Cultural treasures on the Costa Brava

The Catalans are a proud people and traces of the hard political struggle with the central government in Madrid are visible in many places during a trip along the Costa Brava and into the hinterland of the central Pyrenees. In medieval towns like Girona or Figueres, yellow ribbons the “lazos amarillos” flutter on railings or lampposts. Yellow is the color of the Catalan separatists and expresses their protest against the Spanish central government especially due to the imprisonment of Catalan politicians and activists.

An vielen Stellen Kataloniens findet man Protest gegen die spanische Zentralregierung insbesondere aufgrund der Inhaftierung katalanischer Politiker und Aktivisten / © Foto: Georg Berg
In many places in Catalonia you can find protest against the Spanish central government especially due to the imprisonment of Catalan politicians and activists / © Photo: Georg Berg.

The Catalan flag also flies vigorously in the wind at Martin Faixó’s winery on Cap de Creus. Restaurants in coastal towns like Cadaqués serve traditional dishes made with local produce, plenty of fish and seafood, and wine lists feature wines from endemic grape varieties like Picapoll. But whether you are interested in fish, wine or art, the Catalans vividly present to their guests the full diversity of their cultural treasures and offer insights into production sites and working methods.

In vielen kleinen Küstenorten entlang der Costa Brava kann man besten Fisch und Meeresfrüchte essen. Zum Beispiel bei Maria Rosa in St. Feliu de Guixols / © Foto: Georg Berg
In many small coastal towns along the Costa Brava you can eat the best fish and seafood. For example at Maria Rosa in St. Feliu de Guixols / © Photo: Georg Berg

Varied landscape and a rich heritage of Romanesque architecture, idyllic coastal towns with original and historic buildings. Lonely beaches, bays for bathing sports activities can be found in this part of the Costa Brava as well as hiking routes or bicycle trails. The Costa Brava is also well positioned from a culinary point of view.

Katalanische Fischauktion in Palamós. Mit direktem Zugang zur Fischauktionshalle bietet der Fischmarkt von Palamós den frischesten Fisch den ein Fischer nur fangen kann / © Foto: Georg Berg
Catalan fish auction in Palamós. With direct access to the fish auction hall, the fish market of Palamós offers the freshest fish a fisherman can catch / © Photo: Georg Berg

On the run – the fish auction of Palamós

The port of Palamós offers three good reasons for a visit. There is a fishing museum, a magnificent fish market and a fish auction hall. Twice a day the fishermen of Palamós moor their boats in the harbor. Depending on what they want to catch, whether sardines, monkfish or sea bream, octopus, lobster or prawns, they have to set sail early in the morning or late in the evening.

Tiefrot sind diese Gambas, die nun auf dem direkten Weg vom Trawler in die Auktion gehen. Sie werden im 2.000 Meter tiefen Canyon direkt vor Palamós gefischt. Katalanische Fischauktion in Palamós / © Foto: Georg Berg
Deep red are these gambas, which now go directly from the trawler to the auction. They are fished in the 2,000 meter deep canyon just off Palamós. Catalan fish auction in Palamós / © Photo: Georg Berg

The fishermen stay on the sea for a maximum of eleven hours. Around 4:00 p.m., the second shift of the day must be back, because then the fish auction begins. The fishermen bring their catch freshly caught to the auction hall. Of the 23 trawlers, 16 have red gambas on board that day. They are specially certified vessel crews committed to sustainable fishing. The “Gambas Rojas”, highly prized by chefs and gourmets, come from the 2,000 meter deep canyon in the coastal section just off Palamós.”

Wir begleiten Juan. Sein Schiff die Punta Aire ist das letzte an diesem Tag, das den Hafen erreicht. Mit dem Fang ist er ganz zufrieden. Rund 30 Kilo der roten Gambas in verschiedenen Größen sind ihm ins Netz gegangen / © Foto: Georg Berg
We accompany Juan. His ship, the Punta Aire, is the last to reach the harbor that day. He is quite satisfied with the catch. About 30 kilos of red prawns in various sizes have gone into his net / © Photo: Georg Berg

Fresh fish at falling prices

The auctioneer sits in his control center. He assigns a certain value to each box of fish on the conveyor belt. Then the crates, marked with the starting price, their weight and the description of the goods, go onto the conveyor belt and off into the ring.

Ab auf das Band. Die Kiste ist mit den Namen des Fischerbootes und der Angabe der Fischsorte und des Fanggebietes ausgezeichnet / © Foto: Georg Berg
Off to the belt. The crate is marked with the name of the fishing boat, the type of fish and the fishing area / © Photo: Georg Berg

In the auction hall the potential buyers are waiting. Strong nerves and a lot of experience are needed in the bidding process. The price falls steadily. The first person to press the “buzzer” gets the goods. The name of the buyer or his pseudonym is displayed immediately. Anyone who hesitates too long will go away empty-handed; anyone who strikes too early may pay too high a price.

Angela Berg unterhält sich mit dem Großhändler Sebastian. Er bekommt ständig neue Bestellungen per Mobiltelefon. Viele seiner Kunden sind Restaurants in Barcelona. Sie bekommen ihre Fischbestellung noch am selben Tag geliefert / © Foto: Georg Berg
Angela Berg talks to Sebastian, a wholesaler. He constantly receives new orders by cell phone. Many of his customers are restaurants in Barcelona. They get their fish orders delivered the same day / © Photo: Georg Berg

Wholesalers, restaurant owners and market traders are already sitting on the bidding lines. The traders usually have an approximate price in mind when they stare at the treadmill or at the display board showing the boxes that the fisherman has placed on the belt himself shortly before. As a rule, buyers know exactly what they want and need. Sebastian Tejedor is a wholesaler and is in constant contact with his saleswomen in the office during the auction. They take orders from customers, including many restaurants in Barcelona. This way, Sebastian can still respond to customer requests and buy the freshest goods until the end of the auction.

Der Auktionator an seinem Arbeitsplatz: wiegen, scannen, Preis festlegen und los geht die Auktion der fallenden Preise / © Foto: Georg Berg
The auctioneer at his workplace: weighing, scanning, setting the price and off goes the auction of falling prices / © Photo: Georg Berg

Among the buyers are not only wholesalers, but also retailers or restaurant owners. They sit on either side of the conveyor belt, look down on the passing goods and can read on a display board which boat caught what, when and where. Following the system of a Dutch auction, where the price automatically keeps falling, the bidders have the opportunity to buy a desired box at the push of a button.

Der Tagesfang des Trawlers Punta Aire geht in die heiße Verkaufsphase / © Foto: Georg Berg
The daily catch of the trawler Punta Aire enters the hot sales phase / © Photo: Georg Berg

In the front part of the auction hall is the fish market. The traders offering a breathtaking variety of fish and sea creatures here have only just bought them at auction one room further on in the auction hall. From the ship to the conveyor belt, to the market stall and into the shopping bag. We can only dream of such a seamless sales chain inland!

Touristen haben die Möglichkeit, im Rahmen einer Führung die Fischauktion zu besuchen. Museumsmitarbeiterin Maria Angels erklärt das Auktionsprocedere und gibt Auskunft zu Fischarten. Der Auktion kann man dann aber nur hinter Glas und von oben herab beiwohnen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Tourists have the opportunity to visit the fish auction as part of a guided tour. Museum employee Maria Angels explains the auction procedure and provides information on fish species. However, the auction can only be watched from behind glass and from above / © Photo: Georg Berg

In the port of Palamós there is also the fishing museum. The exhibition includes a collection of everyday objects and tools of the fishermen. The hard life then and now is described very vividly. You can also book a visit to the fish auction. However, one looks quite distant at the trade and the running tape.

On the wine route from Palamós to Cadaqués

Sant Feliu de Guixols is located just south of the Wine and Cork Route. Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans inhabited the coast of the Costa Brava. Places like Empuries, founded by these early settlers, and monastery complexes in St Pere de Rodes or in Ripoll, date back to this period. The cuisine is strongly rooted in tradition. In many of the small coastal towns along the Costa Brava, you can eat the best fish and seafood. For example, at Maria Rosa’s in St. Feliu de Guixols or at Abraham Artigas’, the chef of no less than three restaurants in the Hotel Alabriga.

Auch Chefkoch Abraham Artigas vom Hotel Alabriga in Sant Feliu de Guixols, bezieht seinen Fisch von der Fischauktion in Palamós. Artigas ist begeistert von der Vielfalt und Qualität die sich ihm vor der heimischen Küste bietet / © Foto: Georg Berg
Chef Abraham Artigas of Hotel Alabriga in Sant Feliu de Guixols, also gets his fish from the fish auction in Palamós. Artigas is enthusiastic about the variety and quality he finds off the local coast / © Photo: Georg Berg

The winery Martin Faixó

At the northern end of the Wine Route, the coastal town of Cadaqués, Enoteca MF is a perfect place to sample local cuisine and wines. The restaurant is part of the Martín Faixó winery and specializes in fish dishes and traditional Catalan cuisine. Here they cook mainly with local products and serve their own wines, aged just 300 meters above Cadaqués. Martin Faixó’s vines are located in the middle of the Cap de Creus National Park.

Der Wein, die Sierra und das Meer. Im Naturschutzgebiet Cap de Creus liegen drei Weingüter. Martin Faixó bewirtschaftet hier 13 Hektar mit teils endemischen Reben wie dem Picapoll / © Foto: Georg Berg
The wine, the sierra and the sea. Three wineries are located in the Cap de Creus Nature Reserve. Martin Faixó cultivates 13 hectares here with partly endemic vines such as the Picapoll / © Photo: Georg Berg

Behind the name Martin Faixó is a family that has united its cultural heritage. The Faixó family branch stands for fishing, agriculture and olive growing. The Martin family has been dedicated to viticulture for generations. Today, the generation of grandchildren has combined the knowledge and tradition of both sides. The winery Martin Faixó is located in the middle of the National Park Cap de Creus.

The wind, the sea and time: the secret of the Grenache grape

On 13 hectares surrounded by the “Tramuntana”, the wind that comes from beyond the mountains and alternating with the sea breeze of the Costa Brava, endemic grape varieties such as Picapoll thrive here. The center of the winery is an old homestead from the 14th century, which the family converted into a wine cellar. On one of the roofs are giant balloon bottles filled with a deep red liquid. It looks a bit like a series of experiments, but is in fact an old traditional process for making sweet wine.

Rustikale Outdoor-Reifung. Aus der Grenache-Traube wird in drei Jahren ein Süßwein / © Foto: Georg Berg
Rustic outdoor aging. The Grenache grape becomes a sweet wine in three years / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Grenache grape has been turned into a sweet wine for over three years. In the old process, which is used again at the Martin Faixó winery, the large glass bottles stand on the roof for three years in wind and weather. During this time, the contents lose a third of the liquid and a sweet Grenache wine is obtained in traditional outdoor aging. For some years now, the estate has also had guest rooms. A good 300 meters above the sea and in the middle of the nature reserve, it is possible to combine long walks and intensive wine tastings.

Salvador Dali – the theater museum in Figueres

Even if you think you’ve had your fill of Dali’s clocks melting like ripe Camembert cheese and his long-legged elephants, it’s still worth visiting the theater museum in Figueres, which he himself planned down to the smallest detail. The number of visitors is enormous. Groups are let into the building every 20 minutes.

Das alte Theater gestaltet Salvador Dali zu seinen Lebzeiten in ein Museum. Er ordnete seine Beisetzung im Zentrum der ehemaligen Theaterbühne an. Heute spazieren die Besucher über den roten Steinboden und entdecken eher zufällig die Bodenplatte an Dalis Grab / © Foto: Georg Berg
Salvador Dali designed the old theater into a museum during his lifetime. He ordered his burial in the center of the former theater stage. Today, visitors walk across the red stone floor and discover, rather by chance, the floor slab at Dali’s grave / © Photo: Georg Berg

But once on the stage of surrealism, the masses get lost and one is amazed by small and larger sensory illusions, the grave slab of Dali in the center of the former theater stage or the transformation of Abraham Lincoln into Dali’s muse and great love Gala or the lip sofa à la Mae West.

Überaus bestaunenswert sind die Gemälde aus Dalis paranoisch-kritischen Phase, in der er mit dem Verstand nicht fassbare Vorstellungsbilder durch eine hohe künstlerische Präzision realisiert. Auf dem riesigen Wandgemälde im Zentrum des Museums ist es ausgeschlossen, beide Motive gleichzeitig zu sehen. Zuerst erkennt man das verpixelte Konterfei von Abraham Lincoln. Tritt man weiter zurück, so bekommt man die nackte Rückenansicht von Dalis Frau und Muse Gala zu sehen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Überaus bestaunenswert sind die Gemälde aus Dalis paranoisch-kritischen Phase, in der er mit dem Verstand nicht fassbare Vorstellungsbilder durch eine hohe künstlerische Präzision realisiert. Auf dem riesigen Wandgemälde im Zentrum des Museums ist es ausgeschlossen beide Motive gleichzeitig zu sehen. Zuerst erkennt man das verpixelte Konterfei von Abraham Lincoln. Tritt man weiter zurück, so bekommt man die nackte Rückenansicht von Dalis Frau und Muse Gala zu sehen / © Foto: Georg Berg

The paintings from Dali’s paranoiac-critical phase, in which he realized imaginative images that could not be grasped with the intellect through a high artistic precision, are extremely impressive. On the huge mural in the center of the museum, it is impossible to see both motifs at the same time. First, as in the picture on the left, one recognizes the pixelated likeness of Abraham Lincoln out of focus. If one steps back further, one gets to see, as in the picture on the right, the naked back view of Dali’s wife and muse Gala / © Photos: Georg Berg

Dalis zweites Brotkorb-Gemälde von 1945 schaffte es auf das Plakat des Marshall-Plans  / © Foto: Georg Berg
Dali’s second breadbasket painting from 1945 made it onto the Marshall Plan poster / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres, together with the Gala Dali Castle in Pubol and Dali’s former home in Portilligat, form the Dalinian Triangle in a bizarre landscape.

In the area between Costa Brava and Girona there are also 55 other museums and over 500 registered monuments. A good starting point with an excellent basic culinary supply of no less than three hotel restaurants is the Hotel Alàbriga in Sant Feliu de Guixols.

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The research trip was supported by the Hotel Alabriga

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