A short ride from Barcelona, about 30kms south-west, lies Sitges, a small coastal town that’s well worth a visit. Also known as Spain’s Saint-Tropez, Sitges is a dynamic beach town yet unspoilt by mass tourism.
It’s perfect if you’re looking for a tranquil getaway from the hustle and bustle of the ‘big city’ or a place to gather your thoughts into a novel or piece of art.
At the same time, it’s equally ideal should you be looking for a vibrant beach holiday, complete with a busy nightlife and parties aplenty. Sitges hosts many events throughout the year such as Sitges Film Festival, several Spanish religious festivals and Gay Pride. It’s unsurprisingly a destination that’s favoured by many gays (amounting up to 30% of the population in high season). You will notice the abundance of men clothing stores in this town. Great if you’re a man (gay or straight) needing to update your wardrobe.
The reason why I slow-travelled to Sitges with my partner is for a calm getaway, while experiencing the culture. We wanted to immerse ourselves gradually into the Spanish lifestyle, in particular the Catalan lifestyle. We did not read too much about it before we went. We had basic info: beautiful beaches and home to some affluent locals who returned after being prosperous overseas. But wow, nothing prepared us for the beauty we were about to enjoy.
Experiencing Sitges like a local
Once we got there, it was time to discover the pulse of Sitges. Although many expats live there, you can meet many locals who’ve been there all their lives. Take for instance this Catalan man who makes a living making delicious patatas fritas working for the family business, founded in 1956. His grandfather passed it on to his father and now he is training his son to take ownership too!
Sitges has a beautiful history, involving leaders and influencers of the Catalan art movement known as modernisme. You’ll discover more about famous painters, Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas. Rusiñol settled in Sitges for some time where he held various exhibitions. We were fortunate to be in Sitges to view the Ramon Casas exhibition.
Another amazing fact we learned is that Sitges is home to the founder of the Bacardi brand. Facundo Bacardí Massó was born in Sitges in 1814. He emigrated to Cuba and after the family business went bankrupt, started distilling rum. In those days, rum was a low-quality and cheap beverage. It was then that he begun experimenting with different methods of distillation. With his team, they developed a unique process for a more refined beverage, thus creating the first white-coloured rum in the world. Today, you can visit Casa Bacardi in Sitges which is a museum about the brand’s heritage. Naturally, it includes a lounge for a tasting of the brand’s finest offerings.
Travel tips to immerse yourself in Sitges
To immerse ourselves slowly into the local culture of Sitges, we:
- walked for a few hours each day with no fixed destination in mind, following locals (not in a creepy way)
- shopped at the local mercats and ate what locals ate, often with little information as to what we were eating (and I, hoping that the lady understood me and that there’s no seafood in it to send me into anaphylactic shock)
- went grocery shopping in search of seasonal produce and local items (this does involve a bit of creepy stalking locals’ baskets)
- cooked lunches and dinners at home
- opted for house-sitting in a quiet neighbourhood, away from the ‘touristy’ areas
- walked ‘our’ dog (well, it was our for the week) every morning on the beach
- attempted talking solely in Catalan (at the expense of sounding silly with our mono-syllabic questions or answers)
- attended mass service at the local church and sat through he sermon delivered entirely in Catalan (this made us feel bonded with the community, united by our common faith in Christ, and yet speaking different languages).
- adjusted our schedule to that of the locals – during siesta time we would stay indoors, sleeping, lounging and resting and after 5pm, we would join in as the town becomes alive again, with people walking in the streets, stopping for tapas
I hope you do have the opportunity to visit this charming town. And if you do, check out my recommendations for lovely things to do in Sitges.