A few years ago I discovered the joy of post Christmas breaks and since then I try to fit a quick escape every year. Somehow instead of running away from the cold I’ve quite often ended up in even colder places like New York, Vienna or Berlin, but this January has felt so gloomy in the UK that I wanted some peace and quiet somewhere, if not warmer, at least sunnier than here, so I chose a break at the Balneari Vichy Catalan, which is about an hour north of Barcelona. My travel companion was my cousin Carmen.
Caldes is a beautiful little town, with no more than 7,000 habitants, famous for its thermal waters. It has two natural spas and is surrounded by gorgeous countryside that we enjoyed on our hikes. The town itself has a medieval heart, but during the 19th century it became a popular summer destination and Modernist style houses for the bourgeoisie started to appear on its streets. Today it's a destination for those who like to bathe in thermal waters and enjoy a few days of relaxation, which is exactly what brought us there.
Apart from the obvious and soaking some sunshine, there were three things that have been the highlights of the past few days.
Genuine Spanish cuisine is vastly underrated and unknown. There is so much more to it than paella and tapas. It has managed to keep its regional roots, which makes it so rich and varied depending on what part of the country you find yourself in. Each region in Spain has retained their traditional dishes which are based around local produce and passed on from grandmas to mothers to daughters (and now sons too, thankfully). It is a cuisine that is anchored by its local produce and therefore so difficult to export. The best place to experience it is Spain.
Catalans and Valencians are lucky enough to be by the Mediterranean and boast incredible vegetables, fruit and meats that taste so good they need just a touch of olive oil and salt to become a feast.
During the past few days food has actually been the biggest highlight, above floating on thermal waters! If you look up Balneari Vichy Catalan on Instagram there are so many photos of their food that you'll get the picture. We also found a couple of small placed in Caldes de Malavella where we had delicious goat cheese salads, apple tarts, grilled meats and ravioli filled with "butifarra". Sadly I was too busy eating to take pics, which I guess confirms how good it was. On my last day I took a couple of snaps of bread with olive oil, tomato and a generous serving of aioli, one of my favourites, as well as a crema catalana.
The happiest memories
My dad's favourite drink was Vichy Catalan’s sparkling water, so the fact that I was spending a few days bathing in the water and staying at their spa I knew I'd be thinking of him. And I did, day and night. Being in Catalunya, a land he loved, in a small town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by pine trees, being able to speak Catalan to everyone, eating good food and staying there would've been such an experience for him.
On our second day we went on a long hike and we spent most of it reminiscing, laughing at all the things he used to say and do, remembering so many happy memories we have of him. I know you'll expect me to feel this way, but my dad was a truly special man, the most genuine person I've ever met, someone who was charismatic and funny beyond belief, who always had us all in stitches. So much so that we are still laughing.
He would have loved to be there, and actually, he was.
Space to think
Every time I go away I come back full of good intentions. It may be a weekend at home or the trip of a lifetime, but having some space, some time to think, suddenly stops all the noise in my head and makes room for the important stuff. Quite often this is because if I'm flying I'm forced to spend half a day with no internet connection and instead of checking my phone frantically I actually do that thing that is so hard for me: just be.
This time was no exception, and I have a list as long as my arm (I love making lists) of things I want to do, a dozen new juice recipes and a new Pinterest board with books I want to read. Trying to do it all would be totally unrealistic, so I’ve picked the two things that are going to make the biggest difference.
I'm going to go to bed earlier and read until I fall asleep. No more Youtube videos at night and no TV past 10pm. What a granny, eh?
I'm going to increase how much exercise I do each week by attempting running again. I still don't enjoy it, but I really want to go past that stage of pain and get the benefits. It's as if my body wasn't built for it and so if I can call myself a runner at some point it's going to feel like such an achievement!
Have a great week!