Hidden gems on the French-Spanish border: Make Portbou (Spain) more than just a pit stop!

While booking my train tickets from Narbonne to Girona, I knew I’d have to change trains in Portbou, so I asked myself; should I stick around for a couple of hours and see what Portbou is all about, or should I just leave it and take the very next train to Girona?

Before writing this post I also wondered if anyone would be even remotely interested in reading about this place as it’s such a small, unknown town and doesn’t have any famous tourist attractions and one might ask why you should choose Portbou over other, better known towns in the Costa Brava region.

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And maybe that’s exactly why you should go to Portbou. Without the pressure of a tight schedule filled with stuff you need to get done within a set amount of time, and without having to rush from one tourist attraction to another, you’ll have more time to relax and unwind. And to appreciate a place for what it really is.

Portbou is a small, beautiful Catalan town perfect for those lazy days on a quiet beach or an adventurous mountain hike in the Pyrenees. As the town is conveniently located on the border to France, the locals are used to tourists passing through while on their way to Girona, Barcelona or to French cities like Perpignan and Narbonne. You’ll hear Spanish, Catalan and French in every bar and restaurant. I am absolutely certain you’ll get by just fine with English too!

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While strolling along the streets of Portbou, I stumbled upon some pretty cool street art dedicated to the environment, peace and love. Empty plastic bottles were used as wall decor alongside the street art.

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I also noticed a couple of cute boutiques that caught my interest, as I was wandering around, observing, photographing, enjoying my own company – as you do, when you’re a solo traveler!

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So what are the top 3 things to do in this charming little town?

  1. Go to the beach. Even during the summer months when most people go on vacation, the beach in Portbou never gets overcrowded. Bare in mind, it’s a pebbled beach, so you might wanna wear your flip flops!
  2. Hike the Walter Benjamin Trail. Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher and literary critic who in 1940 committed suicide in Portbou, rather than being captured by the Gestapo. The hiking train will take you to his memorial; a piece of art created by Israeli artist Dani Karavan. Following the hiking trail, you’ll get a spectacular view of the turquoise blue sea and the mountain ranges. For more information, click here.
  3. Eat all that tapas. Because, when in Spain, you simply just can’t allow yourself to miss out on some tasty tapas (nor wine, for that matter). Riky is a restaurant known for their authentic, non-touristic tapas and Gastro Bar Passa la Veu serves modern, creative tapas. For the best view, check out Xiriguito Campaner Guinguita.

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Want to spend a night in Portbou?

It’s a small town, so options will obviously be limited. Hotel Comodoro and Hostal Juventus are both conveniently located close to the beach and most of the restaurants, and they both have mostly just positive online reviews.

Besides all the reasons mentioned above, I just wanna let you all know that Catalonia is always a brilliant idea. And Portbou might just be perfect for that quiet little weekend getaway you so desperately need (because, who doesn’t?)

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A weekend in Luxembourg

On a beautiful weekend in mid-May, my better half took me on a surprise trip to a destination unknown. It was my birthday that weekend, and he knew exactly what I wanted for my big day. The idea of packing my suitcase with absolutely no idea where I’m headed to, while someone else takes care of everything has actually been a fantasy of mine for a long time. Usually I find not knowing and not organizing things on my own, to be a somewhat stressful affair. And yet I love surprises. As much as I hate not knowing. What a paradox. I was told to get in the car with an open mind and a suitcase packed with whatever I would have worn had we stayed home in Paris that weekend. Traffic signs gave away a few hints along the road. We were not headed to the airport. We were not headed south, nor west. The large crossroads close to the border suggested Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg or Eastern France. I was clueless. They all seemed like good options to me!

And shortly after, there we were. Luxembourg City, the capital of the country by the same name. A small rural country, peaceful and green. The capital city is famed for its medieval old town, perched on sheer cliffs. A small country, but a country rich in history. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg contains around fifty historical castles – more than a hundred if you ask those who also consider the old manor houses as castles.

We spent the first day strolling around, exploring and photographing Luxembourg City. What really caught the eye was the Palais Grand-Ducal, a beautiful palace in the city center. We were obviously not the only ones who were fascinated by it, as it was surrounded by tourists taking pictures or smiling for the camera. There seemed to be some sort of an EU-festival happening in Luxembourg that day – as plenty of locals were waving European Union-flags, marching bands were parading the streets and women in traditional costumes were handing out flyers. Although we had no idea exactly what they were celebrating, it was fun to be there and take part of it.

We wanted to try local specialties while we were there, but we couldn’t find the very few things that were supposed to be traditional dishes from Luxembourg on any restaurant menu at all. So we went to a restaurant called Urban and had burgers instead. And we had burgers again the next day, from an equally great burger restaurant; Snooze. So, I did’t learn much about the local cuisine in Luxembourg, but they sure know how to make delicious, gourmet burgers!

The next day was spent visiting a few castles. The New Castle of Ansembourg and its spectacular garden was our first visit. It started to rain towards the end of the visit, but lucky as we were, we managed to visit the garden entirely before getting soaked. The next one on the list, was also the last one – due to the weather. The Vianden castle is set on a rocky promontory, overlooking the river Our and dominating the town of Vianden. We only saw it from afar – again, due to the weather -and went to grab a drink in a cafe downtown, while waiting for the rain to stop.

The weather didn’t clear up that day. The following day was, however, sunny and nice. What a lovely birthday present from the higher powers. What wasn’t as lovely, was the present from the police; a parking ticket due to illegal parking. Parking was free of charge during the weekend – but the weekend was over. It was Monday morning.

We left Luxembourg City to go somewhere else – for another surprise. A concert at edgy, new venue Rockhal in Esch sur Alzette (still Luxembourg). Hans Zimmer, the well-known German composer, whose works include The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, and more. The show was fantastic. At times I was misty-eyed and had goosebumps – that’s how amazing it was. Applause to you, Hans Zimmer. I haven’t felt this emotional since I saw another famous composer, John Williams (works include music from Spielberg’s movies) in concert.

From being a small country I knew little to nothing about, to a country where I have now spent my birthday and created wonderful memories together with my partner, I now smile when I think of Luxembourg.

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New Castle of Ansembourg

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Vianden (town and castle)

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