About 90 minutes to the north of Casa Cal Domino and one of my favourite places to come and soak up the scenery is the church of Santa Helena in the Serra de Rodes hills overlooking the seaside town of Port de la Selva. This part of northern Spain close to the French border lies in the Cap de Creus Natural Park, an arid, windswept area of outstanding natural beauty devoid of trees due to the ravages of the fierce Tramontana northern wind. The coastline is punctuated by strange twisted geological rock formations and small bays renown for outstanding snorkeling in crystal clear, albeit rather chilly water.
During the summer months, this whole area is very popular with tourists and I find that it is generally best to be avoided. The small coastal roads, lack of parking space and proximity to Cadaques, a small seaside village closely associated with the eccentric painter Salvador Dali makes for a crowded, frustrating and uncomfortably hot day out. From October onwards though, you’ll find the temperatures pleasant and with relatively few visitors, you can see the sights and soak up the atmosphere without the hassle and jostle of the coach tours .
Next to Santa Helena is the Monastery of St Pere de Rodes which dates back to 878AD when it was first mentioned as a simple monastery cell consecrated to Saint Peter. In 945 AD an independent Benedictine monastery was founded.
The church built in the Romanesque style is considered to be one of the best examples of this style in Catalunya. It was consecrated in 1022 and the monastery gradfually increased in power and influence before reaching its peak in the 11th and 12th Centuries. St Pere de Rodes was eventually abandoned by the Benedictine monks in 1793 and fell into decline until being declared a National Monument in the 1930’s with restoration work initiated in 1935.
It’s well worth a day out to come and visit St Pere. There are self-guided audio tours in various languages and a small entry fee. On-site, there is a cafe and restaurant for refreshments and also toilet facilities. The views over the bay of Port de la Selva and the Mediterranean Sea are outstanding and there is a short (but steep) hike to the very top of the hill to the ruined castle of Sant de Verdera which offers panoramic views over the entire Cap de Creus National Park and the bay of Roses.
Close by, there is a picnic site situated in the grounds of the Hermitage dedicated to Saint Onofre. There you will find a small car park, benches and picnic tables where you can enjoy a picnic lunch before heading off to explore the seaside town of Cadaques.
Cadaques is one of the jewels of the Cap de Creus area and very popular with tourists due to its historical links to Salvador Dali. Dali spent his summers at Cadaques and eventually built himself a house close by in the bay of Port Lligat. Cadaques is well worth a visit out of season when you can find a place to park, but it is a bit of a tourist trap and best to be avoided in the summer months.
The beach is mainly made up of pebbles and the seafront is made up of cafés, restaurants and bars selling food and drinks. Be prepared to pay over the odds for icecreams and drinks here. The village itself is typical of the many tourist villages on the Costa Brava with narrow pedestrian-only ally ways punctuated by independent boutique style shops selling the usual tourist stuff at inflated prices. If you can look past the comercialism and see Cadaques for what it is, you’ll find a charming little white-washed village with some stunning scenery.