Soak up Catalonian culture

It started with an awkward moment but, in the end, we wanted to stay forever.

The heart of Cabrils is as modern as the lines of sleek motor scooters patiently awaiting the return of their owners.

Yet this beautiful settlement in the hills north of Barcelona, retains much of feel of an ancient village.

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Old stone buildings, tree-lined streets and flower gardens sit easily alongside the restaurants, cafes, villas and shops of modern Catalonia.

The indistinct chatter of everyday Spanish life provides a rich soundtrack, complemented occasionally by bells tolling in the local Santa Creu church, which means ‘Holy Cross’ in Catalan.

Cabrils is a delightful  area, nestled in the forested hills of Cirers and Montcabrer, amid the slopes of Catalonia, with sweeping views along the Mediterranean Sea toward Barcelona.

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The village dates to at least 1037 and is every bit a traditional Spanish settlement, sympathetically mixed with modern housing developments along the few kilometres to the sea at Villassar de Mar.

Much has been said about the so-called concrete line of hotels, apartments, bars, clubs and restaurants that run along parts of the Catalonian coastline.

But all visitors need do is move a little further inland to find beautiful green hills, valleys and woods joined by winding roads that few holidaymakers seem to explore.

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Such is Cabrils.

Without the hospitality of good and generous friends, we would never have experienced this slice of paradise.

But there’s no doubt that our time in Cabrils changed us forever, in part because it wasn’t a fleeting visit.

We were able to spend a few weeks under Spanish sun; absorbing and even participating in village life; relaxing along the sparkling beaches of the Mediterranean coastline and catching commuter trains to Barcelona to explore the sights and sounds of one of the world’s great cities.

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Even the Cabrils town hall screens football matches

And, above all, we were able to soak up and admire the ancient and marvellous Catalan culture.

Our ‘oops moment’ came soon after we arrived at a Cabrils tavern to find that our handful of Spanish words didn’t help us read a menu written in Catalan.

We wanted only a burger and beer, but simply couldn’t identify any of the meal options. Luckily, the frustrated waiter – who looked a little like Manuel from Fawlty Towers – scurried away to find the local Mayor, who spoke faltering English and was able to help us.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t heard of translation Apps, which would have made things so much easier.

Despite this faltering start,  we quickly fell in love with Cabrils and its people.

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Whether wandering the tree-lined village streets to buy fresh food; raising glasses in the tavern while watching FC Barcelona; exploring castle ruins; catching the bus to and from Villassar de Mar; joining the locals for mid-morning coffee; or wandering through the cobblestone heart of Cabrils, it was a special time in our lives.

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Castle ruins, Cabrils

We were accepted by the villagers – sometimes with smiles,  shrugs and quizzical looks – but they made us feel welcome as we intruded into lives that were a world away from our own.

It helped that we were already dedicated FC Barcelona fans – a group described by one man as “beautiful people” – but the warmth shown by both our hosts and the Cabrils community was humbling.

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We revelled in the Spanish tradition of a long lunch followed by an afternoon siesta, although the first couple of lunches – with their multiple courses – left us barely able to rise from the table.

No wonder they tend to have little more than tapas in the evening – and late in the evening at that.

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We spent lazy days exploring the hillsides around the village and gazing in awe at the blue waters of the Mediterranean spread out before us.

At times, we caught a train north along Spain’s oldest railway line towards France, stopping at the ancient Roman settlement of Mataro.

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The railways of Catalonia are modern and easy to use.

We found that ticket sellers spoke good English and directions around the stations were straight-forward and simple to follow.

The trains were always on time and were comfortable, fast and reliable.

At Matero, we wandered through the seashore area known as La Ribera, across the modern sector to the older Moorish walled settlement which – like Cabrils – runs up a hillside.

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There were lots of quaint narrow alleys in the older area, along with the the elegant 12th Century Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar.

Unfortunately, the basilica was temporarily closed for renovations, but we were able to snap this photo from outside.

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On another day, our host, Gert, drove further north along the winding Mediterranean coast to the town of Blanes.

During Roman rule, this area was named Blanda or Blandae. It is known as the ‘Gateway to the Costa Brava’ and has a modern and bustling port and some great coffee shops down near the waterside.

While exploring the slopes of Cabrils, we came to a fence and doorway leading into the local cemetery. Hesitant to enter, we finally ventured inside with reverence.

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And we are pleased that we did.

As well as the  obvious care that the cemetery receives, we were also taken by the splendid architecture inside this sacred area.

Like everything else we came across in Catalonia, the cemetery showed great attention to detail and great respect.

Our visit to Cabrils left an enormous impression.

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The Santa Creu church, Cabrils

We not only recommend you visit this wonderful area on the fringe of Barcelona – but also, if at all possible, take the time to immerse yourself in the life, culture and traditions of Catalonia.

These are, we’re sure, the type of experiences that a person remembers on their deathbed.

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