Tucked beneath the Pyrenees in the extreme northeast of Spain, geographically speaking Costa Brava enjoys the best of all possible worlds, combining beautiful coastline with breathtaking countryside and all the drama of the Pyrenees. On France’s doorstep and just a short flight from the UK, Costa Brava has a Pandora’s Box of adrenalin-fuelled activities up her sleeve for visitors, from skiing to skydiving; wildly contrasting scenery from volcanic cones and rolling vineyards to some of the most picturesque beaches in the Mediterranean and best of all, a culinary culture to diet for.
The region is blessed with an 158 kilometre coastline which draws its beauty from the idyllic Mediterranean cocktail of white sand coves framed by dramatic cliffs, bordered by scented pine trees and lapped by lucid, turquoise seas. Inland, swathes of lush valleys conceal Medieval villages, stone cottages and emerald pine forests that climb to the snow capped Pyrenees. At the heart of the region, the gently pulsating city of Girona moves to the rhythm of the seasons, its architecturally rich streets offering a giddy mix of cool bars, excellent restaurants and irresistible shopping.
The glazed olive on Costa Brava’s heady cocktail of sensory experiences is a gastronomic heritage that raises the culinary bar to 20 Michelin stars spanning 14 restaurants. From the simple pleasure of a savoury suquet made by the fishermen of Cala Jóncols and the unique sweetness of Palamós prawns prepared by the fishermen of Tamariu and the chefs of Empordanet, to the culinary boundary-breaking innovation of the world’s finest restaurant – El Celler de Can Roca – Costa Brava’s gastronomy is exquisite.
Costa Brava’s relatively mild winters, high sunshine hours and near constant winter snowfall in the mountains, make it the perfect winter ski destination coupled with a city break in Girona and the consummate beach, exploration, activity and culture destination throughout the spring and summer.
We were blown away by the sheer beauty of Costa Brava and the rich diversity of its landscapes. Birthplace of Salvador Dali, the surrealism of the region is to be found everywhere, from its impossibly idyllic beaches and coastal coves, through its stunning rural landscapes and charming villages to its extraordinary cuisine. Forget the Costa Brava you think you know and take the time to discover a sensory paradise that will have you eyeing up the local property prices and wondering how you can persuade your boss to open a new office in Girona.
Split by the River Onyar which is crossed via a series of bridges connecting the city’s various quarters, Girona’s old city is a pot pourri of cultural treasures spanning a thousand years of history. Highlights are the Cathedral with its Baroque exterior and Gothic interior, and the narrow maze of the Jewish quarter. A university city, Girona has a young, laid back feel characterised by its trendy bars, excellent tapas bars and restaurants housed in eclectic architectural gems and its superb shopping which combines household names with bohemian individualism. Visit during its annual Flower Festival of Temps de Flor (May 2015) and watch the city quite literally bloom.
One of the region’s most popular tourist centres with a long, wide promenade that follows the marina and the endless golden sand along the length of the town and beyond – a popular place for strollers, dog walkers and joggers. The town has the air and feel of an old-fashioned seaside resort and even has an open sided tourist train which runs all the way along the coast to Cadaqués. A maze of narrow streets behind the seafront in which restaurants, bars and shops sit cheek by jowl and on Sunday mornings there’s a large flea market behind the castle. Winter sees Roses staging one of the largest carnivals in the region (12 Feb 2015) with up to 50,000 spectators enjoying costumed parades and parties.
With a fairytale setting on the Fluvia river, the one-time capital of the region is steeped in historic and cultural importance. A stunning approach over the 12th century Roman bridge leads to a medieval settlement of paved squares, tiny streets and arched porticos in which souvenir and craft shops vie for attention with 12th century churches around whose stone towers starlings scatter at dusk. Wandering Besalú’s streets is like taking a stroll through a living museum, albeit one where locals sit with a few beers while watching Barcelona on TV screens, seemingly oblivious to the coach loads of visitors. A real Costa Brava must-see.
Portlligat and Figueres
No-one should leave Costa Brava without experiencing the presence of its most celebrated and influential son, Salvador Dali. In his bithplace of Figueres is the Dali Theatre-Museum – a hallowed shrine, designed by the artist himself, in which his works, his philosophies and ideals and his very unique perspective on life are exhibited in the charismatic former town theatre. In the quaint little fishing harbour of Portlligat is the home that Dali shared with his wife Gala. Packed to its fishing cottage rafters with the possessions, photographs and collectables of the couple, their very essence can be felt in every room giving an almost voyeur quality to the experience.