Via Portbou in Catalonia to Valence, another ancient Roman city in France

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now I tell you about the last stage on our way north and home, starting from Cadaqués to Valence in France, with a commemoration stop in Portbou (Catalonia).

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Portbo, the small city next to the border with France, reminds of the drama of Walter Benjamin

Portbou was the scene of the dramatic death of the German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin in autumn 1940. We stopped in Portbou to commerate him. Walter Benjamin succeeded in crossing the border from France to Franconian Spain. He and a group of Jews intended to travel on to Lissabon and then to the US. But Franconian Spain had just changed the law and would not let the group continue to Lissabon without a valid confirmation that they were allowed to leave France. Which, of course, they did not have. Benjamin committed suicide, and the rest of the group could then travel on to Lissabon. This monument called Passatges reminds us of that drama: Stairs lead into the sea.

At the bottom there is this thought of Benjamin: “Schwerer ist es, das Gedächtnis des Namenlosen zu ehren als das der Berühmten. Dem Gedächtnis der Namenlosen ist die historische Konstruktion geweiht.”  This has been taken from Benjamin’s thoughts about the term “history”. This is the translation: “It is more difficult to honor the memory of the anonymous persons than that of the famous. To the memory of the anonymous the historical construction has been dedicated.” For me, these thoughts are difficult to understand. Yes, the flow of history is told to us as the series of deeds by famous actors, but in addition it is the result of many more actors that remained anonymous. Is it that, what Benjamin had in mind?

What touched me was to be again confronted with the sadest part of German history. I hope that nothing like that will happen again. The monument was erected with support of Germany in 1994.

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Growing wine on steep slopes above the Mediterranean Sea

We cross the border to France and drive through the steep vineyards of Banyuls. It must be tough to grow wine here. Along the road, we come across a small wine shop, where I buy a bottle of Mourvèdre from Collioure.

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Valence – an ancient city with some charming corners

After a quiet night in the sober, but practical IBIS hotel of Valencia, we park our car under the Champs de Mars or Mars Field.

Emerging from under the ground we find this heart of Valence.

It carries the hashtag #moncoeurvalence. Sorry, we are not selfie addicts (the hashtag suggests to make selfies here). We enter the old city center, as seen through the heart.

We slender through streets and enjoy the busy market – everything looks tempting here. Then we walk over to the cathedral behind the market.

The Romansque cathedral St. Apollinaire collapsed in the 17th century, but has been reconstructed true to the original. Inside are three naves of almost the same height…

… and the colours of the windows are reflecting mysteriously on the wall.

It was here that in the 12th century, Barbarossa married Beatrix, the heir of Burgundy.

The only construction left from the cloister behind the cathedral is the so-called “Le Pendentif”, erected in renaissance style in 1548. It is the tomb of a capitular.

We stroll through the narrow streets.

The House of Heads or La Maison de Têtes has been built by a university professor in 1530, as a plate explains. Its style is characteristic for the transition from late gotic to renaissance.

French style squares or plazas are always inviting with their trees and restaurants. It is just a bit cold now.

Valence strives to be clean, but how did we say forty years ago at university: “French planning is more French than planning”. I really could not find, where I could take the sack, in case I had  a dog, be it small or tall… but I love the humor that guided the author of this plate.

Never have I seen this street sign before – surfboards are forbidden here, only that! Bicycles, rollerblades, everything else is allowed – or am I mistaken?

We leave Valence and head north following the vineyards of the Côte du Rhone. In the Saint Joseph area, I take a foto of the vineyard of one of my favourite wine growers, Chapoutier.

In Serrières, we park our car to eat a a sandwich. When we come back, some Gilets Jaunes with their motor cycles have filled up the parking. They tell us that they like the Swiss and show to me, how to get out of my parking lot amidst their motor cycles without damaging one of them. Some four hours later we are back in Monthey in Switzerland to share a night with our friends that allowed us once more to stay in their apartment in Catalonia. We look back at another wonderful trip.

 

Sources:

  • Thomas Schröder: “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag, Erlangen 2015
  • Thorsten Droste: “Romanische Kunst in Frankreich”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 1992
  • Thorsten Droste: “Provence”, Dumont Kunst-Reiseführer, Köln 2011

Catalonia: White Cadaques and Sant Pere de Rodes on the rocks

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now I tell you about our way north, where we stop in Cadaqués and go for an excursion to the monastery Sant Pere de Rodes and to the nature reserve Cap de Creus. For a map see my former blog Catalonia: Besalú and Peralada.

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Cadaques – the white resort in a secluded bay of the Costa Brava

Cadaqués is a small resort that shares one bay on the Mediterranean with Port Lligat. Only one curvy road crosses the mountains that separate this bay from the rest of Catalonia. The father of Salvador Dalí originated from Cadaqués and Salvador Dalí lived in Port Lligat. We stayed in the centrally located hotel La Residencia that is decorated with Dalí items – the owner suffers from horror vacui – hilarious. In summer the Plaça Frederic Rahola below the hotel may be busy, but in November everything is quiet. From our room, we enjoy the view of the bay and the sea in the morning.

In Port Lligat we eat at the restaurant Nord-Est. It serves Paella for one person – usually the minimum for paella is two persons. We have dinner with the view of the bay and Cadaqués at night.

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The Benedectine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes located high above the bay amidst rocks

Crossing the mountains from Cadaqués to the north, we reach El Port de Selva. From here our car climbs uphill on a narrow road. At about 500m above sea level, the Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes appears behind one of the turns in front of the rocks.

The belfry has been built in the 12th century. It is shaped in Lombardian style, though that was no longer fashionable then. The second tower has been erected to defend the monastery.

The church has been inaugurated in 1022. The nave is covered with a barrel vault. This was unique – at that time, the churches had naves with wooden ceilings. Never before have I seen such solid pedestals as a base for the columns.  The nave is large, 37m long and 15m high. Incredible that they built this huge church high in the mountains a 1000 years ago.

There are two Romanesque cloisters, the newer from the 13th century is on top of the older from the 11th century. This is the more recent cloister.

It has been reconstructed to give an impression of what it might have looked like.

The remains of the monastery reflect in the window above the entrance hall.

The monastery flourished until the 14th century. It was left around 1800 and decayed after that. Restoration started in 1935.

Above the monastery, there is a fortification, the Castell de Verdera.

A small zigzagging footpath takes me about 300 meters up to the fortification. The view of the bay El Port de la Selva is getting more and more extensive…

… and the monastery below me is shining in the sun…

Now I am at the very top. To me this fortification seems to be unconquerable.

Walking back to the car we come by the small hermitage Ermitá de Santa Creu de Rodes.

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The Cap de Creus – a windy nature reserve

We round up our tour today with a visit to the Cap de Creus.

It is a nature reserve with a barren landscape.

The sea gloes in the sun. A narrow hiking path winds along the coast line. It is very windy and chilly.

In the bar behind this terrace, we take a hot drink to warm up…

… and the return to our fancy hotel Residencia with its Dalí decoration in Cadaqués. Tomorrow we plan to continue our way along the coast to France.

 

Sources:

  • Thomas Schneider: Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag 2015.
  • Fritz René Allemann and Xenia v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer Köln 1980.

 

 

Catalonia: Besalú and Peralada – treasures at the foot of the Pyrenees

After having spent three weeks near Tarragona, we slowly drive back home. Now I will tell you about our visit to Besalú, to the Dolmen de Cabana and to Peralada on the way to Cadaqués.

Source: España Noreste, Michelin Cartes et Plans 1:400’000

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Besalú – an old earl city with an old bridge

Besalú was an early reconquest of the Christians from the Moors. In 812, it was named the capital of a Franconian county in the Spanish March. It was independent until the 12th century, when it became part of the county of Barcelona. Besalú has been classified as a historic national property of Spain, as it has kept its medieval appearance due to having lost importance in the 14th/15th century. Though counting only 2500 inhabitants now, Besalú has clearly the appearance of a city, preserved from medieval times.

The old bridge (Pont Vell)  crosses the Fluvià river. It uses rocks as the natural basis for the arches which is the reason for it bending across the river.

The small city crouches on a hill. To the left of the bridge, the remains of a Jewish site for ritual washing (Mikwah) have been found.

The medieval streets inside the city walls are narrow.

The Plaça Llibertat is bordered by arches.

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Besalú: The church San Vicenç with its remarkable western side port

According to our “Dumont”, the style of the church San Vicenç is late Romanesque – beginning Gothic. The choir seems Lombardian to me.

The western side port is beautifully decorated.

Fierce animals and a spiraled arch as well as plants are the elements of the decoration.

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Hospital de Sant Julià built to receive pilgrims

Besalú is a center on the pilgrimage route of Sant James and has therefore built the Hospital de Sant Julià. Constructed in the 12th century, it is now a museum. This gate is finely adorned.

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Sant Pere de Besalú

The Plaça de Sant Pere was once the Benedictine Sant Pere Monastery that has been destroyed around 1800 in the French Wars. Only the church from the 12th century is left.

Below the gable on the western façade is this beautiful window with the two furious lions.

The vaulted nave is sparsely illuminated by small windows. I took this foto from the ambulatory with its decorated columns.

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Refreshing ourselves  in the friendly Xocolateria

Before continuing our way, we have coffee in the friendly Xocolateria.

The kids corner has been installed with much care in this welcoming place – there is even rubber ice cream in the small kitchen.

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The Dolmen amidst the vineyards of the Empordà

Our Müller guidebook talks about the Dolmen of Cabana. I love dolmens as a relict from prehistoric times, about 4000 years ago. I saw some dolmens in Bretagne (France), in Ireland (Newgrange) and there is even one near my home in Basel (Aesch). Ursula agrees to visit the Dolmen of Cabana in the Empordà at the foot of the Pyrenees. We follow the bumpy small road to the very end and we find the remains of the covered tomb…

… with a gorgeous view of the Canigou…

… and amidst the DOC wine region of Empordà. I acquired a bottle of cava “méthode champenoise” from here (more famous in Catalonia for the Penedès, but also elaborated here).

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Peralada – another Romanesque gem – the cloister of the former monastery Sant Domènec

Peralada is a pretty small fortified town with narrow streets, located on a hill.

We visit the cloister of the ancient Augustinian monastery Sant Domènec from the 11th century. Only the cloister remains from the former monastery.

The capitals are decorated with wild animals…

… and with scenes from the bible such as Eva being born from the ribs of Adam…

…  and Adam and Eva in the paradise – well, they seem to have eaten the apple already.

We say good-bye to the small teckle barking at us from the balcony and we say good-bye to Peralada…

Now we continue our way through the hills to Cadaqués on the Mediterrenean Sea where we have booked two nights.

Sources:

  • Fritz Allemann and Xeniua v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 1980
  • Thomas Schröder: “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag, Ebermannstadt 2015