Want to explore more of the area around Girona? Here are 10 places in the Alt and Baix ('upper' and 'lower') Empordà regions that you're guaranteed to fall in love with.
Majestic, elegant castle that dates from the 14th century, was the centre of the one-time county of Peralada and contains various architectural styles which have each contributed to its current appearance. During July and August the castle hosts the Festival Castell de Peralada and the restaurant La Parilla, where you can eat out under the stars, enjoying an excellent and varied Mediterranean buffet accompanied by live music. And to round off your evening, head to the Pati de les Hores (Courtyard of Time) for a drink and try your luck at the Casino.
Cap de Creus
A rocky landscape that's got a hint of the extraterrestrial about it, was carved by the sea and the 'tramuntana' northerly wind, and sits on the most eastern point of the Iberian Peninsula; the Cap de Creus is simply amazing. It's one of those places that's not easy to explain, you have to actually see it. And visit again and again and again...
'Le château de Gala, la Gala du château', ('The chateau of Gala, the Gala of the chateau') is how Salvador Dalí described Púbol Castle, now known as Castell Gala Dalí. A Gothic-Renaissance fortification from the 11th century, it was once the centre of the barony of Púbol and, in the 1970s, became the residence and refuge of Gala Éluard Dalí, the artist's lifelong partner. The castle was secluded, mysterious, private, austere and restrained. In fact, Dalí wasn't allowed to enter if he hadn't written in advance for permission to do so. Despite this, he was in charge of its interior design. When he bought the castle, it was in a state of serious disrepair, with collapsed roofs, significant cracks and a garden that had run wild. The artist decided not to hide its dilapidated state, and used the semi-destroyed roofs and walls to create unexpected spaces and contrasting dimensions. If you go, pay particular attention to the pictorial representations on the walls, the fake architecture, the baroque-style textiles and romantic symbology. The place is not to be missed. And did you know that Gala is actually buried there? Dalí designed a mausoleum for the two of them, but in the end, he decided to be interred in his Teatre-Museu in Figueres.
In the Empordà, many of the villages retain their beautiful, historical centres that date from medieval times, with special features such as stone houses and streets, archways, Gothic churches, ramparts and more. Of the numerous places like this, we particularly love Pals, with its magnificent Torre de les Hores (clocktower) – a stunning tower that was part of the old castle – and an extraordinary viewing-point that lets you enjoy views from Montgrí to the Illes Medes, just off the coast of L'Estartit.
Don't wait for people to tell you about this spot: you need to experience the charms of La Devesa de Tor for yourself. Visit the small Empordà village of Tor and immerse yourself in this restored 16th-century 'masia' (Catalan country house). The atmosphere will take you to a limitless place and time, exotic and sensual, from where you won't want to return. Go into any of the rooms, each with their own suggestive name (the Cove, the Intimate, the Clandestine, the Sky...), and if you're in good company, prepare for a romantic evening with chill-out music and candlelight. Enjoy the variety of drinks on offer such as Elixir of the Caribbean, Exotic Bubbles, the Cupid and the Marilyn, as well as a selection of sophisticated gin and tonics, beers and alcohol-free options. And if the experience gets your appetite going, you can accompany your drinks with a selection of Iberian cured meats ('embotits'), local cheeses and foies. It's a place you'll never forget.
An outing to Peratallada is a typical day out for many Catalan families. It has many similarities to the historical French walled town of Carcassonne – in the words of one writer, it's 'a little bit over-restored but with a lot less restaurants and shops selling knightly trinkets'. It's definitely worth the trip. Peratallada is one of the most important medieval villages in Catalonia (it's been designated a historical-artistic site and a Cultural Asset of National Interest), and maintains its feudal appearance with walls, towers and castles. Photogenic isn't the half of it.
With their rocks proudly emerging from the waves that break on the beach of L'Estartit, the Illes Medes (Medes Isles) are a paradise for fauna both those types that live outside the water and nest there, and those that can be found in the sea. Fish that seem to have a thousand colours thrive in this protected space. If you don't want to go diving to see them, then another option for enjoying this natural underwater rainbow is to take a trip on one of the glass-bottomed boats and marvel at this magical world below the waves.
This classic bar used to be frequented by the great and the good of Cadaqués; indeed for some years, locals could share conversations there with the likes of Man Ray and Salvador Dalí. Today it's a gastrobar where they serve signature tapas, and is run by Manel Vehí, the fourth generation to be at the head of this family business. Vehí has trained with some of the best chefs in the world (at restaurants like El Bulli, Jaleo and Criterion) and now he's one of the most famous barmen on the global stage. You have to try the tapas and any of the cocktails - you'll be amazed.
Vins DO Empordà
To end our tour of the Empordà, we're not going to talk about an actual place, but rather a drink that has a clear relationship with the local land and climate. Wines from the region of Empordà (known locally as 'vins DO Empordà', DO stands for 'denominació d'origen', which is a designation for products from a specific area) are booming and increasingly lauded by aficionados and experts. It won't be difficult to spot vineyards when you're travelling through the Empordà. Select a few bottles of good wine for a great souvenir and way to remember the Empordà – and give your palate a treat – once back home.