An insider’s guide to Sitges
Spain’s resident writer Andrew Forbes reveals why sunny-natured Sitges on the Costa Dorada is a true travel gem. There’s no shortage of picturesque coastal villages along the Costa Dorada. Yet there’s one town on Catalonia’s wild coast that’s like no other; Sitges.
Less than 40 minutes southwest of Barcelona, this cosmopolitan artsy resort is where you can expect postcard-worthy beaches, chic restaurants and enthralling cultural sights. Yet this beauty and elegance belies the town’s most compelling quality; its inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that embraces you like the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. This fusion of sophistication with unconstrained openness makes sense when you consider that the history of Sitges has been forged by artists. It was the birthplace of Catalan Modernism and today that creative and non-conformist style continues to inspire resident artists. It might also explain why this coastal Spanish town is a favourite with LGBTQ+ visitors too.
Things to see
If you have an appetite for art, and you can be tempted away from the architectural delights and captivating charm of the old town, then visit at least one of the remarkable museums or galleries. From the city’s collection at the Museu de Maricel and the extraordinary Palau de Maricel (its original tiled rooms are exquisite) to the Fundació Stämpfli, there is Modernism, Romanticism and Contemporary art to be devoured. Yet it will be at Museo del Cau Ferrat where you will become absorbed in the beauty and artistry around you. Once the home studio of the artist, poet and collector Santiago Rusiñol, leader of the Catalan Modernist movement, this is a unique property where art in all its rich diversity is celebrated. Lose yourself in architecture and decorative crafts – including glass, ironwork, and ceramics – through to the classics of literature and paintings.
Things to do
The allure of Sitges’ cultural wealth is matched by the temptation of the town’s weekly markets, artisan street vendors and fashion boutiques. Expect plenty of independent stores around Carrer Parellades, as well as along Carrer Major, which leads down to the ancient streets of the old town. Here, the historic parish church of Iglesia de San Bartolomé y Santa Tecla, set right on the Baluard headland, affords impressive views taking in the Passeig Maritim promenade that runs between the marina, down to the Jardins de Terramar and the historic Club de Golf Terramar. The stroll will take in more than a dozen easily accessible urban beaches including the secluded coves of the family friendly sands of San Sebastian, easy-going Balmins, the predominantly gay Bassa Rodona and the lively L’Estanyol beach.
Eating and drinking
Try Restaurante La Nansa in old town for local, slow food gastronomy and traditional recipes like arroz Sitgetana, a hearty rice dish of meat and seafood. Remember to order a glass of Sitges Malvasia late harvest dessert wine to accompany a homemade pudding.
With tables set right on the water’s edge, you can’t eat much closer to the sea than at the Club Nàutic de Sitges sailing club. From a chilled glass of sparkling Cava with a snack of authentic patatas bravas to a full set lunch including specialities like octopus, this is a good-value welcoming place.
For a chic Mediterranean chiringuito experience, the Mirador bar of the Vivero Beach Club has tasty tapas such as red prawn croquettes. The main restaurant has an upscale lunch menu including arroz del senyoret, a paella served ‘gentleman’s style’ with the seafood peeled and de-shelled.
Out and about
For nature lovers, a quick train ride or taxi trip up the coast from Sitges brings you to the village of Garraf, the gateway to the mountains and protected natural park. The village is a delight, with its marina and small beach lined with iconic 1920s beach huts. From some viewpoints you might even catch a glimpse of the landmark Bodegas Güell winery (presently closed), built in distinctive Modernist style and said to have been designed by a Gaudí protégé.
If you don’t have time to enjoy one of the many nearby signposted Garraf mountain hiking trails, then take a taxi up the palatial 19th-century Palau Novella. Open for guided tours, the property is now a Buddhist monastery, Sakya Tashi Ling, complete with an ornately decorated stupa.
Not to miss
Often the best way to truly connect with a destination is through the local people and their businesses. When it comes to Sitges, what could be better than meeting some of the present-day artists that have been attracted to this hub of creativity? There are myriad ateliers, artist workshops and galleries across town, including Patryk Lukas’ gallery in Calle San Sebastian, close to the beach. Don’t miss José Luis Fuentetaja’s fascinating studio in Calle d’en Bosch.
With an events calendar chock-full of fiestas and festivals, your visit to Sitges just might coincide with a day when the town is in a real party mood. Highlights include the fantasy of Sitges International Film Festival in early October, the charm of the Barcelona-Sitges International Vintage Car Rally in mid-April, and the good-natured fun of Pride on the beach in June. Summer continues to get into full swing with the Terramar Gardens Musical Festival, while August brings the town’s biggest bash, the St Bartomeu Fiesta Major, complete with those iconic Catalan human towers, the Castellers.
Sitges is about 40 kilometres south of Barcelona; so, it’s easy to get to by taxi, bus, or train. For the train, board the regular service to Sitges from Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia or Estación Sants. Trains run throughout the day, and take around 35 minutes.