Are you like me I wonder – as soon as I hear the words ‘Costa Brava’, I’m spirited back to that anthem of the early 70’s which stuck in the pop charts for months and to this day is probably still churned out in campsites and hotels as guests snake around the dance floor in conga style:
♫♪♫ ‘Oh. This year I’m off to sunny Spain. Y Viva Espana I’m taking the Costa Brava plane…..’
With lyrics including ‘matador’, ‘flamenco’, ‘castanets’ and other Spanish cliches and with images of hordes of tourists spilling from the airport into massive resort hotels, I reckoned that the Costa Brava was one spot on earth I would NEVER find myself!
Wrong again of course. We got to know the region quite well in the 90’s, returning again and again for camping holidays and then enjoyed a touring trip a few years back.
Located at the foothills of the Pyrenees and stretching from the French border to Blanes, I’m very happy to endorse this part of Spain as a perfect location for a mini break or extended vacation. Whether you’re here for 3, 7 or 10 days, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste and interest. Here are my 10 reasons for considering the area and apologies if the song is now stuck in your brain for the rest of the day!
10 Reasons to visit the Costa Brava
1. Choice of Airports
The region is well served by budget airlines and there are great flight bargains to be found, especially out of high season. While Girona airport is the most central to the area, Barcelona and Reus to the south and Perpignan just over the French border are useful options. If you are renting a car and moving around, then you have lots of flexibility – for our last trip we flew into Reus and home from Girona.
2. Car Hire
Unless you are planning a mini break in one of the major urban centres, you should consider renting a car and seeing as much of the region as you can. Some of the smaller towns will be challenging in high season and there are the usual issues with parking but its a great area for touring on your own.
All the airports have rental agencies. Just make sure of the terms and conditions if you are not returning the car to the same airport. By the time you factor in a possible one way surcharge, your flight option might not work out at the best value after all (and remember that Perpignan is in a different country!)
Also, note that not every hotel will have free parking facilities so that’s also a consideration when booking.
The area has been blessed with not one but two major urban areas which are worthy of a visit in themselves.
Don’t even try to cram this city into your itinerary if you have a car and just a few days. Most Europeans will visit it as a city break at some stage anyway but if you have a week or more than you could start here before picking up a car or, in reverse, drop your car back and finish up here.
Two days will allow you tick off the highlights – Gaudi’s work, Barri Gotic, Camp Nou, a few museums, monuments and parks. But this is a city that shouldn’t be rushed – you must allow time for the cafes, markets and even the beach.
This city is more manageable with a car and you’re probably less likely to visit it as a stand alone destination so, even if you’re opting for an outdoor activity break, you should consider stopping here. One full day will give you a nice overview of the place. It’s not huge and you should be able to get accommodation with parking close enough to the centre to allow you walk rather than drive. Landmarks here include the Old Town, Jewish Quarter, City Walls and the Eiffel Bridge and if you’ve time, you can throw in a Tapas’ Tour
4. Charming Small Towns
Despite the tourist development, many towns – both along the coast and inland – have managed to remain unspoiled. Most coastal villages were originally fishing communities of course. Inland, you will travel through farming areas where well preserved medieval towns offer narrow streets, archways, alleys, and cobbled squares.
Cadaques, with its white houses, was a favourite of Picasso and Dali.
Tosse de Mar with its 14th century walls, is the last fortified medieval town to survive on the Costa.
Pals is well known for its historical centre, galleries and shops.
5. Wild Coastline
The name Costa Brava’ translates as ‘Rugged coast’ and that’s self explanatory as you tour the region. You can admire from the comfort of your car or else enjoy some of the miles of coastal footpaths known as Camins de Ronda which will take you from village to village.
Despite the hundreds of kilometres of rough coastline, you’ll still be spoiled for choice when it comes to laying your towel. You can opt for those big wide sandy beaches that are great for families or settle for the more secluded coves that are only accessible by foot or boat. Urban beaches in particular can be pretty crowded in summer to say the least but you’ll always manage to squeeze in somewhere! Some locations have reefs offshore so keep your snorkel and mask handy in the car.
7. Greco-Roman Ruins
The ancient city of Empúries is the largest archaeological site in the region and well worth a visit. Situated in a beautiful area, the site is extensive and includes streets, buildings, mosaics and a museum. The Greek ruins have been pretty much excavated but only 20% of the Roman city has been uncovered to date. An audioguide is included in the entrance fee (€5.50) and it will take a few hours to do justice to the place. Wear proper footwear and bring a hat and water in summer. Note that in winter, the mosaics may be covered for protection.
8. Art Appreciation
Well, art in this part of the world must mean Dalí! Figueres is the birthplace of this famous surrealist and the Dali Theatre-Museum is second only to the Prada in Madrid for visitor numbers. You don’t have to be an art lover to enjoy this gallery – the building itself is worth a visit. No surface is wasted – the walls are dotted with bread rolls and golden Oscar-like statues and then topped with massive eggs. Inside you’ll find the biggest collection of Dalí’s work in existence, including paintings, sculptures and installations. You’ll need a few hours to do justice to the building and the exhibition. Book in advance if possible.
There’s more to Figueres than Dalí of course. Stay for lunch and visit The Church of Sant Pere.
9. Food and Drink
From Michelin Stars to food trucks, you won’t have to travel far to eat. Food is based on fresh local ingredients and seasonal produce so yes that means a lot of seafood but not exclusively. Lunch can be the main meal of the day and restaurants may not be ready to serve until 1.00 or 1.30. The menú del día is a good opportunity to sample local dishes and may offer the best value, especially on weekdays. Tapas are not traditionally Catalan but are available in many places at evening time. Dinner is rarely served before 7.30 and restaurants don’t start to fill until about 9.00pm – dinner is a family occasion with kids still playing outside at midnight. Everything can be washed down with local wines and beers. Salud!!!
Whats NOT here! With mountains on one side and the sea on the other, there’s so much outdoor activity to choose from. Ranging from diving to mountain trekking and absolutely everything in between you can fill your days on the go or just chill on a beach.
You can visit some of the family run wineries for a guided tour.
Visit a fish auction
There is a choice of theme parks and adventure parks.
Take part in a pottery workshop.
Costa Brava is one of thee world’s main cork-growing regions. There’s a cork museum in Palafrugell.
And don’t forget to catch that flamenco show!
♫♪♫ ‘Oh. This year I’m off to sunny Spain…..