Travel Review: Llançà, Spain

The renovated Catalan cottage

The renovated Catalan cottage - Credit: Archant

Stepping into the ancient Catalan cottage where we stayed in Llançà felt like walking onto a Grand Designs set, with a glassed-over well taking pride of place as the kitchen’s centrepiece.

The renovated Catalan cottage

The renovated Catalan cottage - Credit: Archant

I’m sure Kevin McCloud, the presenter of the Channel 4 programme which features elaborate architectural homebuilding projects, would have been fascinated by Joan Carles Mora’s admirable eight-year labour of love as he renovated this 15th Century Byzantine home.

La Selva de Mar, close to Llançà, photo Emma Bartholomew

La Selva de Mar, close to Llançà, photo Emma Bartholomew - Credit: Archant

There were moments, like in every good Grand Designs episode, when Joan Carles – a builder by trade - wondered if he would ever complete his dream home, as he converted two cottages into one.

The central square in Llançà, photo Emma Bartholomew

The central square in Llançà, photo Emma Bartholomew - Credit: Archant

Now the stunning building in Llançà’s old town sleeps up to 12 people, with a mezzanine stretching right up to the roof, a jacuzzi bath and a roof terrace with sea views.

Miquel on the boat trip from Llançà, photo Emma Bartholomew

Miquel on the boat trip from Llançà, photo Emma Bartholomew - Credit: Archant

Off the beaten tourist track, Llançà is the ideal place to experience the real Spain, and just five minute walk from the house, Joan Carles’ wife Merce Ramos’ language school offers the chance to immerse yourself fully in the culture.

Called Friends, the state-of-the-art language school was set up just two years ago and is now really popular with locals young and old alike who are keen to learn English and French, as well as catering for tourists learning Spanish and the local dialect, Catalan.

My three children and I cottoned on to the relaxed and simple Spanish pace of life, and quickly established our routine of walking around town to pick up our fresh bread, as well as the richest tasting mountain honey at just three Euros a jar in one of the traditional Spanish vegetable shops, Fruites i vedures Carmen.

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Here you can fill up a whole carrier bag of veg and fruit for less than a fiver, with broad beans, Calabrese, and gorgeous Spanish tomatoes which actually have flavour - beating Tesco by miles, and making cooking so much more satisfying and delicious.

A dirt track behind the vegetable shop takes you past beautiful vineyards and paths littered with purple and yellow flowers, poppies, wild lavender, leading to my favourite beach in the town, the platja El Cau de Llop – which means wolf’s lair in Catalan.

In the other direction, at the main beach by the port, the Centro de Immersió (diving centre) Cap de Creus will customise boat tours.

We joined a group of Belgian divers, and Miquel, who owns the diving centre, pointed out a flock of albatross as we headed over the millpond sea as the sun rose, towards Cap de Creus – where surrealist painter Salvador Dali used to live.

Surrounded by a national park, the best way to reach Cap de Creus is by boat, because the one-lane road gets super packed during the summer.

But if you do have a car at hand, just a 10-minute drive out of Llançà up into the hills is an abandoned monastery, St. Pere de Rodes, which houses a divine restaurant, popular with locals.

I love Spain for its three-course set menus at a bargain fixed price, and here for just 15 Euros you can feast on a top-notch seasonal meal, which would cost you at least three times the price in London.

With delicacies like asparagus soup or a massive plate of broad bean salad with a mint dressing for starters, or meatballs with pea stew for the main course, it’s well worth making the trip up here, as well as for the stunning views down into Port de la Selva..

The quaint old town here, Selva del Mar, is well worth a stop over to sit in the sleepy village square next to where Dali used to stay before he was banned by locals complaining he kept them up all night with his wild partying.

There was no wild partying for me while I was in Llançà – in fact I slept the best nights’ sleep I’d had for months in the peaceful calm, and after a week I left feeling totally refreshed and ready to join the rat race again.

To stay in the cottage costs from around 20 Euros/person/night, depending dates and amount of people.

This summer Friends language school will host intensive Spanish classes for adults and teenagers, with water and mountain activities, like windsurfing, kayaking, paddle surfing, a boat trip, hiking in Cap de Creus and mountain biking, as well as trips to the Dali museum in Figueres, a day trip to Barcelona and wine tasting on the beach.

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