Oh, life's so hard: this was the view from the breakfast table over the weekend. A friend's house, on the Catalonian Costa Brava, due south of the border (three hours drive from Montpellier), well north of Barcelona. Intensely restful, transparent waters, good times. I won't even get into how juicy sweet this melon was.
I will say that now, while it's still spring, is really truly the best of times to visit this rugged bit of Spain. Now, before you're crushed under the collective weight of the relentless sun--and summer visitors. This said, even in the sardine can that Spanish tourist season often becomes, the northern end of the Costa Brava remains appealingly full of simple pleasures. As the budget flight-enabling Girona airport was relatively recently built, the coast was never ruinously over-developed--nor was it converted into a teenage rendezvous for disco trance and debauchery. That bit of extra distance between the northern bit and Barcelona helped as well...
You can come to the Costa Brava to follow in the traces of Chagall, Picasso and native son Dali. You can come for for the kiting, kayaking and golfing. You can come for the secluded coves and nude beaches. Or you can come for the history.
Minutiously restored, medieval Pals is an inland village that was once a port town, this before silting permanently altered the coastline, as also occurred in France's Aigues-Mortes. While worth wandering in the off-season, I've been warned by the locals that Pals becomes tour-bus central come summertime. It's not hard to see why.
I found this little shop in Pals, a brief paean to Spanish foods. And don't even get me started on that bellota ham.
In the Gothic church, if you should so desire, you can get your prayer candle...from an automated dispenser.
That was the first time I'd seen that anywhere, let alone someplace with medieval origins.
The cobblestone paths and steps are ideal for casual strolling, and the inhabitants make it look less mineral with heaps of plants, their flowers tumbleing from balconies and hanging deep and long from windows.
The zoning laws here are thankfully strict. It remains all sunsoaked, golden and ageless as result. If I had more than a weekend (darn educational system with its rules!), we would have done more exploring--at the very least in the nearby walled village of Peretallada, apparently just as exquisitely medieval and also built on and of stone.
Traditional Crema Catalana
6 egg yolks
3/4 liter milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 large strip of fresh, organic lemon peel
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Beat egg yolks until light and smooth, then whisk in three-fourths of the sugar. Bring milk--with cinnamon stick and lemon peel--just to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove and strain into a bowl. Whisk most of the milk into egg mixture. Dissolve the cornflour in the remaining cold milk and add to egg mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return the pan to low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and pour equal measures into four small heat-proof dishes (ideally ceramic cazuelas) and allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating. Just before serving, preheat the broiler. Sprinkle a bit of sugar on top each serving and caramelize by placing the dishes first in a ice and water-filled shallow pan and then briefly under a hot broiler. Remove as soon as the sugar has browned nicely. Enjoy...