In the late 19th century, sculptors, painters, writers and musicians adopted this former fishing and farming town with gusto (writes Fabienne Reynolds). Art in Sitges is still very much alive today and whilst traditions have been respected, a modern outlook is what characterises this extremely sunny spot.
The Catalan town of Sitges in Spain sits between the sea and the mountains, a mere 35 kilometres south of Barcelona. Its fame began when painter Santiago Rusiñol settled here and started hosting his famous modern style parties. With more than 300 days of sun every year, who can blame him for choosing Sitges as his life canvas or for other artists to follow and let this privileged location seduce them?
In the Middle Ages, Sitges was the only commercial port between Barcelona and Tarragona, but its history dates back to the 10th century, when a castle was built on the site of an Iberian settlement, although it only became a town in the 15th century.
The architectural heritage here has been well preserved, with many interesting buildings such as the church, the city hall and the Maricel palace, all testimony to its past and well worth a visit. The Cau Ferrat (unmissable with its unusual sculpture on the façade) is the former residence of painter Santiago Rusiñol, and is now a museum displaying his works of art and those of other Catalan artists, as well as pieces by Picasso and El Greco. Standing in the main square gives you a true sense of the stunning architecture of Sitges.
Sitges is still a very pretty little town today and its traditions are respected, but it has also embraced tourism and is now a cosmopolitan centre with no less than seventy different nationalities. The community comprises 20,000 inhabitants, though this number increases drastically during the summer months. Construction is another important activity and Sitges has expanded in the last hundred years - so much so that it is said to carry the highest price per square metre in the whole of Spain.
Tourism has not spoilt Sitges however: on the contrary, it is still an important centre of cultural activities and a favourite destination for artists, but it also has much more to offer visitors. Sitges hosts events throughout the year, starting in February with the weeklong carnival, one of the most famous carnivals in Europe. The vintage car rally between Barcelona and Sitges takes place in March, followed by the Corpus in June when the streets are covered in flowers. There are also many activities during the summer months, such as the ‘Festa Major’, and September sees the folkloric Santa Tecla festival. In October, the Catalonia International Film Festival takes place with more than 200 movies shown. Since 2009, Sitges also has its own Gay Pride festival.
Winters are mild in Sitges thanks to a very privileged location south of the Garraf massif, a chalky rock mountain that acts as a natural barrier to block the north wind. With an average temperature of 18.7 degrees centigrade, there is no need to rush to visit Sitges. It is best to avoid the summer months as the town can be crowded and spring and autumn are equally enjoyable.
Being by the sea, Sitges has no less than three kilometres of seafront, and with as many as seventeen beaches to choose from, you’ll find the one that is right for you. The main beach can get busy but if you walk away from the church, you will be able to discover some spectacular little coves. The first one is by the restaurant Vivero, a really good place to sample local seafood and delicacies and with great views of both Sitges and the sea. Try going there for sunset for a truly amazing experience. If you carry on further you’ll come to “Port d’aiguadolç”, also great in the evening.
There are many places to eat in Sitges and if you are anything like me, you’ll want to try as many of them as possible. I’d recommend the tapas with a glass of local wine - it’s a great way to sample many items on the menu. But what characterises Sitges is most certainly its nightlife, with many places staying open until 3am. The most popular area is May First Street, known locally as “Carrer del Pecat” or “Sin Street”, which is home to many pubs and clubs.
Sitges offers activities for all, from the nautically inclined to the adventure set, and even offers environmental and thematic routes. Whilst in the area, you should also visit the Garraf Natural Park and the nearby vineyards of Peñedes. Sitges caters for all budgets and you will find large hotels as well as family run pensions. The town is easily reached by train, car or plane, as the international airport of Prat is just fifteen kilometres away.
The light in Sitges is what I remember most vividly: it is a combination of the sun and its reflection on the buildings that give it a subtle shade of pink, contrasting beautifully against the pure blue of the sky. There is something almost magical about Sitges in the way that it attracts people from all walks of life and welcomes them equally well. For me too, Sitges has an air of St. Tropez, a former fishing village that carries its tranquil past with majesty, having embraced fame through the loving attention of artists.
About the author
Fabienne Reynolds is a British/French freelance journalist and marketer who currently resides in England. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe and likes to discover new places, foods and wines.