Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sitges ~ The St. Tropez of Spain

For the second time this year I find myself in Spain where the food is great, the locals are friendly, the weather is wonderful and the prices are reasonable. Work brought me back to Barcelona, which I have posted about previously. But with a few days to spare, a quick 30 minute drive to Sitges provides me with a welcome rest in a lovely Mediterranean resort, which quickly reminds one of France's famous St. Tropez.

I'm staying at the Melia Sitges for four nights which is located perfectly and perhaps the nicest full service hotel in the area. The photo above is taken a short walk from the hotel as I head into the old downtown area where all of the beaches and shops are located. As you can see the walkway is well maintained and feels safe day and night. The local government has done a wonderful job of making the area walker friendly and it seems most everyone is on foot. And why not, when you have such lovely weather and a walk along the seaside.

I'm here toward the end of September and the hotel staff tells me the big tourist season has ended, so the beaches and shops should be more quiet. They are certainly not crowded but there are plenty of people around to make it feel welcoming and friendly. The old city area is beautiful and the buildings have that classic seaside resort look. Certainly they are colorful, well maintained and brimming with shops, cafes and restaurants.

And you won't ever forget that you are right on the beach. A large well maintained beachfront is yours for swimming, building sandcastles, boating and jet skiing. I found the above cute little water paddle boats you can rent and then use their built in slides for playing in the cool Mediterranean. 

Don't be surprised to see naked babies and topless women on all of Sitges beaches, as it is the custom here. Of course you don't have to expose yourself if you are uncomfortable and you will find many women do cover up. But at either end of the very long, broad beach you will also find nude swimming areas where men and women of all ages are completely naked and enjoying the waters and sunshine. In these areas practically everyone is fully naked. Despite this you do not get any sense that it is the least bit sexual in nature and as such you can relax and enjoy the pristine setting just as nature made you.

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Of course the area boasts all of Spain's most famous foods and one of the reasons I like the Melia Sitges is that immediately below the property is a marina with a large number of restaurants providing every type of food imaginable, alongside plenty of fresh fish. I enjoyed locally caught fish in the classic sea salt bake. I also had lovely paella, pastas, pizza and great desserts. The local lobster was also very good. Having restaurants very close to the hotel is ideal because in Spain dinner isn't typically eaten until 10:00PM. No respectable restaurant even opens until 8:30PM and then that's just for the tourists. So with late dining and lots of great Spanish wine, I like my restaurant to be relatively close by the hotel.

When I posted the photo of the Iberian ham, on the hoof as it were, I got a few negative comments. Displaying cured ham this way is very common in Spain and Italy too. Don't be put off because you can clearly see where your food is coming from as it is particularly delicious and served everywhere. According to Spain's Denominación de Origen rules on food products, their ham (jamón ibérico) must be made from black Iberian pigs, or cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 75% ibérico. Showing the black hoof of the pigs is a way to make sure your customers know you are serving them authentic acorn-fed Iberian ham.

Torró, the Catalan name for the candy we call nougat in English, is a local confection made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, and shaped into either a rectangular bar or a round cake. It comes in a wide variety of flavor combinations. Make sure you snack on some while you are there. It also makes an excellent gift to bring home to friends and family.

Julian at the Spanish wine tasting.
I just happened to be in town for the Sitges wine festival, which was fortunate because the area has a long wine making tradition and was the birthplace of the sparkling wine Cava, invented in the early 1870s at the Codorníu Winery. At the turn of the 20th century, the Catalan wine industry was at the forefront of Spain's emergence as a world leader in quality wine production, and the area is also in an important cork production region.  Wine is amazingly inexpensive here and I didn't have a one that wouldn't be considered top quality. Here at the wine festival you get your own full size wine glass and three vouchers for three full glasses of wine. Mind you this was around noon time and these were not small pourings. While I had a wonderful time at the festival, a nap was required upon my return to the hotel.

There is not a lot to do in Sitges, which is just what I was looking for. If you want to enjoy the sun, sit at the beach, shop the lovely small old town and enjoy wonderful food and wine, this is the place for you. I would certainly visit again and would encourage you to do the same!

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