Inspired by an overland trip to Catalonia in 2017, Johanna Payton takes this year’s no-fly summer vacation in Roses Spain by train.
Passing through Figueres rail station last year, on our way to Barcelona from London St. Pancras station, a little thought flashed through my mind: ‘I wonder what happens if we get off here. A quieter spot in Catalonia? A Spanish beach holiday by train in under 10-hours?’
Upon our return, I got busy with Google Maps, literally drawing a straight line from Figueres to the coast, to see if any resorts worth visiting existed there. A name caught my eye: Roses. ‘Sounds pretty. Never heard of it. I wonder what goes on there….’
More Googling. Turns out, with Spanish and French holidaymakers, Roses is one of the most popular destinations on the Costa Brava. Less than 30km from the French border, it’s just 65km north of Girona and a short drive from the high speed rail station at Figueres.
As I read on, I was more and more tantalised. Shopping, a natural park, restaurants, mountains, bars, beaches, nightlife, water sports…amazing Catalan cuisine (El Bulli, one of the world’s most famous restaurants, until its closure in 2017, was just outside Roses).
One of the first things that struck us upon arrival in Roses Spain by train…the lack of Brits.
I was in.
A year of planning later and we arrived in Roses Spain by train. We checked into the Victoria hotel before 7pm, after an easy journey from St. Pancras with just one change at Lyon, where we had a 90-minute break for lunch and shopping in the mall next to the station. From Figueres station we reached Roses via a 30-minute taxi ride (€40).
We were unpacked and swimming in the crystal clear waters of Bahia de Roses (the Bay of Roses) before tea.
You could say that a holiday to Roses Spain by train is the ultimate overland beach break. It certainly worked on every level for me.
Our hotel was literally on the beach, with showers in the garden, so there were never any sandy issues in the hotel room (when you’re as big on swimming as I am, this is a major deal).
The hotel had its own spa and, in spite of the heat outside, many happy holiday hours were whiled away in the sauna and steam rooms, relaxing in the wellness pool afterwards.
An outdoor pool offered more respite from the sizzling Catalonian sun, and the terrace bar and games area were great places to chill. From our air-conditioned room, we had a stunning view of the beach and bay and the hotel’s buffet restaurant provided some deleicious evening meals.
The beach itself stretches all the way from the area of Santa Margartia, where our hotel was situated, to the port of Roses, which has a rich seafaring history. With soft white sand and beautiful, shallow water, Roses offers the most alluring Mediterranean beaches you could possibly visit (and European/international certification to prove it).
Although the beach was busy, given our August visit to Roses, it was nowhere near as crowded as the beaches of popular resorts further down the coast (Lloret and Tossa, to name but two), which tend to be highly populated with British tourists.
That’s one of the first things that struck us upon arrival in Roses Spain by train: the lack of Brits. I wasn’t all that surprised. When people asked where I was going on holiday, only one of my friends had even heard of the place.
Although Girona is only an hour’s drive away, it seems the package trail from Barcelona’s bustling airport has greater allure. The upside: no British bar, ‘full English’ or lobster pink sunburn in sight. The down? English isn’t always spoken by the locals. We got by on a mixture of patchy Spanish, terrible French and profuse apology. I’ll be brushing up on my linguistic skills before the next visit.
What to do on a holiday to Roses Spain by train
During two idyllic weeks in Roses, walking the long promenade all the way into town was a daily ritual. Roses is a vibrant place with a mix of ages and a distinctly safe and friendly vibe. Walking the prom on lazy afternoons and steamy summer nights was always fun; a people-watching extravaganza peppered with street traders, pop-up beach discos and live music spilling from the hotels.
In the town centre there are streets jammed with boutiques to explore, countless restaurants where you can try Catalan specialities including suquet (seafood stew) and mar i muntanya (surf n’ turf), decadent ice cream parlours and cosy bodegas.
August is fiesta time in Roses with community events at every turn, from firework displays to concerts and outdoor cinema screenings in Ciutadella de Roses, a museum with sprawling grounds that contain the remains of Greek, Roman and Visigothic settlements – a highlight for history buffs and archeology nuts.
Out of town, a holiday in Roses is all about the water. While my holiday companions tried parasailing and the ‘Monster’ speedboat experience with Aventura Nautica, I attempted a mega-swim along the bay, lapping up the clear waters: a pair of goggles is enough to give you a window to an impressive variety of fish and sea creatures.
As a family, we hired a small motor boat from Aventura and set off exploring the rocky coves and secluded beaches in the area.
A short cruise took us first to the idyllic Cala Murtra, where the scenery – and the nudism – is a feast for the eyes.
Cala Rostella is best reached by boat; its golden sand and turquoise water presented the perfect swim-up from our anchored vessel.
And at our final stop, Cala Montjoi, we dived in the sealife-rich bay then swam ashore, tackling the pebbly beach to reach a relaxed chiringuito where we savoured ice cold Cokes and snacks.
We ended the afternoon by cruising into the canal network back at Santa Margartia, lusting after the luxurious waterside homes and wondering how many organs we’d have to sell to afford one.
To explore further around the Cap de Creus peninsula, reaching Cadaques, next door to where Salvador Dalí’s seaside home resides, a bigger boat (and a more experienced skipper) is required: this stretch of coast is well known for its choppy waters.
We took our Cap de Creus trip from Roses with Els Blaus de Roses, marvelling at the Dalí-esque coastline, getting up close to the caves, catching a glimpse of the great man’s house at Port Lligat and then pulling up on the beach for a two-hour stop in the beautiful, sleepy town of Cadaques.
After roaming the steep streets, sussing out the location of Compartir (a restaurant founded by three former El Bulli chefs and known for serving creative, sharing dishes), and stuffing our faces with almond and pine nut coques de vidre (thin Catalan biscuits) the size of pizzas at Es Fornet bakery and cafe, we were set on a future holiday in Cadaques – or at least spending more time there.
Besides, you need to pre-arrange visits to Dalí’s Port Lligat abode, and it was fully booked during the second week of our stay, so we really have no choice but to return.
It was easy to see why Dalí fell for the charms of Cadaques. But the artist was born in Figures and, inspired by the trip to his seaside stomping ground, we jumped on a bus from Roses for the 30-minute journey into town to visit Dalí’s Theatre-Museum.
Accessible, breathtaking, fun and – as you’d expect – a little bit bat-shit, the Theatre-Museum is everything. A ticket gives you access to the main museum and the jewellery exhibition next door: I would adorn myself in every bit of bling Dalí designed, happily defying his claim that it isn’t meant to be wearable.
So much culture.
But this is the great thing about a break in Roses: you can spend a lazy day on a sunlounger in the (spotlessly clean, great fun and well-managed) Aquabrava water park one day, then learn about the history of the town (and enjoy panoramic views) at Castell de la Trinitat the next.
Keen walker? You can trek all the way from Roses to Cadaques along a beautiful coastal path.
Want to scale the mountains of the Cap de Creus but you’re worried about the heat? Take the Roses Express (complete with its own catchy theme tune) all the way to the peak of the Puig Rom.
And if food is your thing…boy, you have a treat coming to you in Roses.
Roses Spain by train: the secret is out
Try the thinnest, crispest most delicious pizzas, the best chicken and chips on the Costa Brava (expect to queue for a table – it’s worth it), and the most moreish tapas imaginable. We particularly loved sitting on the Santa Margarita marina, watching the boats bob as we tucked into modern tapas at the NewPort Gastrobar.
No visit to Roses is complete without taking in a stunning sunset from the Ona Roses Beach Bar. The staff are very young and a little bit sniffy/feckless, but the food is fabulous (I rate the squid in its own ink and the deconstructed suquet). The views as the sun goes down are priceless and the cocktails/mocktails ain’t half bad either.
It’s the ideal spot to take stock whether you’ve been riding the waves or taking it incredibly easy.
Does this all sound too good to be true?
I promise. It’s all here.
The secret is out: if you’d never have heard of Roses before, now you have.
So, if you’re looking for a beach break without flying, there’s no excuse: take a trip to Roses Spain by train and get ready to fall in love.
How to get to Roses Spain by train:
Johanna booked return train tickets with Trainline from London St. Pancras to Figueres in Spain.
On the inward journey, passports must be checked, so there is an additional change at Lille Europe to pass through security and border controls, before taking the London-bound Eurostar.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Images: Johanna Payton
If you enjoyed reading about Roses Spain by train check out this piece on Barcelona Spain by train.