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WEEKEND Food & Drink l Gardening l Environment l Travel l Television l Radio

Saturday January 18 2014

Castles of Catalonia Travel P34,35


Three Musketeers are back in action

Niall McKenna

Make use of tasty leftovers

Eating out

Harlem is the place to be seen



History, architecture, art, scenery and food were the defining experiences for Tony Bailie during a full-on but fun four-day visit to Catalonia in north eastern Spain


Y NEXT dinner party will have a Catalan theme, featuring dishes I learned to cook from chef Lluis Planas at the Espai Del Peix cookery school. His classroom overlooks the harbour town of Palamos on the Catalan coast and recipes are mostly based on fish caught in the Mediterranean. The main course will be Catalan fish stew – rockfish, flavoured with lots of garlic, tomatoes, hazelnuts, parsley and bread heated through and pounded into an olive oil-infused pesto. Starters will be anchovies on tomato bread and dessert will be the region’s famous Crema Catalana, based on a recipe a learned from Lluis, who works in Michelin Star restaurants. My first dinner party story will be about the night I spent in a medieval Spanish castle – one that is reportedly haunted. Cardona Parador is set on top of Salt Mountain and is visible from the road for miles before you reach it. The earliest parts, a crypt, date from the 11th century. Above the crypt a 13th century church was built and it is still used for weddings and concert recitals. The bedrooms are in the former castle and look out on to the distant Pyrenees, snowcapped in November. The town of Cardona itself is worth a wander but more intriguing are its former salt mines which were worked between 1921 and 1990 and where 300km of tunnels twist and dip to depths of 2km beneath the surface. Forty million years ago this part of Catalonia was under the Atlantic Ocean. When the waters retreated huge deposits of salt were left behind which, over the

“Back on the coast for an overnight at Aiguablava Parador, set on an outcrop, the sight and sound of the waves crashing on to the rocks below are all the entertainment you need”

A taste of Cata millennia, were covered by layers of earth and rock. A tour of the mine takes you into a subterranean world where stalactites of pure salt curve from the rocky roof and echoing chambers take on the form of exotically lit abstract sculptures. Any dinner party travel story must include ‘the find’ that you stumbled across, the place where no-one else has ever heard of, is hardly mentioned in the guidebooks, but where you insist everyone simply must visit. Santa Pau, set on a hilltop in the Catalan Pyrenees, is the perfect recommendation. The landscape of Garrotxa is the result of intense volcanic activity – craters and cones are scattered throughout the region, covered in lush vegetation and dense woodland, accessible via miles of walking trails.

Set in this landscape is Santa Pau, a shamble of narrow streets, archways surrounding a central square and a 15th century gothic church. In the centre of the village is Calsastre, a hotel and restaurant decked out in homely antique furniture and with a taster menu based on products from the Garrotxa region and superb local wines. You simply must visit. For many years Girona in northern Spain was a cheap gateway to Barcelona, its airport was branded by one well-known Irish airline as Girona-Barcelona, even though it is 100 kilometres from the Catalan capital. While many people were quite happy to accept this subversion of geography for the sake of a cheap flight, the Barcelona tag did a huge disservice to the city of Girona itself.



n HILLTOP DRAMA: The village of Begur and, left, the Dali Museum in Figueres



n MEDIEVAL SETTING: Cardona Parador, on top of Salt Mountain in Catalonia


It dates back to Roman times and has city walls which have stood for 1,200 years. At its centre is a cathedral with the widest gothic nave in Europe. Stained glass windows date from hundreds of years ago up until modern times. Its most recent addition is a modernist design created in collaboration with Irish artist Sean Scully. Adjoining the cathedral is a former monastery, with a moody cloister, which is now a museum where an 11th century tapestry depicting the creation is its central display. Cobbled laneways, leading off from the plaza in front of the cathedral’s daunting steps, entice the visitor to aimless wanderings and peeks through peeling wooden doorways into courtyards where restaurants, cafes and craft shops nestle. The smaller city of Vic boasts that it is

n Spanish Paradores offer luxury hotel accommodation in castles, palaces, convents, monasteries, fortresses and other historic buildings. The group also has a few modern hotels, built in the traditional style, in areas of outstanding beauty. n Tony Bailie travelled to three Paradores in Catalonia at the invitation of The Spanish Tourist Board and MAP Travel. n MAP Travel in O’Connell Street, Dublin, is the Paradores partner in Ireland and can offer the most competitive rates and advise on what deals are available. Tel 00353 1 878 3111. n Samples rates for the three Paradores are: Cardona from e70 to e100 per person per night Vic-Sau, near Vic, from e64 to e80 per person per night Aiguablava from e70 to e110 per person per night Rates vary depending on the season and include a substantial breakfast. Featured Parador itineraries are: n The Wine Route n The Pilgrim Route (Santiago de Compostela) n The Moorish Route n The Silver Route n The El Cid Route n The Castles Route n The Don Quixote Route n The World Heritage Cities Route

located in the centre of Catalonia. Its main plaza is home to markets on Tuesday and Saturdays – everything from live geese, regional cheeses and religious icons. An architectural clash of facades surround

n HISTORIC: Santa Pau in the Catalan Pyrenees; below left, the Espai Del Peix cookery school

the square, mixing baroque and medieval styles with more functional structures. Vic’s Episcopal Museum has gathered together art and altar pieces from churches and monasteries throughout Catalonia, charting the development of religious art from the Romanesque through to the gothic. There are 2,000 pieces on display and a further 25,000 pieces in storage. For the purposes of dinner party chat, don’t miss the delicatessen Ca la Teresona off the main plaza where you can book a tasting session and create your own Catalan sausage. Most are cured in the open air during the winter months but some are fried up to create another of Catalonia’s signature dishes – butifarra. Back on the coast for an overnight at Aiguablava Parador, set on an outcrop, the sight and sound of the waves crashing on to the rocks below are all the entertainment you need. Nearby is Begur, which works its way from the shore up a hill and has views along the Costa Brava coastline. At its summit sits a castle and around the town itself are a series of defence towers, built to protect

people and their goods from the pirates who used to plunder the coast. Many of Begur’s houses were built in what is known as ‘Indian style’ by merchants who made their fortunes in Cuba and Puerta Rica and who recreated luxury Caribbean villas in their ancestral homeland. Typical is the Casa Pere Roger i Puig, which dates from the 1860s. It was built by a tobacco merchant, with ornate frescos on its internal walls and gardens laid out with palm trees and other tropical plants. Every good dinner party story should end with a surreal twist – literally in this case as mine will tell of a visit to the final resting place and self-designed memorial to the daddy of surrealism, Salvador Dali. The Dali Museum is in Figueres and the entire building is as much an experience as the paintings, sculptures and installations that it houses. It is also a monument to Dali’s muse, Gala, whose image dominates much of his work, often only coming to the fore when you twist your head slightly to the left and squint.

Irish news castles of catalonia cover 18jan  
Irish news castles of catalonia cover 18jan  

Reportatge resultat del presstrip amb periodistes irlandesos realitzat el mes de novembre sobre Paradores. Apareix informació de Vic.