When I was a student in Barcelona some (mumble, mumble) years ago, my school chums and I would spend many a spring weekend bumming around this comely town about 45 minutes’ train ride down the coast (yep, that’s me at right!). Since those days, this once sleepy fishing village has only grown more popular – not just with Spaniards but with holidaymakers from all over Europe. And although there are of course many, many fetching resort spots all along the coast of Catalonia and on downward, it’s not hard to see why Sitges is a star.
With a a year-round population around 26,000, this charming little city (its name pronouced “SEAT-jess,” by the way), was a drowsy little place where fishing and Malvasia winemaking were among the main activities when it became a haunt around a century ago of the bohemian, arty likes of Santiago Rusiñol (who hailed from here), Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and others who ended up revolutionising the arts in the 20th century.
That boho reputation, along with its Modernista/Art Deco architecture and 17 appealing beaches, helped give Sitges extra cachet and no small leg up in the tourism development sweepstakes that started effervescing along the Costa Dorada in the 1960s onward, and by the 80’s it had morphed into not only one of Spain’s better known summer resorts but also one of Europe’s top gay travel favourites every June through September.
The main landmark in town and its highest point is the one you see most notably in the picture at top, the Esglesia (which is simply Catalan for “church”). Right behind it, you’ll find two of Sitges’ museums. The Museu Cau Ferrat (left) is the former home of painter Rusiñol, one of the main figures of Catalan Modernism, and includes ceramics, glasswork, and works from various other figures associated with him, including Picasso, Ramón Casas, and Isidre Nonell. The Museu Maricel houses a remarkable pair of collections, one a city-owned collection of 19th- and 20th-century local artists and another the bequest of a collector whose European treasures reach back to the 12th century. As it happens, both these museums are just about to re-open after several years of refurbishment.
The third is the Museu Romàntic, housed in a stately 18th-century manse once home to a wealthy family of wine and spirits merchants – a fascinating window into the life of the 19th-century upper class. And the newest is the Fundació Stämpfli, exhibiting 80 works of 55 contemporary artists (including Peter Stämpfli, the Swiss artist for whom the museum’s named).
All of the above certainly puts Sitges in a class by itself when it comes to Spanish beach towns, but at the end of the day, la playa (or as the Catalans say, la platge) remains the main event in this town, and there are a lovely variety to choose from, from the hopping strands right in the along the centre’s waterfront promenade (including one gay-oriented stretch) to stretches off to the east and west, each with their own personality (several are even clothing-optional, woo-hoo!).
Even beyond that, there’s even more stuff to do along these sloping streets. The shopping, for example, is way cool, both in the form of interesting art galleries and funky shops and boutiques ranging from clubwear to to antiques to some pretty serious designers (listen, I’m most definitely not an eager shopper, and yet even I have found myself quite entertained by the establishments I come across every time I visit). Plus there are plenty of other attractions in the area; my favourite is a day trip down to the city of Tarragona just a short hop south, with its Roman amphitheatre.
Then of course, as you might expect, there’s a full panoply of eating, drinking, and partying options to keep you busy day and night, whether you’re straight, gay, or somewhere in between. There are hundreds of eateries from cheap to pricey indeed, and three of my personal favourites include the longstanding El Trull (Passatge Mossèn Félix Clarà); El Xalet, the outdoor restaurant (open only in summer) at the hotel of the same name (Carrer Illa de Cuba 35); and Davallada 9, also in an eponymous boutique hotel (Carrer Davallada 9). There are even several local dishes unique to the area, like xató and arròs a la sitgetana.
My favourite hotel here has for sentimental reasons always been the Romàntic, three interconnected 19th-century townhouses with a lovely garden out back (left) where I’ve while away many a pleasant while. But there’s also a wide variety of offerings, from campgrounds and rural masias (farmhouses) outside town to hostels and bed and breakfasts to luxe waterfront properties with all the trimmings such as the Platjador, the Galeón, and El Cid.
The local nightlife is of course a huge part of the scene, as well, and after dark the streets are hopping from one end of town to the other, with every kind of scene from intimate pubs to big boom-boom discos. And such is the power of Sitges that unlike many other beach towns it doesn’t completely lose its allure outside of summer. Even back in the day, we would come here, as I said, on spring weekends, and even in winter, folks come down from Barcelona for getaways as well as events like Carnaval in February and Wine Harvest Festival and Santa Tecla in September. Other big to-dos in season include August’s Festa Major (patron saints feast day celebration) and Gay Pride Week in June.
So as you can see, if you’re coming to Catalonia, this is one beach town that’s got it going on pretty much year-round. If you need further proof, have a look at the way cool video below (rendered in time-lapse). See you over here! 🙂
More information: www.VisitSitges.com.