Scottish Daily Mail

Ditch the crowded coast

Head inland from the Costa Brava for medieval villages and traditiona­l Spanish cuisine


The emporda is the sleepy, delightful hinterland of the teeming Costa Brava — and it’s like finding paradise near an exit of the M25. Costa Brava means the Rough Coast. The term first appeared in a newspaper in 1908 when a group of opportunis­tic politician­s re-branded the Costes de Llevant — in Spain’s northeaste­rn Catalonia region — to appeal to adventurou­s travellers. That led to the slow process of subsistenc­e fishing giving way to lucrative hospitalit­y.

Today, despite an unchanging coastline of rocky headlands covered with broom and pine, the land is smothered by slick villas and hotels and fisherman have been replaced by refrigerat­ed trucks.

True, out-of-season, the little Costa Brava bays of Sa Tuna, Tamariu and Palamos retain a powerful and primitive charm with an almost convincing feel of being unspoilt, but a few miles inland, the deserted emporda offers a true sense of an older, less compromise­d, Spain. And it’s still warm in October.

When the country was tearing itself apart in 1936, the emporda was divided into two counties: Alt emporda with its capital of Figueres, home now to Salvador Dali’s museum, and Baix emporda, whose capital is La Bisbal, a gritty town where the Terracotta Museu and brick factory chimneys are reminders of its industrial past.

The emporda landscape is green and gentle with few sensationa­l concession­s to the curiosity of tourists. except, that is, tourists who enjoy medieval villages.

Between Figueras and La Bisbal you find, for example, Pals, Peratallad­a, Madremanya, Corca, La Pera and Ullastret. each exquisite, silent and astonishin­gly beautiful. No cars, no hotels to speak of and, out-of-season, the few bars and shops tend to be shut. You need to rent a property and cook for yourself here.

Early in the year the empordans celebrate the allium or, more specifical­ly, the calcot, a giant spring onion. These are sold everywhere in vast bunches. Villages have communal calcotada feasts, but I say do-it-yourself. Char the calcots on a wood fire, then wrap them in newspaper for half an hour to sweat.

Meanwhile, make a romesco sauce: an easy whoosh of garlic, tomato, red pepper, oil, salt and whatever nuts you can find.

Then unwrap the newspaper, peel the charred leaves from the calcots and dip them in the romesco. You do all this in the company of a medical-looking spouted glass device called a porron, filled not with medicine but with empordan red wine. And when Greta Thunberg has made gas hobs illegal and has us all poaching beansprout­s on a fiddly induction hob, empordans will still be defiantly making butifarra, a Catalan pork sausage, and roasting meat on an open flame.

The butchers here are exceptiona­l, a carnivorou­s and innocently robust refutation of every current gastronomi­c PC nostrum. Our local, Josep Roura the source of our butifarra in the little village of Corca was ‘tipic’ (Catalonian for typical). One day we stood and waited for a cheerful 30 minutes while a tiny local woman ordered 24 fillets of pork, armfuls of linked sausages of spectacula­r variety and instructed the dismemberm­ent of four turmeric-yellow chickens, which the lady butcher did with great art and an impossibly huge cleaver. If you want to know what to ‘do’ in emporda, it is perhaps not for you, although La Bisbal has an astonishin­g number of antique shops which tremble uneasily between antiquity and fakery. For connoisseu­rs with Belgravia budgets, enric Serraplana­s in the back streets of the wine town of Perelada is (mostly) the real thing. Ideal if you want a baroque crucifix. But what you ‘do’ in emporda is . . . nothing. except sit on the terrace, digest the sausage and dream about lost Spain. And then, happily, wake up to realise you have found it.

 ?? ?? Historic: The village of La Pera in Emporda. Inset: Calcots
Historic: The village of La Pera in Emporda. Inset: Calcots
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