Monday, September 04, 2006

Beating Crowds at Cadaques

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My mother-in-law tells the story of once being seated next to a woman at Bar Meliton in Cadaques who was stroking a pet leopard. That was back in the 1950s when the picturesque fishing village on the Costa Brava was not only the home of Salvador Dali and summer magnet for artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Max Ernst, but also a fashionable destination for well-to-do bohemians.

It may be difficult to find much of that raffish charm in modern day Cadaques, which has become very popular and crowded, but the area is still breathtakingly beautiful and saved from many of the horrors of mass tourism by the tortuous access road which winds along the spine of the Pyrenees, finally plunging down to the isolated, white-washed village. For stylish surroundings with artistic sensibilities and a spectacular Mediterranean setting, Cadaques offers a real alternative to the Riviera that is as beautiful, less snooty and less expensive.

I should come clean here and say that I know nothing about restaurants or accommodations in Cadaques, since my leopard-friendly mother-in-law was fortunate and forward looking enough to acquire a share of a fisherman’s hut above Cadaques in the 1950s and while the hut has been extended and modernised since then, it is still the kind of place that once you get there, which isn’t easy, you rarely leave except to buy provisions, hike, swim, ride bikes (Lance Armstrong lived and trained nearby) and fool around in boats.

And my advice to anyone considering Cadaques is to also try to rent a house outside of town where you can delight in the intoxicating Mediterranean scenery and climate, leaving behind the aggravations of finding a parking place or listening to the folks who like to party all night. If you like to party all night, then go ahead and rent a house in Cadaques. Some good sites for finding Cadaques rentals are, and .

As for restaurants, what I do know is that the legendary restaurant many critics consider the best in the world, El Bulli, is roughly 45 minutes away in neighboring Roses. Of course reservations are beyond impossible but this year I plan to follow the advice of Clothide Dusoulier in her delightful food blog, Chocolate and Zucchini, send an email on October 15 and pray I get a table.

Once accommodations are sorted out, there are plenty of wonderful things to do in Cadaques. Here are my top recommendations

 Hike from Cadaques towards the lighthouse through the spectacular Cap de Creus National Park on an ancient, but well marked trail. Bring your swimsuit and drinking water. The nicest coves and beaches are along the way. There is a bar/restaurant at the lighthouse, the view is spectacular and the walk should take roughly 2 ½ hours each way.

 Rent a bike and take the road to Cap de Creus and reward yourself with a drink at the lighthouse. Stop along the way and marvel at the beauty of the dramatic landscape and the amazing rock formations caused over the centuries by the wicked “Tramuntana” wind which can blow you right off your bike.

 Go snorkelling. There’s plenty to see under the sea but be sure to wear something on your feet. Sea urchins are everywhere. There are also several dive centres in town.

 Visit the Salvador Dali House-Museum in Port Lligat. Even if you are not a huge fan of Dali, the house where he and his wife Gala lived from the 1930s to the 1970s will blow your mind, from the life sized polar bear that greets you in the entry to the psychedelic, El Hambra-esque swimming pool with its hilarious matador-doll fountain - it's great theatre. Reservations are essential.

Rent a boat and explore the spectacular coastline. Postpone this idea if the tramuntana is blowing. You can also rent kayaks and windsurfers.

 Sit at Bar Meliton, like Marcel Duchamp, and watch the world go by. I like to think that this is the closest thing to “Rick’s Place” from Casablanca you’ll find in the real world. Don’t miss the wall inside with Duchamp memorabilia. The lemon granitas are delicious.

As I read back over what I have written, I start to feel a little guilty. For years I have resisted writing about Cadaques. First, I promised our neighbours that I would not exacerbate the overcrowding problem by touting the areas considerable charms but this year I had a small epiphany. I finally realised that in addition to my mother-in-laws “petite paradise by the sea”, there must be other charming places to rent. Secondly, I realised that Cadaques would benefit from the interest of NoCrowds travellers. We may not all be world famous artists or celebrated bohemians but we do raise the tone of a place and appreciate getting off the tourist treadmill, valuing what is authentic and interesting about a destination. With a little luck finding a nice house and armed with the right information, it is perfectly possible to have a first class NoCrowds experience in Cadaques and the rewards are simply amazing.

Cadaques is accessible from several airports including Perpignan in France via Ryannair (one hour’s drive to Cadaques), Girona also via Ryannair (75 minutes ) or Barcelona (2 1/2 hours) in Spain. All things being equal, I would go into Perpignan and stay at one of my favourite, rather funky, hotels, the four-star Villa Duflot which I will cover in my next post.

Bar Meliton
Tel: (34) 972-258-201

El Bulli
Cala Montjoi, Roses, Spain
Tel: (34) 9 7215 0457

Blue Rent Cadaques (boats)
Tel: (34) 972 259 029

Bike Rentals
C/. Fontvella, 2
Tel (34) 972 25 91 01

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