A holiday to the Costa Brava gives you an access-all-areas pass to unspoilt Catalan countryside, Blue Flag beaches and the city of Barcelona.
The rugged coast
Stretching between the town of Blanes and the French border, Costa Brava is the belle of Spain’s coastal ball. The march of tourism that stormed through the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca lost a bit of steam by the time it reached the country’s north eastern wing. As a result, it’s relatively unspoilt. In between bigger resorts like Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar, for example, you’ll still find secluded coves, fishing villages and authentic countryside towns.
Blue Flag beaches
That’s if you want them, of course. Most people visiting the Costa Brava don’t make it beyond the beach. And you can’t blame them. The Costa Brava’s seaside is dripping with Blue Flag beaches – the best of which can be found in Lloret de Mar. The sandy stretch here is the life and soul of the resort. It’s 1.5 kilometres long, its sea is chock-a-block with water sport opportunities, and it’s right near loads of bars and restaurants.
Girona and Barcelona
It’s no secret that part of the Costa Brava’s pulling power comes from is town and city double act – Girona and Barcelona. The first – an hour’s drive from Lloret de Mar – is a hoarder of historical sites, like ancient Roman ruins and 14th-century churches. The second is a hotbed of ground breaking art, architecture and technology that’s years ahead of its time, and it’s just over an hour away along the coast.
Things to See and Do in Costa Brava
Blue Flag Beaches
The Costa Brava sets the bar high when it comes to beaches. The stretches of sand in the big resorts, like Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar, all come with the Blue Flag seal of approval. Part of their success is due to natural talent. The beaches are innately long, wide and golden. But part of it is due to good management. On S’Abanell beach, for example, the sand is raked every night, so it’s as well-groomed as possible the following morning.
The Big Beach
S’Abanell beach, near Blanes, is officially the longest beach in the Costa Brava. This swathe of sand is more than 2 kilometres long. But Lloret de Mar beach deserves a mention here, too. This 1.5-kilometre curve of caramel-coloured sand comes with a Blue Flag award and more restaurants, bars and watersports than you could fit into a week.
The Secret Beach
Boadella Beach is as far from the madding crowd as it gets on the Costa Brava. The unspoilt sand here is set against a pretty backdrop of coastal cliffs. Locals bring their kids here after work and on weekends to swim and build sandcastles.
Arm yourself with a credit card and take a shopping pilgrimage to Barcelona. Avienda Diagonal in the L’Eixample district namedrops stores like Chanel and Gucci. If you’re scouting for tomorrow’s designers, today, meanwhile, have mooch around the Bulevard Rosa shopping centre – it’s on Rambla de Catalunya and its boutique fashion stores have names like Biscuit and Llilli.
High street shops are an afterthought to the beach and restaurant scene on the Costa Brava. The big brand buck stops with a cluster of fashion and sports stores on Carrer de Sant Perre. For more choice, your best bet is a trip to Girona, where the Mercadel District is swimming with brands like Benneton, Bershka and Zara. You’re looking at an hour’s drive.
Tuesday is market day in Lloret de Mar. Stall holders arrive at Carrer des Metres around 8am and shut up shop at midday. Goods like handbags, Spanish fans and brightly-painted ceramics are cheap at twice the price. Just less than 10 miles up the coast, Tossa de Mar’s market takes place on a Thursday. Follow your nose to the food section, where shiny olives, tangy cheeses, and spongy breads go for a song.
Tossa de Mar’s old town, Vila Vella, is the place to go for a quiet meal. After dinner, you can walk around the cobbled streets, take in the sea views, and stop for an ice cream. For something a bit posher, don your dinner jacket and head to the Grand Theatre Liceu in Barcelona. With its gilt boxes and plump leather seats, it looks like it’s been modelled on the Moulin Rouge.
When it comes to nightlife, Lloret de Mar comes out all guns blazing. The holy trinity for bars and clubs are Carrer del Baix de la Reira, Carrer del Pla de Carbonell and Carrer de Santa Cristina. For a change of scene, pop over to Tossa de Mar. Among the cocktail bars you’ll find a few flamenco joints, especially around Calle Sant Josep and Calle Sant Pepe.
Llagosta i pollastre
This traditional Catalan dish is a distant relative of the paella family. It’s made by slowly cooking lobster and chicken in a rich tomato and hazelnut sauce. It’s then dished out with rice on the side. In some top-end restaurants, chefs add saffron to the sauce, too.
This dish was conceived in Aaragon, an hour’s drive from Lloret de Mar. It’s a simple but flavoursome dish, made by sizzling lamb with lemons, garlic and paprika. It’s served piping hot alongside a side dish like patatas bravas.
On the face of it, Crema Catalana looks just like crème caramel. But the devil’s in the detail. Firstly, the Spanish dish can be flavoured with lemon and cinnamon. Secondly, the caramelized top in the Spanish version is created using a hot iron rather than a flame.
Catalan sausages are renowned throughout Spain. Made in the mountain town of Vic, 1.5 hours from Lloret de Mar, the butifarra is one of the most loved. It’s made from pork, tripe and pine nuts and served grilled with beans. Other regional sausages include fuet, chorizo and llangonisseta.
Move over, Champagne. In Costa Brava, Parellada is the fizz of the moment. The grapes for this sparkling wine are grown in the countryside between Reus and Barcelona. Taste-wise, it’s fruity with hints of apple and pear, and it makes a great pre-dinner drink.
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Pineda is right at the southern tip of the Costa Brava, sandwiched between the Mediterranean and a mountainous national park. Its grade-A beach and traditional tapas restaurants make it a popular pick with holidaying Barcelonans, so it’s got more of a Spanish feel than some of the more touristy towns along the coast.
Lloret De Mar
Lloret de Mar has been the Costa Brava’s prime beach destination for going on 5 decades now. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to this 7-kilometre stretch of coastline. And with its Blue Flag beaches, pumping nightlife and traditional old town, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why.
Santa Susanna likes to keep a low profile. Parked alongside the Mediterranean in the far south of the Costa Brava, it’s more laid-back than some of its bigger neighbours. Instead of packed sands and bass-thumping nightlife, you’ll find kid-friendly beaches with plenty of elbow room and low-key restaurants where dinners can stretch out for hours.
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