Spring-Summer Getaway to Garraf
A unique cultural legacy next to the sea
The businesses and mansions of the 'indianos' or 'americanos', those families who brought the fortune that they had made in the Americas back to Catalonia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the artistic passion of Santiago Russiñol are the two main cultural incentives offered by Sitges, a seaside town where the beach and the sun are luxury accessories for a wide variety of artistic, gastronomic and commercial attractions. The large variety of activities on offer makes the town the ideal place to enjoy the good weather while exploring its history in a fun way, savouring the origins of rum and malvasia in a unique town, widely admired for its beauty and welcoming attitude. We'd also like to take you to visit Ribes, a wineproducing town marked both by its medieval origins and the legacy of the indianos.
Afternoon day 1: Rum with Catalan roots
© Casa Bacardí
When Facundo Barcardí migrated to Cuba in 1830 looking for new opportunities, little did he imagine that he would found a commercial empire that would still be going strong one and a half centuries later. Born in Sitges in 1814 to a family of wine merchants, Bacardí invented an innovative method for distilling rum and created a company which, over time, was internationalized and became the leading player in the sector of alcoholic beverages. The story of the family, and the drink that is now world famous, is the focus of Casa Bacardí, which is located in the old market building, right next door to the town hall. Visiting the museum is like travelling back in time to the era of the americanos, those adventurers who went overseas in the 18th, 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries and returned with their pockets full to build the luxurious mansions which can still be seen in the town.
Casa Bacardí has a highly visual exhibition that helps visitors to learn all about the entrepreneur and his era. You'll find lots of photographs, as well as examples of the machinery used in the rum production process. As well as delving into the production process and the changes that Facundo Bacardí introduced, you'll also learn all about the ups and downs of the family saga and why a bat came to be the symbol that has represented the brand from its very beginnings. And, if you like cocktails, you can learn how to make them and try a mojito in the designer bar in the museum.
The old market building has its own charms. It was built in 1890 in an open brick style and with a porch with an iron canopy that gives it an air of uniqueness to what was the town's first covered market, located in Plaça de la Vola, the main square.
Morning day 2: The overseas legacy
© Josep Cano / Diputació de Barcelona
Now that you're familiar with the figure of Facundo Bacardí, you'll probably want to learn about the heritage of the americanos who, like him went to seek their fortunes in distant lands like Cuba and Puerto Rico. Many of these people became millionaires and, during the last years of their lives, came back home with a lot of money to spend. Also known as the indianos, they were major movers behind the urban development of the town and the arrival of the railway, and the construction of houses, built in styles ranging from the modernista, noucentista and neoclassical to an eclectic mixture of styles, depending on the period.
Among the major houses that stand today as their legacy are the house of Josep Carbonell in Carrer Illa de Cuba; Villa Rosa in Carrer Santiago Rusiñol and Casa Rafael Llopart in Carrer Francesc Gumà. The return of the indianos not only transformed the urban landscape of Sitges, it also helped in the development of local industry, especially the textile and shoe manufacturing sectors, which were the town's main industries for many years.
To learn all about the life of the americanos and their architectural legacy, get in touch with Agisitges, a cultural services company that organizes two routes around the town: one that revolves around Facundo Bacardí and, as well as Casa Bacardí, takes in a number of locations associated with his life, and another that is more general in nature that explores the legacy of the indianos in Sitges.
Afternoon day 2: The origins of malvasia
According to legend, Malvasia was brought to Sitges in the 14th century by an Almogaver soldier who had fought under the orders of the former Knight Templar Roger de Flor. This variety of grape that produces wine with a high alcohol content has a close relationship with the town, which has managed to maintain its production ensuring that it can still be appreciated by both residents and visitors.
Malvasia was cultivated for many centuries and the liquor was exported to Europe and overseas, but it began to lose ground at the end of the 19th century, due to the appearance of champagne and the loss of vines resulting from the phylloxera plague. To prevent its disappearance, the diplomat Manuel Llopis i de Casades (1885-1935) left in his will the vines and wine production centre at the Hospital Sant Joan de Sitges, built in 1912 by the modernista architect Josep Font i Gumà, which had operated as a health centre for the needy and is today an old people's home. The foundation that runs it has preserved the vines and makes four varieties of liquers: sweet malvasia, dry malvasia, moscatell and Blanc Subur white wine.
If you want to find out more, you can sign up for the route organised by Agisitges. The visit includes the hospital, the house and the Llopis winery, which are part of the Museu Romàntic in Sitges.
Morning day 3: The old town
© Josep Cano / Diputació de Barcelona
Lively narrow streets full of shops, bars and restaurants, and the constant presence of the sea in the background, are two of the reasons that explain why Sitges is so popular with visitors. Plaça del Cap de la Vila is the ideal starting point for a pleasant stroll around the old town. In the square you can see Casa Can Bartomeu Carbonell and Casa del Rellotge, a modernista construction by the architect Ignasi Mas i Morell, who was also responsible for the design of the Monumental Bullring in Barcelona.
If you continue along Carrer Major, you'll find a number of cafes and restaurants, which also line the adjacent streets, where you can have a bite to eat at reasonable prices. The shops selling clothes, bags, shoes and decorative items are also very charming. At the end of Carrer Major, you'll come across Plaça de l'Ajuntament, which links Plaça del Baluard, where the church of Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla stands; known as La Punta, this is undoubtedly the most iconic spot in Sitges, and the most photographed, especially from the promenade.
From Plaça del Baluard you can continue your walk along Carrer de Fonollar, which is another much admired spot. The sea views from here are splendid, as is the architecture of the surrounding buildings including Palau Maricel,l Museu Maricel and Cau Ferrat, the house-museum of the modernista writer and painter Santiago Rusiñol. Both museums are currently closed for restoration but it is possible to visit Palau Maricel, a building which was commissioned by the American millionaire Charles Deering in 1910 on land previously occupied by fishermen's houses and the former Hospital Sant Joan. Deering was an avid art collector and filled the building, which is linked to the Museu Maricel by a bridge, with many of his purchases. Inside, there are a number of noteworthy rooms, including Saló Blau and Saló Daurat, as well as a cloister and some magnificent terraces. Visiting times are on Sundays from noon to 1pm and admission costs €6.50, and is also valid for the Museu Romàntic and the Fundació Stämpfli-Art Contemporani. You can also enter the Palau Maricel as part of a number of routes offered by Agisitges dedicated to the figure of Santiago Rusiñol, the town's literary legacy and Modernisme, among others. During the summer, a number of activities, including concerts are held here, which can cause modifications to the visiting hours. If in doubt, check the Museus de Sitges website.
Afternoon day 3: Ribes and its medieval origins
Between Sitges and Vilanova lies the town of Sant Pere de Ribes, which is made up of two urban centres. Roquetes and Ribes. We'd like to take you on a trip around Ribes, a village that conserves many of the traces of its medieval origins. The nucleus of the original settlement is called Sota-Ribes and can be found in the immediacies of the Castle of Ribes or Bell-lloc, which dates from the 10th century and is located on a hilltop. Right next to it is the 12th century church of Sant Pere, which was used for religious ceremonies until the 20th century. Apart from the area of Sota-Ribes, which is set a little apart from the modern centre, the medieval history of the town is also connected to the hermit's chapel of Sant Pau, built in the 15th century on the ruins of a Roman villa. The ascent and descent from the hermit's chapel play an important role in the town's winter fiesta, during which groups of dancers make their way from the centre to the chapel.
In the centre of Ribes, you'll find Plaça de Marcer, a pleasant pedestrian zone with a number of houses built bi indianos, which also line Carrer Major and Carrrer del Pi. Other interesting spots are Plaça de la Font, a few metres away from Plaça de la Vila, the area around the Riera, and the Església Nova, thw new church, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century and has twin bell towers. The town has a self-guided walking route dedicated to the americanos and another visiting wineries, wine making being one of the main activities in the area. We recommend that you explore the town on foot, maybe stopping off for a drink at one of the bars in the centre with terrace seating to enjoy the peace and quiet that Ribes offers to its visitors.
Where to stay and where to eat
Cultural venues in Garraf
Founded in 1884 by politician and writer Victor Balaguer i Cirera, the original nucleus of the Balaguer Library-Museum consists of the books and artworks that he gathered throughout his life, alongside the many donations received from prominent personalities. The museums’ art collection consists of over eight thousand pieces. In the permanent collection special attention is paid to the examples of art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the quality of which led to the museum becoming a section of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia.
- Avinguda de Víctor Balaguer, s/n, 08800
Located right next to the train station, the Vilanova Railway Museum has one of the world’s largest collection of railway related items in the world, including more than sixty vehicles from all eras, countries and technologies, with 28 steam locomotives dating from the late nineteenth century, including the oldest in Spain and the last one that was in active service in the country . Also on exhibition are wagons, diesel and electric engines and other curious vehicles.
- Plaça d'Eduard Maristany, s/n, 08800
This Romantic Museum is set in the old Papiol family home; this was an influential family that moved to Vilanova in the middle of the 17th century and whose wealth was acquired through buying properties and marriage. The house conserves the original structure, layout and decoration. Its exteriors are in line with the austere style of the time with a neoclassical façade and painted architectural motifs. The inside, in contrast, is remarkable for its fastidious elegance. The tour of the building takes in the family quarters the servants’ quarters and the garden.
- C/Major, 32, 08800
An old house belonging to indianos, set in the heart of the Garraf Natural Park,Palau Novella has become the site of Catalonia’s first Buddhist monastery. You can explore it on a guided tour that will introduce you to the religion’s art and sacred objects. The monastery also holds meditation workshops that are open to everybody. It is located in privileged surroundings that are also worth visiting.
- Palau Novella, Parc Natural del Garraf, 08870