As the frosty morning warmed up, we left the beautiful city of Girona and continued on to the walled medieval town of Pals with our guide, Lydia. Located on the summit of the hill of Puig Aspre just a few miles from the Costa Brava, Pals dates back to the 9th century or possibly earlier.
The historic heart of the town, which is still surrounded by ramparts, had originally been a fortress. From Mirador del Pedró at the top of the hill, you can gaze across the beautiful coastal plains that surround the town and enjoy stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. This vantage point allowed the original residents to see invading forces arriving by ship.
During the Spanish Civil War, the town was decimated. In the 1960s, when Dr. Pi i Figueras discovered the charm of the fairytale-like medieval center, he fell in love with it. Over the next 30 years, he made Pals his home and worked to restore and reestablish the town, a true labor of love.
Pals has been restored to perfection and has won multiple national awards for its efforts. In fact, the restoration of this town is so complete it feels like a Hollywood movie set with its stone arches, cobbled streets and flower-adorned balconies.
There are several notable features in the historic center. The Gothic Quarter, with its stone buildings and cobbled streets, has been substantially restored and delivers on what any tourist thinks the quintessential Europe should look like.
The church of Sant Pere, built in 944, has undergone multiple renovations in various styles from Gothic to Baroque and is still used as a house of worship. Near the church, the Romanesque Torre de les Hores (Tower of the Hours) was built between the 11th and 12th centuries. It can be seen from miles away on the surrounding plains.
At the entrance to the historic center, Ca la Pruna, a fortified house dating to from the 15th century, is home to the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. The castle, medieval walls and four square towers date from the 12th-14th centuries.
The coastal plains that surround Pals are an ideal environment for growing rice. Rice cultivation in Pals dates back to 1452. In 1909, Pere Coll i Rigau reintroduced rice farming to the area, but it remained a local produce.
As part of his efforts to reinvigorate the economy in Pals, Dr. Figueras encouraged the town to plant rice and helped to market it for its superior quality and purity. The rice is now regarded as among the highest quality in the world. Pals rice is grown without pesticides and herbicides, and chemicals are not used in processing it. The rice has a unique flavor and is considered to be among of the most delicious. It’s also quite expensive. Because Pals rice absorbs more liquid than most rice, it’s ideal for Paella.
As we left this precious little town to continue on to the Costa Brava, Lydia planted a seed in our hearts. For anyone who dreams of living in a fairytale town, this might be your chance. Many of the apartments and houses in the historic center are for sale to the public for use as private residences.
Pals is an excellent location, less than an hour’s drive from the south of France and just a few minutes from the sea. And with an average selling price of around 150,000 Euros for a fully-renovated apartment, it does give one pause.
(TO BE CONTINUED)