by Richard Strange
, Punk-pioneering composer
The day before Mrs Smith and I left for Emporda, we were at the wedding of two old friends. I had been persuaded to take on the role of Master of Ceremonies and, as we left the following day, love was still very much in the air. Every leg of the journey from London to Emporda was painless, and our hire car was waiting in a heat haze just outside Gerona airport. The 40-minute drive along vertigino...
The day before Mrs Smith and I left for Emporda, we were at the wedding of two old friends. I had been persuaded to take on the role of Master of Ceremonies and, as we left the following day, love was still very much in the air. Every leg of the journey from London to Emporda was painless, and our hire car was waiting in a heat haze just outside Gerona airport. The 40-minute drive along vertiginous mountain roads was an adventure in itself. Snatched glimpses of mediaeval churches were a frequent delight, and our anticipation grew with each passing kilometre. The region of Emporda is situated in Catalonia, between Barcelona and Dali country – Figueras and Cadaques – and beyond that, the Pyrenees and France.
So discreet is the Hotel del Teatre on the main square, Placa Major, in the charming village of Regencos that we managed to drive past it three times without noticing it was a hotel. No neon, no billboard. Nor even, it seemed, any people. When we stopped in the deserted street to check on the address, an athletic young man emerged and bounded across the road and, though he spoke no English, managed to communicate that we had indeed arrived at our destination, and insisted on carrying our luggage to the lobby, so we could enjoy the cool shade within. Within minutes the manageress Alicia had been summoned to facilitate a fuss-free check-in. Alicia proved to be a wonderful hostess, and a fathomless source of both local knowledge, all delivered in faultless English with an appealing Spanish lilt.
Our room, one of only seven, was a junior suite. Huge, light and airy, it had a vast four-postered bed in the centre of a tastefully decorated space. A polished concrete floor was refreshingly cool beneath our feet. The beams of the ceiling were lime-washed split tree trunks, which added a pleasingly rustic feel to an otherwise modernist environment. Timber furniture in the bedrooms has been lovingly fashioned by local craftsmen, while all the mod cons are present including a flatscreen TV with DVD player, a laptop computer already plumbed in for internet access, and a minibar – yet it still manages to feel uncluttered. Additionally it has a huge bathroom. The tub itself was like a white-painted cattle trough, and easily accommodated us both as we refreshed ourselves and made plans.
As we emerged restored and eager to explore, Alicia was on hand to help. She recommended the best beaches, historical towns and restaurants in the area. It was a Sunday, and the hotel’s own restaurant, La Cuina del Teatre, just across the road, would be open for dinner tonight, but not tomorrow. ‘The chef’s day off,’ she explained. We booked a table for 9pm and, as we left, she suggested, ‘Shall I put a few English-language DVDs in your room, in case you want to watch something?’ This consideration and attention to detail was to typify our stay at the hotel.
We drove the four miles to the secluded beach of Aigua Blava, a cove that could have been designed by an art director with too much budget to spend. Either side of a golden beach, pine-clad cliffs tumbled into an ultramarine sea, with whitewashed houses clinging for dear life to any flat surface. The beach was all ours, but for one French family who braved the early spring sea. Sinking into the soft sand, we agreed we were in heaven.
Back at our hotel, we enjoyed a sundowner on the tiny terrace that overlooked the narrow street. Dinner was a revelation. The restaurant is in what was the village theatre, built in stone in 1800. Handsome and muscular, it has a modern glass annex overlooking a terrace. Crisp white linen tablecloths, rattan chairs and gleaming glassware contribute to a Nineties’ feel. A small stage still exists at one end, and films are occasionally shown here at special events.
Although we were the only two guests dining that night, the entire menu was available – as well as a tapas selection – and the service, always attentive but never overbearing, was impeccable. Two vast gin and tonics arrived, each large enough for a claustrophobic goldfish to live in comfortably, as we perused an adventurous but unpretentious bill of fare.
Mrs Smith, a fish-eating vegetarian, was delighted by the choice available, and opted for white beans with clams, followed by tuna steaks. I went for the scallops cooked with mushrooms and peas, followed by oven-baked goat with potatoes. The chef, Eduardo Puig, relies on traditional dishes using only local seasonal produce of the highest quality. The fish, meat and vegetables were all first class, and the portions gargantuan. The waiter recommended a local white wine – don’t you love it when they surprise you with a little number from the lower end of the price range? And it was a perfect accompaniment.
We retired to our room, and found that Alicia had stacked a selection of DVDs for all tastes and moods on a coffeetable. We decided they could wait for another day. Collapsing into our bed was like falling into a meringue: we cracked the starched-white shell, fell into its softness, and drifted off into a sweet dream-filled sleep.
The remainder of our stay was filled with hugely enjoyable excursions, after taking our daily breakfast on the terrace of La Cuina del Teatre. Breakfast was a simpler affair, but no less delicious. Excellent breads, cheeses and hams, just-squeezed orange juice and great coffee were a perfect way to start each day. We listened to birdsong and decided that we had come at the most perfect time. Late April is warm, sunny and in full bloom, but it is also empty and quiet. An irresistibly romantic combination.
The walls of the nearby mediaeval towns of Begur, Madremanya, Monells and Pubols, were dripping with scented wisteria and lilac. The hilltop attraction of Els Àngels is well worth a visit, however brief your stay. Atop a 485m hill stand a church and a shrine, of uncertain origin, but which were certainly ravaged during the Spanish Civil War. A breath-stealing 360-degree panorama makes this a very special destination. A turn of the head takes in mountains, forests and the distant coastline.
Much loved by school parties and intrepid cyclists, Els Àngels is also where, in 1958, Salvador Dali married his beloved Gala, and it is easy to see why they were beguiled. It worked its same magic on us. I bought Mrs Smith a wedding band from the only shop while we waited for lunch, and put it on her finger. The next day, in the lovely town of La Bispal d’Emporda, we discussed our own wedding plans. This magical part of Spain had worked its spell.