Liberty in La Rapita
SAN CARLOS DE LA RAPITA (Spain), Aug 8 — No samba, no rumba, no zumba. At least not for the time being. The only sound that seeps into my soul is the sound of the barely audible lapping waves, and perhaps that of Leonard Cohen’s gorgeous song, Banjo.
Life is how it should be this languid Saturday in Sant Carles de la Ràpita (San Carlos de la Rápita in Spanish), by the delta del Ebro which is the rice bowl of Catalonia. Heavenly rice grows in abundance, and unlike the over-polished rice many are accustomed to, people in La Ràpita revere and cook it lovingly without overpowering it with heavy sauces.
Simply known as La Ràpita, this lovely Catalan municipality in the region of Montsiá in Tarragona is a throwback in time in a liberating way. It’s “where the sea caresses the earth.”
We are brought back 30 years, to a time not unlike my childhood holidays in Penang, where grandpa’s house was in quaint George Town and where pockets of Ferringhi beach were actually clean. And not unlike my husband JL’s childhood days in Cádiz, that gem of a place even now.
Cádiz may shine for its annual Carnaval which lampoons famous personalities, events and situations worth lampooning in parades, chirigotas (choirs normally of 10 in unison or close-harmony singers) and quartets. Every year during mid February, hundreds of thousands of visitors the world over gather for that cheeky saturation of senses, stretching their sense of humour to the max.
So what’s common between the more colourful, charismatic peninsula of Cádiz and La Ràpita? On normal days, civility and the embrace of what’s truly essential: the soulful enjoyment of life and love of the vast benevolent, mercurial sea. Pocket beaches dot the coastline of La Ràpita where families and friends picnic and laze about. We lose count after a 200-metre stroll. It’s a hidden treasure popular with the locals and Europeans seeking value-for-money holidays minus the cheesiness of what may come cheap.
How hyper-connected is this place? Enough I suppose to keep teens entertained. But there’s none of that brusqueness you might find in the city. There’s lots of physical activity here: eco-tourism, cycling, trekking, water and adventure sports. Discover the Ebro Delta Natural Park where birding enthusiasts have great itineraries to choose from. Or you could just idle hours away with a book, a stroll and a siesta by the shore.
Good bars and restaurants have taken root — one of which is Llansola which is also an unassuming hotel. We time our trip to Llansola 1921, calle Sant Isidre, 98 which serves lovely tostaditas de anguila ahumada (small toasts topped with smoked eel appetizer), arroz a banda and more.
This is simplicity at its best: the freshest fish (monkfish, sole, snails, prawns and crawfish) boiled, and served with potatoes and alioli. I had reservations eating plain boiled seafood, but given the quality ingredients, it tasted so sweet. The broth is then used to make rice from Montsiá which retains a tinge of nuttiness without being over-starchy as processed rice tends to be. It’s sublime. Gastronomy in this Mediterránean delta includes black rice, fideuà (short noodles), smoked eel, succulent mussels, oysters, wild duck, courgette flowers lightly fried in batter.
Things to do
How to get to La Ràpita (from Barcelona)
Log on to www.hife.es/en/ for bus tickets. The journey takes about 2 hours 25 minutes.
We recommend renting a car to make the most of your trip. On your way back to Barcelona, you might like to explore Tortosa and Tarragona, both with lovely historical sights; the charming town of Sitges to the northeast of La Ràpita and Vilafranca del Penedès, “long considered one of Spain’s best wine-producing regions after the Rioja.” Cava, a sparkling wine which has had its own Denominació d’Origen since 1991, is produced in nearby Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. This region also produces some highly regarded, oak-aged reds.
* Sue is a Malaysian writer based in Barcelona, Spain. She can be reached at [email protected]