Saturday we left Port Leucate to drive down the coast to a tiny town in Spain, the first town in Spain coming down the coast, called Portbou. This was a sentimental trip for my mom because 30 (rounding down) years ago, she backpacked through Europe with 2 friends and stayed a few days in this same small town. Now all these years later she could return with her daughter. Mother and daughter each visited Portbou at 20 years old, what a link through time.

The ride down the coast was breathtaking. We first crossed through the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains…

… and then the highway began to run along the coast, up and down the winding cliffs.

The view around each turn was more spectacular than the last.

In each inlet between the cliffs and mountains there seemed to be a little town, perfectly content to be isolated from the rest of the country/world. I would be too if I lived there.

After an hour of driving (and taking pictures) we came to the border. Since the creation of the EU, the old checkpoint has been abandoned and now there are only simple signs heralding your entry into either country.

Leaving France

My first glimpse of Spain was as magical as I always hoped it would be. Doesn’t it look like Paradise?

I mean come on.

Crossing the border into Spain was very exciting and special for me. You know how sometimes you form an inexplicably strong attraction and interest in a place? For me that place has always been Spain; I have always wanted to go there, to live and work there. An unexpected twist of fate, in the form of a little French guy named Vlad, has put me in France first, but Spain and Spanish will always be my first love.


Immediately upon arriving in Portbou, the atmosphere was different from France. Loud music came from the restaurants and stores. People talked much louder. In fact, they practically yelled at each other, complete with dramatic hand gestures. I loved it.

The noise from those chairs filled the Plaza

But before I go on about Spain, Spain, Spain, it’s important to note that Portbou is in Catalonia (Catalunya), a fiercely proud and independent region of Spain. The signs on the street were in Catalan, not Spanish. The flag of Catalunya was proudly displayed from windows and balconies.

Basically, Catalonia is like Texas. Yes, while in Texas you are technically in the US, but first and foremost you are in Texas, and no one lets you forget that.

The highways that leads to Portbou used to be the main thoroughfare, but in the past decades a bigger highway was built that diverted traffic away from Portbou. Current financial state of Spain aside, the new highway left Portbou behind, poor and in the past.

But I think the new highway was a good thing. Portbou has a certain charm that the other super touristy French towns don’t have. Portbou keeps it real. Aside from a few other French tourists, the people we saw actually lived there. Everyone knew each other.

Lamenting the financial state of Spain

Another difference that I like about Portbou, in contrast with the cookie-cutter French towns with their perfectly painted walls, is that Portbou has awesome street art.

I’m in danger of writing a novel instead of a blog post, so I’ll wait for my next post to show you what we did in Portbou, and the mishap that let me speak Spanish, if only for a minute.


About emily

In love with all things travel and culture.
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9 Responses to Spain

  1. Maureen Krivo says:

    Your pics from Spain are very beautiful indeed. The photo you captioned “Lamenting the Financial Woes In Spain” touched me deeply. Particularly after listening to an interview on NPR with someone whose life has been torn apart by the financial disaster there – a middle-aged man, not much older than me, who went from providing for his family to digging through dumpsters to put food on the table.

    • emilytoulouse says:

      I have seen where the Red Cross is even moving in because people are getting so desperate, it’s very unfortunate, although only having visited one tiny isolated town I didn’t see much evidence of the crisis myself, just what I see on the news.

  2. I understand entirely your love of that part of Spain. We lived just south of Barcelona at a place called Castelldefels which was great but the bit of coast just over the border from France is superb. There is a place called Cholera which does not sound great but I like it and we had a brilliant Paella there once.

    • emilytoulouse says:

      Next time I am down there, hopefully soon, I will have to check Cholera out! (You’re right, not a very appealing name)

  3. Mauricio says:

    Muy buena la entrada! España is a very charming place, if you ever have time you should go to Andalucia. That is the place where the culture of my hometown in Colombia came from. I was educated by a school run by Spanish monks so for me Spain is also a mystical place besides all its other charms! I admire Catalonia, but if you want to go to the cradle of Spanish as a language Castilla is the place to go, in fact the proper name for Spanish is Castillian (o castellano en español). They even have a monastery (San Millan de la Cogolla) there where the first document in Spanish was ever created sometime in the Middle Ages.

    • emilytoulouse says:

      Ah si, castellano, o casteshano como se dice en Argentina 😉 Muy interesante lo del documento, gracias por siempre poner anecdotas tan interesantes!

  4. Jeff Webb says:

    wow, what a great trip and that your mom was able to be there to relive the spain experience. i LOVE the comparison of catalonia to tejas by the way 🙂 nothing wrong with some fierce independence. great photos! i can’t wait to see the rest.

    • emilytoulouse says:

      I knew you would like that! I thought it would help Americans relate to the feeling of being in that part of Spain

  5. Pingback: Collioure, France | Life in La Ville Rose

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