For centuries, the Spanish coastal town of Sitges was known primarily for its wine production. Grand estates and simple farms alike were built among the vineyards and orchards under the Mediterranean sun. Then, in the 1960s, Sitges became a popular resort area with several popular beaches, a vibrant international community, beautiful natural landscapes, and a culinary scene to rival nearby Barcelona.
Originally drawn to the Catalan coast by the pleasant weather, Servais Boosten left his home in Holland years ago and settled in the Spanish town of Calella. He had already discovered a passion for renovation projects in Holland, and he put his talents to work in renovating a Calella hotel with friends. “It was loads of fun,” Servais says of those days, explaining that after marrying his Swedish wife, Helena, and starting a family, his priorities changed, and he wanted a better place to settle down.
“Sitges is a lovely village with friendly people and amazing weather,” says Servais. “All the coastal places are fantastic in the summer, but when everybody goes, the villages become ghost towns. Sitges, however, is just down the coast from Barcelona, so people will come out on the weekends to eat and drink. We have festivals, tango, film, theater, and wine-tastings year-round. There are nice restaurants and tapas bars, and we love the international community.”
Servais and Helena moved to Sitges fifteen years ago. In no time at all, they had fallen in love with the many old ruins, often called “Masias,” dotted throughout the region. They purchased and began to renovate a Masia named Casa Nova, but soon ran out of money. Instead of giving up, the couple found other ways to keep going, calling in favors and friends to help them. Before long, Servais found that he had a full construction company on hand. The skills of these friends and workers began to be in demand all over, even as far north as Krakow, Poland. Servais formalized the collection of talented individuals, and with the development of a company came the funding to finish Casa Nova and pursue additional projects.
Then came the economic crisis, when Servais had to say goodbye to his work force. “But,” says Servais, “we still had a beautiful Masia. So we started renting it out and it slowly grew. Then we started building on our portfolio, adding another villa, and another. We had to get used to the hospitality industry, but we truly enjoy it.”
Villa Catalina was purchased in 2013, but with over 400 acres in private grounds overlooking the Penedés wine region it was an enormous undertaking. Says Servais, “Five or six potential construction companies were considering taking it over, but nobody dared to do it because it’s so huge and run down. It was scary to start, and you never know what you’re going to find. But we fell in love with it. It’s so beautiful, and so private. The way it’s situated, you could have a rock band playing without disturbing anybody.”
“We started work on Villa Catalina with fifteen workmen and over a period of six months, we completely renovated it. We put in new systems, new plumbing, and everything needed to be deep cleaned. We added bedrooms and bathrooms (it has 15 total now, 12 ensuite), and restored the wine cellar which had 3,000-4,000 bottles covered in cobwebs. The lounging areas outside we made really gorgeous. The swimming pool is large and there’s a big garden around it. It’s very private, you can’t be disturbed by anybody there.
“I think what guests like the most is the amount of space. Multi-generational families come together here, and it’s perfect for that, because everyone can be in their own quarters. There are four different fireplaces in the house, three salons, and an enormous patio outside. When we get groups of 30-35 guests, they are not in each others’ way. The lounging and outside areas are so big that people don’t disturb each other. I especially love the dining room, where the setting makes you feel like you’re a part of all the previous dinners that have been going on there for centuries. It’s so old and authentic, it’s a gorgeous feeling.
“When we bought the house, we bought the furniture from the previous owners, who were the biggest furniture dealers in the area. Some of the furniture was antique and high-end, in very good state. We combined them with more modern pieces to create a luxurious and comfortable setting. Helena is an interior designer by trade, so she has that feeling for it and has made it very pretty. The house still has the old charm and authentic furniture, but she’s updated it and made it comfortable and convenient as well. It challenged her, to bring out the best in this building, but people walk through and they just love it.”
Villa Catalina’s size, privacy, access, and beauty make it an ideal location for weddings as well. It is able to accommodate up to 250 people on the grounds. Even if it rains (though it won’t), a large bodega on the property can seat 160 guests, comfortably surrounded by an authentic collection of large wine barrels. Whether indoor or outdoor, the setting is lovely, especially when lit up by fairy lights. Servais and Helena host ten weddings every year, as well as corporate events, reunions, and other large gatherings.
As you’d expect from a one-time hotel, restaurant and bar owner, Servais takes his food and drink very seriously. To satisfy his high standards, and enable the property to host large groups, he has upgraded the kitchen to professional catering standards. Two qualified international chefs, one Scottish and one Brazilian, are available to prepare meals for everything from private romantic dinners to important celebrations, and an additional professional kitchen in the village is also available when needed. Servais and Helena are as proud of their gastronomic offerings as they are of their villa, and a meal of roasted lamb among the gardens of their historic Catalan villa is just as idyllic as you might imagine.
If you go: Be sure to explore the village of Sitges and the beautiful wine region. A private tour can be arranged to take you through the natural park, while your guide explains the history of the area and the local wine-making traditions. You’ll visit another beautiful Masia and have a wine-tasting with some fantastic quality wines before enjoying a barbecue of lamb from the farm next door and complimentary side dishes made from local products. Another tour option is the beautiful Monastery Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. Located in the mountains, it has a vast basilica, an iconic virgin sculpture, and a museum with world-renowned art.
And of course, take the time to visit Sitges’ beaches (there are 17!), and the seafront promenade lined with grand mansions. Ask your concierge for their suggestions for an excellent culinary tour of Sitges restaurants and tapas bars. If you have a day or two for some excitement, the drive into Barcelona will only take you 20 minutes. Enjoy the museums, the shopping, and the architecture of this gorgeous city all day, and then return home again to Villa Catalina for a glass of wine under the Mediterranean stars.