A bottle of wine sighs on the table and a rich stew bubbles on the hob, sending legions in aroma form to tease a restless army that’s eager to launch an attack and reduce it to a memory.
The battlefield is a fishermen’s hut in the dreamy cove of Cala Jóncols; one of the ridiculous number of enchanting inlets that pepper the Costa Brava coastline. Not only are they aesthetically idyllic, many are quite unique in that they possess secret booty that would turn a desert green with envy.
In one lies Ferran Adriá and El Bulli, in another Salvador Dalí’s house. If that wasn’t enough, another cove was inspirational for Truman Capote; whilst the author Tom Sharpe is often seen strolling the whitewashed streets of yet another. Even those that don’t have an instantly recognisable name attached, pulse with an undefinable quality that gives them a personality and character charged with creativity. Stumble across Tamariu with its sweet Palamós prawns and the even sweeter voices of its local musicians and you’ll discover a magnetic force field that is difficult to escape.
And then there is Cala Jóncols. At first glance another picture postcard location with one of those irresistible beach bars where you can simply kick back and forget the rest of the universe.
But this is Costa Brava where a ‘simple’ appearance is often a front for something that exudes a grass roots, honest charm but is also sophisticated and artistically creative.
The fishermen’s xiringuito I’m sitting in has an entrance made from stones from the seashore and a corrugated roof, but the colour scheme is minimalistic white and contrasts with a shocking purple ceiling whose eye-catching vibrancy is softened by a thick net of interwoven lights. You just know that after dark it is going to look as warm and inviting as the Shires of Middle Earth. I have visions of bearded cartoon fishermen dancing a sea shanty, linking arms with an amigo whilst holding a tankard of frothy ale. The reality is more likely to be cool jazz and sophisticated chatter beneath the sparkling lights.
The stew bubbling on a cauldron large enough to contain enough food for an army is suquet de peix. It’s made from tomato, garlic and potatoes flavoured with a veritable school of fish all caught in and around the bay. The stew cooks for around 30 minutes as the potatoes especially absorb the flavours released by huge chunks of rockfish, scorpion fish and gurnard. Their heads cover the surface of the gently bubbling cauldron and I imagine that if the cast of Finding Nemo had a yearning for a horror movie, a DVD of the making of suquet de peix would be perfect, resulting in much hiding of eyes behind fins.
Whilst we wait for the suquet, huge platters of glistening, succulent cigalas are placed in front of us and the wine is decanted.
Ah, the wine. Even the wine at Cala Jóncols defies expectations. It hasn’t matured in a musty wine cellar but on the seabed, 15 metres down in the middle of the bay, lying beside Davy Jones’ locker for over 12 months. It’s an experiment. This is typical of Costa Brava and its ability to hit visitors with curve ball after curve ball; where else would fishermen come up with such an intriguing concept? The bottles are encrusted with barnacles; true treasures from the deep. The suquet’s aromas swirl and dance around the xiringuito, raising expectation to fever pitch, but it’s this unusual wine that excites and I’m one of the first in line when the bottles are opened.
The taste is reminiscent of a robust, fruity country wine…but with more than a hint of the sea. It’s not salty or tasting of seawater or anything like that, it simply just tastes of the sea. I take another sip and close my eyes. I fancy I can feel ocean spray on my face and hear the satisfying sound of the wind filling the sails. It is unlike any other wine I’ve tasted, it hasn’t been flavoured by the sea but it has been influenced by it and is perfect for complimenting the deliciously rich flavours of the suquet.
In case anyone is still hungry after the cigalas and suquet feast, Cala Joncòls’ fishermen chefs prepare another popular dish, fideus (almost like a paella but with noodles instead of rice). We raise the white flag in defeat and retreat to the gardens of the hotel behind the xiringuito where we are hit with yet another culinary Costa Brava triumph. Coca de piñons y crema is a light, sweet bread filled with creamy custard and topped with sugar and pine nuts. Combined with a coffee that’s short on volume but strong in attitude it is a fitting epilogue for the meal.
With a satisfyingly full stomach, I sit back in my chair and absorb the scent of pines, olive groves and sea.
The ambience, cuisine and friendliness I’ve experienced in Cala Jóncols has totally enchanted me and reminded me how warm and wonderful the world can be. Paradise is not lost, just hidden away in the coves of Costa Brava.
Buzz Trips Fact File: Staying at the Cala Jóncols hotel costs from around €51 a night. Apart from the xiringuito (beach bar) there is also a restaurant. A range of activities from walking to kayaking can also be arranged. There is often live music evenings at the xiringuito – sumptuous seafood and cool sounds beneath fairy lights in an idyllic cove…does life get any better than that?
Buzz Trips visited Cala Jóncols courtesy of the Costa Brava Tourist Board