred bends there’s the opportunity to gasp at the breathtaking views of this ancient coastline. These quickly become obscured by groves of pine trees, roadside villas and then we reach Sa Tuna.

Being a sunny Sunday in late January parking was relatively easy, heaven knows what awaits you at the height of summer as public spaces are few. I’m reminded that this is our first visit ever here which I find surprising.

As we walked down towards the sea the hillside was peppered with fine residences, all dutifully pointing seawards. The postage stamp beach is mostly gravel and rock. It already had several groups of sitters and a canoodling couple unperturbed by passers by. A quick scan identified a coastal path to our left. There was no sign of any functioning open cafe or bar, a nearby hostel was closed for the winter.

We chose the route marked Aiguafreda 15’ (minutes) and began to scale the steps leading away from Sa Tuna. It weaved through the village before the vista opened hugging the shore. The path meanders upwards with long expanses of stone steps before leveling off and dropping down to Aiguafreda. Even having handrails all along here there are steep perilous looking drops to your right.

There’s hardly any beach to speak of here, and few hillside villas, but lots of hard concrete areas. Of course the views out to sea and the hills above are the real compensation. We noticed groups of divers exiting the water so maybe that’s the real attraction.

After a brief stop to catch our breath and the requisite selfies we made our way back to Sa Tuna. This is for lovers of a truly quiet retreat where you’d have to make your own fun, or endlessly stare at a picture perfect horizon beneath a bold blue sea. 

Sa Tuna is a strong candidate for such a place, a be-in-the-moment type place.

Beaches Girona

Spending winter on the Costa Brava

(part 3) We’re fast approaching the xmas festive season (late in publishing) and I’m trying not to resort to those expressions we use when places are so quiet, like ‘would the last person turn off the lights’.

Solitude sucks for some, others lap it up, I may be somewhere in the middle for now. At least there’s us two and the two dogs, a reason to go out. Sure, the long morning beach walks are uplifting, especially when the sun’s out. 

The sea view here in L’Estartit is dominated by the Isles Medes, a series of rocky outcrops a mere few hundred meters out. Now a nature reserve and popular diving spot. To my left the coastline disappears, slithering its way to the next resort, L’Escala. To the right there are distant views of inland Pals, the jutting headland of Begur and those upmarket beach resorts like Sa Riera .   

Much longer beach walks are possible in a southerly direction, about 45 mins will take you to the mouth of the river Ter (la gola de ter). That’s about as far can go, as there’s no bridge across here, as the soft sandy banks shift too much.  During the summer you’d just wade across or for fun walk up river a bit, jump in and drift slowly down with the current.

However, this is winter and there’s no ferryman.

Life in L’Estartit slowly develops at its own pace, our daily beach walk encounters may include other dog walkers and even the odd metal detectorist. I’ve heard they’re illegal to use on a beach here but then this is Spain. People’s attitude to rules are different-seen more as guidelines and not to be strictly adhered to.

On windy days when the sea is rough you see small groups of surfers, but this isn’t exactly dramatic ‘wipeout’ territory. Even when wearing wetsuits it looks too cold. As I traverse the vast expanse of sand I still continue with my ‘good dead for the day’ by picking up rubbish whenever I see some.

On days when the wind really whips up the sand to sandpaper proportions you appreciate the might of nature. I’m starting to realize what it feels like inside a wind tunnel.

Beaches Restaurants

L’’Estartit Eats-Irreverent

We’re on a mission, at least while we’re here until next June, to slowly discover what the remaining open eateries here have to offer. A good many have shut up shop until the tourists return next summer. Have we been left with the dregs?

Perhaps I’m being a tad harsh, I’m sure that’s not the case as every sunny weekend or national holiday brings in extra clients eager to eat and drink. I quickly notice a fair amount of French visitors from the conversations I hear as I walk around.

I’m slightly curious as to why they venture down here, and I’m aware the border is less than an hour away. I’ve always thought the French med coastline has a plentiful supply of pretty looking resorts. Maybe their euros go a lot further here, especially when eating out.

I’m trying to keep the criteria to only lunch menus as they’re keenly priced and we love finding good food at good prices. Of course one line of enquiry is trawling the online restaurant review sites to check on what is good or bad. One bad review is often followed by a good review, where does that leave you?

Still, there’s no better way than first hand experience to fill in the blanks, and taking onboard other users comments is part of the picture. 

Just to clarify matters, we’re not just after the tastiest, cheapest food available. We’ve been here long enough to recognise that the price versus quality ratio is a fine balance. Get it right and you’re on to a winner. Word of mouth, they say, is the best form of advertising.

Next on our haphazard hit list is a bar/restaurant called Irreverent, situated on the long straight road that links Estartit with Torroella de Montgrí. Word has it that it’s under new ownership and even the Google reviews section gives it a hefty 4.8.

I went the day before to book a table for 4 just in case there’s a rush. I needn’t have worried, the one solitary diner had the place to herself. Oh, and they accept dogs inside, a big bonus for us.

From the outside it looks ordinary enough, I’m thinking of those transport cafes in the UK that used to hug the ‘A’ roads, popular hangouts for motorbike riders. 

Still, don’t judge a book by its cover they say. The interior space is a mix of exposed beamed ceilings and warm yellow coloured walls. I look around in vain for the usual wall-tv in a corner blaring out the latest celeb gossip.

Our large, solid looking, tiled-topped table was roomy enough, and we were offered menus in the usual 3 languages. Sometimes the short and sweet workman-like translation into English doesn’t quite do it justice.

The weekday lunch menu is 13.50€, with bread and a drink included. 

I chose a lentil based dish for starters, others had mussels in a garlic sauce and battered brie in a pineapple and ginger sauce. It’s nice to see a bit of originality, a lot of places seem to adhere to a universal format. Salad, pasta or soup starters and ‘a la brasa’(grilled) meat offerings like pork, chicken or beef.

Thursday is traditionally paella day, which I chose, a bit like fish and chips on Fridays in the UK. Not bad, not over seasoned with a token gesture to seafood being a single prawn. Friends had the rabbit stew, and the sea-bass, both well received.

As an aside I remarked on the colourful Mexican themed plates, not something I usually notice. Eager to please they even provided a floor blanket for the dogs, with the water bowl being by the outdoor terrace.

Back to the dessert choices which included mango sorbet, caramelised orange with Cointreau and the inevitably predictable crema catalana. I went for the ‘pera al vino’, a baked pear in red wine.

At weekends they only offer an a la carte menu, plus tapas and music on Friday and Saturday nights. Closed Wednesdays.

Verdict. Given its name it’s far from disdainful. A bit of ‘a diamond in the rough’.

VFM (value for money) 9/10

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.