"A city washed in white, dressed in slate". This is how one Figueres resident with whom I shared a seat on the Sarfa bus during my trip described Cadaques. After having snaked into all imaginable spots in the city for a day, I could not but consent to the words of the fellow on the bus. However, to do full justice to the city, I have to add that Cadaques is likewise belted in green and hemmed in blue.
A day trip to Cadaques is a retreat to a paradisiacal oasis of land and sea, a haven of wild greenery and foaming waters. This becomes more real if your visit happens to be out of season when the place has not yet been swarmed with overseas visitors and well-off Spaniards from Barcelona who descend on the city in July and August like bees on a hive.
I happened to reach Cadaques in May when the activity in the city was just on the verge of starting. Having your own wheels to reach the city is tantamount to driving across a long stretch of country roads, most of which run along high-gradient slopes or straight-cut mountain ridges. The entire region between Figueres and Cadaques is a natural montage of pine-covered mountains, rolling hills blanketed with yellow-blooming bushes and deep vales half-drowned in running water. The scenery is fantastic; the trip is heart-beating all the way, tummy-turning at times.
If you want to skip the adventure and concentrate on the verdant panorama, the option is to take a bus from Figueres to Cadaques. The bus station in Figueres south of the city centre has the timetable. On Sundays, a convenient bus leaves Figueres at 10:00am, passes through a few picturesque villages on the way and reaches the coastal town of Roses at 10:30am. From here to Cadaques, the stretch of mountainous terrain is a sublime wilderness of rugged rock formations and tree-infested slopes. The high altitude of the mountains gives way to charming winding roads as the bus brakes its descent to the city.
A short stroll from the bus station to Platja Es Portal (Cadaques main beach) is a five-minute encounter with the city’s main shopping area. Chic and glinting with souvenirs for sale, most shops in the area are upmarket and do not trade in gaudy plastic trinkets or worthless bijouterie. Sandwiched between souvenir shops, restaurants near the bay dominate the scene with bizarre seafood dishes. One particular restaurant included in the menu a seafood delight: ‘Grilled sea-perch on a bed of sea-lettuce seasoned with sea-urchin paste.’ The owners of one other restaurant thought it appropriate to put a huge sign in French over the doorway: ‘Poisson de la mer Mediterranee.’
On reaching the bay, I stood in awe looking at the crystal-clear water as it rolled over the pebbles on the beach, hissing its way back softly into the open. Multicoloured fishing boats anchored to the rocky outcrops further away swerved and tossed harmoniously as the foaming waves lapped gently at their sides. The greenish blue colour of the Mediterranean supplemented by the shimmering green of the leafy hillside groves that watched over the bay from opposite sides was the main reason why Cadaques turned from an unknown rundown fishing village to an artists’ hotspot and subsequently to an elegant summer resort.
Leaving reluctantly for a moment this come-to-life Mediterranean seascape postcard, I turned my back away from nature to look at the village buildings. No jungle concrete structures, no high-risers in sight. Oh, what a relief! A borderline of two-storey mansions, elegantly washed in white, their apertures coated in pastel blue, seemed to run orderly along the whole stretch of the bay’s promenade. Several uphill alleyways along which additional white terraced buildings stood watching over the bay rose stepwise towards the green wilderness.
I decided to leave the plaza and stroll along one edge of the promenade. Soon the beach pebbles gave way to rugged rocks, mostly composed of black layers of worn-out slate. I soon reached Platja Es Poal, a small secluded rocky cove where the blue sea suddenly turned emerald green and the water became so clear that I could observe with ease marine life at a depth of two metres below the surface. Shrimps, crabs and small fish ran for shelter as my reflection in the water interrupted their routine search for food.
To complement the sublime rocky seashore and to add to the sheer roughness of the coastline’s topography, protective garden walls and hedges along the promenade are mostly composed of tiers of mountain slate, rough, black and irregularly hewn. I walked further on until I reached Platja Es Planc, a picturesque beach dressed in white worn-out sea stones but spotted here and there with black slate pebbles. Hotel Playa Sol, overlooking the beach is a knockout place ideal to quench your thirst after a walk of more than one hour.
Walking back towards the city’s main beach plaza, I popped into quite a few alleyways and climbed up to suitable vantage points from where I could take snaps of the bay. The views from here over the bay are superb. The vivid blue colour of the Mediterranean stained with mirror images of dark rocky projections and colourful sailing boats is a lively palette of natural hues, their intensity affected solely by the day’s luminosity.
On reaching Platja Es Portal, I kept on walking at leisure along the promenade on the opposite side of the bay. From the main esplanade, various picturesque steep alleyways ascend to the Old Town quarter. Narrow, quaint, obscure and veiled in mystery, these ghostly walkways are embedded with cobbled wedges of black slate. The hide-and-seek atmosphere is so profound that one gets a feeling of amazement and trepidation at every sharp turn, not aware of what lies trapped behind the corner. At long last, I reached the topmost spot of the Old Town. Crowned by an imposing Cathedral, this is indisputably the most glorious spot in the city, a great look-out point from where the view extends over the whole mountainous region.
The Cathedral itself, dedicated to Santa Maria is a sixteenth-century architectural gem, a Catalan version of early Gothic and Romanesque styles. A labyrinth of winding alleyways runs north from the Cathedral to the Museu de Cadaques de Arte on Carrer de Narcis Monturiol. Although this small exposition of surrealist and cubist paintings is often overlooked by visitors, it is nonetheless a perfect introduction to twentieth-century Spanish art, revealing works by Dali, Miro, Niebla and Picasso.
If you still have the nerve to walk a further one mile, take the pedestrianised road northeast to Port Lligat, a tiny picturesque hamlet built around a rocky promontory. The queer maze-like house of Salvador Dali which he himself changed from a collection of fishermen’s huts into a lovely habitable residence is the main reason why one should come here. The Dali residence is architecturally quaint and mirrors the artist’s strange character and disturbed imagination. It is nonetheless a great place to visit, particularly when one considers that nowhere else can one get closer to Dali’s life outside the studio.
Salvador lived here with his sweetheart Gala for more than half a century. Here, he brought into existence most of his landscape paintings, getting his inspiration from the odd-shaped rugged rocks and the wild deserted seashore you can still see from the windows of his Port Lligat residence. He never wanted to leave and whenever he did, he returned with a more fertile imagination.
Visitors who come here do not want to leave either. Why? It might be the lovely view of the Mediterranean seascape, or the ghostly dream-like atmosphere that inhabits the place or perhaps…Dali’s involvement with surrealism. Who knows?