Costa Brava: what to see and do. Boutique hotels, a rugged coast, artistic history and Michelin restaurants
December 4, 2015 | By: High50
Costa Brava. Vista des de Mar i Murtra

The beautiful coastline of Costa Brava, which has largely shaken off its tacky image of the past

Why go

It’s close, it’s cheap, it’s sunny – and it’s not the Costa del Sol! What more could you want? The Costa Brava (or ‘Wild Coast’) has shaken off its reputation as a tacky holiday resort, and is now better known for its rugged coastal scenery and cultural treasures.

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What to do

You can have several different types of holiday in one when you visit the Costa Brava. The coast is lined with inviting sandy beaches, and hundreds of hidden coves and inlets which are just begging to be explored. Inland there is a burgeoning wine scene, with dozens of independent vineyards and tasting events throughout the year.

Palamos. Girona. Costa Brava. Flickr CC 620x349

Palamós, set around a yacht-filled harbour, is one of the towns along the coast of Girona

Foodies will love the fresh seafood served in the coastal villages, not to mention the Michelin-starred restaurants of the Girona province. Art lovers can walk in the footsteps of Picasso, Dali, Miro and more in the artistic retreat of Cadaqués.

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Where to stay

Costa Brava. Cadaques. Artists town. Dali

Cadaqués has been home to Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and hundreds of other artists

Accommodation in the Costa Brava can be a bit hit or miss. Around the resort areas, some of the hotels operate on a ‘less is more’ philosophy, meaning sparsely furnished rooms, fans instead of air-con units, and disappointing buffet breakfasts.

Having said that, there are a lot of beautiful independent and boutique hotels in the northern areas, such as the stunning Vistabella in Roses, and the Aiguaclara Hotel in Begur, which really make the most of their rugged, beachside surroundings.

If you are planning on staying in the same place for a while, you may wish to rent a self-catering villa. There are some great deals to be had in the off-peak season, and most villas come with a private pool and a daily cleaning service.

Where to eat

Costa Brava. Elstinars dining room

Elstinars dining room , Costa Brava

The Costa Brava is a foodie’s paradise. The Girona province alone boasts 13 restaurants, which have 17 Michelin stars between them. Try El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Els Tinars in Llagostera, Fondo Xesc in Gombren, and Ca l’Arpa in Banyoles, to name just a few.

Roses was the location for the legendary El Bulli, which closed in 2011. Head chef Ferran Adria is soon to open a cooking museum and laboratory on the restaurant’s old premises, which is likely to attract an international audience.

For day-to-day fare, you can’t go far wrong with locally-sourced seafood (huge red prawns, oversized mussels, and salty sardines), ideally served with a cool glass of white wine and a view of the sea.

Getting around

The best way to explore the coast is by car. The main roads are excellent and well signposted, and when you have your own vehicle you have the freedom to stop off at some of the smaller villages and get a real sense of Spanish coastal life.

However, if you are taking a wine tour, it goes without saying that driving is not a good idea. The Estarriol bus departs from Girona and takes in many of the bigger vineyards, while many tour operators and private travel firms offer their own transport, so you can ‘taste’ all the wine you like.

When to go

It depends what sort of holiday you are looking for. The Costa Brava gets milder weather than southern regions such as the Costa del Sol, but that doesn’t make it cold. The average summer temperature is a sunny 23°C, and winters are a breezy 10°C.

Don’t miss

The beaches. The Costa Brava has a huge number of Blue Flag beaches, which are often surrounded by dramatic cliffs and lush forests. Long, sandy beaches such as El Canadell, Cala Rovira and Sant Pol de Mar are always popular with sunbathers, swimmers and snorkelers.

But if you want to relax in your own private paradise, set off on a coastal walk anywhere between Sa Riera and Palamos and discover one of the many idyllic little sandy coves which are only accessible by foot.

Three things we like

Costa Brava. Salvadore Dali Museum

The Salvador Dali museum, Cadaqués

  1. Cadaqués. This picturesque seaside town was a favourite holiday resort of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and hundreds of other artists. Between 1930 and 1982, Dali lived in a row of converted fishing huts, which have since been converted into the Portlligat Museum-House, one of the most fascinating modern art galleries you’ll ever visit.
  2. The wine. Particularly the native Grenache, Macabeo and Samsó.
  3. Semana Santa. If you can, time your visit to coincide with the Easter holidays, or Semana Santa’ Girona throws an incredible parade, complete with Roman legionaries, gilded icons, hooded musicians and fireworks.

Something we don’t like

The tourist traps. There are fewer here than there are further south, but Lloret del Mar still represents the tackier end of the scale. Think overcrowded beaches, seedy bars and rows of cafés selling English ‘favourites’ such as egg and chips. If you’re looking for a booze-fuelled package holiday you could do a lot worse, but generally speaking, manufactured resort towns such as Lloret do a disservice to the natural beauty and culture of the larger Costa Brava area.

High50 insider tips

  • Any attempt to speak Spanish is always appreciated by the locals, even if they begin a conversation with you in English.
  • If your Spanish is a little rusty, carry around a little dictionary. Spanish is a phonetic language, so if you can read the word, there’s a good chance you can say it.
  • The dress code is pretty casual in Spain, but you should cover up a little if you are visiting a church.

Need to know

  • The currency is the Euro.
  • Flying time from London to Girona is approximately two hours.
  • The timezone is UCT/GMT +1.
  • Two-pin European plugs are standard.
  • Many shops, cafés and attractions close for a few hours in the afternoon (usually between 1pm and 3pm), particularly in the smaller villages, where there is less of a tourist presence.
  • Tipping is appreciated, but not expected. Between five and ten per cent is reasonable when tipping at bars, cafés and restaurants.
  • Spanish and Catalan are both widely spoken across the Costa Brava.