It was late summer and I was shooting for a lingerie designer in Barcelona. On the second day we were done in studio and scouting for a natural location. We wanted ruins, coves and rocky coastline and it was a local model who told us about this place a bit off the map.
We drove to Girona and then toward the coast but as we got closer to the meet up location we ran into some trouble. As if on a mission to protect local beachgoers from outsiders, Google maps directed us from paved road to dirt and from there deeper into the brush. Each turn became more rugged until what could barely be described as a “road” in the first place was barely distinguishable. Still, we had come this far and anyway it would be impossible to turn around in the rocky, steep terrain that Maps assured us was the route of choice.
We found ourselves on uneven ground peering through trees and cacti at a campground below, complete with all amenities of civilization including a perfectly good paved access road.
So close yet so far… The only way to reach it was down a short rocky ravine, weaving tightly between trees. I got out and walked down, moving as many sharper “tire piercing” rocks out of the way as I could before giving it a go in the rental rig I was hoping to still get the deposit back for. I chuckled at the camp dwellers surprise as we emerged, driving out through the brush as if from nowhere.
We were meeting the model here and she was already waiting because well, she was local and knew that there was a perfectly good access road, or just maybe Google maps likes her more.
Another few turns down dirt roads took us to a pristine beach framed by cliffs, the azure sea glinting lazily like a postcard.
It was a short hike up to the 6th Century BC ruins of a fishing village atop a cliff and here a panoramic view stretched below us, beach, cove and yacht specked sea. A soft breeze cooled us from the summer sun, bearing with it that particular Catalonian clay scent of baked earth.
The shoot progressed as we walked paths cut from the cliffs along plunging vistas and dipping amongst outcrops of seaside abodes. The vacationing locals stared at us with lazy curiosity which was just short of friendly, leaving us with the distinct feel of walking through someone’s backyard. Farther down a protrusion of rocks broke the sea waves and created crystal clear pools where a few snorkelers and swimmers explored while others basked in the sun.
A cheeked teen with damp gold curls took it upon herself to show us where to get in and out of the water amongst the rocks, and proceeded to watch us with great interest as she sunned topless beside our gear.
Too soon it was time to go, so we made our way back to the car, sun soaked and grinning from wrapping a great set. We gave our model a ride back to her village as much for her sake as for ours (she offered to point us toward food). When we arrived, old-world stonework emerged from the landscape as though part of the earth. Dating back to the medieval era the town appeared completely frozen in time. Parking outside the village as the streets were not wide enough for cars, we walked through cobbled paths under arches and through columns draped with foliage.
The model showed us her home where she and her Aussie boyfriend run a brewery on the ground floor.
We ate in the open air courtyard and afterward, reluctant to head back to the city just yet, we drove just down the coast to L’illa Roja. We ditched the beautiful but busy main beaches and instead parked in a quiet tucked away neighborhood above the cliffs where a hidden gate granted access to a foot path leading steeply down to the sea below. We climbed along the rocks until we found a deserted cove where we could jump in and swim. The water was that perfect temperature, warm yet crisp like silk on skin. We sat and watched the sea for a bit discussing the symbolism of dark water while a small octopus furled its arms under a rock in the water near my feet. As shadows grew longer we made our way up a steep stone stairway that seemed to come from nowhere. Following it precariously up the cliff we ended on a path that lead to the path up to our car.
The drive back to Barcelona was sleepy in that “salt skin” way, winding through a mountainous region into arid Catalonian countryside with the windows down and music playing. I was exhausted when we returned the rental (We apparently were over the day limit on miles but we escaped our off-roading incident with no damages!).
The city lights were starting to glow as we walked back through narrow cobbled streets to the designer’s apartment in the gothic quarter and while the heat of the day gave way to evening we watched the city come awake from high in the arches of a huge open air window, legs dangling over the narrow street below.