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.