Although I considered myself fairly well-traveled, some people would literally look down at me and gasp when I said I had never visited Spain.
How could you travel the world and NOT visit Spain? I mean, paella, tapas, Picasso, bull fighting, and Spanish wine!?
Culinary traveler, self-proclaimed wino. Ironic, isn’t it? Especially since Salvador Dali is my favorite artist.
But, I finally sunk my hooks into Spain this fall and had the opportunity to explore a sliver of the stunning Costa Brava region in conjunction with the TBEX Europe (travel blogging) conference. All I can say is you can keep the busy touristy regions with their stories of pick pockets and leave me to chow and drink copious amounts of wine in small historic towns.
Yes, my first exposure to travel in Spain was not Barcelona or Madrid, but a tiny town in the Costa Brava region that probably a large chunk of people have never heard of.
Heard of it? I’m guessing not. It’s relatively close to the city of Girona, where our blogging conference was being held. We were hosted in Besalu for several days prior to the conference at Casa Marcial, courtesy of Charming Villas, and it was one of my most unforgettable travel experiences to date.
If you haven’t added Besalu to your Spain itinerary yet, here are five of my reasons why you should.
1. Experience the Real Spain in Besalu
Forget the overpriced tourist restaurants and the need to watch your camera and wallet every second. Take a couple days and go experience what a real village or town is like in Catalonia, Spain. People are friendly, there are not tourists everywhere (there are a few tour buses that swing through in the mornings, but they seemed to disappear rather quickly), and the food is absolutely divine.
2. Discover Besalu’s Artistic Side
You cannot walk down one of the narrow medieval streets without picking up that this is a very artistic town. Be sure to look up and catch the random chairs that adorn many of the buildings. And be sure to stop by local artist Kel Domenech’s workshop for a look at some of his really funky one-of-a-kind furniture and art creations.
3. See Besalu’s 12th-Century Romanesque Bridge
Without a doubt, one of the main draws to Besalu is its historic bridge. The impressive bridge extends over the Fluvia River and dates back to the 12th century. It is built in a bit of an “L” shape, said to take advantage of the underlying rock structure in the riverbed. On our last day at the house, I snuck away to grab some early morning shots and managed to capture several hot air balloons going over the town.
Aside from the bridge, there are other noted structures and churches in Besalu worth a visit.
4. Visit a Jewish Bath, or Mikveh
Besalu was home to a rather noted Jewish population many believe dates back to the 9th century, but written proof dates back only to the 13th century. The persecution of the Jewish community began in 1391 and many families moved to other towns, or out of the Jewry at a minimum.
The bath was discovered by chance in the 1960’s, and is believed to date back to the 12th century. It’s a Romanesque building, said to be one of only three other public baths from the same period kept in Europe.
5. Devour Catalan Cuisine
Yes, obviously you can experience the local cuisine in many other spots in the region, but perhaps not in such an intimate setting…and honestly, dining with a view of a 12th century bridge is definitely a winner in my book.
The cuisine in Catalonia is varied, but relies on fresh Mediterranean ingredients, especially fresh vegetables. Between Charming Villas bringing in a private chef for us who made an unbelievable paella, to devouring every type of tapas we could get our hands on, I definitely loved the food in Besalu. While we had this elsewhere during our stay in Costa Brava, one of my favorite items was surprisingly simple, yet so full of flavor. Pa amb tomàquet — bread smeared with fresh tomato, garlic, and olive oil.
My only criticism about the food in Besalu?
The darn gelato shop never opened its doors while we were there! Sigh…
Especially since several of us staying at Casa Marcial had been in Italy together on a travel blogging project earlier in the year, we were going through gelato withdrawals.
Oh, and now that I have traveled to Spain…you can all go back to harassing me about not visiting London yet!