Writer Kathleen Squires and her photographer husband, Ronnie Rodriguez, set out from Barcelona for an off-season tour of the artsy towns along Spain's rugged northeastern coast.
Great local meal...On Thanksgiving night, we found ourselves in Cadaqués [PHOTO], a bohemian seaside village known as a refuge for artists such as Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and countless others. Any inkling I had of being homesick for the holiday was erased at Cu4tro, a lively waterfront spot. I dug into local specialties like brandade, a dish of smoothly pureed salt cod, olive oil, and potatoes, and a freshly caught, whole-roasted daurade fish, while Ronnie zeroed in on the menu's closest thing to a Thanksgiving feast: chicken in mushroom sauce and potato puree.
Our favorite parts...As a fan of surrealism, I loved driving the "Dalí Triangle"—Púbol, Cadaqués, and Figueres. In Púbol, we wandered the Gothic rooms and gardens of the medieval castle that Dalí gifted to his wife, Gala. The Elephant with Giraffe Legs [PHOTO] was a particular highlight. It was easy to see how the whitewashed, windswept town of Cadaqués—where Dalí summered as a child and resided late in life—inspired the artist. The bare, twisted plane trees [PHOTO], for example, resemble the bony fingers in Dalí's famous work Metamorphosis of Narcissus.
Moment when things got tense...The journey nearly started off on the wrong foot when Ronnie went to pick up the car in Barcelona. When he arrived at the rental office, he realized he had left his passport in the hotel room, with me, across town. I dropped everything and took the hour-long bus trip with his passport. It was a few hours wasted, but the bus route hit all of the city's highlights, and the hotel kindly extended a late checkout.
Worth every penny...The sliced Iberian ham, manchego cheese, and freshly baked bread we bought at every market we came upon. If we rolled into a town around 4 p.m., we'd find ourselves out of luck for food until around 8 p.m., so slapping together small sandwiches would tide us over until dinner. We may have gone overboard, but there's nothing like that ham in the U.S. [PHOTO]
Total rip-off...Breakfast at the Parador de Aiguablava in Begur would have jacked up the nightly rate by €34 ($50) and was not worth it. Our Iberian ham and cheese sandwiches came in handy that morning.
Fun surprise...We originally planned to blow through Pals, but we couldn't resist staying. Within the quaint town walls, a labyrinth of tapas bars, boutiques, pastelerías, and cafés awaited. And just outside the walls, we encountered an alfresco flea market. As we were poking around, Ronnie noticed a button had popped off his pants. Strangely, minutes later, we came upon a button vendor. Ronnie searched for a close match, found one, and asked to buy it. The dealer explained that she only sold buttons by the dozen, but since he needed it, he could have the button for free.
Wish we'd known that...The distances were as short and easily accessible as they were. We might have made an even more ambitious plan to cover extra ground.
We're still laughing about...Stalking superchef Ferran Adrià at elBulli [PHOTO], the best restaurant in the world. Though we didn't have a reservation, we decided to drive to Roses and at least take some photos of the restaurant. We discovered that the property fronts a beach, with a lovely hiking trail passing alongside its outdoor terrace. While there, we witnessed Adrià [PHOTO] welcoming Hiroshi Ishida, whose eight-seat, invitation-only restaurant, Mibu, is the most exclusive in Japan, if not the world. Ronnie, the shutterbug, got so excited that he had a paparazzo moment—he actually climbed a tree and got a shot of the chefs together! [PHOTO]
Hotel we liked...La Residencia in Cadaqués earned a special spot in our hearts because of its history and eccentric decor. The hotel opened in 1904, and Pablo Picasso slept there. The arty interior includes a shrine to local hero Dalí, along with a gorgeous, stained-glass skylight. Our room was small and nondescript, but clean—maybe something a starving artist would rent—while the suites were more artistically appointed. Also, it was well-located, the staff was delightful, and the price was right at €60 ($87) a night, including breakfast.