As a child, Albert Diks spent many summers camping with his family in Catalonia. Each time they went on a drive around the Catalan countryside, Albert would stare out the window, his eyes glued to every castle they passed. “At night, in my little tent on the camping, I dreamed of having my own castle.” In the winter of 1999, he stumbled upon the 14th century Castell d’Empordà, in the town of La Bisbal in the heart of the Empordà region in Costa Brava.
In its heyday, the castle was one of the mightier bastions in the region. In the 1970′s, Salvador Dalí made an attempt to purchase the castle for his wife Gala. Alas, the then owner refused to accept Dalí’s art as a barter for the castle, preferring cash instead. On a side note, I wonder if he’s still kicking himself for not accepting Dalí’s offer! Dalí then bought a castle in nearby Púbol, which is currently a museum.
By the time Albert discovered Castell d’Empordà, it was in a deplorable state. But, in his own words, “It was love at first sight despite the dreadful condition of the building, that poetically merged into the beautiful Catalonian scenery.” He and his partner Margo successfully purchased the castle and spent the following years painstakingly restoring it to its old splendor. In the spring of 2001, Castell d’Empordà opened its doors as a hotel. Albert’s dream had become a reality!
Experiencing Castell d’Empordà
I had the privilege of staying at Castell d’Empordà for several nights and like Albert, I was smitten the first time I saw it. Surrounded by olive groves and well-kept gardens, the castle enjoys a commanding position atop a hill overlooking the broad plains and rolling hills of the Empordà.
The interior, with its beautiful stone arches, is elegantly decorated with contemporary design furniture and chandeliers. I couldn’t wait to see my room and I wasn’t disappointed. There are various room types: the Garden Rooms (in a separate wing), the Castle Rooms (in the main building) and the Tower Rooms (for those who’ve always dreamed of staying in a castle tower). I was given a Castle Room. As soon as I opened the heavy wooden door, I was stunned by the bright sunshine streaming through the large windows, and the gorgeous view. The room was very spacious, with an equally spacious bathroom (that featured a bath-tub with a grand view!). I especially loved the bare stone walls and tiled floor.
Dining at Drac
That evening, I sat down for dinner at Drac, the castle’s well-known restaurant. Paired with a series of superb wines from the Empordà region, the food was indeed top-notch; from the tantalising Atlantic bass ceviche to the sublime crema catalana. The chef, Maurice de Jaeger, provides a classy contemporary twist to traditional Catalan dishes through his expert blends of flavours and imaginative presentations. I was seriously impressed!
Toy soldiers and tower views
I soon found my favourite spot in the hotel: on the lounge beds at the pool terrace, boasting lovely views of the Empordà below. I spent a great deal of my stay there simply taking in the view, with a glass of ice-cold cerveza! One morning, as I ventured around the castle, I discovered another of Albert’s passions: toy soldiers! I’m talking toy soldiers on a massive scale! There, before me, in a huge glass box was the infamous Battle of Waterloo, and in another box, the siege of Castell d’Emporda in medieval times!
I continued my exploration of the castle and found a stairway to the top of the castle tower. The views from the top were absolutely stunning!
Needless to say, I truly enjoyed my stay at Castell d’Empordà. In addition to being the perfect spot for a relaxing holiday, the castle is an excellent base from which to explore the Empordà region – there are many nearby attractions such as the towns of La Bisbal (famous for its porticoes, Jewish quarter and ceramics), Peratallada and Pals (gorgeous medieval villages), and the Gala Castle in Púbol.
Albert bought the castle of his dreams and turned it into a labour of love. I’m glad he got to realise his dream because now, we can all enjoy the fruits of that dream together with him!