Sitges Chic: Kicking back in Catalonia's coolest beach town
Just half an hour from Barcelona, Sitges is both a gay and family-friendly destination, as Suzanne Campbell discovers.
Strolling the palm-lined promenade with the sea on my right and a line of Art Deco buildings to my left, this could be South Beach Miami.
It's actually the small town of Sitges, just a half-hour from Barcelona and one of the hidden jewels of Catalonia. Famed for its gay scene, the town is an upmarket destination - honing its resort chic since the 19th century, and filled with beautiful homeware, clothing and jewellery stores.
Shop, sit on the beach, go clubbing or make your way to the old town for a glass of Penedès and pintxos (pronounced 'pingshosh') - bite-sized parcels of jamón ibérico, anchovies and chillies, for example, spiked through with a cocktail stick on a chunk of local bread. It's a delicious discovery.
Don't miss a feed of grilled scallops with sea urchin, asparagus and Iberian ham on the smart outdoor terrace of Fragata (restaurantefragata.com). It sits below the town's landmark La Punta - a beautiful church perched on a promontory stretching into the Med. Canons still guard the sea walls, and a warren of tiny streets spread out like a fan from the church.
Elsewhere, Miramar (miramarsitges.com) is the perfect tiny restaurant - found under a pergola in a garden overlooking the sea - for mussels, almond picada and saffron. As evening falls, grab a nightcap at Izzara (Carrer Major, 22), a beautiful neighbouring bar, enjoying the evening heat while sitting at wine casks in the street.
Architecturally, Sitges is a feast for the eyes. The old town and promenade have a wealth of red-tiled Hispanic-style mansions and Art Deco buildings, financed by locals who returned from the New World in the 1930s, including Facundo Bacardi (founder of the rum). He distilled the famous brand in Cuba but came from Sitges, and you can visit the beautiful Casa Bacardi in the town, now a popular museum and bar.
Sitges’ two-kilometre promenade is ideal for running but also for rest stops like breakfast, afternoon coffee or cocktails. It’s an unexpectedly family-friendly town, with gently sloping sandy beaches. Small groups of locals and tourists alike stand waist high in the water, chatting or splashing with their children. The promenade draws together 26 beaches in total, most are family-friendly, some gay and one nudist beach, Playa Balmins, with a straight-from-Insta bleached wooden bar and restaurant.
July and August can be hot and crowded, with record temperatures in the high 30s hitting this part of Spain last summer. Sitges is best visited outside these months, or even in winter, when the town settles into its normal routine and the locals have more time to chat Catalonian food, culture and politics.
Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Vueling.com fly to Barcelona from Dublin. From Barcelona airport you can take the C2 RENFE train from Terminal 2 to El Prat de Llobregat, changing to catch a train to Sitges. Alternatively, take a taxi for the 25-minute journey from the airport to Sitges, which costs €70 and is good value if you are a couple, family or small group travelling.