Literally “wild coast” in Catalan, the Costa Brava is one of the most ruggedly beautiful stretches of the Spanish coast. The fishing port of Cadeques, tucked away on a peninsula at the northern tip of the Costa Brava, is one of Spain’s most picturesque towns.
Sitting alone at the end of the Cap de Creus peninsula, the drive out to the port takes you on a slow, precipitous route that winds into the hills. The difficulty of the route and the steep final descent makes the arrival into town feel like stumbling upon a hidden treasure. Not that Cadeques’ charms are unknown. For some time it has been a popular tourist spot for both foreigners and locals – many Catalans from nearby Barcelona have weekend homes here.
It’s easy to see why. If you tried to imagine your dream Mediterranean fishing village, you would surely come up with something close to Cadeques.
The port sits on a natural bay where pebbled beaches rim the green and blue waters of the Med. At night these same waters sparkle with the lights of the cafe terraces that front onto the promenade. Away from the waterfront, narrow cobbled streets lead uphill to roadside restaurants, medieval churches and discreet boutiques housed inside historic cottages.
It’s the kind of sleepy little backwater where life rolls along with no more urgency than the late summer sun’s declining arc across the azure sky.
On my first morning there a funny scene unfolded on the beach. A couple of tourists arrived in a car and, jumping out, immediately started snapping photos of the scene. Just as soon they were gone again. The husband, who was wearing white socks pulled up halfway to his knees, with a baseball cap, urgently directed his wife how to pose. Perhaps they had a plane to catch; they were clearly on a deadline. Whatever the backstory their brief appearance was tinged with absurdity. Cadeques is the last place in the world you should rush through.
I found a hotel a short walk from the promenade. The terracotta-tiled room had a balcony overlooking a narrow cobbled street and was reasonably-priced at only 65 euros a night.
A beach in the centre of town| Photo Ronan Crowley via Flickr
After a sundowner at a waterfront bar I spent some time exploring the port. You don’t have to go far in Cadeques before you find some mention of Salvador Dali. The surrealist painter was from the region and had a home close by. In the window of the Havana Cafe there’s a black and white photo of Dali sitting on the cafe’s terrace, holding a cane and staring imperiously into the camera.
On my second day I went to Port Lligat, a tiny bay five minutes drive from Cadeques where Dali lived for much of his life. Dali moved here in 1930, drawn by the landscape, clear light and isolation. Starting with a single fisherman’s hut, he built the house up over the course of 40 years.
The resulting labyrinthine structure – now a museum – is a celebration of Dali’s surrealist aesthetic, filled with stuffed animals and with fine views of the rugged, scorched landscape that is recognisable from many of Dali’s most famous paintings.
Dali wasn’t the only famous artist to spend time here. Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and the South American writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez were all inspired by the place. This heritage is felt in dozens of art galleries, ateliers, and independent boutiques selling arts and crafts made by a thriving community of local artists.
On my last day I took a walk in the surrounding countryside. It was the same dramatic landscape of jagged cliffs set against a wine dark sea that you can see in the background in Dali paintings like The Persistence of Memory. The landscape adds to the sense of remoteness and when that same afternoon I drove the winding hill road back to the highway I was surprised at how close it was all along. Cadeques had seemed a whole other world away.