The Costa Brava stretches from the town of Blanes (60km north of Barcelona) to the French border and its name literally means wild or rugged coast inspired by the cliffs and coves which run all along the coast. Once home to small fishing villages the Costa Brava became a popular tourist destination in the 1960s and while some areas are still catering to mass tourism there are many almost untouched towns and beaches to explore.
What to do
Cadaqués/Cap de Creus
The Cap de Creus Natrural Park is the most easterly point of the Iberian Peninsula and is characterized by its rugged landscape, weathered by the strong northerly wind the Tramontana. The park contains not only outstanding natural beauty such as the rugged cliffs giving way to coves and inlets or the wind formed rocks, but also historically important buildings such as the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery, one of the most important examples of Catalan Romanic architecture. The park is also home to several villages; Cadaqués is a one of the most famous and beautiful, full of whitewashed buildings and home to many celebrated artists throughout the 20th Century. One artist who made Cadaqués his home was Salvador Dalí who bought his house in neighbouring Port Lligat and is now a museum to the Surrealist artist, left just how it was when he died. It is a charming seaside town, perfect for a summer escape from the city.
Although the population of Begur does increase substantially in summer it is still a beautiful Costa Brava town well worth a visit. The town itself has a medieval castle and five defense towers built to protect the town from North African pirates. In the 19th Century many people from Begur went to the Amicas to make their fortunes and on their return constructed many beautiful mansion style houses which still stand today. One of the biggest attractions of Begur is that its beaches are some of the most stunning in the Mediterranean, if not the world. Aiguafreda, Aiguablava and Sa Riera are just some of the perfect beaches and coves to be discovered in this area.
Diving in the Illes Medes
The Illes Medes are seven rocky islands off the coast of the town of L’Estartit and are famous for scuba diving. The islands themselves have been previously used to house military garrisons and prisons but are now abandoned and are becoming an important Mediterranean marine reserve. This conservation effort has renewed the marine life in the islands and scuba diving is now a possible pastime. The islands offer diving at various depths and apart from the sea life there are also underwater caves and tunnels as well as shipwrecks to explore.
Greco-Roman ruins at Empúries
Empúries was founded by the Greeks in 575BC due to its strategic position between the Mediterranean trading routes of Marseille and Tartessos (modern day Andalucía). The town grew steadily to become the largest Greek colony on the Iberian Peninsula. When the Romans conquered Hispania, Empúries retained quasi independence becoming almost a city state until due to the growingpower of Tarraco (Tarragone) and Barcino (Barcelona) the importance of the town began to decline. The town was finally abandoned in the early Middle Ages as its coastal position left it vulnerable to pirates and marauders. The location of the town was known locally but in 1908 excavations began and the area is now an open air museum where you can walk amongst the remains of an important ancient Greek and Roman town and discover what life was like over 2000 years ago. Many different guided tours are available to truly make the most of your visit.
Where to eat
Despite the closure of El Bullí in Montjoi there are still many fantastic restaurants to enjoy on the Costa Brava.
In one of the most beautiful towns on the Costa Brava; Llafranc, there is a small hotel and restaurant called Casamar. This lovely but unassuming hotel has one of the best restaurants in Catalunya with a Michelin star to its name. The chef, Quim Casellas grew up in Casamar as his parents ran the hotel from the 1950s onwards. He learnt his trade in these same kitchens and spent the winter low season learning from the greats of Catalan cuisine: Jean Luc Figueras, Carles Gaig and Joan Roca to name a few. He took over the reins of the kitchen in 2000 and in 2011 was awarded his Michelin star, all this before his 40th birthday. Casamar now serves a modern take on traditional Catalan cuisine, with dishes such as ‘bread, wine and sugar’ forming part of his menus. Casamar is not only a delight for its food but also its perfect location on a hill looking out over the bay of Llafranc. Why would you want to dine anywhere else?
The celebrated chef Paco Perez is head of the kitchen at Miramar in Llançà near the Cap de Creus Natural Park. Brought up in the same town, Paco Perez learnt his trade in Catalonia and France and was influenced by Ferran Adrià's experimental cooking at El Bullí. Perez has converted a traditional hotel restaurant into one of the best places to eat in Catalonia and now with two Michelin stars it is amongst the best in the world. The restaurants location, right on the beach, and the natural produce of the region gives Perez's cooking a local flavour even in the most creative, avant-garde dish. As Perez himself explains it; “We cook what we love, with soul, we think it's the best we can offer the people who visit us here."
I can say that El Far has one of the best locations in the whole of Catalonia. Perched on the top of a cliff with views over the blue Mediterranean sea I couldn't think of anywhere more perfect to enjoy a meal as the sun sets. The restaurant forms part of a hotel and is situated in Llafranc, a quiet unspoilt seaside resort near Begur. The kitchen is as you'd might expect from this region; serving traditional seafood and fish dishes freshly caught in the surrounding waters as well as making the most of the locally sourced meat and vegetables produced in the Girona region. The simplicity and quality of the food along with the impressive views is the perfect combination for a meal on the Costa Brava.