The essence of the Mediterranean of the Baix Empordà region: pines trees along the seashore, cork bark, grilled fish,—this is what Sant Feliu de Guíxols still evokes. This city with its deep seafaring roots set in the heart of the Costa Brava has become an important tourist destination thanks to its attractive surroundings, the high living standards of its population, and a wide range of services coupled with a great variety of cultural and leisure activities. With a marina, a fishing harbor and a long promenade along the seafront surrounded by small streets full of shops, Sant Feliu de Guíxols is the pleasant expression of a familiar way of doing things daily which we can enjoy all year long.
An ambitious project, however, promises to catapult this city into unprecedented heights which will have far-reaching repercussions on all spheres of the city. In the near future the Centre d’Art de Pintura Catalana Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza will open its doors in the former cork factory Serra Vicens. This building is included within the cultural ring enveloping the impressive ensemble of the Benedictine monastery which is the city’s most representative legacy, with elements as key to the city’s identity as its Romanesque arched gateway, the magnificent Porta Ferrada. The church of the Mother of God and the Corn and Fum towers form part of this monastic complex, and at present they accommodate the city’s Historical Museum. Undoubtedly, the Thyssen Museum and its collection will become a significant reason for visiting Sant Feliu de Guíxols and will provide new international scope – not only of a museistic nature- to the city. Bilbao, before and after the Guggenheim, is a clear benchmark. Is that not a case in point as to what an emblematic Museum can do to articulate a city and fuel its economy?
Urban development, past and present
Originally a fishing village, Sant Feliu has lived through different periods of splendor. Its merchant past, first centered around the fishing net trade and ship building, and later focused on the cork industry until the crisis of the thirties in the 20th century, has left a rich historical patrimony that is unexpectedly monumental. Given that it balked at the mass tourism promoted by Franco’s dictatorship for coastal development while its neighboring cities Platja d’Aro and Tossa de Mar went ahead with this strategy, Sant Feliu lost protagonism within its area of influence. This, however, allowed it to maintain its traditional features, and to safeguard the cohesive quality of its urban development and its architectural charm, as is evidenced by the Modernist houses at Sant Pol beach and by the aristocratic houses along the promenade on the seafront, presided by the Casino dels Nois. In the long run, Sant Feliu has also ended up turning to tourism as its main economic activity, but without having to yield to an exaggerated pressure in favor of urban growth. As a result, one can enjoy a fishing market town with good facilities and modern amenities, orderly urban planning, and a well-established historical center.
Places of artistic and cultural interest
Besides the Benedictine monastery and its decisive influence on the city’s future, there are other places which reflect diverse events, affairs, and interests linked to the evolution of Sant Feliu and which have left their imprint on the city. Some of these landmarks are the Casa Irla Museum, the Toy Museum, the Champagne and Cava Caps Museum, the Coast Guard Museum, and the projected Museum of Green Ways, which will link Olot to Sant Feliu by way of the one-track railroad which used to run between these two points and which will allow cyclists to enjoy the thrill of a route with a great deal of history on its tracks. Paying a visit to the Sant Elm shrine is a must, for it has one of the most famous belvederes of the whole coast, for it was from this vantage point that an inspired Ferran Agulló baptized the Costa Brava with this name.
The call of the sea
This coast and the sea lapping its shores are the greatest source of wealth for the city. In the past it had lived on bounty from the sea; now it lives from its beaches. Surrounded by wooded hills with pine trees and helm oaks, with granite boulders surfacing to make up the Gavarres mountain range and the Ardenya massif, the coastline of Sant Feliu offers a landscape of contrasts where rugged cliffs crumble into small coves of crystal-clear water and sandy bays. The beaches of the municipality are a rosary of names that seem a poem in the making: Port Salvi, Can Dell, Canyerets, Sant Feliu and Sant Pol beaches; coves of Sa Caleta, Ametller, Urgell, Vigatà, Jonca, Maset and Peix. Each one has its own charm, and as an ensemble they gather a wide range of seafaring and sea-diving activities. And there’s always leeway for a dinghy or even a luxury yacht swaying in Sant Feliu’s harbor. In fact, the marina facilities were renovated in 2006, and now it provides 43o berths for boats up to 60 meters long, as well as providing other nautical services, such as a shipyard with a crane and repair shops, a warehouse, water, electricity and refueling readily available, garbage pickup and disposal, boat hoist and layup, a first aid kit, information desk, etc.
Leisure, sports and cultural activities
Sant Feliu boasts a great diversity of landscapes and facilities within its municipality and its immediate surroundings, making it ideal for all sorts of sports: from 8 good golf courses along the Costa Brava (among these, the PGA de Catalunya, among the top 10 in all of Europe),to scuba diving in Punta Garbí, one can really take one’s pick. There are sailing courses and tennis courts in Sant Feliu itself, horse riding centers in nearby Llagostera and Palamós, and bike groups, courses (the aforementioned green ways, ending near Sant Feliu’s shoreline) and cycling races (such as the Gran Fons BTT St.Feliu de Guíxols held in November). For those still hankering for an extra dose of adrenaline, there are plenty of daredevil proposals by centers in the Baix Empordà area which are listed within the Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona website.
The City Council, in turn, organizes a series of workshops and activities throughout the year that are programmed to take in all the age groups and interests of its population. It also offers a variety of showcase proposals to attract both residents and visitors. Among these activities, the most outstanding is the International Porta Ferrada Festival (the oldest in Catalonia, dating back to 1958) held te months of July and Augusta and encompassing theater, music and dance. In the winter, it has worthy counterparts: Guíxols Escena and the Theater Competition.
For those who enjoy traditions, there is a sardanes gathering in May, the yearly climb to tilt the stone of Pedralta (the biggest in all of the Iberian Peninsula), and walking routes along the coast all year long. In August the town celebrates its main festival, an antiquities fair is held, and from June to September the city regales residents and visitors with havaneres singing events on the beach, on the promenade and at the market. In February, all the folks in town put on a costume to celebrate one of the most widely known Carnivals of the coast—their own! And to keep the larder full while keeping up with social life, there’s the daily market plus the Sunday market, a buzzing mass of people, colors and smells that sparks up the atmosphere. Despite its peaceful daily ways, in this setting Sant Feliu shows its gregarious, hearty side.
Sant Feliu, for all seasons
From a summer holiday resort for wealthy Barcelonians at the turn of the 20th century, Sant Feliu has become a much sought-after international residential destination thanks to its living standards, its coast, and its excellent location only 30 min. from Girona’s international airport, and close to Barcelona and France. From Girona, which is already connected to Paris by the high-speed train (AVE) and whose international airport offers 20 airlines, 53 European destinations, and constant low-cost deals, getting to Sant Feliu any given day on just a moment’s notice is no longer a flight of fancy.