Cadaqués: Spain's Hidden Mediterranean Village

Cadaqués is a fishing village near Barcelona, with breathtaking scenery that provided inspiration to a number of artists, including surrealist master Salvador Dalí.

The road to Cadaqués winds through the mountains just north of Barcelona in a series of switchbacks and hairpin turns, descending toward the rocky coastline of the Costa Brava by way of one cliff after another. It’s a route that’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but for those brave enough to make the drive — or even to let a chauffeured Mercedes do the work — will be rewarded with one of Spain’s most captivating villages. 

A tight quarter of whitewashed homes with blue shutters, purple flowers cascading from their balconies, rests between brush-covered mountains that jut out from the clear Mediterranean. You’ll still find wooden fishing boats painted in bright colors resting on the rocky beaches after hauling in the day’s catch.

The church of Santa Maria is the centerpiece of Cadaqués and is located at the highest point of the Old Town

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The spectacular setting first attracted artists, providing lifelong inspiration to surrealist master Salvador Dalí, whose quirky home conjures the dreamlike nature of his artwork and is open for tours. Over the years, celebrities like Laurence Olivier and Coco Chanel followed him to town. But the dramatic landscape ensured not only breathtaking scenery, but also a natural barrier to the kind of overdevelopment that crowds many of Spain’s beaches. The resulting combination is a luxe retreat that’s both authentic and exclusive, with a number of world-class restaurants, bars and galleries.

Being a small fishing village, Cadaqués lacks the large hotel brands that many high-end travelers know, but they won’t be disappointed with the premium options available. The premier hotel is Calma Blanca, a privately owned boutique property overlooking Cadaqués from one of its highest hills. Owner Monica Vitam ([email protected]; 011-34-690-351-948) converted it from a private mansion in 2015 and designed the breezy, modern interior herself. That’s a point of pride and an example of the personalized attention she ensures for every guest.

All rooms come equipped with ultra-luxury Hastens bedding, Acqua di Parma bath products, a hydromassage, Jacuzzi tub and an iPad to control all in-room settings. We suggest asking for the Galuska Room, which has its own outdoor hot tub and stunning views of the bay from a private terrace. Or try the spacious Momentos Suite, which lacks a sea view but comes with a three-sided fireplace. Make sure to book at least three months in advance for the peak season of July and August. 

“Everything here is a little bit tied to love,” said Julia van der Beek (011-34-972-159-356), who is in charge of reception. “The tranquility, the relaxation, the treatment of the clients, it’s all nothing but good feelings.”

Guests can reserve the hotel’s tuktuk, a three-wheeled scooter, to tool around the hilly town, or they can hire a captain to pilot its boat for a private tour up the coast. Another highlight of this property is the spa, which guests have to themselves by booking in 90-minute increments. It includes a hammam steam room, Jacuzzi and dry sauna, and offers a wide range of services from a team of masseuses and aestheticians who personalize the experience for every guest. We suggest the Ritual Diamond Life Infusion treatment, a facial that uses a “youth elixir” to redefine the contours of the facial muscles.

Breakfast is served in the room next to the outdoor heated pool, or in the sophisticated lounge. There is no onsite restaurant for dinner, but there’s no need, with such a variety of amazing dining experiences only steps away. This part of Spain saw some of the first experiments with molecular gastronomy in the world, driven in part by the epic 40-course meals at the famed elBulli restaurant just down the coast. It recently closed, but the numerous chefs who spun off from its orbit have kept this village in the top tier of gourmet hotspots. 

Van der Beek recommends Compartir, a casual but upscale option that serves inventive twists on Catalan classics in large portions meant for sharing (compartir means to share in Spanish). Also worthy are Talla, which has a charming outdoor patio, and EsBaulard, which is built into a surviving portion of the old city wall. A short drive away in Girona is El Celler de Can Roca, which was named best restaurant in the world in 2013 and 2015.

Ses Vistes is a luxury villa spread over 10,000 square feet and situated on the front line of the Bay of Port Lligat

For a unique drink on the beach, guests can’t miss Bar Boia Nit, which began serving cocktails in 1946 but has evolved with the times. Its master mixologist trained at elBulli and won a competition for the Mediterranean’s best bartender in 2016. We loved the intricately prepared Azahar, made with gin, orange blossom, Madagascar pepper, rhubarb juice and cinnamon essence.

Guests traveling with a bigger group or those who are just used to a lot of space might opt to stay in the SesVistes guesthouse, the town’s other premier accommodation.

Barbara Castella ([email protected]; 011-447-956-290-826) is an Englishwoman who owns the 10,000-square-foot villa with her Spanish husband. “The fantastic views, the view over the bay of Port Lligat, are absolutely stunning. You can’t really appreciate it from any pictures, and certainly you can’t understand it until you get inside,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

Ses Vistes is the only lodging available with a view of Dalí’s house

Castella stressed that guests can expect a level of service they would receive from any luxury hotel. The personal concierge, Cirsten Grau, is a lovely German woman with impeccable English skills who has lived in town for years. She greets guests at check-in to give a tour of the house and grounds as well as to instruct them how to use the controls for the in-home cinema, Jacuzzi, sauna and massive heated pool. Grau is on call 24 hours a day to cater to guests’ every whim, be it scoring a coveted restaurant reservation or chartering a boat and captain for a ride up the coast. Insider Tip: Castella said hiring a knowledgeable boat captain is the only way to find the Costa Brava’s secret beaches, which are tucked into coves all along the rugged Cap de Creus Natural Park. She’s happy to make the arrangements.

In many other ways, SesVistes isn’t your typical vacation home rental. Two housekeepers provide maid service each morning, and the house comes outfitted with luxury linens, Molton Brown bath products and even a gourmet kitchen fully stocked with a personalized grocery list upon request. Of course, many travelers want to leave the cooking at home, so Castella often connects guests with a chef to prepare meals with only the best local ingredients. Locavores will rejoice at the onsite garden, which includes an olive grove and vineyard that produce oil and wine that’s not available anywhere else on earth.

SesVistes has eight bedrooms. Its main living area has large windows with panoramic views.

SesVistes is also the only lodging available with a view of Dalí’s house, a warren of barely connected rooms that the artist designed in signature otherworldly style. Imagery that’s common in his paintings, including eggs, crutches and swans, is dotted throughout the estate, which has a number of the rocky outcroppings that also appear in his work. He and Gala, his wife and muse, held parties — some say orgies — around the phallic-shaped pool that drew celebrities as varied as Andy Warhol, Keith Richards and even the Marx Brothers

A visit to the home is unforgettable, but so is the town itself. Long after you leave, it will pop up in your dreams, melting clocks and all. 

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