Sitges Travel Guide

Where the sun-kissed Mediterranean coastline meets irresistible Catalan cuisine and lively nightlife

Sitges, barely a half-hour away from glamorous Barcelona by train, attracts everyone from jet-setters to young backpackers, honeymooners to weekending families, Barcelona night owls, and anyone looking for a good time! The jewel of the Costa Garraf has been a fashionable, chic resort since the 1890s when it became an avant-garde, art-world hangout. Sitges boasts a long and proud history; evidence suggests that Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) people wandered around Sitges as long as 70,000 years ago. In addition, archaeological findings show that Catalunya was occupied continuously from the 6th century BC to the first century AD.

The Phoenicians and the Greeks were among the first civilizations to visit the area, followed by the Carthaginians, who marched their army north through Catalunya during the Punic wars between Carthage and Rome. However, by 197 BC, Spain (which the Romans called Hispania) was under Roman control. In the next few hundred years, the Roman way of life was implanted, and Catalunya experienced relative peace and prosperity.

However, Catalunya felt the full effects as the western Roman empire wobbled in the 5th century. Marauding Franks were among the first to subject Catalunya to death and destruction; this was, in effect, a prelude to several waves of invaders flooding the peninsula. After the Visigoths, the Moors came in 711, led by the Muslim general Tariq, who landed 7000 men at present-day Gibraltar. By 718, all of Catalunya found itself under Muslim control. Yet the situation would not last long – The Franks and local counts mounted counter-attacks, and in 785, they retook Girona. Finally, in 801, Barcelona fell after a long siege.

By the late 10th century, the Casal de Barcelona (House of Barcelona) was the region’s dominant force. The Counts of Barcelona also controlled parts of France, and under the rule of Ramon Berenguer III (1097-1131), Catalunya launched its fleet, and sea trade developed. During this period, the first recorded mention of Sitges occurs in a parchment dating back to the 10th century. During this era, many silos were discovered in Sitges, storage areas underground used to preserve food. Sitges is commonly believed to be named after the Catalan word for Silo, “sitja.”

In the 11th century, Sitges grew into a thriving town, complete with a fortified castle, in which, sadly, there are no visible remains. Local Counts in the province of Ribes had jurisdiction over the town, which became more critical as Catalunya’s sea trade expanded. Indeed, in the 13th century, Catalunya’s ruler, Jaume I, managed to conquer Mallorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, in addition to Valencia. His son Pere II took Sicily in 1282. Such a mighty empire boded well for the citizens of Sitges, who grew prosperous.

Another boon for Sitges occurred in the 14th century when the feudal Lord of Ribes passed direct control of Sitges and the broader area to an aristocratic family who, two centuries earlier, had adopted the name of the ceded territory. The head of the family, Agnés of Sitges, sold the rights to another nobleman, Bernat de Fonollar, who remained Lord of Sitges’ castle until 1326. Sitges prospered greatly from this newfound freedom, mainly as Bernat of Fonollar was King Jaume II’s right-hand man. Without a doubt, Fonollar was the most important man in the history of medieval Sitges.

Sadly, by the end of this period, the empire began to exhaust Catalunya. Sea wars with Genoa, resistance in Sardinia, the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and the loss of the gold trade all drained the coffers. Commerce collapsed. Moreover, the Black Death and famines killed about half of Catalunya’s population in the 14th century. However, better times arrived in the 15th century, when Fernando and Isabel united Spain’s two most powerful monarchies. In 1492, the last of the Muslims were ejected from Granada, and in the same year, Columbus discovered the Americas – an event that would bring enormous wealth to now-united Spain.
Unfortunately, Sitges would experience much turmoil and conflict between the 17th and 18th centuries. During the Guerra dels Segadors (Reapers War), 600 Neapolitan soldiers under the command of Felipe IV overran Sitges and pillaged the town, taking everything they could. In 1649, Sitges again came under siege for two days, repeatedly attacked by the Castilian troops of Juan de Garay (viceroy of Catalonia). This attack caused extensive damage to the town and collapsed a section of the wall, two towers, and part of the castle, which was not rebuilt until 1681.

Indeed, Sitges and wider Catalunya seemed destined to stumble from one losing cause to another. In 1714, Felipe V took Barcelona after a long siege – for Catalans, the blackest day in history. He banned writing and teaching in Catalan, ruling the once proud and independent region with an iron fist. However, Felipe was a pragmatist who allowed the Catalans some economic freedom. By the late 1720s, the wheels of the Catalan industry were at full speed, and the region became renowned for its cotton, cork, leather, and brandy exports.

Of course, it could not last. The French Revolution of 1789 brought little but bad news for Catalunya. It took six years for British troops under Wellington, the Portuguese, and some Catalans to turf Napoleon out. The net balance for Catalunya was impoverishment.

Yet by the mid-19th century, prosperity returned to Sitges and Catalunya. Industry and exports once again thrived, while Sitges became a popular retirement spot for local merchants who had made their fortunes in the Caribbean. More than 100 of the mansions owned by “Los Americans.” as they were known are dotted around the center of Sitges today.
The 20th century would be marked by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War between the ruling government and the Nationalists commanded by Franco. In 1939, Franco seized power, and after abolishing the Catalan Generalitat, he embarked on a program of Castilianisation in Catalunya. He banned the public use of Catalan and had all town, village, and street names rendered in Spanish. After his death, Spain peacefully transitioned to democracy, and freedom and prosperity once again returned to Catalunya.

This beguiling region entered the 21st century with greater optimism and a positive sense of its identity than ever since 1714. Today, Sitges is a fitting symbol for Catalunya’s national pride, a beautiful and unspoiled resort called “the St-Tropez of Spain.” Yet Sitges is something of a chameleon – in summer, the whitewashed streets are packed with partygoers. It’s a different story in winter: the scene is far more relaxed, making Sitges the ideal destination for a chic vacation, whatever your mood.

  • Creative cuisine in Restaurante La Fragata
    Creative cuisine in Restaurante La Fragata (see below)

    Gastronomy & Wine

Nearby Wine Regions


  • Restaurante La Fragata

    La Fragata in Sitges is a true hidden gem nestled by the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. With its humble yet elegant decor and warm, welcoming staff, this charming restaurant has been serving up some of the freshest seafood dishes for over 50 years. You be impressed by the daily catch of the day, sourced straight from the local fishing boats, and the expertly prepared dishes that let the seafood’s natural flavors shine through. It’s no wonder that La Fragata has become a favorite among locals and visitors.

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  • Museu Cau Ferrat

    The Museu Cau Ferrat was built in the 1890s as a house-cum-studio by Santiago Rusinol, a man who attracted the art world to Sitges. In 1894 Rusinol reawakened the public to the then unpopular work of El Greco. Today the museum houses his large art and crafts collection, which includes paintings by the likes of Picasso, Ramon Casas and Rusinol himself. The interior of the house, with its exquisite tiled walls and lofty arches, is enchanting.

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  • Museu Romantic

    This lovely museum is housed in a late-18th-century mansion, designed to re-create the lifestyle of a 19th-century Catalan landowning family. It boasts a collection of several hundred antique dolls, while the furnishings and dioramas are utterly beautiful.

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