As a new Picasso exhibition opens at London’s Royal Academy, we visit Horta de Sant Joan, the hilltop village that the artist said taught him ‘everything’
I was standing in a cave Picasso once slept in. Actually, it’s more of a ledge beneath a craggy, overhanging limestone rock. Yet, in the summer of 1898 the 16-year-old Picasso and a friend spent a month sleeping here: in the Santa Bárbara mountain in the Terres de l’Ebre region of Catalonia, some 210km south-west of Barcelona. He would later write: “Everything I know, I learned in Horta.”
Local lore has turned the ledge into a cave but, either way, it’s certainly remote – high up amid the dense holly oak and pine forests of the mountains. Apart from the odd derelict farmhouse, there was nothing for miles and all I heard were warbling sparrows and the trickling of a brook.
For our tipsters a healthy break means everything from beach yoga and spa hotels to sensory barefoot forest walking and listening to Puccini under the stars
Listening to Puccini and other Italian opera classics while sparkling stars lit the night skies was just the tonic I needed last summer. I stumbled on the lovely resort of Salsomaggiore Terme when I was driving around the verdant hills of Emilia-Romagna. I thought I might stay a day to enjoy the thermal waters – but ended up staying a week. The town is full of natural water fountains, belle époque buildings, peaceful cafes and eateries. The elegant Grand Hotel (doubles from €120 B&B), where I stayed, offered open-air tai chi classes in the gardens, and all kinds of mud and relaxation treatments are available at most hotels in the town.