Olive Me Blog

Teresa Parker blogs about restaurants, recipes, and the reasons why she's in love with Spain's food and culture.

Ceramics in La Bisbal

As you drive into La Bisbal d'Empordà, your romantic image of what a historic pottery-making town ought to look like (quaint cottage workshops complete with artisans at the wheel) takes a withering blow. The place is dusty, for one thing -- sitting on a great big expanse of clay since the dawn of time will do that do a town.

But take it slow here and you will find enough artisanal pottery and good eats to make you forget the scruffiness and want to come back for more. They've been busy churning out clay roofing and downspouts, bathroom tiles and kitchen crockery here for 300 years and have the factories to prove it. L'Aigueta, the old highway through the center of town, is lined with ceramics shops, some of them featuring wares more dubious than garden gnomes.

Dubious donkey decoration in La Bisbal

But, as I was saying, good things come to those who can resist the donkey's gaze. For a look at traditional shapes and colors, I like El Rissec (C/L'Aigueta, 92-102). They've got some over-the-top flouncy stuff and odd imported goods, but they've also got everyday country pottery -- pitchers, coffee cups, tagines, casseroles -- in Catalonia's traditional earthy golds and greens, creams and blues, and unadorned terracotta.

Vila Clara is the place to go for gorgeous unconventional colors. The gray-blue pieces at the top of this post are from there, as are the bright glazes in the photo below. Vila Clara has two shops, one with platters and bowls (C/ L'Aigueta, 56), the other at the other end of town (C/ Sis d'Octubre, 27) with dinnerware collections.

Rogenca d'Ullastret is my favorite. Proprietress Antonia Roig works in an open studio near the center of town (C/ Hospital, 2) most mornings, and is in her shop at no. 112 on L'Aigueta most afternoons. I go back for her Japanese-like tea sets, simple fountains, rock-shaped boxes -- these are not traditional pieces but her forms are very organic and tactile, her colors more delicious than this picture conveys.

Walk across the bridge over the dry riverbed at the center of town and head into the old city on C/Cavallers for lunch. Two excellent places for a reasonable menú del día: Els Fogons (C/Cavallers, 22, tel: 972-645-165) and just across from it and a bit more stylish, La Cantonada (C/Bisbe, 6, tel: 972-643-413). Both are on the way to the Castle -- oh, yeah, there's an eleventh century castle on a square here, especially worth strolling through on a Friday, market day.

Philip and Moya in front of the Castle in La Bisbal

If you're serious about your shopping, Artesans Ceramistes website offers glimpses (and whereabouts) of many local producers. If you want to go beyond shopping, there is an interesting Terracotta Museu in town, housed at a defunct tilemaking factory. Though it is currently closed for renovations, once it reopens tours will include a visit to Terrisseria Salamó, which still produces very traditional pieces.

For the crafty, La Bisbal also has a well-regarded Escola de Ceràmica that offers short courses in summer for serious amateur artisans -- ceramics, as well as sculpture, drawing, glass-blowing, and furniture making.

Comments

Shipping is something that people buying ceramics in La Bisbal worry about. My wife Mònica and I own a Mail Boxes ETC. (something that every American recognizes) in Palafrugell. Its about 10 min away from La Bisbal. We offer an array of services from wireless internet, fax, photocopies, but our most frequently used service is shipping and packaging. Over the years we have had many American customers, even famous ones. We always recommend that if you are going to ship something back home make sure its worth it. Shipping costs are very expensive and now with the way the dollar is with the euro it doesn't make it any better. When buying ceramics many people at first imagine they will take them on the plane. But it is easy to exceed the new weight limits. That's where we come in. We have different types of wrapping materials and use sturdy double layered cardboard boxes. We cannot guarantee that nothing will break, but we make sure that the packaging is correct. We recommend that you contact us before you begin shopping. I am away from the store many times but I am easy located on my cell phone. My wife also speaks English. Once the shopping is over we recommend that you not leave the shipping for the last minute. Bring your purchases to our store so we can calculate an accurate cost for you. My cell pone number is (011-34) 654-608-081 and our store number is (011-34) 972-306-192.

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