Four Perfect Days Running Costa Brava - Page 4
Photo by Chris Hunter
The next morning we drive to Figueres, the first large town we’ve encountered since departing Girona, to visit the Teatre-Museu Dali, a museum dedicated to Salvador Dali’s surreal art work. A true Catalonian, Dali’s love of fine food influenced his art in unexpected ways, his favorite foods appearing in sculptures and paintings.
After an hour of roaming the museum’s crowded, narrow hallways like livestock in a cattle chute, we’re ready to escape the tourist trap and begin our 29-kilometer run through the wild landscape of National Parc Cap de Creus from the town of Llança to Cadaqués.
Pablo drops us off at the base of Coll Perer’s rocky, wind-scoured hillside where only hardy scrub grows. Then he points to a ridge line high above us.
“Follow the ridge around to the right to Verdera Mountain and eventually you’ll see the monastery,” he says.
With heads down and arms pumping, we ascend 1500 feet over the next hour and a half to eventually stand before the enormous Sant Pere de Rodes, a former Benedictine monastery dating back to 878. Chris, who had been sluggish on the climb due to last night’s digestif, perks up at the sight of the monastery’s grandeur. “This place is killer for photos!” says Chris, darting around to scout the best shooting angles.
Running up to the monastery’s massive stone walls, we crane our necks to gaze at the bell tower rising from its center. Laying my palm on the cool stone, I close my eyes and savor the serenity conjured by this place’s sacredness.
I soon forget my disappointment that we don’t have time to pay the small entrance fee and tour the interior when we begin a treacherous mile-and-a-half, straight-downhill sprint to Santa Creus.
Turning south, we follow the coastline for 20 kilometers, passing through Port de la Selva en route to Cadequés, where would be stopping for the night. I am grateful for the mindless ease of following the gently rolling trail through olive-tree orchards, meadows and past Salvador Dali’s former residence (easily identifiable for the giant egg adorning the roof). As we reach the Cap de Creus headland, the orchards give way to a barren landscape of razor-sharp fins of black stone reminiscent of Hawaiian lava fields. From this easternmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula, we watch the iron-grey rain clouds crowd out the sun’s final rays.
That evening, we meet Pablo for dinner under the awning at restaurant Can Rafa just as a thunderstorm releases its fury. It’s prime dinner hour and yet the streets and restaurants are deserted.
Suddenly, boisterous cheers from an unseen crowd pierce the silence.
“It’s the game,” says Pablo. “Everyone is in the bars watching the Barcelona versus Madrid futbol match. Sounds like Barcelona just scored.”
These days, Spanish versus Catalan political clashes are settled on the soccer field rather than the battle field. Catalonians (represented by team Barcelona) are lobbying for independence from Spain (represented by team Madrid). While separatist political parties exist, they so far lack enough clout within the Spanish political system to achieve independence.
Shortly after the game ends, with Barcelona’s defeat, the streets fill with despondent fans. Then everything goes dark, an apparent power failure due to the thunderstorm. “It’s those bastards in Madrid!” a passerby yells from the darkness. Our fellow diners shout back in agreement and shake a fist, swearing to get them next time.
The game is quickly forgotten when dinner arrives. We devour platter after platter of locally caught tallarines and berberexos (varieties of mussels) swimming in olive oil and fresh-ground pepper, followed by erisos (sea urchins), gambitias (grilled prawns served with head and shell on) and whole anchovies served on rounds of seasoned crustini.
I swear I have no room in my belly for another bite of food when dessert appears.
“It’s not about eating; it’s about pleasure,” says Pablo. He’s right, I say to myself as I dip a spoon into the fluffy, caramel-encrusted apple mousse.
After spending the night in Cadequés, Chris, Pablo and I head to the Cellar Martín Faxió winery, at the behest of Rafel Martín Faxió, our server at dinner last night at Can Rafa, whose parents own both the winery and restaurant.
Rafel greets us with the same warmth we’d experienced the previous evening.
“Everything is done by hand, even putting the labels on the bottles,” he says, walking us past the rows of wooden wine barrels. Rafel’s father, Rafa Martín Mota, motions for us sit in a cozy, cave-like room next to a wood-burning fireplace. On a small wooden table are glasses of full-bodied red wine and plates of cheeses and paper-thin pork slices that melt in my mouth.
By noon, we’re driving back to Girona to begin our final run stage, starting with a four-mile jaunt uphill through the Gavarres Forest following the Torre Gironella trail (and some of Pablo’s machete-cut trails) to the ruins of Castell de Sant Miquel that overlook the city. From our vantage point at 1300 feet above sea level, we survey the vast terrain we’d covered on foot over the preceding few days.
After returning by the same trail to Girona, Pablo takes us on a whirlwind running tour of Girona’s ancient, serpentine streets, landmarks and alleyways. “Just how old is Girona?” asks Chris.
“Well, these stones here were laid by the Romans in 75 BC,” says Pablo. “And that cathedral was originally built as a Zeus temple.”
“Pablo, what is your favorite part of doing these tours: the running, the food or the history lesson?” asks Chris. Pablo smiles and thoughtfully studies the layers of stone in the wall—each one laid by a different settler or conqueror over the past 2000 years—before voicing his response.
“I believe the only real way to experience a place is to run through it,” he says.