The beach town of Sitges is just 35km from Barcelona. Every year a riotous carnival is celebrated here, with over 300,000 revellers filling its small streets from dusk til dawn. It is also a renowned tourist destination with a strong community of English speaking residents that have chosen to make it their permanent home. Carnival is a rowdy affair in most of Spain, but Sitges is renowned the world over for throwing probably the campest and most outrageous party of all, which is quite an achievement for a small town of about 20,000 inhabitants. Feather boas, sparkly catsuits and killer stilettos come out of the closet in droves, and the glam queens, drag supremos and trannies vie to outdo each other all week long.
The biggest event is the "Parade of Debauchery," which takes place on Sunday March 2nd 2014, from 7.30pm. Expect a procession full of extravagant and colourful costumes, with feathers, masks and elaborate make-up. Floats pass down the main street, each with their own quirky theme and many with an on-board soundsystem and party crew. Dancers, acrobats and other performers accompany the floats and provide creatively choreographed and often somewhat daring performances.
The Children's Parade is a tamer but equally artistic version which takes place on the same day at 3pm, and is also well worth catching.
On Weds 5th, the festival officially wraps up with the ‘Burial of the Sardine’, which takes place at 8.30pm on Passeig de la Ribera.
According to tradition, ‘King Carnestoltes’ makes an appearance on the first Thursday of the celebrations to welcome in the carnival. He absolves everyone's sins throughout the weekend, and ‘dies’ during the rituals on the 5th, when festive costumes are exchanged for black mourning attire, marking the end of the carnival and beginning of Lent.
Its easy enough to understand the attraction in the summer, with its miles of sandy beaches, active nightlife and lively gay scene, yet even during the winter this seaside town has a special charm.
A stillness hangs over the previously overcrowded beaches that now echo the sound of waves breaking on the shore. As the cocktail bars, sandals, souvenirs and sarong shops no longer take centre stage, this is the ideal season for discovering some of the town's more hidden charms. Its short distance from Barcelona and small size make it a perfect destination for a day trip, and the best way to discover the town is by just wandering round. Take a break for a meal by the seafront, since as a town whose main industry is tourism, it comes as no surprise that there are plenty excellent restaurants where you can enjoy the speciality dishes of rice and seafood.
The oldest monument in the town is the parish church, the Eglésia de Sant Bartomeu I Santa Tecla, with its strong stone foundations that have stood firm since the 10th Century. This is the heart of the old town, with narrow streets and medieval stone buildings. It was only towards the end of the 16th century that the castles, monasteries and settlements that were built and evolved along this stretch of the Costa Daurada became united and Sitges became a town.
The museum of Cau Ferrat was built in the 1890s, and helped establish Sitges as a trendy location for the art crowd to gather at the turn of the century. Commissioned by Santiago Rusiñol, who was renowned for the extravagant modernist style parties he used to throw here, this gave the town a bohemian flavour it still keeps today. The permanent collection includes paintings by renowned artists such as Picasso, El Greco, Miro and Ramon Casas.
Next to this stands the Maricel Palace, whose collection spans the epochs from the middle ages to the last century. This includes modernist pieces, Romantic and Gothic paintings and 19th Century Catalan sculptures. There is currently an exhibition entitled "Psicalíptics - Eroticism and Transgression in illustrated magazines at the beginning of the 20th century".
Sitges used to be an important port for ships sailing to America in the 18th and 19th century. Many sailors settled there and made a lot of money before returning to Sitges, and lavished this money on building impressive new houses in the Gothic style. Like neighbouring Barcelona, the modernist influences can easily be seen in many buildings.
Getting to Sitges: By train: Trains run every 20 mins from Sants station. A return ticket is €4,60. By car: C-32 (pay toll motorway), or C-31 road.
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