Mention Catalonia to the average traveller and they will right away think of Barcelona, Gaudí and the cavas and wines of the Penedés. But few of the millions of visitors who choose to explore the wonders of Spain every year will have discovered the gem that is L´Empordà, a region encompassing the whitewashed village of Cadaqués by the French border and the Pyrenees to the fishing port of Palamós on the Costa Brava and inland to its medieval towns, Figueres with its Dalí museum and vineyards producing some of the most refreshing new wines of Catalonia.
In little more than an hour from the centre of Barcelona, you can find yourself in the heart of this comarca, described by some as Spain’s Tuscany, a countryside peppered with medieval villages among rolling farmland, with easy access by high speed rail, road and air (most of the region is within a one-hour drive of Girona airport). L´Empordà´s fertile lands, fed by the mighty river Ter, and its strategic location have created a prosperity over the centuries that has created a host of Romanesque churches, medieval villages and impressive ornate stone masías (landowner mansions).
Its Mediterranean shore encompasses the popular Costa Brava, but even many of those who have discovered picturesque seaside locations from Dalí’s Cadaqués to Calella de Palafrugell for their sandy beaches and stunning coastlines, where pine trees cling to the sides of steep rock cliffs overhanging the clear waters of thousands of small coves, might not have ventured inland to explore the hilltop fortified towns of Pals and Torroella de Montgrí or the majestic stone-built villages of Peratallada, Ullastret or San Martí Vell, redolent with the history and character of L´Empordà.
Something for everyone
Visitors to the region are spoiled for choice, with the Phoenician and Greco-Roman ruins of Emporias, from which it takes its name, dominating the expansive sheltered bay and adjoin the wetlands that represent one of the most important migratory stopping points for birds in the whole of the Mediterranean. Kayaking, hillwalking, cycling, diving around the marine reserve of the Medes Islands, fabulous local gastronomy, ceramics, crafts, art galleries and museums in barely discovered small towns and villages, all cater to the multiple tastes of the cultural tourist and reward them handsomely.
For followers of Salvador Dalí the trail does not just include the Figueres museum and Cadaqués, but the castle he shared with Gala at Pùbol, with other unspoilt villages such as Madremanya and La Pera within a few kilometres. Many other artists have come from, or made a home in, the Empordà but so have writers, such as the iconic Catalan literary figure Josep Plà and Tom Sharpe British author of the bestselling Wilt.
It is well worth finding out for yourself what has made it such an inspirational place and exploring the many gems that even many Catalans haven’t discovered.