Introducing The Costa Brava & Catalunya

Costa Brava - Catalunya - (Is it Spain or not?)

Famous for:-

    • The life of Salvador Dali. (Dali Museum)
    • Some of the best golf courses in the world. (See picture right mountain course, masia club house)
    • Many small rugged coves and sandy beaches.
    • Great value food and drink, as well as some of Europe’s leading restaurants
    • Inland Catalunya/Catalonia boasts breathtaking countryside, mountains and lakes.
    • Catalunya(Catalonia) may be classed as Spain but this beautiful part of the world is nothing like Spain, in more ways than just politics; it’s another country. With different landscape, language and culture.The history of the area dates way back many hundreds of years, with a strong medieval influence (still seen in its architecture and at festivals), if you take the time to look you’ll love what you find.

The Costa Brava and Catalunya are full of surprises, it’s officially classed as Spain, but the Catalans are proud to admit that it couldn’t be more different. A little Catalan boy at the airport recently, saw a British tourist arrive wearing a Spanish sombrero, “Mama” he said “Why is that man dressed as a Mexican?” Everything is different, food, language and culture. If you haven’t seen Girona yet, then waste no time! Girona has so much to offer, apart from great shopping, the old Jewish town is fascinating. Winding cobbled streets take you on a tour into the past, where you can feast your eyes on some wonderful little shops, then stop at one of the many cafe’s and restaurants; to rest and soak up the character of the place. Winding past the old town is the river, linked by bridges to the main Girona town and in the heart of the old quarters is the beautiful cathedral.

I would highly recommend the annual flower festival which is held in Girona during the 2nd week in May from the 7th to the 15th. This is an art experience and during ‘El Temps de Flors’ inner squares, streets and churches, as well as the courtyards of houses; that one may otherwise walk past, are superbly decorated with a combination of flowers and artistic effects, so make a note in your diary and don’t miss it!

Examples of the Flower Festival Girona

Unlike Barcelona, which I hasten to say is also a magnificent city and a pleasure to visit, with it’s imposing architecture, fabulous port, well known Rambla and one of the best covered market’s you could wish to see, Girona is like a large village.

My daughter shared a flat there last year and said the same, she felt like it was an extended village with the atmosphere to match and she really enjoyed being there. Also unlike Barcelona, which is very cosmopolitan; Girona is very Catalan. You will hear far less Spanish spoken there than in Barcelona, or for that matter English.

In the north of the Cost Brava, you can visit the lovely old  town of Figueres where you will find the Dali Museum which was built at Salvador Dali’s birthplace. The market in Figueres is held on Thursday and it’s a great place to buy fresh produce. A few km out of Figueres; is the lovely old village of Peralada, with its stunning castle, built in the mid 13th century. If you feel frivolous; it’s casino, which is part of the castle; is well worth a visit.

From the 15th July to the 15th of August one can enjoy the famous Peralada music festival in the grounds of the castle, 2011 was the 25th anniversary of this festival. It’s considered an important part of the social calendar.

Winding up the coast a ‘must do’ visit is the pretty village of Cadaqués, although Salvidor Dali was born in Figueres, he had a home in Port Lligat, a small village close to Cadaqués, where he’d visited as a child and continued to enjoy for many years.

On the way back you can pop into Roses which has been tastefully improved over the years, I first visited Roses at the age of 7 and the lovely bay just around the corner Canyelles Petites where I first learned to swim, Canyelles has grown as well since then, but apart from tearing down a landmark windmill which was not historic, but which I loved, it still has the same charm.

As does Roses, which now feels more sophisticated than in it’s past and has acquired an atmosphere which mimics the riviera. Don’t forget to visit the fish market.  In the sixty’s this was the area marketed as ‘Spain’ to the British, it’s hard to believe now that the people I met at that time, who all spoke Spanish to us; were deeply effected by the Franco Regime and so ‘not allowed’ to speak Catalan. We would either drive through France or fly into Perpignan airport in France and make a winding journey over the border by coach to Roses. I was even lucky enough to see Salvador Dali in the flesh, as my father’s favourite restaurant, Hotel Duran in Figueres, was one of Dali’s regular haunts.

Continuing back up the coast leading south past Empuriabrava, which is very popular with the German community, with it’s venice like canals of modern build, it enjoys a very different atmosphere to other villages.

As we drive south we come to L’Escala, famous for anchovies and where you can find the ruins of Empuries nearby, a ‘must’ visit on a sunny day. This is a Greek and Roman archaeological site, with some truly magnificent examples of each period, if you want to picnic afterwards, there are pleasant bays nearby on which to relax.

La Bisbal is worth a visit, driving through the main road one can miss the secrets within, small streets full of shops and places of interest. This town is famous for it’s pottery’s and it’s pottery museum. 

While you are in this area, try driving inland and see Castell Púbol, the home of Dali’s wife Gala. This old house within a castle wall is a great way to spend a few hours, and presents many examples of Dali’s art. The countryside around this area is really lush and there are some gorgeous villages to be found including Madremanya where English speaking community enjoy an Anglican church service on the last Sunday, once a month. Don’t miss their Christmas fayre, now undercover, and their carol service in mid December. If you have children they can dress up and join in. www.cb-c.org

Back towards the coast but not quite on the sea you will find Torroella de Montgri, a very attractive town with some pretty old streets and various shops, and with a walk up to it’s castle, which is worthwhile but not for the fainthearted, then on to L’Estartit on the coast which was a busy place in earlier years and a 60’s favourite, from the port there you can take a boat out to ‘Les îles Medes’, which are famous for their marine life.

Then on to Pals which stands out on a hill in the centre of a flatter valley, and Begur set high on a mountain above the sea, both well worth a visit, quaint medieval villages with captivating charm. If you like second hand Flea markets the one at Pals is great fun, held every Saturday morning.

Don’t fall into the same trap as me and miss Palafrugell, because of it’s misleading exterior. I drove right past this town for a few years until I visited it with friends and realised my mistake. The centre is quaint and full of pretty shops and restaurants, in the winter around Christmas, like Girona it always sported an outdoor ice rink, both towns have had to give into the world weather change and these ice rinks are now under cover. Every week it’s Sunday market spills through the streets.  Then there are the nearby beach villages, which are truly fabulous, Llafranc, Calella and Tamariu which are perfect for a leisurely stroll and a bite to eat. This idyllic area is a favourite of mine. Calella de Palafrugell is well known for the traditional architecture of its Voltes (archways) and for its traditional sings-songs at which Havaneres (sea shanties) are accompanied by cremat (coffee flamed with rum).  The Festival of Havaneres is held in July. In the winter to spring months you will see people tucking into sea urchins in the restaurants.

The cruise ships dock in Palamós, with it’s famous fish market and some lovely places to shop and just wonder, tiny pedestrianised streets with various shops.  During the summer Palamós puts on one of the best firework displays after it’s fiesta, I can recommend taking a picnic and wine and settling on the beach for great evening. Palamós beach is long and an attractive walk and joins the beach of Sant Antoni de Calonge, which from an architectural viewpoint has been ruined by rather ugly modern buildings, but don’t miss it’s seafront which does make up for this, it’s a very safe beach for children. While there pop into Calonge old town, a medieval village with a castle.

Then we continue on into Platja d’Aro, which is a very sophisticated seaside town, with good hotels and restaurants and a pleasant promenade seafront full of eateries. If you are after a few designer garments you may find them here.

On from there into S’Agaro leading to it’s beach San Pol,which you will see shown in many brochures,

 exhibiting it’s pretty blue turreted castle (one of the old family houses built by Catalan’s who made their fortunes in Cuba in the late 19th century.) Then on around the coast to Sant Feliu de Guixols, this is a very pretty Catalan town, with some good bars and restaurants, a thriving port if you need somewhere for your yacht, plus a pretty sea front and a fabulous old monastery.

Then on to Tossa de Mar (either via the coast which is picturesque but winding) or the longer way on the dual carriage way towards Barcelona. Tossa provides a great clifftop walk, where you will find places to rest and have a drink in a wonderful setting.  The name Tossa may conjure up the impression of English holidays in the 60’s, which could put you off, yes it is influenced by the English, menus in English etc, but it is a really pretty seaside town. I’ts rather costly for parking, compared to other areas, but certainly worth a visit.

The next part of the coast is one of the prettiest routes you will see, as you make your way to Lloret de Mar, again Lloret has bad press, but the seafront area is actually very pleasant and if you ask around you will find an English supermarket. I’m not going any further, there are a few towns further south on the way to Barcelona, other than mentioning the famous fireworks at Blanes and it’s fishing, I don’t rate this area as quite as attractive as further north, although they do have some good beaches and more economical hotel accommodation.

If you want to continue further south then Sitges is a must, this is another really pretty place well loved by the gay community and with it’s famous film festival and carnival, with history, beaches and nightlife, it can cater to all tastes.

I have made this particular trip via the coast, the trouble with this is it means that I’ve missed out some other little gems. For example The Medieval villages near La Bisbal and which include Peratallada and Ullastret.

Then there is Banyoles further inland with it’s fabulous lake, where you can swim during the

  

summer, surrounded by freshwater fish, then on to Besalú a lovely example of medieval architecture and once the capital of ‘The Country of Besalú, which was roughly the size of the current Garrotxa area. Then on into the mountains towards Vic & Olot, and if you continued driving you will not be disappointed.  We’ve driven on the less busy route to Andorra and it was fabulous. To be honest I could go on raving about this area, as there really is so much to see. I recommend that you take a look at the link on this site for Wikipedia. Where you can see the history of many inland towns and villages. My apologies if your town has been missed out. I can assure you if you are new to the area, that there are many wonderful inland sights, but my intention here was just to give you a taste of what The Costa Brava has to offer. I’d need pages more to describe inland Catalunya.

Up and down the coast and inland, you can enjoy different local events throughout the year.  From Christmas with live cribs, a perfect example being in the medieval village of Castel d’Aro, which is close to Platja d’Aro and which I am told is the oldest medieval village in Catalunya.

The Three Kings arrival on January 5th, is an event not to be missed, this is very good in Barcelona where the Kings come in on a ship and Girona with a very impressive pageant, plus similar events in other towns and villages, (prior to January 6th the Catalan equivalent to Christmas day) and many other special events El Tió which is the log with a painted face and red Catalan hat, which poo’s presents!  Then there is Carnival at the beginning of lent this is a fabulous event, (only dampened by the weather that varies at that time of the year). Then Easter pageants and shops filled with the famous ‘Mona de Pasqua’ gifts, traditionally a cake with figurines and feathers that was given to Catalan children by Godparents etc, this has become more sophisticated and now one can see some fabulous ornate chocolate sculptures.

In between all this are many great, local events for everybody to enjoy. In the summer most towns and villages enjoy a ‘Festa Major’ which varies from place to place, but can involve a Corre Foc, which is a fantastic site, a medieval drumming band leads a group who expertly swing fireworks above their heads, producing a cascade of sparks, then locals run underneath, this usually ends with a firework display. When it comes to fireworks the Catalans certainly know how to enjoy these, as well as the traditional displays often seen at the end of Fiesta’s, there is the famous, ‘Sant Joàn’ on the 23rd June. During which people buy fireworks, especially various bangers and in the evening these are set off everywhere, in the streets, on the beaches, or the town squares and the atmosphere is electric. In some villages you’ll also see a bonfire.

Don’t forget that as winter arrives, so does the snow on the mountains, depending on where on the Costa Brava you live, skiing may only be a drive away, maybe an hour to two hours. We don’t see much snow near the coast, but it’s great to take the kids skiing to some lovely resorts. Even the King of Spain skis in this area.

When we came to live here I was struck by the diversity during the year so full of different entertainment. I haven’t even covered the variety that you will see here, every town has it’s own speciality, Look out for the Giants, or the Blessing of the Animals. (Girona Tourist Information) (Generalitad de Catalunya)There is no doubt that once you have been here, you’ll keep on coming back and when you tire of that, like us you may be tempted to lay down roots, if so contact me and I’ll help you settle in.