Published in Institute of the Arts Barcelona – May 2014.
Mirò was born here, Picasso painted here and you can bet that Dalí twiddled his ‘tache over some cava and tapas in these very streets. Muse to many, the inspirational Sitges has deeply ingrained artistic roots.
(OK, it’s Joaquim de Miró, not Joan Miró.)
For a small fishing village Sitges sure makes a lot of noise. As an intellectual centre of the Modernist movement, the Catalan capital’s cool and cosmopolitan seaside neighbour has an extensive history in art, literature and architecture, which has inspired a huge variety of festivals and fiestas. Now best known for its internationally-lauded Film Festival and Carnival, Sitges has a rep as a town that lives, breathes and celebrates culture. Did you know that Spain’s first ever beach bar was born in Sitges? That’s because the creative picturesque coastal town is full of forward-thinking ideas.
Simply a short bus or train ride away from the Gaudi and museum-filled gothic streets of Barcelona, the artistic haven maintains an emphasis on all things cultural in its calendar – making it easy to get plugged into a scene created by creators.
Here are a few of my favourite things.
SITGES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL – The Catalan Cannes
Since the late-60s major stars, producers and directors have flocked to Sitges for its world-renowned Film Festival. Once specialising in gore, horror and fantasy films (the first of its kind) this week-long fest now crosses genres and has become an absolute must for film fans to learn about directorial advances and new trends and technologies in AV production and cinema. Screening more than 300 movies, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Cameron Diaz have all graced its red carpet. Incorporating a surreal Zombie Walk, this year the festival includes a mobile phone short film competition, including Sitges-based masterclasses by top film talent showing students how to use innovative apps to create their own films.
SITGES CARNIVAL – No need to go to Rio
This is a Big Deal. Every year hundreds of thousands descend on Sitges as the streets are filled with music, processions, floats and fancy dress enthusiasts for an entire week. Beaches and historical sites come alive for a fiesta of folk dances and parades as people unite with one common mission – to be as colourful, loud and imaginatively dressed as they can. Don’t underestimate the preparation that has gone into this display of aesthetic creativity with its improbable scenes and original choreography. It’s a year-round process. You might not be sure what people were going for with their costumes at Catalunya’s wildest party, but you can be as sure as tortilla is eggs that they’re having the time of their lives.
ARTIST HAVEN – Modernism in the Med
Artists tend to be drawn to vibrant light and climates. They’re not stupid. That’s why many creatives and literary figures have either lived or spent considerable time in Sitges – and you can sense their presence everywhere. A meeting place for modernist artists including Picasso and Joan Mirò, Sitges is best known for Santiago Rusiñol, a painter and writer who was part of the Catalan Modernism (Art Nouveau) Movement. His home and studio, Cau Ferrat, is now a museum and one of the most beautiful buidings in Sitges. It’s a fascinating insight into everything that the modernists defended – painting, music, art deco and literature. If you look around you at the town’s ceramic street signs and iron lampposts, you can feel their art in the aire.
LOCO FESTIVALS – No Wellies Required
Sitges loves a quirky festival. There is no such thing as a fiesta off-season. Any excuse to take a day off, dance in the streets and indulge. It’s quite common to wander into a square to discover people scrambling up each other to form human towers over 60ft high or putting on a pyrotechnical extravaganzas with fire-breathing dragons. Get a kick out of St. Bartholomew and St. Tecla, but there’s something for everyone throughout the year – from the Vintage Car Rally to the Circuit Festival, Festival of Swing, Festival of Tango Music, Sitges Grape Harvest Festival, Corpus Christi Flower Festival, Gourmet Food Festival, plus classic Catalan saint days like Sant Joan and Dia de Sant Jordi, Just a standard year in Sitges.
ART NOUVEAU ARCHITECTURE – Wall to Wall History
Look at any iconic pictures of Sitges and one silhouette dominates – The Church of San Bartolomé i Santa Tecla on the hill by the beach. That’s your picture postcard image. However, there is history everywhere in the town’s maze-like narrow streets. Nearly 100 Art Nouveau mansions remain in Sitges and it retains a 19th century old-world charm with its Palau and many surprising museums. The gorgeously-named Museo Romántico covers the era of romanticism in Catalonia with one of the best collection of antique dolls in Europe. Surreally, it turns out that Barcardi’s founder was born in Sitges, so the historic modernista Old Market is now a visitor attraction where you can learn about 145 years of rum history from Sitges to Cuba.
SITGESTIU CULTURAL FESTIVAL – It’s got Summer written all over it
Literally meaning ‘Sitges Summer’, this cultural extravaganza this takes place for three months from July to September (although really summer in Sitges lasts over double that.) During this time beautiful old buildings such as Cau Ferrat, Museu Maricel and the palace open their doors to public concerts, exhibitions, guided visits through the culture and history of the town and museums. Fancy a piece of modernist opera? Done.
SITGES CULTURAL AGENDA
JANUARY: Three Kings Parade
FEBRUARY: Sitges Carnival
MARCH: Barcelona-Sitges International Vintage Car Rally
APRIL: Dia de Sant Jordi, Art Fair
MAY: Jazz Antic Sitges Festival, Corpus Christi Flower Festival, International Dance Day, Swing Festival
JUNE: IAB Summer Intensives, Sitges Gay Pride, Sant Joan
JULY: IAB Summer Intensives, Festival of Tango Music
AUGUST: Circuit Festival, Festa Major de Sitges, Sant Bartomeu
SEPTEMBER: Santa Tecla, Festes de la Mercè, Wine Festival and Gourmet Food Fair
OCTOBER: Sitges International Film Festival, Zombie Walk
Want to know why else SItges rocks?
1. THE GOLDEN COAST – It’s called the St. Tropez of Spain for a reason
It’s true that this small town is more than sun, sea and surf. However… check out the sun, sea and surf! There are a grand total of 17 golden beaches separated by breakwaters. That’s 17 more than most places have. Whether bathing and peacocking on the central sandy beaches or heading out to intimate mountain-framed coves, Sitges has everything activity-hungry sun-worshippers need, from volleyball to pedalos. You know that romantic image of someone looking poignantly out to sea? That could be you.
2. PINES, VINES & GRAFFITI – Instagram Heaven
Owing to the attention-seeking Med, visitors often don’t realise what lies within the hills surrounding the IAB. This year adventurous students investigated Garraf National Park to discover acres and acres of surprising vineyards amongst the pines and bushes. Garraf has 10.000 hectares of rounded peaks, deep valleys and steep slopes, white rocky walls, caves, caverns and fan palms. Lush. Acting student John loves wandering through the nearby hills, “You discover amazing gems like abandoned mansions in the woods, wildlife such as red squirrels and meet fascinating weird, wild and wacky locals. The graffiti in Spain on these derelict buildings gives great photo ops.”
3. CHEAP TAPAS – Going for a Song
Who wouldn’t want to substitute the student staples of pasta, sausages, porridge and baked beans for salads, olives, meats, cheeses and breads? In Sitges you can go to nearby supermarket chains or you can buy your fresh produce from a local market. You want organic fruit and veg or salami, sweet potatoes and smoothies for a euro? Sitges won’t out-price you. If you don’t fancy cooking, there are loads of tapas and paella places where you can eat out for 6 euros. The area’s most typical Catalan dishes are ‘Xató’, an endive salad with cod, tuna, anchovies and hot peppers and ‘Coca de llardons’, a cake made from pork scratchings. (Yes, really.) Locals say Sitges institution El Superpollo is the best spit chicken in the world and come all the way from Barcelona for it. Just look out for a chicken in a superman suit.
4. THE SPANISH APARTMENT – Casa away from Casa
Whether staying in Utopia Beach House or flatsharing, for many students going away to Uni is their first experience of living alone or with friends. Unable to afford their own flat in a city like London, cheap rents in Spain facilitate the kind of luxury students in other towns could only dream of. Straddled on either side by the Institute and the beach, Utopia gives students their own room with wall-to-wall balconies, garden couches, hammocks and an outdoor BBQ. Share meals and a communal terrace, or get your own pad in town or by the beach. Halls of Residences, read this and weep.
5. MUSIC SCENE – Did somebody say Dance-Off?
For those who live, love and breathe dance as IAB students do, there are plenty of extra activities outside of daily classes – from beachside salsa to the Festival of Swing or Tango. Then when the sun goes down the clubs and fiestas call students to show off their dance moves. However, it’s not just about the Modernist town centre’s quirky bars and clubs like Pacha. There is lots of live music, such as Sunday BBQs at the Terramar Hotel. The first thing IAB Dance student Evelina fell in love with in Sitges was the music scene, “There is Latino music everywhere – and everyone is dancing with each other, just sweating away! The locals have so much fire in them.”
6. ALFRESCO ACTIVITIES – A smorgasport of Sport
Surf culture is big in Sitges. Whether just perving surfers or using their dancer’s muscles to stand on water, students can head down to the water in lunch breaks and after classes. For those who are not into watersports, there is a huge variety of land-based options. Take a pick from football, tennis, volleyball, biking, horseriding, trekking, skateboarding or join Sitges Rugby Club as our Kiwi student did. Too knackered after a day’s classes? There’s a mini golf course next to the Institute. It’s a healthy lifestyle – the antithesis of most University experiences.
7. EXTRA-CURRICULAR PERFORMANCES – The Show Must Go On… and On
As well as all the cultural experiences on offer in Sitges, from the Film Festival and Carnival to museums and art galleries, students put on regular performances. This is in addition to their end of term shows, to which the public is invited. In this past year alone the Dance, Acting and Musical Theatre Foundation Certificate students have performed in places such as the Teatre Prado in Sitges and at the at the opening of the 3D Film Festival, Dia del Danza and Teatre Principal, the oldest and grandest theatre in Barcelona.
8. BARCELONA – A Hop, Skip and a Tapa away
Skipping out of Sitges to Barcelona for the day is easy. After just a short train or bus ride you can be in the city with the largest student population in Europe. Whilst most students find they prefer to stay within the community of Sitges with everything it has to offer, if they want that injection of bright lights, (not so) big city, it takes less than an hour to get into the centre. With huge summer festivals like Primavera Sound and Sonar and free fests, massive concerts and international superstar DJ line-ups, it’s fun to go see how the other half live, then return to the serenity of Sitges. After all, it’s better to go to someone else’s house party, then return home to your refuge of calm.
9. PLANES, TRAINS AND ELECTROBUSES – Get in!
Sitges is extremely easy to get to and around. Just a short flight from most European cities and often cheaper than the cost of a Gatwick Express train, Catalunya’s most well-known beach resort is just half an hour away from Barcelona International Airport. Once in town, there’s no internal train or metro system – because it’s not needed. Instead convenient hybrid buses run the length of the town. However, it’s so petite you can walk, bike and skateboard everywhere you need. No commuting time means no commuting costs. Another saving is on medical healthcare. All you need is your European Health Card. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish. Sitges is an expat haven and most locals speak English. However, IAB also provides Spanish lessons.
10. MICROCLIMATE – It’s not cold
Save your umbrella and winter coat money. You won’t need it.
If that sounded smug, it’s meant to.