I’m going to admit something to you now… for years I was a bit snobbish about the Costa Brava. It’s because it was pretty much invented as a holiday destination by Spanish marketing folk in the 50s and 60s, the aim being to host package holiday-makers on sunny beaches in a pleasant climate and clean up on a favourable exchange rate. Even the name was made up artificially, and chosen as the official name because they thought it would appeal to tourists: it means wild or rugged coast. And it didn’t offend the locals – it was close to their local Catalan translation of ‘French Riviera’: Costa Blava.
But of course as soon as someone I knew returned from a visit to the Costa Brava and shared their holiday snaps, my snobbishness left me like sea spray against the rocks of a wild and rugged coastline. And, on further investigation it turns out that while there are certainly pockets of over-development on the Costa Brava, there are also long stretches of rugged, dramatic cliffs, piqued by wind-buffeted promontories and narrow, golden beaches which have defied developers. There are numerous gorgeous lengths of seascape which have retained their natural wildness. And it’s on these less-beaten paths that the Hotel Guru has found us places to stay…
Historic Bay Beauty, Roses
Roses overlooks the Bay of Roses, which sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It’s lined by six kilometres worth of small coves and shallow, clear beaches and around 50 kms of navigable canals, which is then backed by nature reserves, and the Cap de Creus National Park, then mountains.
The interior also hides some fascinating prehistoric ruins and megalithic monuments, and in nearby L’Escala you’ll find the ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman city of Ampurias, which is one of the most important archaeological sites on the peninsula. Roses itself has an incredible, historic citadel. Roses and the Bay of Roses is also a lovely place to snorkel or dive, or sail. And it’s known for its gastronomy too – it’s got two Michelin starred restaurants.
Where to Stay?
The Hotel Vistabella has magical views of the clear blue water of the Bay of Roses which stretches right out in front of it. From its four restaurants, multiple terraces, and from many of its 29 rooms. The decor is stylishly nautical, like they’re channelling the Mediterranean, there’s an indoor pool and spa, and one of their restaurants has a Michelin star – to complete the picture of luxury. Double rooms start from around €213 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: You can get to Roses by train in 12 hours ex-London, or in about eight hours via either Girona or Barcelona.
The Artist’s Favourite, Cadaques
Cadaques is where my friend stayed, a whitewashed beauty that has quickly become one of her favourite destinations. She says the beaches might not be sandy, but the seas are sparkling blue, and the views towards the Mediterranean and the mountains are simply beautiful. Salvador Dali spent his summers here too, remarking on the light and colour, and Picasso was a fan as well. And Man Ray. It’s popularity with prominent artists hasn’t spoiled it, though, it’s quite tricky to get to and that’s protected it from over development. These days there are around three thousand locals, many with charming boutiques, galleries or artist’s studios in the gorgeously cobbled Old Town.
Where to Stay?
The Hotel Playa Sol is a smart, simple hotel right on the coast. The decor has a nautical feel, and the whitewashed walls and natural light makes the most of that. Many of the 49 rooms have private terraces or balconies and there’s a good, excellent value restaurant with fantastic views. This is a great place for groups or families. Rooms start from €171 per night B&B.
Practical Details: It takes about eleven hours to travel between London and Cadaques by train, and you have to do the last 50 or so minutes in a cab. Or you can fly, which takes about eight and a half hours once you factor in the transfers.
Fishing Village Fun in Palamós
Palamós is famed for its prawns, and for its small-town-fishing-village feel. It’s got an historic port and centre and a scenic stretch of sandy coast to sit beside. Some of Palamós’ beaches are lively, and this can be a good place to stay if you’re looking for some nightlife after your days exploring, but there are also plenty of hidden, private coves to go around. You’re also surrounded by historic hamlets, archaeological sites and the Gavarres mountains are just behind you.
Where to Stay?
The Hotel Trias is an affordable, yet stylish hotel right on the promenade with 82 rooms, plus a pool and two restaurants. The decor is minimal yet chic, think simple four posters, women floorboards, plenty of white and some creative artistic choices. Great for families. Rooms start from only €122 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: You can travel down to Palamós by train via Girona, where you have to change to a bus – all up it takes about 21 hours. If you fly to Barcelona first you can cut the travel time down to eight hours, but the final legs, through Girona then by bus, are the same.
Traditionally Catalan, Palafrugell
Palafrugell is one of the Costa Brava’s hill towns, so not part of the development craze of the 60s. It’s one of the region’s larger market towns and has traditional nightlife – based around a main square where they hold crazy dances which seem to be fun for young and old. Everything in Palafrugell, the church, the restaurants, the bars, shops and museums are all within a few minutes stroll.
Where to Stay?
The Hotel El Far is a gorgeous little hotel sitting pretty on a cliff top, with pristine coves and other stunning views as far as you can see in both directions. Its nine rooms are romantic, the suites are spacious, and the majority have a private balcony. There’s also an excellent seafood terrace restaurant. Great for exploring, but also great for staying out of sight.
Practical Details: Getting to Palafrugell follows a similar route to Palamós, through Girona and then a bus from there. Supposedly you can do the whole trip by train in just over 11 hours, or between seven and eight by plane ex-London.
Relax and Rejuvenate in Begur
Begur is a sleepy little town just an hour north of Barcelona where you’ll find gorgeous beaches and coves – some of the Costa Brava’s best – excellent restaurants and not a high-rise in sight. Barcelonans in the know have their holiday homes here, but the pace is slow – people come here to relax, swim in the sea, take long strolls in the beautiful countryside, play a bit of golf, and eat delicious food in a perfect beachside setting accompanied by excellent wines.
The architecture is Moorish/Spanish, and there’s a medieval castle on the hill to finish off the charming picture. Just up the road in Pubol you can see the crumbling castle Salvador Dali bought for his wife, some of it museum, some of it just as it was when they lived here in the 60s. And, when you look at the landscape again, you’ll start to see how the backdrops of Dali’s paintings have captured the blazing blue sky and orange-y landscape perfectly.
Where to Stay?
As the name denotes, El Convent de Begur was a convent – in the 18th century – and now it’s a very reasonably priced four star hotel just 600 metres from one of Begur’s best beaches. The hotel’s 25 rooms were converted from the convent’s original cells, and they’ve kept the original tiled floors. You also get the same wonderful views over the gardens to the Mediterranean. Rooms start from €156 per night including a lavish breakfast.
Practical Details: Begur is a 25 minute bus trip from Palafrugell, so you can add 25 mins to the train, via Girona trip, which comes to about 12 hours, or you can fly in eight or nine hours – ex-London again.