Costa Brava holiday guide
Decades before long-haul became the norm and exotic cruises affordable, the Costa Brava was the original package holiday destination. Today, it’s lost little of its charm and, at less than a two-hour flight from the UK and with what remains one of the most alluring coastlines in Europe, this corner of Spain is emphatically a winner – on so many levels. From one of the most consistently adored cities in the world to small, stylish towns and seaside villages, an interior of pine-clad hills and rural retreats, and plenty with which to keep the foodie, shopaholic or artistically-inclined happy, a Costa Brava holiday is all this and much more.
Towns and Cities
It’s easy to class the Costa Brava as “mainstream” but in truth it’s bursting with chic spots off-the-beaten track, style by the sand bucket load and – at its heart – a portfolio of utterly charming seaside retreats, fishing villages and beautiful, secluded coastal corners. Take the stylish little town of Begur, the delightful horseshoe-shaped bay of Tamariu, the pine-draped cliffs surrounding seductive and tranquil Sa Riera, and Cadaqués with its sedate location and narrow streets far removed from the sun-worshipping hordes. And then there’s Barcelona – one of the world’s most enduringly enticing cities – right on the doorstep.
Think of the Costa Brava and you’ll think seaside but this is a region of national parks, marine reserves and ample opportunities to walk through forests, across mountain valleys, swim crystal clear waters and stop at numerous spots to picnic against a backdrop of wonderful views. Alt Empordà is a region where the landscapes are rugged, villages nestle in valleys and mountains are topped with fortresses, while Baix Emporada boasts forests of pine, olive groves, vineyards and cornfields. Elsewhere, towns like Cruilles and La Bisbal offer everything from a blend of architecture dating back to the 11th century to an insight into this region’s important ceramic making heritage.
Eating and Drinking
With blue badge-status beaches boasting superb expanses of gold sand, tranquil corners of turquoise water shaded by tall trees and jagged rock, remote coves once beloved of smugglers and waterside shacks serving reviving snacks and ice cold beers, the Costa Brava scores highly on just about every beach idyll wish list. We have our favourites such as Begur, Tamariu, Sa Riera and Cadaqués but almost anywhere along this coastline you’ll be met with children crafting sandcastles, holidaymakers tucking into tapas and cava in chichi bars, the energetic snorkeling, swimming and kayaking, and the lounge lizard revelling in pure relaxation.
Often referred to as the “rugged coast”, the Costa Brava stretches north to the border with France and, as part of the region of Catalonia, has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages. Fiercely proud of its identity and independent character, it’s one of the richest regions in Spain with a personality influenced and shaped by its place in history as a medieval sea faring power, an autonomy from the rest of the country cemented with the arrival of the republic in 1931, the preservation and promotion of the Catalan language and – separated only by the Pyrenees - close historical ties with its neighbour.
Arts and Culture
From a master of recycling crafting lampshades and lamps out of everything from discarded glass and piano keys to Catalonia’s most famous architect and from noted artists to respected writers and fine buildings, this corner of Europe has much to keep the culture vulture content. If you’re in the market for a striking Salvador Dali graphic there are numerous bookshops and galleries, and the region’s talent for crafting beautiful ceramics dates back centuries. The Catalans love putting on a show (“a party for every occasion”, they say) with exuberant fiestas and traditions embedded in the regional identity. And then there’s the not insignificant matter of one of the world’s greatest football teams.
The Costa Brava provides ample opportunities for those in search of a spot of holiday retail therapy to pick-up some treasures. For the best choice and quality though it’s often advisable to bypass the coastal resorts and head inland. Ceramics have long been a tradition around these parts and the choice – from vases to coffee pots – are sure to catch an admiring eye back home, while ferreterias (local hardware stores) are packed with useful and stylish equipment and appliances (how about a paella pan to wow dinner guests?). The region also has a fine shoemaking tradition, value-for-money “Cuban” cigars and, of course, villages where you can acquire wonderful local produce.
Nightlife and Entertainment
With cocktail bars, delightful family-run cafes and intimate cozy eateries with welcoming locals; hotels once beloved of the international jet-set but today attracting names such as Rafael Nadal, and music ranging from jazz and blues played in quirky, candlelit establishments to clubs dispensing Calvin Harris and David Guetta, nightlife on the Costa Brava is as sedate or as full-on as your heart desires. But, as with many things around these parts, you’ll be rewarded venturing even a little off the tourist trail for hidden gems such as cocktail bars of walled gardens and hanging lanterns and tucked-away terraces where freshly caught seafood is enjoyed to a soundtrack of crashing waves and little more.