My Catalonian road trip continued from Andorra down to Cap Creus and the Mediterranean.
The problem became how to find meaningful, marginal places on a stretch as overrun with tourists as the Costa Brava.
After a long winding drive through tiny back roads in the Pyrenees, we cruised into the sudden suburb outskirts of big box stores, traffic lights, motels and rental car window stickers.
We based ourselves in Roses, a busy uninspiring resort town tucked into the side of the peninsula. It offered a room with a broad balcony overlooking the sea, just a few winds of the coast road away from a dirt track that led up and over the hills.
Even this close to overcrowding, marginal places were right around the corner… You just have to know how to find them.
The next morning we drove up and over the Cap to El Port de la Selva, a little fishing village, where we left the car by an access point to the GR11 hiking trail and laced up our boots.
Cap Creus is the easternmost point of the Spanish mainland, a dislocated spur of the Pyrenees, where rugged wind-shaken cliffs plunge into a turquoise sea. It’s an odd landscape that seems tacked on to the rolling hills and plains of the surrounding countryside. A landscape to inspire a surrealist, which is what it actually did. Salavdor Dali spent most of his life here, and the natural forms of the Cap made their way into his paintings.
We, on the other hand, made our way up a hill by a dirt track that passed through a flock of farting goats. A shepherd stood next to a 4×4 at the top of the bend, chatting to a farmer with a truckload of honeycombs dripping fresh nectar and stupefied bees.
Five mangey dogs followed us in a loose pack, covered in flies and wet dog smell. The largest among them, grey around the eyes, stepping carefully on elderly legs, walked close escort at our heels. We stopped to chat briefly with the shepherd, then continued upward, and the sound of flatulating goats quickly faded in the distance.
The track passed forestry roads and the walls of abandoned dry stone terraces, the ruins of a farm, and groves of cork oak and wiry Aleppo pine.
About halfway along our intended route we reached a quiet valley sheltered by trees, and the ruins of the hermitage of Sant Baldiri. The oldest parts of the complex, including the circular watchtower, date to 1558, and modifications and additions were made right up to the first half of the 18th century. Today it sits abandoned and ruined, but it continues to provide solace to introspective hikers.
From there we passed through thick vegetation in the little valley of the Rec de Talabre, rejoined the forestry road for several more bends, and caught our first glimpse of Calla de Tavarella from high above.
It was a steep half hour climb down to what would prove to be the perfect deserted cove. Barely a ripple clouded the glassy surface of the deep, sheltered bay. A clean beach of sea-polished pebbles curved in a graceful arc around the mouth. And on the ruins of a fisherman’s hut, someone had painted a clothesline with bright red swimsuits and the words “Cala Nudista”.
We’d found the perfect “marginal place” hidden amidst so much package tourism, overcrowding and noise.
We quickly untied our hiking boots and left our sweaty clothes in a pile on the rocks to slip quietly into the waiting sea.